- Title: WEST BANK: Thousands of worshippers welcome Pope Francis in Bethlehem
- Date: 25th May 2014
- Summary: BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (MAY 25, 2014) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF HELICOPTER CARRYING POPE FRANCIS IN SKY VARIOUS OF THOUSANDS OF WORSHIPPERS WAVING PALESTINIAN AND VATICAN FLAGS, WAITING TO WELCOME POPE MORE OF HELICOPTER WORSHIPPERS CHEERING CROWD WATCHING WIDE SCREEN SHOWING POPE ARRIVAL WORSHIPPER WATCHING SCREEN SCENE AS REFLECTED ON WORSHIPPER'S SUN GLASSES (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) WORSHIPPER MICHAEL KASABREH, FROM HAIFA, SAYING: "This is the greatest event that happened to us in years and we thank the Pope because he took the time to come and visit us." WORSHIPPERS POSTERS (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) WORSHIPPER GHAZAL SHIHADEH, FROM NAZARETH, SAYING: "We are very happy, we feel blessed and fortunate. Here it means something to us because the Pope came to Palestine. It means a lot that he desires peace for the whole nation, all the Arabs, all the nations, united, because all of us at the end of the day pray to one god." VARIOUS OF SECURITY CHECKING WORSHIPPERS WORSHIPPERS POSTER WELCOMING THE POPE MORE OF WORSHIPPERS VARIOUS OF WORSHIPPERS HOLDING LETTERS COMPRISING SENTENCE "WE LOVE PAPA FRANCIS" THOUSANDS AT MANGER SQUARE
- Embargoed: 9th June 2014 13:00
- Location: West bank
- Country: Palestinian Territories
- Topics: General,Politics
- Reuters ID: LVADGLG3J886V9W310KBZUJN111H
- Story Text: Thousands of Christians welcomed Pope Francis as he landed in Bethlehem Sunday morning (May 25) to start the most delicate part of his stay in the Middle East, in which he will visit the Palestinian Territories and Israel where his every word will be scrutinized.
Church officials say his three-day tour of the region, which started on Saturday (May 24) in Jordan, is purely focused on religious issues. However, the dividing lines of the generations-old Middle East conflict will be impossible to ignore.
Francis flew straight by helicopter to Bethlehem, becoming the first pontiff to travel directly to the West Bank rather than enter via Israel - a decision hailed by Palestinian officials as a recognition of their push for full statehood.
Worshippers in Bethlehem, watching the pontiff landing on wide screens amidst tight security, were excited.
"This is the greatest event that happened to us in years and we thank the Pope because he took the time to come and visit us," said worshipper Michael Kasabreh from Haifa as he awaited the Pope in Bethlehem.
"We are very happy, we feel blessed and fortunate. Here it means something to us because the Pope came to Palestine. It means a lot that he desires peace for the whole nation, all the Arabs, all the nations, united, because all of us at the end of the day pray to one god," said worshipper Ghazal Shihadeh from Nazareth.
The Pope is due to celebrate an open-air Mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square, close to where Christians believe Jesus was born.
His visit has highlighted the dwindling Christian population in the Holy Land, where economic worries and lack of freedoms for Palestinians have pushed many to emigrate. Later on Sunday, he will have lunch with some Palestinian Christian families.
His trip comes at a time of renewed uncertainty, with the latest in a long line of U.S.-backed peace talks collapsing last month amid mutual recrimination and no clear ideas emerging over how to end decades of bloodshed and deadlock.
The Vatican supports the vision of an independent Palestine living in peace alongside Israel, and Francis on Saturday called for a "just solution" to the conflict - the sort of neutral, anodyne language he is expected to adhere to during the stay.
After barely six hours in Bethlehem, Francis will head to Israel, but to avoid a diplomatic tangle, he has to get back in his helicopter and fly to Tel Aviv for a welcoming reception, rather than drive the short distance to Jerusalem.
Israel calls Jerusalem its eternal and undivided capital, having annexed Arab neighbourhoods seized in the 1967 war, including the Old City, the site of the main religious shrines. The rest of the world has not recognised the annexation and leaders traditionally enter the country via Tel Aviv.
From there, he will get back in his helicopter and fly to Jerusalem for what he has said is the purpose of the whole trip - to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic meeting of Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders, who moved to end centuries of bitter divisions between the two churches.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
- Copyright Notice: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2014. Open For Restrictions - http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None