POPE VISITS REFUGEE CAMP

After spending time in a private tour of the Grotto of the Nativity and private prayer at the Chapel of the Magi, the Holy Father proceeded to the Basil Boys School at the Deheish Refugee Camp at the outskirts of Bethlehem. This refugee camp has been in existence since the foundation of the State of Israel (1948) and many displaced Palestinians have been living here ever since its origin. The number of refugees in this camp grew after the six day war of 1967. 

The Holy Father’s visit to the Dheisheh refugee camp is a reflection of his spirituality and pontificate as this Pope reaches out to all people and their suffering.

After reaching the camp in the popemobile, the Holy Father was joined by Yassar Arafat and heard speeches of welcome by Palestine leaders, underlining their sufferings, the future of the refugees and the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.

In addressing the crowd gathered at the Refugee Camp, the Pope explained why it was important to him to visit Dheisheh as he has felt close to the Palestinian people in their suffering throughout his pontificate. It was the Holy Father’s hope that his visit might "comfort" and "bring attention to your continuing plight." The Pope went on to say that the refugees "have been deprived of many things which represent basic needs of the human person…and above all, the sad memory of what you were forced to leave behind, not just material possessions, but your freedom and the closeness of relatives…".

The Pope was complimentary of the work being done through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and many other agencies, but cautioned, "there is still much to be done!". The Holy Father appealed "for greater international solidarity and the political will to met this challenge…to go forward towards the peace for which all reasonable men and women yearn, to the justice to which they have an inalienable right."

At the end of his talk, the Holy Father encouraged the young people of the refuge camp and all the refugees, "…to take their rightful place in society and to not think that your present condition makes you any less important in God’s eyes. Never forget your dignity as His children!" Departing from his prepared text, the Holy Father interjected, "Probably the shepherds who received the first message of the Birth of Christ were your ancestors." 

After this speech the Pope received a standing ovation by those present. As he began to leave the building, the Pope shook hands with some children of the school. He left the camp in the popemobile and proceeded to the Presidential Palace for a private meeting with Yassar Arafat. After this meeting the Holy Father will return in the helicopter later to the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem.