Pope Francis created quite a stir in Bethlehem on Sunday as part of his voyage to the Holy Land.
He made an unscheduled visit to the hulking concrete separation wall that cordons off Israel and Jerusalem from Palestinian territory where it slices through Bethlehem, and rested his forehead against it for a few instants.
A flag-holding Palestinian child looked on. The Vatican insists this visit is about peace first and foremost, and on Sunday Francis begged his hosts and Israel to end a conflict he said was “no longer acceptable.”
“We are very happy but we didn’t get more passes, just a few people but really, really excited now,” said two Indian women.
“When Jean Paul II went to Poland it was the begining of the fall of Socialist rule there.. so yes, why not, Francisco can do the same here and bring peace, yes I believe in that,” said a Spanish tourist.
“We are praying from our hearts and we’d like to see today an end of Israeli occupation; we want to see an end to any suffering, any people killed for nothing. We look at him praying and from this visit can hope for our people to have freedom like his, having our own state and to having our capital in Jerusalem,” said one elderly local man.
Francis invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to The Vatican to try and bridge their divisions, a month after the collapse of US-brokered talks, and delighted his hosts when he referred to the “state of Palestine.” Later today he embarks on the Israeli leg of his three-day tour.
He received a warm hug from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Francis called “a man of peace and a peacemaker.”
Francis has some of his own diplomacy to do, as the main point of this trip is meeting Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem in a 50th anniversary celebration of the two churches’ meeting to end centuries of conflict.
“Pope Francis has imposed his style in this visit: direct and accessible. In spite of security risks he insisted on an open car to be as close as possible to people. An armoured car, the Vatican says, would have shown fear and the pope is here to demonstrate that fear sets people against people,” says euronews’s Luis Carballo.