The Pope is visiting Bethlehem tomorrow, holding a Mass in Manger Square and meeting with Palestinian officials. He’ll also meet with some Palestinian refugees.
It is striking to consider what Jesus would be born into today. (Click on the images to see the full picture and caption, then press Esc to return to the blog.)
The main refugee camp lies adjacent to the town of Bethlehem and, like other Palestinian camps, has been in existence since just after 1948 when Palestinians were displaced by the creation of the State of Israel. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is charged by the UN to care for health, education and social services of “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” There are about 5 million refugees, located in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, and Syria. Many refugees seek, so far to no avail, the “right of return” to their former homes. Some families still hold the keys to their former homes and the rusted old key has become a symbol of what they have lost and what they hope to regain. Of course, current Israeli policy does not favor any such outcome. Instead, Palestinian land continues to be taken by settlements and the snaking path of the separation wall.
No room at the Inn. The modern equivalent of the manger is a UN refugee camp nestled against a concrete wall studded with gun towers. An unlikely place for a prince of peace to be born. But then again, an animals’ feed trough in a town under Roman occupation was hardly a throne of privilege. It will be interesting to hear what the Pope has to say on these matters.
The long-standing awful track record of the Roman Pontiff (and many, many other Christians) of not treating Jews and Muslims as fellow, equal human beings is well known; pogroms, crusades and genocides are part of the Christian legacy. That a Pope would visit with some Muslim refugees, then walk in the Holocaust memorial (Yad Vashem), a place that makes clear the complicity of previous Christian leadership in the Shoah, and finally honor a Zionist leader (Theodor Herzl) whom previous Popes had refused to support is perhaps a small sign of the Vatican trying to acknowledge past wrongs and find a more peaceful future.