By Motasem Dalloul – Gaza City
Christians in the bombed-out, Israel-closed Gaza Strip feel abandoned because Pope Benedict XVI of the Vatican will snub their coastal enclave during his upcoming several-day visit to the Holy Lands.
"We are disappointed that he will not visit the Strip and see the scale of destruction with his eyes," Hala Saleeba, 41, a teacher in the Holy Family Christian School in Gaza, told IslamOnline.net.
"The one who sees with eyes is not the same as the one who hears with ears."
Benedict XVI will arrive in Jordan on Friday, May 8, at the start of his several-day visit to the Holy Lands.
On Monday, May 11, he will visit Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, lay a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance and meet Holocaust survivors.
The next day the pontiff will visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine, and meet the Grand Mufti of Palestine.
He will also visit el-Bouraq Wall, which Jews call the Western Wall, and meet the two Chief Rabbis of Israel.
Pope Benedict will go to Bethlehem on Wednesday, May 13, visit the Aida Refugee Camp – from where the Israeli separation barrier surrounding Bethlehem and restricting its residents can be clearly seen — and meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The day after he will go to Nazareth and later meet hawkish Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu.
Before returning to Rome on Friday, May 15, Pope Benedict is scheduled to meet the Greek-Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem and the patriarch of the Armenian Church.
Gaza Christians are upset the pope is not coming to the Strip to see the scale of destruction inflicted by the Israeli occupation.
"How can you pity the victims of the Holocaust, which you didn’t see with your eyes or live its events, and don’t pity a larger Holocaust of a nation which you see and hear its screams everyday," fumes Hussam al-Taweel, a Gaza priest.
Israel’s three-week war killed more than 1330 Palestinians, mostly women and children, damaged 14,000, drove 50,800 people homeless, wrecked between 35 and 60 percent of the agriculture industry, destroyed 219 factories and damaged 15 of Gaza’s 27 hospitals.
Worse still, Gaza Christians lament they would not be able to go and see the pope during his tour of the Holy Lands.
"We can’t deny that the visit of the Pope is an important event, but we will not be able to reach the holy places which he wants to visit in order to celebrate his arrival," Gaza Catholic’s Priest Monsignor Manuel Mussalam told IOL.
"The occupation don’t issue enough exit permits to us for religious occasions."
The Christians of Palestine, the world’s oldest Christian community, have very little freedom of movement.
Most have never worshipped in Jerusalem’s holy places, even though Bethlehem and Jerusalem are only a few miles apart.
Few Christians from Gaza got exit permits to celebrate the Easter with their relatives in the West Bank or the occupied Palestine this year.
"Free access to worship places is guaranteed by all religions," said Hossam al Taweel, a Christian MPs.
"Only Jews disrespect this right!"
As the pope of the Vatican symbolizes a religious position for all Christians in the world, Gaza Christians insist that he must have a role towards improving their life.
"Both Muslim and Christian Gazans are waiting for him to pass a message to the Israelis asking them to left the siege and facilitate their life," says MP al-Taweel.
Monsignor Mussalam was more vocal and critical.
"Your voice must be louder and louder and you must deal with the Holy Land far from the greed of the Europeans, but from the eye of humanity and the eye of sanctity," he stressed.
"Western countries are the reason behind the creation of Israel which was built on the bodies, lands and worship places of the Palestinians," fumed the Christian clergyman.
"It is true that not all of them are Catholics, but all of them are Christians and so they are under your word," he said, addressing his words to Pope Benedict.
"You must tell them that they have to facilitate our return to the occupied lands. Don’t forget that the origin of your current position is from Palestine and your faith is originated from Palestine as Jesus who came with Christianity is from Palestine."