By Judith Sudilovsky
BETHLEHEM, West Bank – Pope Francis’ Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem will be the only opportunity for local faithful to participate in the papal visit.
While there is room for about 9,000 people in the square, locals are wondering about the need for tickets to attend the Mass.
Despite the complaints, Jamal Khader, rector of the Latin Patriarchate seminary in Beit Jalla and a spokesman for the pope’s visit, said tickets are necessary to maintain order.
The precious tickets have been distributed throughout different geographical areas, including about 1,000 in Galilee, where both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI celebrated large-scale Masses. Church officials also requested permits for about 600 Christian families from Gaza to attend.
One of the families from Gaza will be lucky enough to lunch with Pope Francis after the liturgy. Another will be present at the Presidential Palace during a courtesy visit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Of note is that the Gaza parish has a unique connection with the pope: both Father Jorge Hernandez, pastor, and one of the sisters serving the parish are from Argentina.
Palestinian Christians also will be faced with what they called a “possible curfew” in Jerusalem during the pope’s visit. Some have sent a letter voicing their concerns to Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, papal nuncio to Israel and Cyprus and apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.
The Vatican’s Fides news agency reported that some members of St. Savior Parish in the Old City of Jerusalem wrote to the nuncio opposing any steps that would prevent them from greeting Pope Francis in the streets.
“We see attempts by the Israeli occupation to impose a curfew on the streets, including the Christian Quarter, during the visit,” the letter said, according to Fides. “The curfew is yet another attempt by the occupying power to deny our existence. It is unacceptable for the pope to pass along the narrow streets of the Christian Quarter, yet find it devoid of any signs of life and the faithful. As local church communities we are the hosts of the Holy Fathers in our city. We do not want to be excluded from a historic religious event, and want to offer our good will and cooperation towards the visit’s success.”
Some Jewish residents of Jerusalem have been grousing about the expected traffic jams and travel delays they will encounter when the pope arrives. As has become his custom, Pope Francis has requested not to travel in a security vehicle but rather in a simple car.
Israeli police have said that security precautions will be tight during the visit.