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Pope John Paul II Speaks at Dheisheh Refugee Camp

Aired March 22, 2000 - 10:03 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: From Bethlehem, the pope has moved slightly outside of the edge of Bethlehem to a refugee camp where he is now addressing the people gathered there, including Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to the pope's left.


POPE JOHN PAUL II: ... that here, close to Bethlehem, are meeting you, refugees and displaced persons, and representatives of the organizations and agencies in all of this (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Throughout my pontificate, I have felt close to the Palestinian people and their sufferings. I greet each of you -- each one of you and I hope and I pray that my visit will bring some comfort in your difficult situation.


This (UNINTELLIGIBLE) will help to draw attention to your continuing plight. You have been deprived of many things which represent basic needs of the human person: proper housing, health care, education and love. Throughout all, you bear the sad memory of what you were forced to leave behind. Not just material possessions, but your freedom, the closeness of relatives and the familiar surroundings and cultural traditions that unites (ph) your personal and family life.

It is true that the march is being done here in this and in other camps to respond to your needs, especially to the United Nations (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I am particularly pleased of the effectiveness of the presence of the pontifical missions from Palestine...


... and many other Catholic organizations. But there is still much to be done. The degrading conditions that these refugees often have to live, the continuation of long periods of situations of barely tolerable emergencies are for a brief time of thousands, the fact that displaced persons are obliged to remain for years in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) camps, these are the measure of the urgent needs for a just solution to the underlying causes of the problem.

Only a resolute effort on the part of leaders of the Middle East and the international community as a whole inspire (ph) a higher region of politics, of service for the common good, can remove the causes of your present situation. My appeal is for greater international solidarity and the political will to meet this challenge. I plead with all who are sincerely working on justice and peace not to lose heart. I appeal to political leaders to implement agreements already arrived and to go forward to ask for peace for each of these men and women here, to the justice to which they have an inalienable rights.


Dear young people, continue to strive for relocation, to take your rightful place in society despite the difficulties and handicaps that you have to face because of your refugee status. The Catholic Church is particularly happy to serve in our cause of education through the extremely valuable of Bethlehem University...


... founded as a secular (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of my predecessor Pope Paul VI in 1964.

Dear brothers and sisters, refugees, do not think that your present condition makes you any less important in God's eyes. Never forget your dignity has his children. Here in Bethlehem, the divine child was laid in a manger in a stable. Shepherds from the nearby fields were the first to receive the heavenly message of peace and hope for the world because the sign was fulfilled in the midst of humility and poverty. Probably the pastors, the shepherds of Bethlehem were your predecessors, your ancestors.


Dear aid workers and volunteers, believe in the task that you are fulfilling (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reality because the need is not a favor considered, it is a demand of our shared humanity and a recognition of the dignity of every human being.

Let us all turn with confidence to the Lord asking him to inspire those in a position of responsibility to promote justice, security and peace without delay and in an imminently practical way. The challenge to our social and charitable organizations will continue to be a new sight...


... will continue to preach your cause before the world.


God bless all of you. Thank you.


HEMMER: No mincing words in that address at Dheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Pope John Paul II in his address mentioning the Palestinian people and their suffering talking about being deprived of many things over the years. He mentioned freedom, he mentioned family. Direct words now, Pope John Paul II says he hopes and prays that, quote, "my visit will bring comfort in your difficult situation," and the Catholic Church will continue to bring your cause to the attention of the world.

He said, though, however, in the middle of that speech, there is still much to be done. Even at one point, he referred to the predecessors being shepherds in the Middle East during Jesus' time, ancestors of the Palestinian people.

Jerrold Kessel is there as well. Let's bring in Jerrold now as we wait for Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to make his address as well.

Jerrold, at this time, we heard, from earlier today in Bethlehem in Manger Square, a similar address talking about the Palestinian plight. And, again, that was repeated today. What are we to make of this?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, I think there was a lot of applause there from the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and other members of the Palestinian hierarchy who were listening in very carefully to what the pope had to say, and very pleased when he had to say the identification of the church -- his personal identification with their plight. He made a very emotional statement about that plight and he said that the church would continue to please their cause.

But I think it would stop -- it would fall short of the emotions here in the refugee camp and, I dare say, in other refugee camps where they were saying, we don't want only these general, high-filuting (ph) generalities from the pope about rights of refugees and so forth. We want a specific commitment to help us to get our rights of return to our old homes. That we never heard from the pope, understandably so, perhaps because that would be really going in a different direction of the delicate balancing act that he is engaging in between Israelis and Palestinians.

Nonetheless, that being said, a very powerful statement of support for the situation of the Palestinian refugees and for the commitment that the -- that he and the church will continue to plead their cause to be resolved in the context of a just and equitable political solution, was the way the pope put it.

Back to you.

HEMMER: Jerrold, stick with us just for a second here as we see the pope trail off with the Palestinian leader here away from the crowd there that we just saw. The headline today thus far has been, and logically so, in the West Bank, the pope and his thoughts on the Palestinian people and their future. Has the address, thus far today, taken anybody by surprise where you are today in the Middle East?

KESSEL: Not really by surprise. I think the depth of the emotion in which the pope spoke, both this morning in Bethlehem when he was received by Yasser Arafat at the mass which he conducted in the Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity and here again in this very emotionally packed arena of the Squallard (ph) Boys School in the refugee camp when he spoke of his commitment to their plight of the refugees and that he will plead their cause, I think that's what may be, if anything, a surprise, but not the actual contours of the political map, if you like, that he has staked out of what the Vatican's position will be. I think that's been expected because he has for many years spoken warmly of the commitment to the -- on the humanitarian level to trying to help and resolve the question of the Palestinian refugees. But he didn't really, it seemed to me, go further in setting out a new direction for a political solution of that refugees, at least not in a way that would please many of the refugees themselves -- Bill.

HEMMER: OK, Jerrold. Clarification well-noted.

Jerrold Kessel there from the refugee camp in the West Bank. We'll be in touch.

From here, the pope will travel on to Jerusalem later today. His tour, again, will continue throughout the week tomorrow on Thursday, Friday Saturday, and then again on Sunday.



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