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Pope Visits Palestinians, Declares Support for Their 'Natural Right to a Homeland'

Aired March 22, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Pope John Paul II may have answered the prayers of thousands of Palestinians today, or at least raised their hopes, when he openly supported their "natural right to a homeland," that's a quote. The pontiff's Holy Land pilgrimage took him to Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank. And from all indications, it was a mutually-fulfilling experience.

CNN's Walter Rodgers now joins us from Bethlehem with all the words and pictures -- Walter.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Lou.

It was certainly a taxing day for Pope John Paul II here in Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity. The pope's day began with controversy. Upon arriving in Bethlehem, he was handed a bowl of soil, Palestinian soil, sacred to the land where Jesus was born. The pope blessed it.

Palestinians immediately seized upon that bowl of soil as a ratification of their national aspirations for a homeland. And indeed, the pope endorsed their right to a homeland, sympathizing greatly with the Palestinians, saying that he recognized and the world recognized the torment they have endured for the last 50 years.

The pope was able to sidestep politics only briefly during a large mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square. But even there, religious tensions popped into the mass, interrupting it. Just as the pope had finished his homily, his sermon, a Muazine (ph), that is a Islamic -- a Muslim cleric began blasting from the mosque nearby a call to prayer. And the Christians had to step aside and pause briefly during their mass, during the pope's mass in Manger Square for the Muslim call to prayer.

After that, there was a visit to the chapel, to the grotto, where -- which is the traditional site of the Manger, where Jesus was born.

Then the pope went to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. At the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, he extended his heart-felt sympathy to generations and generations of Palestinians who have been displaced by Arab and Israeli wars since 1948.

After the pope left the refugee camp, no sooner had he left the refugee camp, then there was some minor rioting which broke out, stones being thrown at the camp, Palestinian refugees throwing stones at their own policemen, protesting the extra-tight security that, indeed, was imposed on the camp during the papal visit.

I'm Walter Rodgers, CNN, live in Bethlehem.

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