Pope Benedict XVI's Address at the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem

By Xvi, Pope Benedict | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2009 | Go to article overview

Pope Benedict XVI's Address at the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem


Xvi, Pope Benedict, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Mr. President,

Dear Friends,

My visit to the Aida Refugee Camp this afternoon gives me a welcome opportunity to express my solidarity with all the homeless Palestinians who long to be able to return to their birthplace, or to Uve permanently in a homeland of their own. Thank you, Mr. President [Mahmoud Abbas], for your kind greeting. And thank you also, [UNRWA Commissioner-General] Mrs. [Karen] AbuZayd, and our other speakers. To all the officials of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency who care for the refugees, I express the appreciation felt by countless men and women all over the world for the work that is done here and in other camps throughout the region.

I extend a particular greeting to the pupils and teachers in the school. By your commitment to education you are expressing hope in the future. To all the young people here, I say: renew your efforts to prepare for the time when you will be responsible for the affairs of the Palestinian people in years to come. Parents have a most important role here, and to all the families present in this camp I say: be sure to support your children in their studies and to nurture their gifts, so that there will be no shortage of well-qualified personnel to occupy leadership positions in the Palestinian community in the future. I know that many of your families are divided-through imprisonment of family members, or restrictions on freedom of movement-and many of you have experienced bereavement in the course of the hostilities. My heart goes out to all who suffer in this way. Please be assured that all Palestinian refugees across the world, especially those who lost homes and loved ones during the recent conflict in Gaza, are constantly remembered in my prayers.

I wish to acknowledge the good work carried out by many Church agencies in caring for refugees here and in other parts of the Palestinian territories. The Pontifical Mission for Palestine, founded some 60 years ago to coordinate Catholic humanitarian assistance for refugees, continues its much-needed work alongside other such organizations. In this camp, the presence of Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary calls to mind the charismatic figure of Saint Francis, that great apostle of peace and reconciliation. Indeed, I want to express my particular appreciation for the enormous contribution made by different members of the Francis-can family in caring for the people of these lands, making themselves "instruments of peace," in the time-honored phrase attributed to the Saint of Assisi.

Instruments of peace. How much the people of this camp, these territories, and this entire region long for peace! In these days, that longing takes on a particular poignancy as you recall the events of May 1948 and the years of conflict, as yet unresolved, that followed from those events. You are now Uving in precarious and difficult conditions, with limited opportunities for employment. It is understandable that you often feel frustrated. Your legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian state, remain unfulfiUed. Instead you find yourselves trapped, as so many in this region and throughout the world are trapped, in a spiral of violence, of attack and counter-attack, retaliation, and continual destruction. …

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