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Bethlehem families to meet Pope Francis

May 25, 2014 10:09 A.M. (Updated: May 27, 2014 11:18 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Among the many people planning to meet with Pope Francis during his Sunday visit to Bethlehem are a number of families, chosen by a special committee to give His Holiness a sense of the diversity of Palestinians' experiences.

The families represent a wide variety of the concerns and issues facing Palestinian Christians today, including the occupation, land confiscation, and the siege on Gaza.

Among the families who have been selected to meet His Holiness is the Abu Muhr family from Beit Jala. The family owns 17 dunums (4 acres) near Cremisan Monastery in Beit Jala west of Bethlehem that are slated for confiscation by the Israeli occupation.

Part of their land has already been been taken over to construct a road for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers.

"This land means the future of ourselves and our children. Our story is one of tens of thousands of stories of Palestinians who have been suffering from the separation wall and the settlements," Juliet Abu Muhr told Ma'an.

"We will deliver a message to His Holiness in his mother tongue Spanish, as my husband speaks the language," she added, in reference to her husband Ilias.

Another family who will meet the pope represents Bethlehem families whose children were deported from Bethlehem by Israeli occupation authorities following their siege of the Church of the Nativity in 2002 during the Second Intifada.

"We are happy that my mother will have the opportunity to sit with His Holiness the pope at the lunch table and deliver a message on behalf of the deportees," says Nasser Shatara, whose brother Raed was deported from Bethlehem to the Gaza Strip in 2002.

"My brother Raed," he added, "was deported 13 years ago and my father died after the deportation," he added, explaining that the family has been suffering like many other families because of Israeli occupation. "We hope His Holiness will help us."

Shatara's mother Layla said as she burst into tears: "I want to ask the pope to bring back my son because I miss him and I am sure all mothers of deportees and prisoners feel the same."

Following the Israeli siege of the church, a deal was reached with the dozens of Palestinian militants who had sought refuge inside to deport them to the Gaza Strip, Spain, and Italy. Many of the individuals were denied the chance to see their families before being deported.

Rania Michael Misamek, a Christian woman who lives in Gaza City, will also meet the pope in Bethlehem.

"It is an honor to represent my city, Gaza, and the whole Gaza Strip, at the lunch table with the pope and to talk about the suffering of the Gazan people as a result of the siege and the injustices (we suffer), as most Christian young people in the strip are unemployed. This will be my message to the pope."

Fadi Halabi from Jerusalem will also meet the pontiff in Bethlehem representing Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody. Halabi himself is a former prisoner who served several years, similar to the 20 percent of the entire Palestinian population that spent some time in Israeli jails since 1967.

"I will deliver to his holiness a message about Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody and how their families suffer during family visits to occupation jails."

Mayk Abed Rabbo, meanwhile, from Beit Jala will tell a different story to Pope Francis.

"I don't have any documents to prove who I am. I don't have a birth certificate, neither do I have an identity card and thus I couldn't finish my education. I couldn't even get a driving license or do anything in my life. In effect I am not present in this world and that will be my message to the pope and I hope he will help me and all others who have been suffering."

Father Ibrahim Faltas, economist for the Custody of Holy Land, told Ma'an that he was happy with the families selected to meet with the pope as they represent different sectors of the Palestinian society and can represent very well the people's concerns and issues.

Speaking to Ma'an on Saturday, he said that families will meet the pope over lunch. In addition, a group of civil society organizations will also meet the pope, added Faltas.
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