Few Gazans Attended Papal Mass

Only 48 residents of the Gaza Strip—about half as many as originally reported—were able to attend the papal Mass in Bethlehem, West Bank on May 13, said Archbishop Antonio Franco, Vatican nuncio to Israel and the Palestinian territories. "One hundred and twenty permits were given but only 48 (people) came; we are not aware of why," he said at a press conference following the conclusion of Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the Holy Land. Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem said his patriarchate had requested 250 permits allowing Gazan residents to travel to Bethlehem to attend the Mass. Following the Mass, church officials said there had been 95 Gazan residents present, but the figure was based on information they had been given a day earlier, said Wadie Abunasser, spokesman for the local church committee that organized the papal visit. He said that only later did it become apparent that the number was much lower than they thought.

Archbishop Franco said he hoped Pope Benedict's discussion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about multiple-entry visas for clergy from Arab countries would make the process of travel in and out of Israel easier. The Latin patriarchate has said that not having such visas hinders the priests' ability to carry out their pastoral work and prevents them from being able to visit their families.  "It is too early to look at results," said Archbishop Franco. "Nothing is magic. We hope something will come of it and some problems may be solved. Perhaps it won't solve all problems, but we hope that the visit will be a good occasion for many things."

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