Palestinians in Awe, Cheers Pope Francis Who Stopped and Prayed at the Bethlehem Wall (PHOTOS)

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  • REFILE - REMOVING ADDITIONAL WORD  Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made
    REFILE - REMOVING ADDITIONAL WORD Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made a surprise stop at the hulking wall Palestinians see as a symbol of Israeli oppression on Sunday, minutes after begging both sides to end a conflict that he said was no longer acceptable. REUTERS/Mheisen Amareen (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
  • Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for peace on a
    Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for peace on a pilgrimage on Sunday to Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, urging an intensified effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS - NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO COMMERCIAL USE
  • Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for peace on a
    Pope Francis touches the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, on his way to celebrate a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for peace on a pilgrimage on Sunday to Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, urging an intensified effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS - NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO COMMERCIAL USE
  • Pope Francis shakes hands with a boy, who is from a nearby Palestinian refugee camp, during a visit to the Dheisheh refugee camp on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made a surprise stop at the hulking wall Palest
    Pope Francis shakes hands with a boy, who is from a nearby Palestinian refugee camp, during a visit to the Dheisheh refugee camp on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made a surprise stop at the hulking wall Palestinians see as a symbol of Israeli oppression on Sunday, minutes after begging both sides to end a conflict that he said was no longer acceptable. REUTERS/Menahem Kahana/Pool (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS)
  • Pope Francis gestures to the crowd at Manger Square in the West Bank town of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made a surprise stop on Sunday at the wall Palestinians abhor as a symbol of Israeli oppression, and later invited presidents from both sides
    Pope Francis gestures to the crowd at Manger Square in the West Bank town of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made a surprise stop on Sunday at the wall Palestinians abhor as a symbol of Israeli oppression, and later invited presidents from both sides of the divide to the Vatican to pray for peace. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS)
  • Pope Francis, onboard a helicopter, waves as leaves the West Bank town of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made a surprise stop on Sunday at the wall Palestinians abhor as a symbol of Israeli oppression, and later invited presidents from both sides of
    Pope Francis, onboard a helicopter, waves as leaves the West Bank town of Bethlehem May 25, 2014. Pope Francis made a surprise stop on Sunday at the wall Palestinians abhor as a symbol of Israeli oppression, and later invited presidents from both sides of the divide to the Vatican to pray for peace. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS)
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Palestinians were in awe on Sunday and couldn't believe what just happened before their very eyes. Pope Francis, leader of the world's 1.2-billion strong Roman Catholics, stopped his motorcade between scheduled events in Bethlehem to pause and pray at the wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

Known as The Wall, the Israeli West Bank barrier was created to protect Israel's citizens from the Palestinians' violent uprising against Israeli rule. It was built a decade ago and yet to be fully completed. Upon completion, the barrier's total length will be 700 kilometres (430 mi). As of 2012, 439.7 km (273.2 mi) of barrier, representing 62.1 per cent, have been built.

The wall has become a symbol of repression to Palestinians throughout their divided state.

On his way from the Presidential Palace in Bethlehem to Manger Square, Pope Francis asked the driver of his Popemobile to stop, then went down and stood beneath an Israeli watchtower. In a move no pope has ever done, Pope Francis reached out and touched the metres-high concrete barrier.

Pope Francis lay his forehead on a section filled with graffiti saying "Free Palestine" and "Bethelehem look like Warsaw Ghetto."

"He got down from the Popemobile and walked up to the wall," Rev Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said. "He remained there for some minutes, praying silently. He then touched the wall with his forehead."

Rev Lombardi noted he did not have an idea the pope will be stopping by the famed wall.

"I was not informed [of his plans to stop]. It was planned by him the day before ... It was a very significant way to demonstrate his participation in suffering ... It was a profound spiritual moment in front of a symbol of division."

Palestinians who had been fighting for a free state were moved and pleased with Pope Francis' respect and gesture.

"The fact that he came straight from Jordan is a sign that the Pope sees Palestine as a state," The Telegraph quoted Ilias Abdo, a Christian clergyman from Bethlehem. "That was a deliberate decision - it was not by chance. This is a political visit as much as a religious one. He is hinting at recognition of an independent Palestinian state."

"His arrival from Amman straight to Bethlehem, without going through Israel, is very symbolic for statehood. He's showing sympathy for the Palestinian people, who are besieged by the separation wall," George Zaineh, a Christian from Bethlehem, said.

During the mass in Manger Square, Pope Francis issued an invitation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to meet at the Vatican to discuss peace between Israel and Palestine.

"I offer my home in the Vatican as the place for this encounter for prayer," he said. "Building peace is difficult but living without peace is a constant torment."

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, however, downplayed the pope's stopover at the wall.

"We had expected that the pope would make a human gesture. There's nothing political here," the spokesman said. "The Vatican has recognised Palestine as a state a long time ago, not that we liked at the time but it's a bit surprising that the Palestinians are making it sound as if it's something new. They are turning the visit into a whole propaganda stunt but that's what they do and the Vatican plays along with it and so be it. We will find the time to speak with the Vatican through diplomatic channels about this."

"Rather than have a head of state and head of the Catholic church come here and give his blessings, the Palestinians are turning his visit into a compilation of political grievances."

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