Bethlehem: Pope Francis landed on Sunday in the cradle of Christianity in a symbolic nod to Palestinian aspirations for their own state, calling the stalemate in peace talks "unacceptable" and stopping briefly to pray at the Israeli separation barrier surrounding this biblical West Bank town.
Jubilant Palestinians cheered Francis on the second day of his Mideast pilgrimage as he arrived for Mass in Bethlehem`s Manger Square, shouting "Viva al-Baba!" or "Long live the pope!" Giant Palestinian flags in red, white, green and black and the Vatican`s yellow-and-white flags decorated the square, which is home to the Church of the Nativity, built over Jesus` traditional birth grotto.
A smaller crowd waving Vatican flags also surrounded Francis as he made a brief stop en route to the square at the Israeli separation barrier surrounding three sides of Bethlehem.
Francis got out of his open-topped car and bowed his head in silent prayer before the massive concrete wall that Israel says is necessary for its security and the Palestinians say has stifled life in Bethlehem and engulfed land across the West Bank.
Previous popes always came to the West Bank after first arriving in Tel Aviv, Israel. Francis, however, landed at a Bethlehem helipad from Jordan aboard a Jordanian helicopter and immediately headed into an official welcoming ceremony and meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Standing alongside Abbas, Francis declared: "The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable."
He said both sides needed to make sacrifices to create two states, with internationally recognized borders, based on mutual security and rights for everyone.
"The time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good," he said, urging both sides to refrain from any actions that would derail peace.
In his remarks, Abbas voiced his concerns about the recent breakdown in US-backed peace efforts and lamented the difficult conditions facing the Palestinians. He also expressed hope for peace.
"Your visit is loaded with symbolic meaning as a defender of the poor and the marginalized," he said.
Abbas listed a series of complaints against Israel, including continued settlement construction, the plight of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, Israel`s control of east Jerusalem -- the Palestinians` would-be capital -- and Israel`s construction of the "ugly wall" that encircles Bethlehem.
"We welcome any initiative from you to make peace a reality in the Holy Land," Abbas said. "I am addressing our neighbors -- the Israelis. We are looking for the same thing that you are looking for, which is safety, security and stability."