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NicoleJansezian / Pope Visit / "Preparing the Way" for the Pope
"Preparing the Way" for the Pope
From Manger Square, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, about a dozen Palestinians from Beit Sahour, Beit Jalla and Bethlehem geared up to run to Jerusalem in the sixth annual peace marathon. But the runners weren’t sure whether they could complete the race.
“We’ll see if they let me (into Jerusalem). I have a pass, but I don’t know if they’ll let me,” said Imad, 23. Imad’s temporary pass, organized by an Italian organization that sponsored the run, didn’t guarantee entry, but would help.
The logistics of the run reflect the situation. Palestinian runners started from behind the concrete barrier that keeps them from Israel and had to obtain permits to cross the checkpoint, logistics that must be worked out in advance. The Israeli runners, many of whom visited Bethlehem before the first Intifada (uprising), are no longer able to enter according to Israeli law, which prevents its citizens from entering Palestinian territories.
Instead, the Israeli delegation met the runners at the checkpoint where the Palestinian contingent’s entry into Israel would be decided.
These locals and Italian pilgrims “prepared the way” for Pope Benedict XVI, just three weeks before his arrival in Israel, with the sixth annual Pope John Paul II Pilgrimage Peace Marathon on Thursday morning. Some 50 Italians and about a dozen Palestinians and Israelis took part in the “marathon,” actually just six miles, but replete with a border crossing from Palestinian territory to Israel’s capital, an attempt to promote peace in the Holy Land.
Centro Sportivo Italiano, the Italian Sports Association, brings pilgrims from Italy and “aims to continue the legacy of Pope John Paul II for peace, brotherhood and inter-religious cooperation” through sports, the organization said in a statement.
Retired AC Milan soccer star Demetrio Albertini, now Deputy President of the Italian Football Association, provided star power for the run. Italian volleyball world champion Andrea Zorzi also joined the marathon. The first stop for the Italian delegation was Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on Wednesday.
Albertini said the race, because of its mission, was an emotional event for him.
“It’s the sixth, but it’s a new day for a very long run in the future for peace,” he said. “In sports you don’t see that wall between the Palestinians and Israelis. This is the strength of sports, you don’t see your differences. That is why we run, why we are here, to bring this message to the young people to live without these differences.”
The race itself took place in true Italian fashion, relaxed and entertaining. It took two hours for the group to span the route, stopping for photo opportunities and extravagant greetings along the way. The Italian delegates passed out olive branches to Palestinians on one side of the wall and to Israelis on the other.
In the end, all the Palestinian runners crossed the border without a hitch and finished the race at Notre Dame church across from the Old City.
Would the race bring peace? Maybe not, but Murad Manoureh, a Palestinian from Beit Sahour, believes it can help.
“Sports is the language for everybody in the world,” he said. “It is a good language and we play by the rules. We run for peace and we run for some sport.”
“We want peace with Israel and we want to visit Jerusalem. We haven’t been here for a long time and it is nice to see it after a long time,” he said.
Yaron Rohin, a Jerusalem runner, has participated in this run for five years.
“It is beautiful to see that the Palestinians crossed the border with relative ease,” he said. “They met us together with the Italians. Now we just need to see some results. If the politicians will also understand this, then we will see peace.”
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