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A Reporter’s Notebook: Anne Thompson Travels with Pope Francis

Anne Thompson/ NBC News

You don't have to meet with a president or a prime minister to understand the political minefield Pope Francis has walked here in the Holy Land. Simply going around Jerusalem and talking to people will show you how loaded even the most innocuous conversations in this part of the world can be.

This afternoon, as I stood on the Mount of Olives to take this picture, a man came up to me and asked if I wanted to take a camel ride. I smiled politely and declined his offer. Frustrated that the security lockdown for the pope's visit had cut off the typical flow of tourists, he launched into a diatribe against the pope, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. While I am not sure how President Obama impacted his business today, after a few minutes it became clear his issues with the pope and the Israeli government ran much deeper than just one day of bad business.

Pope Francis Returns from Three-Day Trip to Holy Land 2:39

The man said the church where the pope stayed was on land that once belonged to his grandfather. He claimed the Vatican and the Israeli government conspired to take it from his grandfather. When I asked him when that happened, he would only say years ago. And then he added that he hates the pope.

This evening as I was being filmed for "NBC Nightly News" inside the old city, one of the shopkeepers cheered me on and offered some directorial advice. Producer Clare Duffy turned to him and joked, "Everyone is a director." Another man walking down the street, leaned into Clare's face and said, "He's an Arabic liar."

Jerusalem is a holy and spectacular setting, and there is some optimism that Pope Francis is putting his considerable personal clout behind a peace effort, inviting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to the Vatican next month. But as I found out today, these divisions run very deep, and some don't even try to hide. A prayer meeting is a start, but it will, by no means, be the end.