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Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Bethlehem: Pope supports Palestinians right to a homeland
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Church of the Nativity
At 8.45am today, Benedict XVI travelled from the apostolic delegation in Jerusalem to the presidential palace of the Palestinian Authority in Bethlehem, a distance of ten kilometres. During the journey the Pope crossed the barrier between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, passing through the checkpoint near the Tomb of Rachel.

The Palestinian Territories are made up of two geographical entities separated by 30 kilometres of Israeli land: the West Bank, which borders on Israel and Jordan, and the Gaza Strip, which borders on Israel and Egypt. They are recognised by the United Nations following the Oslo Agreements of
1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The Territories are governed by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), based in the West Bank town of Ramallah. The current president of the PNA is Mahmoud Abbas.

Since 1995, by the terms of the Oslo Agreement, Bethlehem has formed part of the Palestinian Territories. The presidential palace, where the Pope was welcomed, was built by the late Yasser Arafat, president of the PLO and first president of the PNA.

Benedict XVI reached the presidential palace at 9am where, having received the greetings of President Abbas, he gave the following address.

"My pilgrimage to the lands of the Bible would not be complete without a visit to Bethlehem, the City of David and the birthplace of Jesus Christ", said the Pope. "Nor could I come to the Holy Land without accepting the kind invitation of President Abbas to visit these Territories and to greet the Palestinian people.

"I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades", he added. "My heart goes out to all the families who have been left homeless. ... To those among you who mourn the loss of family members and loved ones in the hostilities, particularly the recent conflict in Gaza, I offer an assurance of deep compassion and frequent remembrance in prayer. Indeed, I keep all of you in my daily prayers, and I earnestly beg the Almighty for peace, a just and lasting peace, in the Palestinian Territories and throughout the region".

Addressing President Abbas, the Holy Father went on: "The Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbours, within internationally recognised borders. Even if at present that goal seems far from being realised, I urge you and all your people to keep alive the flame of hope, hope that a way can be found of meeting the legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians for peace and stability".

Recalling the words of John Paul II to the effect that "there can be 'no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness'", Benedict XVI said: "I plead with all the parties to this long-standing conflict to
put aside whatever grievances and divisions still stand in the way of reconciliation, and to reach out with generosity and compassion to all alike, without discrimination. Just and peaceful co-existence among the peoples of the Middle East can only be achieved through a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect, in which the rights and dignity of all are acknowledged and upheld.

"I ask all of you, I ask your leaders, to make a renewed commitment to work towards these goals. In particular I call on the international community to bring its influence to bear in favour of a solution".

He continued: "It is my earnest hope that the serious concerns involving security in Israel and the Palestinian Territories will soon be allayed sufficiently to allow greater freedom of movement, especially with regard to contact between family members and access to the Holy Places. Palestinians, like any other people, have a natural right to marry, to raise families, and to have access to work, education and healthcare.

"I pray too that, with the assistance of the international community, reconstruction work can proceed swiftly wherever homes, schools or hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, especially during the recent fighting in Gaza. This is essential if the people of this land are to live in conditions conducive to lasting peace and prosperity. A stable infrastructure will provide your young people with better opportunities to acquire valuable skills and to seek gainful employment, enabling them to play their part in building up the life of your communities".

Turning then to address young people the Pope said: "Do not allow the loss of life and the destruction that you have witnessed to arouse bitterness or resentment in your hearts. Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism. Instead, let what you have experienced renew your determination to build peace. Let it fill you with a deep desire to make a lasting contribution to the future of Palestine, so that it can take its rightful place on the world stage. Let it inspire in you sentiments of compassion for all who suffer, zeal for reconciliation, and a firm belief in the possibility of a brighter future".

After the welcome ceremony, the Holy Father travelled by popemobile to Manger Square where celebrated Mass with around 5,000 people, in front of the Basilica of the Nativity.

At the beginning of his homily, the Holy Father addressed himself particularly to "pilgrims from war-torn Gaza: I ask you to bring back to your families and your communities my warm embrace, and my sorrow for the loss, the hardship and the suffering you have had to endure. Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead, and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted".

He proceeded: "For men and women everywhere, Bethlehem is associated with the joyful message of rebirth, renewal, light and freedom. Yet here, in our midst, how far this magnificent promise seems from being realised", he said.

In this city of Christ's birth, "amid every kind of contradiction, the stones continue to cry out this 'good news', the message of redemption which this city, above all others, is called to proclaim to the world".

"And this is what the message of Bethlehem calls us to be: witnesses of the triumph of God's love over the hatred, selfishness, fear and resentment which cripple human relationships and create division where brothers should dwell in unity, destruction where men should be building, despair where hope
should flourish!"

"'Do not be afraid!' This is the message which the Successor of S . Peter wishes to leave with you today, echoing the message of the angels and the charge which our beloved Pope John Paul II left with you in the year of the Great Jubilee of Christ's birth. Count on the prayers and solidarity of your brothers and sisters in the universal Church, and work, with concrete initiatives, to consolidate your presence and to offer new possibilities to those tempted to leave. Be a bridge of dialogue and constructive co-operation in the building of a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration. Build up your local Churches, making them workshops of dialogue, tolerance and hope, as well as solidarity and practical charity.

"Above all", the Holy Father added, "be witnesses to the power of life, the new life brought by the Risen Christ, the life that can illumine and transform even the darkest and most hopeless of human situations.

"Your homeland needs not only new economic and community structures, but most importantly, we might say, a new 'spiritual' infrastructure, capable of galvanising the energies of all men and women of good will in the service of education, development and the promotion of the common good. You have the human resources to build the culture of peace and mutual respect which will guarantee a better future for your children. This noble enterprise awaits you. Do not be afraid!"

Following the celebration of the Eucharist, the Pope went to the Casa Nova monastery in Bethlehem, a house built by the Franciscans to welcome pilgrims. There he had lunch with the ordinaries of the Holy Land and the Franciscan community.

Source: VIS


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Tags: Bethlehem, Church of the Nativity, Gaza, Manger Square, Pope


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