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Bethlehem: Pope telephones beseiged Franciscans

 The Pope spoke by telephone with the Franciscan Friars under siege in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem yesterday, the Missionary news service reports. "Continue with courage to resist and guard the holy sites" was his message. In a brief statement, the Vatican press office said: "the Holy Father thanked the friars for their Christian testimony and gave them their blessing in these moments of such hardship". Fr Ibrahim Faltas, rector of the Bethlehem Franciscan complex, spoke with the Holy Father, and then relayed his words to the rest of the community. The Jerusalem-based Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land, Fr Giovanni Battistelli, told the Missionary service the community was immensely grateful for the gesture of the Holy Father. "With this careful attention he confirms us in the mandate of Custodians of the Holy Sites of Redemption, encouraging the confreres of Bethlehem to persevere in their mission" Fr Giovanni said.