Bethlehem: President Bush visits Church of Nativity

 Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) has welcomed the visit of President Bush to Bethlehem yesterday, including the Church of the Nativity, and his call for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement by the end of 2008. In December the CMEP wrote to President Bush, expressing strong support for the November Annapolis peace conference, urging sustained US engagement and asking the President to "visit Bethlehem and meet with the Christians there" during his January trip. The President was joined in Bethlehem by Khouloud Daibes, PA Minister of Tourism, and met with various Christian clergy, including His Beatitude Theophilus III, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land. In a statement made prior to his departure from the Church of the Nativity, the President thanked the people of Bethlehem and said he hoped that someday, as a result of the formation of a Palestinian state, "there won't be walls and checkpoints, that people will be able to move freely in a democratic state. That's the vision, greatly inspired by my belief that there is an Almighty, and a gift of that Almighty to each man, woman and child on the face of the Earth is freedom." Later, in remarks at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the President said: "The establishment of the state of Palestine is long overdue. The Palestinian people deserve it. And it will enhance the stability of the region, and it will contribute to the security of the people of Israel. The peace agreement should happen, and can happen, by the end of this year." In a press release, Warren Clark, CMEP's Executive Director said: "We are pleased that President Bush visited Bethlehem today. Our churches are acutely aware of the difficulties faced by Christians, as well as Muslims, in Bethlehem, who struggle to reach places of worship, schools and jobs and endure much economic hardship with the decline of tourism. We agree that a future Palestinian state must be viable and contiguous, enabling freedom of movement, and that Israel must live in safety with secure and recognized borders. A Palestinian state alongside Israel will greatly improve future prospects for the people of Bethlehem, and indeed all the peoples of the Holy Land. The President's call for a peace agreement by the end of 2008 is most welcome. Continuation of strong U.S. leadership will be necessary for success." Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Franciscan Friars OFM (English Speaking Conference, JPIC Council), Friends Committee on National Legislation, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Maryknoll Missioners, Mennonite Central Committee, Moravian Church in America, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (GBCS & GBGM). Source: CMEP

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