Bethlehem Franciscans appeal for freedom to celebrate Christmas

 As the Israeli occupation of Bethlehem approaches its fifth week, the Franciscan community at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem has issued the following statement: 'As the eyes of the whole Christian world are turned to Bethlehem, with the approach of Christmas, we appeal - with respectful insistence - to all the parties, authorities, forces and organizations present in the area to express and maintain a commitment to enable the Christmas and Epiphany observances to take place in a climate of serenity and good will, so that both the religious and the popular celebrations can take place freely, as a sign of active hope for a peaceful future for the City of Bethlehem and the entire Holy Land. In view of the publicized appeals of the Holy Father, we are confident that all the parties understand and appreciate the transcendent importance of Christmas for Christian believers in Bethlehem and throughout the world, as well as the special resonance of this celebration of the Birth of the Prince of Peace for people everywhere. It is certainly our own sacred duty to carry out the specifically religious observances in any and all circumstances as we did on the occasion of the Feast of St. Catherine, 23rd and 24th November this year. Our ability to do so is also - let it be recalled - guaranteed under international law, including by international Agreements entered into by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. At the same time, we so very much hope and desire that the Christian faithful of Bethlehem, and their neighbours, be able to take part in the celebrations without fear or restrictions, and that pilgrims and visitors too may enjoy unimpeded access. In the midst of the continuing violent conflict, with its bitter harvest of death and destruction, and following the traumatic events at the Shrine of the Nativity earlier this year, a peaceful Christmas at Bethlehem should act as a quietly powerful testimony that peace is possible, and as an inspiring reminder that, with good will on all sides, it can surely be achieved.'

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