Latest from church leaders in Bethlehem

 Fr Raed Abusahlia, from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has just sent this statement from the church leaders of Jerusalem which was read at the military barrier outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He introduces it with the following note: Dear Brothers and Sisters, Today at noontime, all the heads of the churches tried to go to Bethlehem for the second time since the invasion of the city and after this morning's escalation around the Nativity church, but the were blocked at the checkpoint of Tantour because the whole area still declared closed military zone. Therefore they held a moment of prayer for peace in which they read the Gospel of the Nativity in Arabic, English and Italian, they read also the following press release in Arabic, English and French and then, hand with hand they tried to approach the checkpoint while they were singing the prayer of OUR FATHER and then the song of WE SHALL OVERCOME. This was a symbolical sign of solidarity and a message for peace which was given to the soldiers and the their commanders who were at the checkpoint. Today at 6pm a meeting will be held with Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior and deputy defence Minister Dalia Rabin in order to discuss a way out of the current crisis in general and the Nativity Church situation in particular. Attending this meeting from the Christian side will be: The Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem Mgr Pietro Sambi, Patriarch Michel Sabbah from the Latin Patriarchate, Bishop Arsitarchos representing of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Bishop Aris representing of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate and Rev Fr Giovanni Battistelli Custos of the Holy Land. Message from the heads of churches in Jerusalem Peace upon all those who wish peace. Peace cannot be obtained by the war nor by the tanks or by the bloodshed, especially in Bethlehem. There is no need for more bloodshed in Bethlehem. This morning blood was shed. We reject the need for all bloodshed, Israeli or Palestinian. Bethlehem must not remain any more a place of war. We ask the Israeli Authorities to withdraw all its instruments of war; to go in peace, and to send back their soldiers to their families. On this barrier of war we proclaim the Gospel of peace, the Gospel of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace. We invite all the Churches of the world to proclaim it with us. We invite our faithful to remain strong in their patience, faith and in the tranquillity of soul which comes from the peace and the justice of God. We invite them to ring the bells of Christmas today at 2pm in Bethlehem, Beit-Jala and Beit-Sahour, the town of the Shepherds and the Angels who proclaimed peace to the world and in all the parishes in the Holy Land, as a sign of the peace in their hearts and as moment of prayer and supplications until the end of this war.

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