The Roman Catholic World
Pope Benedict XVI continues his message of peace. The Vatican reports:
At 8.45 a.m. 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 frontier 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 9 a.m. where, having received the greetings of President Abbas, he pronounced his 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 exclaimed: “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”.
The welcome ceremony over, the Holy Father travelled by popemobile to Manger Square for the celebration of Mass.