Pope supports Palestinian homeland

By  Cindy Wooden and Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service
  • May 14, 2009
{mosimage}BETHLEHEM, West Bank - Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the Palestinian territories May 13 and immediately declared the Vatican’s support for an independent Palestine.

“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 recognized borders,” the Pope told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Pope met with Abbas before celebrating Mass in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity, which marks the place where Jesus was born.

Pope Benedict stood listening attentively as Abbas spoke about the suffering and daily challenges faced by the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation, including the travel restrictions and what he described as “the apartheid wall” that prevent Palestinian Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Palestinian Muslims from reaching al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

“On this holy land there are those who continue to build separation walls instead of bridges,” he told the Pope, who had entered Bethlehem by crossing through a gate in the security wall Israel has erected along its border and through the West Bank. “It is time for this suffering to end and to be substituted by love and peace.”

Pope Benedict told the Palestinians that he knows how much they have suffered and continue to suffer “as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades.” He offered his condolences to all those “who mourn the loss of family members and loved ones in the hostilities, particularly the recent conflict in Gaza.”

He prayed that “the serious concerns involving security in Israel and the Palestinian territories will soon be allayed sufficiently to allow greater freedom of movement” so that families can get together and believers can reach the holy sites for prayer.

Making a special appeal to Palestinian youths, 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.”

During his homily at the Manger Square Mass, the Pope offered special greetings to the small group of Christians from the Gaza Strip who were able to get Israeli permits to travel to the Mass.

Fr. Humam Khzouz, chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said the church had asked for 250 travel permits. Only 95 were issued.

Addressing the Pope at the beginning of the Mass, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem said that when Pope John Paul II visited in 2000, “we were living in a period of hope. We were hoping for a peace that never came.” The loss of hope, he said, is the reason why so many Palestinians, particularly Palestinian Christians, have emigrated to other countries.

Noha Stephan, 50, a science teacher at St. Joseph School in Beit Jalla, said it was important that the papal Mass draw the Catholic world’s attention to the situation of Palestinian Catholics because “we need much support to stay in this holy land.”

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