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Wednesday, May 13, 2009


VATICAN CITY, 13 MAY 2009 (VIS) - Having completed his visit to the Caritas Baby Hospital, the Holy Father boarded his popemobile and travelled the two kilometres separating it from the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.

The Aida camp is one of the refugee camps in the Palestinian Territories, which house a total of 1,300,000 refugees who arrived in two waves: in 1948 with the birth of the State of Israel, and in 1967 following the Six-Day War. The Aida camp, an example of co-existence between Christians and Muslims, houses some 5,000 people, including a number of Christian families. Various estimates give the number of people living in the Palestinian Territories as between three and four million. According to 2008 estimates from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Palestinian refugees number 4,600,000 scattered between Jordan (1,700,000 of whom 329,000 live in ten camps); the West Bank (500,000 in nineteen camps); the Gaza Strip (1,000,000 in eight camps, in a total population of 1,500,000); Lebanon (409,000 in twelve camps) and Syria (120,000 in nine camps).

In his remarks, the Pope welcomed the opportunity to express his "solidarity with all the homeless Palestinians who long to be able to return to their birthplace, or to live permanently in a homeland of their own". He also praised the work of UNRWA officials in this camp and others throughout the region.

Benedict XVI reiterated the importance of education and called on young people present to "renew your efforts to prepare for the time when you will be responsible for the affairs of the Palestinian people in years to come". In this context, he also called on parents "to support your children in their studies and to nurture their gifts, so that there will be no shortage of well-qualified personnel to occupy leadership positions in the Palestinian community in the future.

"I know", he added, "that many of your families are divided - through imprisonment of family members, or restrictions on freedom of movement - and many of you have experienced bereavement in the course of the hostilities. ... Please be assured that all Palestinian refugees across the world, especially those who lost homes and loved ones during the recent conflict in Gaza, are constantly remembered in my prayers".

The Holy Father also praised the work of certain Church agencies in the Palestinian Territories, such as the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who "call to mind the charismatic figure of St. Francis, that great apostle of peace and reconciliation", and the Franciscan family in general which cares "for the people of these lands, by making themselves 'instruments of peace'".

"Instruments of peace", the Pope reiterated. "How much the people of this camp, these Territories, and this entire region long for peace! In these days, that longing takes on a particular poignancy as you recall the events of May 1948 and the years of conflict, as yet unresolved, that followed from those events. You are now living in precarious and difficult conditions, with limited opportunities for employment.

"It is understandable that you often feel frustrated. Your legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian State, remain unfulfilled. Instead you find yourselves trapped, as so many in this region and throughout the world are trapped, in a spiral of violence, of attack and counter-attack, retaliation, and continual destruction. The whole world is longing for this spiral to be broken, for peace to put an end to the constant fighting. Towering over us, as we gather here this afternoon, is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached - the wall.

"In a world where more and more borders are being opened up - to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges - it is tragic to see walls still being erected. How we long to see the fruits of the much more difficult task of building peace! How earnestly we pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built!

"On both sides of the wall, great courage is needed if fear and mistrust is to be overcome, if the urge to retaliate for loss or injury is to be resisted. It takes magnanimity to seek reconciliation after years of fighting. Yet history has shown that peace can only come when the parties to a conflict are willing to move beyond their grievances and work together towards common goals, each taking seriously the concerns and fears of the other, striving to build an atmosphere of trust. There has to be a willingness to take bold and imaginative initiatives towards reconciliation: if each insists on prior concessions from the other, the result can only be stalemate".

Benedict XVI emphasised the fact that humanitarian aid, such as the kind provided in the Aida camp, is essential "but the long-term solution to a conflict such as this can only be political. No one expects the Palestinian and Israeli peoples to arrive at it on their own. The support of the international community is vital, and hence I make a renewed appeal to all concerned to bring their influence to bear in favour of a just and lasting solution, respecting the legitimate demands of all parties and recognising their right to live in peace and dignity, in accordance with international law. Yet at the same time, diplomatic efforts can only succeed if Palestinians and Israelis themselves are willing to break free from the cycle of aggression".

The Holy Father concluded his comments with a plea "for a profound commitment to cultivate peace and non-violence, following the example of St. Francis and other great peacemakers. Peace has to begin in the home, in the family, in the heart. I continue to pray that all parties to the conflict in these lands will have the courage and imagination to pursue the challenging but indispensable path of reconciliation. May peace flourish once more in these lands! May God bless His people with peace!"

Having concluded his address Benedict XVI travelled to the presidential palace in Bethlehem to pay a courtesy visit to the president of the Palestinian National Authority.


VATICAN CITY, 13 MAY 2009 (VIS) - The Holy Father appointed Bishop Philippe Ouedraogo of Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso, as metropolitan archbishop of Ouagadougou (area 9,600, population 2,152,000, Catholics 467,540, priests 190, religious 814), Burkina Faso. The archbishop-elect was born in Konean, Burkina Faso in 1945, he was ordained a priest in 1973 and consecrated a bishop in 1996. He succeeds Archbishop Jean-Marie Untaani Compaore, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same archbishop the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit.


VATICAN CITY, 13 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 10 a.m. today, the Pope celebrated Mass for 5,000 people at Manger Square, which is in front of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

At the beginning of his homily, the Holy Father addressed himself particularly to "pilgrims from war-torn Gaza: I ask you to bring back to your families and your communities my warm embrace, and my sorrow for the loss, the hardship and the suffering you have had to endure. Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead, and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted".

He proceeded: "For men and women everywhere, Bethlehem is associated with the joyful message of rebirth, renewal, light and freedom. Yet here, in our midst, how far this magnificent promise seems from being realised", he said.

In this city of Christ's birth, "amid every kind of contradiction, the stones continue to cry out this 'good news', the message of redemption which this city, above all others, is called to proclaim to the world".

"And this is what the message of Bethlehem calls us to be: witnesses of the triumph of God's love over the hatred, selfishness, fear and resentment which cripple human relationships and create division where brothers should dwell in unity, destruction where men should be building, despair where hope should flourish!"

"'Do not be afraid!' This is the message which the Successor of St. Peter wishes to leave with you today, echoing the message of the angels and the charge which our beloved Pope John Paul II left with you in the year of the Great Jubilee of Christ's birth. Count on the prayers and solidarity of your brothers and sisters in the universal Church, and work, with concrete initiatives, to consolidate your presence and to offer new possibilities to those tempted to leave. Be a bridge of dialogue and constructive co-operation in the building of a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration. Build up your local Churches, making them workshops of dialogue, tolerance and hope, as well as solidarity and practical charity.

"Above all", the Holy Father added, "be witnesses to the power of life, the new life brought by the Risen Christ, the life that can illumine and transform even the darkest and most hopeless of human situations.

"Your homeland needs not only new economic and community structures, but most importantly, we might say, a new 'spiritual' infrastructure, capable of galvanising the energies of all men and women of good will in the service of education, development and the promotion of the common good. You have the human resources to build the culture of peace and mutual respect which will guarantee a better future for your children. This noble enterprise awaits you. Do not be afraid!"

Following the celebration of the Eucharist, the Pope went to the Casa Nova monastery in Bethlehem, a house built by the Franciscans to welcome pilgrims. There he had lunch with the ordinaries of the Holy Land and the Franciscan community.


VATICAN CITY, 13 MAY 2009 (VIS) - 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.


VATICAN CITY, 12 MAY 2009 (VIS) - Following a brief meeting with the consuls general of nine countries with offices in Jerusalem (Belgium, Italy, France, Greece, United Kingdom Spain U.S.A., Sweden and Turkey), at 4 p.m. today Benedict XVI travelled to the Valley of Josaphat, located in front of the Basilica of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives, where he celebrated Mass.

The Holy Father began his homily by acknowledging the difficulties and suffering caused by "the conflicts which have afflicted these lands", as well as "the bitter experiences of displacement which so many of your families have known. ... I hope my presence here is a sign that you are not forgotten, that your persevering presence and witness are indeed precious in God's eyes and integral to the future of these lands.

"Precisely because of your deep roots in this land", he added, "your ancient and strong Christian culture, and your unwavering trust in God's promises, you, the Christians of the Holy Land, are called to serve not only as a beacon of faith to the universal Church, but also as a leaven of harmony, wisdom and equilibrium in the life of a society which has traditionally been, and continues to be, pluralistic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious".

"In this Holy City", the Pope went on, "hope continues to battle despair, frustration and cynicism, while the peace which is God's gift and call continues to be threatened by selfishness, conflict, division and the burden of past wrongs. For this reason, the Christian community in this city which beheld the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit must hold fast all the more to the hope bestowed by the Gospel, cherishing the pledge of Christ's definitive victory over sin and death, bearing witness to the power of forgiveness, and showing forth the Church's deepest nature as the sign and sacrament of a humanity reconciled, renewed and made one in Christ, the new Adam".

Noting then that Jews, Muslims and Christians all consider Jerusalem as their spiritual home, the Holy Father exclaimed: "How much needs to be done to make it truly a 'city of peace' for all peoples, where all can come in pilgrimage in search of God, and hear His voice, 'a voice which speaks of peace'!"

The Holy City must "live up to its universal vocation", he insisted, it "must be a place which teaches universality, respect for others, dialogue and mutual understanding; a place where prejudice, ignorance and the fear which fuels them, are overcome by honesty, integrity and the pursuit of peace. There should be no place within these walls for narrowness, discrimination, violence and injustice. Believers in a God of mercy - whether they identify themselves as Jews, Christians or Muslims - must be the first to promote this culture of reconciliation and peace, however painstakingly slow the process may be, and however burdensome the weight of past memories".

Referring then to the "tragic reality" of the departure of many Christians, especially the young, from this land, the Pope said: "Today I wish to repeat what I have said on other occasions: in the Holy Land there is room for everyone! As I urge the authorities to respect, to support and to value the Christian presence here, I also wish to assure you of the solidarity, love and support of the whole Church and of the Holy See".

The Holy Father concluded his remarks by calling on the faithful to continue, "day by day, to 'see and believe' in the signs of God's providence and unfailing mercy, to 'hear' with renewed faith and hope the consoling words of the apostolic preaching, and to 'touch' the sources of grace in the Sacraments, and to incarnate for others their pledge of new beginnings, the freedom born of forgiveness, the interior light and peace which can bring healing and hope to even the darkest of human realities".

At the conclusion of Mass the Holy Father travelled to the apostolic delegation in Jerusalem, where he dined in private and spent the night.
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