PAPA DIXIT: Pope with the Palestinians in Bethlehem

May 13, 2009

Wednesday was Palestinian day in Pope Benedict’s schedule. He spent the whole day in Bethlehem and met Catholics, refugees and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He spoke out clearly in favour of a Palestinian homeland, deplored the Israeli wall that snakes around the town and spoke with sympathy of the difficulties the Palestinians face. Taken together, they were a strong expression of Vatican support for the Palestinians.

Here are excerpts from his speeches:

pope-guardON ARRIVAL IN BETHLEHEM:

PALESTINIAN HOMELAND: “Mr President, 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 neighbors, within internationally recognized borders. Even if at present that goal seems far from being realized, 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. In the words of the late Pope John Paul II, there can be “no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness” (Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace). 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 coexistence among the peoples of the Middle East can only be achieved through a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, in which the rights and dignity of all are acknowledged and upheld.”

(Photo: Palestinian security guard watches pope Mass in Bethlehem, 13 May 2009/Yannis Behrakis)

APPEAL TO YOUTH: “I make this appeal to the many young people throughout the Palestinian Territories today: 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.”

AT MASS ON MANGER SQUARE:

GAZA: “I greet with affection my brother Bishops and all the priests, religious and lay faithful who labor daily to confirm this local Church in faith, hope and love. In a special way my heart goes out to the 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.”

pope-priestsBETHLEHEM: “For men and women everywhere, Bethlehem is associated with this joyful message of rebirth, renewal, light and freedom. Yet here, in our midst, how far this magnificent promise seems from being realized! How distant seems that Kingdom of wide dominion and peace, security, justice and integrity which the Prophet Isaiah heralded in the first reading (cf. Is 9:7), and which we proclaim as definitively established in the coming of Jesus Christ, Messiah and King!”

(Photo: Priests attend pope’s mass in Bethlehem, 13 May 2009/Tony Gentile)

“Above all, 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 galvanizing 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!”

AT AIDA REFUGEE CAMP:

LOOK AHEAD: “To all the young people here, I say: renew your efforts to prepare for the time when you will be responsible for the affairs of the Palestinian people in years to come. Parents have a most important role here, and to all the families present in this camp I say: be sure 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 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. My heart goes out to all who suffer in this way. 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.”

pope-girlsREFUGEES’ FRUSTRATIONS: “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.”

(Photo: Palestinian girls at pope’s Mass, 13 May 2009/Tony Gentile)

WEST BANK WALL: “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.”

WORK TOWARDS A SOLUTION: “Humanitarian aid, of the kind provided in this camp, has an essential role to play, 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 favor of a just and lasting solution, respecting the legitimate demands of all parties and recognizing 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.”

DEPARTURE FROM BETHLEHEM:

pope-wall-leadersSUPPORT: “It was deeply moving for me to listen also to the testimonies of the residents who have spoken to us about the conditions of life here on the West Bank and in Gaza. I assure all of you that I hold you in my heart and I long to see peace and reconciliation throughout these tormented lands.”

(Photo: Pope with Palestinian leaders, with wall in background, 13 May 2009/Tony Gentile)

“With anguish, I have witnessed the situation of refugees who, like the Holy Family, have had to flee their homes. And I have seen, adjoining the camp and overshadowing much of Bethlehem, the wall that intrudes into your territories, separating neighbors and dividing families.”

WALLS ARE NOT FOREVER: “Although walls can easily be built, we all know that they do not last for ever. They can be taken down. First, though, it is necessary to remove the walls that we build around our hearts, the barriers that we set up against our neighbors. That is why, in my parting words, I want to make a renewed plea for openness and generosity of spirit, for an end to intolerance and exclusion.”

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