Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomes Pope Francis on his arrival to Bethlehem from Amman, Jordan [photo 1/2]
On his arrival to Bethlehem Sunday morning, Pope Francis greeted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with a plea for bravery in seeking peace. On his short car ride to one of Christianity’s most revered spots, Francis stopped and stepped out of his open-air vehicle at the massive concrete separation barrier built by Israeli government and surrounding three sides of Bethlehem.
(c.g./k.c.) - On his arrival to Bethlehem Sunday morning, Pope Francis greeted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with a plea for bravery in seeking peace.
“The time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good,” he said at the welcoming ceremony after landing by helicopter directly from Amman, Jordan, where his Holy Land trip began on Friday.
Next to the pontiff, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas echoed the Argentine pope’s call for an end to the stalemate with Israel. "The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable."
Francis called on all sides to double their efforts “so that swords will be turned into ploughshares and this land will once more flourish in prosperity and concord.”
With those words, Pope Francis, determined to teach by example, left for Bethlehem's Manger Square, where enthusiastic, flag-waving crowds welcomed him.
On his short car ride to one of Christianity’s most revered spots, Francis stopped and stepped out of his open-air vehicle at the massive concrete separation barrier built by Israeli government and surrounding three sides of Bethlehem.
With an act that may become one of the most defining moments of the pontiff’s trip, Francis paused at the wall that has come to symbolize the rift between Israel and Palestine. In a peaceful gesture of gentleness and extraordinary strength, the Pontiff stood in prayer for four minutes before returning to his open-topped car for the rest of the ride to Manger Square.
"Peace" and "courage" are the two key words that Francis continues to repeat in the city of Jesus, "the Prince of Peace.” Speaking out to all authorities, he emphasized the word “peace” 12 times and “courage” four.
Francis underlined the “tragic consequences” of the long-running conflict and called on all sides "to intensify efforts and initiatives" to create a stable peace based on a two-state solution.
“For decades the Middle East has known the tragic consequences of a protracted conflict which has inflicted many wounds so difficult to heal. Even in the absence of violence, the climate of instability and a lack of mutual understanding have produced insecurity, the violation of rights, isolation and the flight of entire communities, conflicts, shortages and sufferings of every sort,” the 77-year old pontiff emphasized.
From his very first steps in his Holy Land journey, beginning with his stay in Palestine, Pope Francis has drawn a path forward for achieving peace with his words and gestures. Beyond the graceful act of stopping by the wall that mostly encircles Bethlehem, the Pope's choice to use a helicopter to reach Bethlehem, landing in Palestine territory directly from Jordan directly without passing the Israeli border, is a nod of recognition to an autonomous Palestinian State.
“I can only express my profound hope that all will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement, and that peace will be pursued with tireless determination and tenacity. Peace will bring countless benefits for the peoples of this region and for the world as a whole. And so it must resolutely be pursued, even if each side has to make certain sacrifices,” said the Pope.
However, to seek peace Francis seems to be saying that it takes the courage of those who are willing leave everything behind, the courage of a biblical exodus. “I pray that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and their respective leaders will undertake this promising journey of peace with the same courage and steadfastness needed for every journey. Peace in security and mutual trust will become the stable frame of reference for confronting and resolving every other problem, and thus provide an opportunity for a balanced development, one which can serve as a model for other crisis areas.”
As previously in Amman, Pope Francis underlined the right to religious freedom. Speaking to President Abbas, the Pope said that he wished to express appreciation “for the efforts being made to draft an agreement between the parties regarding various aspects of the life of the Catholic community in this country, with particular attention to religious freedom.” Religious freedom, the foundation for peace, which is often forgotten in the Middle East within an Islamic context, to the detriment of Christians who live there.
At the end of the mass on Manger Square, this morning, Pope Francis invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican to pray together for peace.
“We are brothers, the children of the same Father: only if we recognize this, can peace come.” The pilgrimage of Pope Francis in the Holy Land came to a conclusion in the Vatican on Sunday, 8th June, the feast of Pentecost, with these words which are like a universal legacy for believers of all times. On 25th May, the Pope had invited “to his home” the Palestinian and Israeli Presidents, Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres, to pray together for peace.
In one of Judaism’s most sacred places, the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Pope Francis chose the words from the book of Genesis. Words spoken by God, words of mercy uttered by a grief-wracked creator no longer able to recognize the being he made in his own image. A creature lost because of sin.
In a poignant and pinnacle gesture that evokes the image of the Apostles Peter and Andrew, Pope Francis and Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, prayed together Sunday inside the Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also known the Church of the Resurrection (Anastasis) for Eastern Christians.
Several hundred Christians from the Gaza Strip will be allowed to leave the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory to travel to the West Bank for Pope Francis's visit to Bethlehem May 25. In the meantime, volunteers from the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) have been hammering chips of concrete from the wall that separates Israel from the Palestinian Territories to create a cross to give to the Pontiff.
For the needs of the people in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, Israel will give to the Palestinian National Authority more than 30 millions cubic meters of water every year.
An interview with the Minister-General of the Friars Minor, who has just returned from a visit to the Franciscan communities in Lebanon and Syria. Fr. Michael A. Perry tells us what he saw and then also reported to Pope Francis.
After nine months of meticulous work, the restoration of the Holy Sepulcher has reached its final stages. The scaffoldings that were mounted around the edicule, have already been removed.
The Iraqi capital, completely overwhelmed by war and terrorism, is now fragmented by many walls that surround neighbourhoods, churches and public buildings… Barriers of defence which now become large canvases.