A Peace Plea for Jesus´ Birthplace

Latin Patriarch Gives Christmas Message

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JERUSALEM, DEC. 19, 2000 (ZENIT.org).-
«It will be a Christmas of war without pilgrims,» the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem said, when giving his traditional Christmas message.

In statements transmitted by Vatican Radio, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah said that he hopes the Israeli authorities will allow the few groups coming from abroad to arrive in the city of Bethlehem, which he described as besieged and hungry.

The residents of Bethlehem cannot go out, and their visitors cannot come in. «We wonder if the justice of war really calls for all this,» the patriarch said. «Our celebrations are a prayer and consolation for all of us who are going through this moment of trial. All the Churches worldwide have written us, expressing solidarity and accompanying us in prayer.»

The patriarch earnestly hopes for freedom for his people this Christmas. The freedom of Palestinians «will also mean tranquility for the Israelis,» he said. «If the rights and dignity of man are restored, then there will be no reason for war: The oppressor and the oppressed will live in peace, enjoying God´s grace equally and together.»

Associated Press today described Bethlehem, in the West Bank, as a «ghost town.» This year there are no Christmas lights in Jesus´ city. Confrontations between Israeli soldiers and sharpshooters in the Beit Jalla neighborhood continued. The three refugee camps are roaring with anger. Dozens of Palestinian militants of the intifada, some only 8 or 9 years old, have been wounded or killed in confrontations with the military.

Tourist groups and pilgrimages are conspicuous by their absence. It is all a harsh blow for the plans of the National Palestinian Authority, which hoped to take advantage of the attraction of Bethlehem this Jubilee Year to relaunch its image and economy.

In statements published Monday in the press, Nabil Qassis, the state minister responsible for «Bethlehem 2000» festivities, provoked Israel directly over Christmas: «People must position themselves and come to Bethlehem. We´ll see if in that case Israel fires against civilians!»

He added: «The feasts are reduced to religious celebrations; there will be no popular celebrations as families in mourning cannot celebrate as more than 300 martyrs have died.» The intifada has caused 344 deaths since Sept. 28; the vast majority being Palestinians.

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