Papal Envoy to Jerusalem Appeals for Believers´ Commitment to Peace

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray Says Reconciliation Calls for Prayer

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JERUSALEM, JAN. 1, 2001 ( Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, John Paul II´s special envoy to Jerusalem, ended his Mass this morning for the World Day of Peace with an olive branch in his hand.

«In his name, I impart his blessing to you. I will take this olive branch from here to him,» the Basque-French Cardinal said, referring to the Pope.

Cardinal Etchegaray carried the message written by the Pontiff for the World Day of Peace to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Patriarch Michel Sabbah, his two Auxiliary Bishops, the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land, and two guest Bishops (one from France and another from Switzerland) concelebrated Mass with the Cardinal in the Latin Cathedral of Jerusalem. Also present were several Catholic Bishops of various rites of the Holy Land.

The Mass for peace was also an ecumenical meeting, as Armenian Patriarch Torkom and Syrian and Ethiopian archbishops, as well as representatives of the Greek and Coptic Churches were also present, as were the bishops of the Anglicans and Lutherans in Jerusalem.

Cardinal Etchegaray´s arrival was an encouragement to Holy Land Christians at the beginning of a year marked by violence. New Year´s Eve was marred by shootings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which resulted in the death of 4 Palestinians, among whom was a 10-year-old boy, the son of a U.S. Rabbi.

The tension increased in the area of the funeral procession for the boy, held last night in the center of Jerusalem. These incidents have frustrated the efforts for dialogue as the means to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is facing a difficult reelection battle on February 6, said that given the lack of agreement, Israel must prepare for a possible continuation of the attacks and the unilateral separation of Palestinians.

For his part, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said, after his meeting with Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, that «there are no indications» that an agreement will be reached over the last 20 days of mandate remaining to U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Given the discouraging situation, Cardinal Etchegaray urged believers to make a specific contribution: prayer.

«Over this land of Christ, in which peace and prayer reach their most expressive significance, their deepest roots, we find ourselves gathered to witness to what degree peace and prayer are vitally united with one another,» he said.

«Peace?» the cardinal asked. «Who doesn´t speak of it, who doesn´t want it? However, how many still think it is possible? How many really want it with all their might?»

Cardinal Etchegaray added, «Prayer? What Christian does not pray to ´Almighty God´? However, how many see in prayer something more than a refuge in their times of panic?»

«To pray for peace in the Middle East is the surest and, at the same time, the most difficult test for us to take prayer and peace seriously, one with the other, one for the other,» explained the cardinal.

Cardinal Etchegaray concluded by encouraging Christians in the Holy Land: «You are not alone!» He ended by wishing them peace, «Shalom» in Hebrew, and «Salaam» in Arabic.

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