Mideast Strife: "When Will It End?"

Cardinal Discusses Meeting With Sharon and Arafat

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 4, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Pio Laghi´s delicate mission to the Holy Land has ended. John Paul II had sent him last week with a handwritten message for the Israeli prime minister and the leader of the Palestinian Authority, calling for an immediate cease-fire.

Cardinal Laghi, a former apostolic nuncio in the United States and Argentina, spoke on Vatican Radio about the objectives and highlights of his mission.

–Q: Why did the Pope wish to send a legate to the Holy Land?

–Cardinal Laghi: It was necessary, and not just opportune, for the Holy Father to make such a gesture. It took place at a time in which the political leaders of the world not only look upon the situation with concern, but also try to intervene. The authority of the Holy Father is listened to, but with enormous difficulties.

–Q: You handed the Pontiff´s signed message personally to Prime Minister Sharon in Tel Aviv, and Palestinian leader Arafat in Ramala. How was the meeting with the Israeli leader?

–Cardinal Laghi: Ariel Sharon heard us and we heard him in his residence in Tel Aviv. We could see that for him peace means security. Naturally, security has specific conditions. On this point, we must go further. For example, the settlements of the colonists in the Territories, which should be returned to the Palestinian Authority, in a certain sense represent a provocation, not to say something else.

–Q: How was the meeting with Arafat?

–Cardinal Laghi: On Friday morning, while I was on my way to visit him, I found myself in the midst of the funeral of Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini, whose body was carried by an enormous entourage of Palestinians, who literally invaded Jerusalem from Ramala.

I think everything unfolded with a great sense of responsibility on the part of Israelis and Palestinians, without confrontations or provocations. I was surprised that Arafat gave so much time to our mission, after the death of his friend and confidant.

We met in his office. We spoke with great passion. I saw him tired and, perhaps, frustrated. Of course, he was in sorrow over the death of his friend, member of the Palestinian Authority and very influential in Jerusalem. However, in a certain sense, he manifested great confidence in the Pope.

–Q: What do you mean?

–Cardinal Laghi: Both Sharon and Arafat wanted to keep the original of the Pope´s letter, leaving a copy for their office. It is obvious that John Paul II´s message reached their heart, that they really respect the Pontiff´s person and what he is trying to do.

Moreover, Arafat — all those present were able to see it — not only wanted to kiss the letter, but also the Holy Father´s signature itself, as if he wished to embrace the Pope, and call upon his support.

–Q: What is the prevailing atmosphere among the common people?

–Cardinal Laghi: There is a climate that goes beyond simple resignation. A question is floating everywhere: «When will it end?» I went twice, in the early hours of the morning, to celebrate Mass at the Holy Sepulcher and there was virtually no one. I have never seen the Holy Sepulcher so deserted. All this makes one sad; one can perceive a really beaten state of mind.

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