Violence Turning Holy Places into Museum Stones, Says Franciscan

Recalls Warning of Paul VI

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 17, 2001 ( Violence is turning the religious sites of the Holy Land into museum stones, the Franciscan Custody warned.

Franciscan Father Giovanni Battistelli spoke to ZENIT following the one-day summit last Thursday at the Vatican that focused on the future of Christians in the holy places.

«We are living in a situation in which Christians must face tremendous difficulties, and many are tempted to leave,» Father Battistelli said. «Some 470 families have gone» since the intifada began in September 2000, he added.

During the summit convoked by the Holy Father, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano said that only 117,000 Catholics are left in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, out of a population of 6.1 million.

Pope Paul VI was aware of the problem of Christians leaving the region, and said that Jesus´ land should not become «a museum,» Father Battistelli recalled.

«We must try not to allow this to continue,» the Franciscan continued. «However, the solution is not in our hands but in those of the ones who are in charge. I think that many times action is taken with a great lack of responsibility, both on one side as well as the other. Death and destruction only increase hatred.»

The Friars Minor, Father Battistelli explained, are in the Holy Land to «talk, encourage, give hope, and inspire confidence in the future.»

«We try to contribute elements that might lead to a Christian solution to all that is happening. However, I realize that in talking about love and peace there must also be justice in the conversations of those in charge,» he said.

«Although there are difficult situations, forgiveness is the only way that leads to peace,» added the Franciscan, who is helping to feed some 500 families over Christmas. «I hope the Lord will help us to know how to forgive, to know how to love through an exchange of forgiveness and charity.»

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