Papal Aides Busy with Diplomatic Efforts for Mideast Peace

Spell Out Church´s Position to Governments

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 7, 2002 ( John Paul II and his aides have engaged in unprecedented diplomatic activity over the past week in a bid to restore peace in the Holy Land.

The Pope himself announced this commitment April 1 before praying the Regina Caeli with pilgrims.

Commenting on the news coming from Bethlehem, John Paul II said: «The Pope, with great apprehension and sorrow, is close to those brothers and sisters of ours, as is the entire Church, which is praying and working in order to put an end to this painful Calvary as soon as possible.»

On April 2, Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls revealed that the Pope «has given indications to the apostolic nuncio in Israel and the apostolic delegate in Jerusalem to take opportune diplomatic initiatives.»

That same day, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, summoned Yosef Neville Lamdan, ambassador of Israel to the Vatican, and a day later he beckoned U.S. Ambassador James Nicholson to discuss the situation.

On April 3, Monsignor Celestino Migliore, undersecretary for relations with states, received Mohammad Ali Mohammad, director of the Delegation of the League of Arab States to the Vatican.

Navarro-Valls explained that, when speaking with the diplomats, the Vatican articulated its position on the conflict in five points. The points were quoted verbatim in a press statement as follows:

«1. Unequivocal condemnation of terrorism, from whatever side it may come.

«2. Disapproval of the conditions of injustice and humiliation imposed on the Palestinian people, as well as reprisals and retaliation, which only make the sense of frustration and hatred grow.

«3. Respect for the United Nations resolutions by all sides.

«4. Proportionality in the use of legitimate means of defense.

«5. The duty for the parties in conflict to protect the sacred places, (which are) very significant for the three monotheistic religions and the patrimony of all of humanity.»

The Vatican disclosed that in recent days Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state, and substitute, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, «have been in close contact with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the religious communities of Bethlehem, conveying to them the Holy Father´s complete solidarity in this painful moment.»

The Vatican, however, denied that it has a specific plan to end the siege of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, contrary to some press reports.

«There is no Vatican plan to resolve the situation that has been created in the Basilica of the Nativity of Bethlehem,» said a press statement distributed Saturday by Navarro-Valls. «Naturally, the Vatican´s diplomatic representative in Israel continues with his much appreciated work of assistance to all those who are suffering.»

The press statement refers to the work being carried out by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio in Israel and apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, who is helping Palestinians and Israelis.

Today, in statements to the missionary agency Fides, Father David Jaeger, spokesman of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, described as positive a plan for the solution of the siege of the basilica revealed by the Israeli newspaper Ma´ariv, quoting Palestinian sources. The plan proposes the relocation of the Palestinian militiamen to Gaza.

The basilica has been besieged by the Israeli army since last Tuesday, after some 200 Palestinians, most of them armed, locked themselves in the sacred place.

Just over 30 Franciscan religious are in the adjacent monastery, running the risk of being victims of the cross-fire. Four of the religious, in delicate health, were able to leave the monastery Friday. There are also four Franciscan nuns in the convent.

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