Christian Leaders Blocked in March to Bethlehem

Leave Message of Peace and Condemnation of Violence

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JERUSALEM, APRIL 8, 2002 ( Israeli authorities blocked the patriarchs and heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem from entering Bethlehem today because the area is still declared a closed military zone, a Catholic official told ZENIT.

Father Raed Abusahlia, chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said the marchers had aimed show their solidarity with the population of the beleaguered West Bank town. They had to give up their plan when Israeli troops would not let them through the Tantour checkpoint.

Instead, they held a moment of prayer for peace, during which they read the Gospel of the Nativity in Arabic, English and Italian. «Peace upon all those who desire peace,» the patriarchs said in a statement read at the checkpoint.

«Peace cannot be obtained by war, tanks or bloodshed, especially in Bethlehem,» the leaders of the Christian churches added.

«There is no need for more bloodshed in Bethlehem. This morning, blood was shed. We refuse all bloodshed, Israeli or Palestinian. Bethlehem must no longer be a place of war,» they said.

The Christian leaders asked the Israeli authorities «to withdraw all their instruments of war; to go in peace, and to send their soldiers back to their families.»

«On this barrier of war we proclaim the Gospel of peace, the Gospel of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace. We invite all the churches of the world to proclaim it with us,» the leaders said.

They invited the authorities «to ring the bells of Christmas today at 2 p.m. in Bethlehem, Beit-Jala and Beit-Sahour, the town of the shepherds and the angels who proclaimed peace to the world, and in all the parishes in the Holy Land, as a sign of the peace in their hearts and as a moment of prayer and supplication until the end of this war.»

In the afternoon, the religious leaders were to meet with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior and Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin, in order to discuss a way out of the crisis in general, and the Nativity Church situation in particular.

Among those expected to attend the meeting were Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic delegate in Jerusalem; Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem; Bishop Arsitarchos, representative of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate; Bishop Aris, representative of the Armenian Orthodox patriarchate; and Father Giovanni Battistelli, Custodian of the Holy Land.

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