Vigil Held in Assisi Basilica for Peace in Holy Land

Pope Sends Message to Youth at All-Night Event

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ASSISI, Italy, APRIL 9, 2002 ( An all-night prayer vigil that begun late Sunday in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi aimed for peace in the Holy Land.

The Friars Minor, who are Custodians of the Holy Land, prayed at the tomb of the saint of peace especially for the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. That church was invaded last week by armed Palestinians and has been besieged by the Israeli army.

The long vigil began with the reading of John Paul II´s message to youth, who came from various Italian dioceses and who made up most of those present. The Holy Father exhorted them to «reinforce the evangelic testimony of reconciliation,» and assured them of his prayers.

During the vigil, the lamp of peace, which the Pope donated last Jan. 24 for the day of interreligious prayer, was placed on the altar of the lower basilica. It was believed to be only the third such vigil in the history of the basilica.

At one point of the meeting, Father Vincenzo Coli, Custodian of the Sacred Monastery in Assisi, and Father Giovanni Battistelli, Custodian of the Holy Land, were connected by telephone.

The Custodian of the Holy Land spoke about the difficult situation of the Franciscans housed in the monastery next to the Basilica of the Nativity.

Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni presided over the opening of the vigil. He said, «For many years the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has caused weeping for too many dead. It triggers vengeance and an endless chain of dead. The use of arms does not give security but, on the contrary, intensifies the conflict, and all end up defeated.»

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