Pope Telephones His Encouragement to Friars at Besieged Basilica

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 16, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II spoke on the telephone with the Franciscan friars confined in Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity, to express his solidarity and to thank them for their «Christian witness.»

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The call came during the Pope´s meeting Monday with Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem.

Father Ibrahim Faltas, the basilica´s custodian, received a telephone call from Patriarch Sabbah, who said he was in the Holy Father´s presence. The patriarch told the Franciscan that the Holy Father wished to speak with him to give him a message for his companions.

More than 30 Franciscans have been confined in the monastery of the basilica ever since the church was invaded April 2 by 200 Palestinians and then besieged by Israeli troops.

«Courage!» the Pope said, according to Father Faltas. «Continue the resistance and custody of the holy places.»

News of the papal phone call was confirmed in a brief statement by Joaquín Navarro-Valls, director of the Vatican Press Office.

«Speaking with Father Ibrahim, the Pope thanked them for their Christian witness, sending them his blessing at this particularly difficult time,» a press office statement said.

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