Special Papal Envoy Meets Israeli President

Cardinal Etchegaray Also Hoping to See Arafat and Sharon

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JERUSALEM, MAY 2, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, John Paul II´s special envoy to the Holy Land, met Israeli President Moshe Katzav and was due to meet Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

In a press statement this morning, Cardinal Etchegaray said he had come to the Holy Land simply as an «envoy of Pope John Paul II, whose sole spiritual mission consists of proclaiming the Good News of peace, love and mercy to all.» The cardinal also hopes to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

«I come in the name of the Gospel, to contribute my little stone to this great work of the construction of peace on this bloodstained land,» the cardinal said who arriving here Wednesday.

«I come in the name of John Paul II, who obstinately does not cease to show respect and confidence in the two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, both torn apart but united today by the profound aspiration to live in the liberty, justice and security to which they have a right,» Cardinal Etchegaray said.

In particular, he explained that he came «to ask that everything possible be done to solve the tragic situation of Bethlehem as soon as possible, and that the Basilica of the Nativity be restored to God and to believers.»

«It is possible to hope for everything when every man believes in every man, and follows the way of love and not of violence,» the cardinal added.

One month ago today the Basilica of the Nativity was besieged by the Israeli army, after 200 Palestinians, many of them armed, shut themselves in the sacred premises.

The Franciscans´ General Curia told ZENIT that shooting broke out at midnight Wednesday in the Shrine of the Nativity, and lasted about an hour.

The same source reported that the confrontation between the Palestinians holed up in the basilica complex and the Israeli army caused a fire in the Franciscans´ monastery, particularly the parish hall and offices.

The Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land announced that 100 Masses will be celebrated in the three large shrines of the Holy Land: Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity, Nazareth´s Basilica of the Incarnation, and the Holy Sepulcher, to mark the occasion of Cardinal Etchegaray´s visit.

Father Giovanni Battistelli, the Franciscan Custodian, said the Masses will be offered for the intentions of the Holy Father, for the eternal repose of victims, and to alleviate the sorrow of families affected by the tragedy. The Masses will also be in thanksgiving for all friends and benefactors who have expressed their solidarity and friendship to the Franciscan religious of the Custody of the Holy Land.

For his part, Cardinal Etchegaray ended his statement with these words in Hebrew and Arabic: «´Shalom,´ ´Salam,´ peace is only constructed with the stones of authentic dialogue.»

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