Pope Again Calls for Prayers for Holy Land

Progress Reported to End Basilica Siege

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ISCHIA, Italy, MAY 5, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II reiterated his call for prayers for the Holy Land, as progress was reported on an end to the basilica siege in Bethlehem.

«I always carry in my heart the difficult situations in which not a few peoples of the world find themselves,» the Holy Father said at the end of the Mass he celebrated on the island of Ischia, near Naples.

«I wish to present to the Virgin the petition for security and peace that arises ceaselessly from so many parts, especially from the Holy Land,» he said before he led the faithful in praying the midday Regina Caeli. «I invite you to pray with me to Our Lady so that these sorrowful invocations will be fulfilled.»

Meanwhile, Father Ibrahim Faltas, the superior of the Franciscan Monastery of Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity, reported progress in talks aimed at ending the monthlong siege. He had left the compound this morning.

«Everyone is saying that the crisis will be resolved within the next few hours,» he said. The Franciscan had been confined to the basilica since April 2, when over 200 Palestinians, many of them armed, invaded the church, and the Israeli army began the siege.

Father Faltas said that Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, special papal envoy to the Holy Land, is working toward for a settlement. The religious were encouraged when they learned that the cardinal has decided «that he will not leave the Holy Land until an agreement is reached.»

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