Basilica Outcome Shows Dialogue Brings Peace, Say Franciscans

Superior of Custody Finds the Site in «Distressing» Shape

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JERUSALEM, MAY 10, 2002 ( Following the lifting of the siege of Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity, the Franciscans said the outcome shows how peace is reached through dialogue, not violence.

«In this case cooperation and willingness to dialogue have been the sole source of this ray of light that may be a step forward toward a global plan for a stable peace,» the minister general of the Friars Minor, Father Giacomo Bini, said in a message to ZENIT.

An agreement ended the Israeli army´s siege which began April 2 after armed and unarmed Palestinians invaded the historic site.

For his part, Father Giovanni Battistelli, Custodian of the Holy Land, entered the basilica this morning after the siege ended.

«The first impression was of distress, because there are many blankets and filth in the basilica,» Father Battistelli told Vatican Radio. «All the Palestinians slept in the basilica.»

«Going down to the Grotto of the Nativity, I was able to see that what was said about the mosaics was in part true: Some have been damaged. It is distressing,» he said.

«However, I entered the basilica with great joy and much confidence that soon everything will be in order,» the Custodian added.

He continued: «There is no electricity in the grotto, there is nothing, but there were candles. You can´t imagine with how much faith I kissed the tile where Jesus was born, and I knelt before the crib. It was a unique sensation.»

In Father Bini´s message, the Franciscans make three appeals to all people of good will:

The first: «Help us to heal the wounds opened by this conflict between two peoples who can and must live together in the same land.»

The second: «Help us to rebuild a culture of coexistence, to not be ashamed of this period of ´our history in which we have witnessed these tragedies without being able to stop them.´»

The third: «Help us to continue to hope in a peace that is possible, based on justice and forgiveness.»

The Franciscans also thanked all those who supported the men and women religious who were confined in the Monastery of the Nativity during the siege: John Paul II, the politicians and diplomats who helped, and the journalists, who reported on their situation.

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