Papal Envoy in Holy Land Leads a Mass in Thanksgiving

Urges Peace After Liberation of Basilica

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, MAY 12, 2002 ( John Paul II´s special envoy to the Holy Land marked the liberation of the Basilica of the Nativity with a Mass and a call for peace among Israelis and Palestinians.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray presided over the Mass today in the St. Catalina Church, which is next to the basilica that had been under siege for 39 days.

«Shalom! salaam!» said the cardinal, to the applause of thousands of faithful present. «We have to see beyond Bethlehem and take in a view of the entire Holy Land.»

The Israeli army had surrounded the basilica after it was invaded April 2 by more than 200 Palestinians, many of them armed.

«Peace among men, peace among the cities, only can arise and increase if it exists first in each man, in each city,» the cardinal declared.

A few feet within the basilica, the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch Irenaeus I reconsecrated the building that, according to tradition, housed the cave in which Jesus was born.

Franciscans, Greek Orthodox and Armenian religious, with the help of parishioners, were helping to clean the basilica, which had been littered and fouled by the Palestinians.

In a press statement to ZENIT, Father Giovanni Battistelli, superior of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, noted the damage done to the building. But he added: «The memory that we keep forever in our hearts is, moreover, of the heroism of the religious men and women who have resisted throughout this authentic ´forty days.´»

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