Bethlehem Still in Crisis, Says Franciscan Custodian of Holy Land

Situation Has Not Improved Much, Father Battistelli Laments

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ROME, JULY 2, 2002 ( The Holy Father made an appeal in favor of the Churches of the Holy Land, during an audience Thursday with participants in the Meeting of the Works of Assistance to the Oriental Churches. In fact, the situation is serious and could remain that way for a long time, says the Custodian of the Holy Land.

At the end of the audience, Father Giovanni Battistelli, the Franciscan Custodian, spoke about the situation in Bethlehem.

«We thank all those who helped us during those 39 days, which were really most difficult for the Franciscan community that was in the Basilica of the Nativity,» he told Vatican Radio.

«I must say that the situation has not improved much,» he said. «Of course we have light, water, electricity, but, of course, as everyone must know, the military has reoccupied Bethlehem. There is still a curfew; there are only a few hours of respite to go and buy food. Hence, the situation of all the population of Bethlehem, not just the Franciscan community, is very serious. I hope it will be resolved as soon as possible.»

The Franciscan continued: «Bush’s proposal of a conference seems very distant to me, and I fear it is a situation that will be prolonged for a long time, with enormous difficulties both on the part of Palestinians as well as on the part of the Jewish people, because of fear and terror.»

«It is necessary to find a solution, possibly diplomatic, which will enable us to do away with these sufferings that only add to the hatred and rancor and certainly do not represent the way to arrive at a peaceful solution,» the priest added.

Q: In regard to the presence of pilgrims, is it true that we are at zero level?

Father Battistelli: Unfortunately, yes. We are at zero level. However, we encourage them to come. There are small courageous groups that make the trip. There are places that can be visited in peace, such as Galilee, Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum … and, of course, also Jerusalem. Other places, however, cannot always be accessed. In Bethlehem there are days when one is able to enter and others when it is difficult to pass the control post.

Q: How are the Christian communities, religious communities, religious institutes in difficult places, such as Bethlehem, able to survive?

Father Battistelli: The appeal made is that we very much need the solidarity of all Christians (…). There is no work there, no pilgrims, so it is about survival, also as regards the very maintenance of the places and of the «living stones,» the Christians who are nearby.

Therefore, I ask for much solidarity, much help, many prayers because, perhaps, only the Lord can really open to us the way to dialogue and a possible solution.

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