Israeli Army Impedes Catholics from Attending Mass at Basilica

BETHLEHEM, West Bank, NOV. 24, 2002 ( Israeli forces surrounding the square of the Basilica of the Nativity impeded the faithful from attending Mass today.

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Army spokesmen said the measure is part of the security plan for the city. The Palestinian terrorist who killed 11 people in a Jerusalem bus on Thursday is believed to have been a native of Bethlehem.

In preparation for Christmas, the Franciscan custodians of the basilica celebrated on Saturday the traditional solemn entrance into the church by the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Giovanni Battistelli.

He entered in silence with some Franciscan priests and monks, sources of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem told ZENIT.

Today, only men and women religious were able to attend Mass in the Church of St. Catherine.

On Friday, Father Ibrahim Faltas, Franciscan Custos of the Basilica of the Nativity, asked the army, unsuccessfully, to allow the faithful access to the temple, in virtue of respect for the law of freedom of worship.

Israeli soldiers are controlling access to the square, in order to avoid a repeat of the weeks-long siege earlier this year, which occurred after armed Palestinians sought refuge in the church.

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