BETHLEHEM, West Bank, MAY 13, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is affirming there are walls that must come down in the Middle East. But the first barriers to be removed, he says, are those built around hearts.
The Pope ventured into the Palestinian Territories this morning, on the fifth full day of his weeklong pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He gave four public addresses, repeatedly affirming his solidarity with the Palestinian people. But the call to a conversion of hearts was another theme that ran through his discourses, a conversion that he said is at the base of any solution to decades of violence in the land where Jesus lived.
Upon his arrival, he greeted Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
In his address, he cited Pope John Paul II, telling his audience there can be “no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness.”
Benedict XVI voiced a plea to “put aside whatever grievances and divisions still stand in the way of reconciliation, and to reach out with generosity and compassion to all alike, without discrimination.”
And he made a special appeal to young people, the future of the Middle East: “Do not allow the loss of life and the destruction that you have witnessed to arouse bitterness or resentment in your hearts. Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism.
“Instead, let what you have experienced renew your determination to build peace. Let it fill you with a deep desire to make a lasting contribution to the future of Palestine, so that it can take its rightful place on the world stage. Let it inspire in you sentiments of compassion for all who suffer, zeal for reconciliation, and a firm belief in the possibility of a brighter future.”
In Manger Square at a public Mass, the Pope said conversion is part of the message of Bethlehem.
He affirmed that the message of Christ’s birthplace calls people to be “witnesses of the triumph of God’s love over the hatred, selfishness, fear and resentment which cripple human relationships and create division where brothers should dwell in unity, destruction where men should be building, despair where hope should flourish!”
People who live in hope, the Holy Father continued, need “constant conversion to Christ which is reflected not only in our actions but also in our reasoning: the courage to abandon fruitless and sterile ways of thinking, acting and reacting.”
They need “the cultivation of a mindset of peace based on justice, on respect for the rights and duties of all, and commitment to cooperation for the common good. And also perseverance, perseverance in good and in the rejection of evil,” he added.
The Palestinian Territories need more than “new economic and community structures,” the Bishop of Rome continued. “Most importantly,” they need, “a new ‘spiritual’ infrastructure, capable of galvanizing the energies of all men and women of good will in the service of education, development and the promotion of the common good. You have the human resources to build the culture of peace and mutual respect which will guarantee a better future for your children. This noble enterprise awaits you. Do not be afraid!”
Later this afternoon, at the Aida refugee camp, Benedict XVI again reiterated the need for conversion before peace can be attained.
“On both sides of the wall, great courage is needed if fear and mistrust is to be overcome, if the urge to retaliate for loss or injury is to be resisted,” he declared. “It takes magnanimity to seek reconciliation after years of fighting. Yet history has shown that peace can only come when the parties to a conflict are willing to move beyond their grievances and work together towards common goals, each taking seriously the concerns and fears of the other, striving to build an atmosphere of trust.
“There has to be a willingness to take bold and imaginative initiatives towards reconciliation: If each insists on prior concessions from the other, the result can only be stalemate.”
The Pontiff urged the international community to help bring the Middle East to peace, saying that Israelis and Palestinians could never achieve it alone.
But, he affirmed, “diplomatic efforts can only succeed if Palestinians and Israelis themselves are willing to break free from the cycle of aggression.”
“To all of you,” Benedict XVI exhorted, “I renew my plea for a profound commitment to cultivate peace and non-violence, following the example of St. Francis and other great peacemakers. Peace has to begin in the home, in the family, in the heart.
“I continue to pray that all parties to the conflict in these lands will have the courage and imagination to pursue the challenging but indispensable path of reconciliation. May peace flourish once more in these lands! May God bless his people with peace!”
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On ZENIT’s Web page:
Full text of welcome address: http://zenit.org/article-25890?l=english
Full text of homily at Manger Square: http://www.zenit.org/article-25889?l=english
Full text of address at refugee camp: http://zenit.org/article-25892?l=english