Benedict XVI Is Star of Hope in Bethlehem

Vatican Aide Considers Message for Palestinians

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By Mercedes de la Torre

BETHLEHEM, West Bank, MAY 13, 2009 ( Benedict XVI’s visit today to Bethlehem had one principal objective: to give hope to this sorely tried population, says the delegate administrator of the Holy See’s pilgrimage agency.

Father Caesar Atuire, of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, the Vatican institution whose mission is to evangelize through pastoral tourism and the ministry of pilgrimage, spoke with ZENIT about the Pope’s stop at Bethlehem on the fifth day of his Holy Land pilgrimage.

The city where Jesus was born «has lived this day as if it were Christmas,» he said. And in fact, during the Mass the Holy Father celebrated in Manger Square, one could hear carols being sung.

«Seeing the people here, hearing their songs, we realize that today the Pope has brought to this land a message of peace, a message of joy, to encourage this population that lives with so many conflicts,» Father Atuire said. «The Pope has recalled what the Gospel of Luke says, that is, that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction.

«Today as well the reality of Bethlehem is a sign of contradiction, but it cannot be a sign of contradiction without hope. Thus what the Pope said today is that the message of Jesus can be hope for peace and for the future of this people.»

Hope for Gaza too

Father Atuire, who is accompanying the Pontiff on his weeklong pilgrimage, said he was particularly touched by the words Benedict XVI offered to the victims of the latest conflict in Gaza.

«The Holy Father offered his solidarity with all those who were victims of this conflict and, because of this, after Mass the Holy Father paused to greet a delegation that came from Gaza to participate in this Eucharistic celebration,» he explained.

The Pontiff’s visit to the Aida refugee camp was a similar gesture, the priest suggested.

«The refugee camps are a reminder of the suffering of this population,» he remarked, adding that those who have been forced to these camps by the Jewish-Palestinian conflict live there «with no hope and no land.»

«Truly a people without land is a disinherited people,» the priest said. «In going to visit this population, the Pope is giving them a message of hope.»

This hope, Father Atuire clarified, implies the recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people, rights which include a homeland, Benedict XVI affirmed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

With this, Father Atuire contended, «the Palestinian people could reach this sovereignty that is necessary to be able to fulfill projects of development, justice and peace for the whole population of this territory.»

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