by IMEMC Staff, IMEMC News, May 13, 2009
Pope Benedict XVI speaking to the welcoming crowd in Bethlehem Wednesday (Photo: Ghassan Bannoura - IMEMC)
In a press conference held at the Bethlehem City Hall Wednesday at noon, spokesman of the Vatican Rev. Federico Lombardi said that the Pope calls for peace in the middle east and for the Palestinians and Israelis to live side-by-side in two sovereign states.
On his part, Ziad Al-Bandak, Palestinian Minister of Local Governments, said despite all difficulties, we managed to organize this visit, which affirms the right of the Palestinian people on this land and we are proud of it.
Dr. Khloud Deibis, Minister of Tourism, said Israelis prevented the pope to use the stage we built near the apartheid wall, so we had to use an alternative stage inside an UNRWA school.
Dr. Deibis commenced the visit saying it affirms the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people in the holy land.
Both Al-Bandak and Deibis are Christian ministers in the current care-taker government of the Palestinian Authority, headed by PM Salam Fayyad.
Popular and official welcoming for Pope Benedict XVI in Bethlehem
Thousands of Palestinian Christians and Muslim gathered at the Church of the Nativity Square in Bethlehem to welcome his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in his first visit to Palestine.
The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and a number of Palestinian Authority officials were present in Bethlehem to welcome the Pope.Mons.
Fuad Twal Patriarch of the Catholic Church in Jerusalem, welcomed the Pope and called for peace in the region.
The Pontiff started his speech with a special welcome to the Gaza residents who came to Bethlehem and paid them condolences for those lost in the latest Israeli major offensive, and wished for an end for the siege on the Gaza Strip. Only 48 Palestinian Christians from Gaza were granted permits by Israel to come to Bethlehem, said Jorje Hernandez, rector of the Catholic Church in Gaza.
He told IMEMC, “we applied for 250, however, only 48 were granted permits, and most of them are Greek Orthodox, we do not know how Israel approve or reject permits.” In his speech, the Pope said Palestinians deserve a homeland where they will have sovereignty over.
"The Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders.”
Pope arrives in Bethlehem
Wed, 13 May 2009 10:52:34
Pope Benedict XVI arrived on Wednesday morning in the West Bank city of Bethlehem and was welcomed by thousands of residents who chanted for the pope while he entered the Peace Center in the Manger Square.
A local band chanted for coexistence and peace between the faiths, while president Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister, Dr. Salaam Fayyad, Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarsa, and several figures waited the pope to conduct a prayer.
The Pope first arrived in the presidential residence in Bethlehem and was welcomed by president Abbas and several figures.
The pope’s convoy then drove to the Manger Square under strict security measures as the Palestinian security forces closed several roads in the center of the city, and security men were deployed along the roads that the Pope’s convoy drove while heading to the Manger Square.
President Abbas called on the Pope to act for ending the suffering of the Palestinians and for establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
Abbas also called on the pope to endorse the Palestinian Right of Return based on UN resolution 194, and to support the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative.
“We have been suffering since 61 years, our people are still demanding justice and peace”, Abbas said while standing next to the Pope, “We want peace based on justice as your holiness stated”.
Abbas also slammed the Israeli policy of segregation and the construction of the Annexation Wall in the holy land.
He also accused Israel of forcing the Palestinians, Muslims and Christians, out of their homeland so as the occupation can transform the Arab holy places into tourist attraction sites and sites of antiquities.
Abbas also told the Pope that the occupation and the Annexation Wall are barring the Palestinians, from reaching the Al Aqsa Moque and the Church of Holy Sepulcher.
Furthermore, the president added that Israel is violating the legal rights of the Palestinians in Jerusalem, barring them from building, annexing their lands and imposing high taxes on them in an attempt to force them out of the holy city.
“We are a nation that calls for peace, our path is as clear as the eye of the sun, we believe in a two-state solution, a Palestinian state living in peace next to Israel”, Abbas said, “We want a just solution to the issue of the refugees, based on United Nations resolution number 194, and the Arab Peace Initiative which was approved by 57 Arab and Muslim countries”.
Abbas slammed the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip and described the situation there as miserable as the residents are still suffering under siege.
On his part, the Pope expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people and said that he understands the suffering and the discomfort in this land since dozens of years, and added that he will visit Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem on Wednesday evening to express solidarity with the refugee who lost a lot.
“I came here to express solidarity with the with the Palestinian people, and to offer condolences to those who died in the hostilities in Gaza”, the Pope said, “I will mention you in my prayers, I pray for a just and comprehensive peace, there cannot be peace without justice, and there cannot be justice with reconciliation”.
He called on coexistence between all nations in the Middle East, and demanded the international community to renew its commitments to peace that would be achieved through dialogue, and called for the reconstruction of hospitals and homes in the Gaza Strip.
The Pope also said that the Palestinians, as any other nation, have the right to marry and decent livelihood, the right to education and medical treatment, and added that stability would provide the youths with better chances for education, employment and a good life.
He called on the nations of the world not to lose their faith and will, and to regain their faith in peace.
“I came to Bethlehem to pray for the Palestinian people and for their protection”, the Pope said, “I came here to pray for ending their suffering”.