May 25, 2014 // Uncategorized

In Bethlehem, near site of Christ's birth, pope speaks out for children

By Francis X. Rocca and Judith Sudilovsky

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) — Celebrating Mass a few steps from the spot traditionally believed to the birthplace of Jesus, Pope Francis said that the way society treats its young reveals its moral character.

Children are a “diagnostic sign, a marker indicating the health of families, society and the entire world,” the pope said May 25 in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity. “Wherever children are accepted, loved, cared for and protected, the family is healthy, society is more healthy and the world is more human.”

The Bethlehem Mass was the only Mass for local Christians during Pope Francis’ two days in the West Bank and Israel, the second and third legs of a three-day journey to the Holy Land. The Mass was limited to about 10,000 people, but the crowd was enthusiastic, and many arrived while it was still dark to get a spot.

The altar was set up in front of a large mural of the Nativity, but in place of the Wise Men were the three popes who had previously visited the Holy Land — Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis told those gathered in the square that “children need to be welcomed and defended, from the moment of their conception.”

He said “all too many children continue to be exploited, maltreated, enslaved, prey to violence and illicit trafficking. Still too many children live in exile, as refugees, at times lost at sea, particularly in the waters of the Mediterranean,” he said, in apparent reference to African refugees trying to make their way to Europe.

“Today, in acknowledging this, we feel shame before God, before God who became a child.”

Pope Francis spoke of children used as soldiers and as models for fraudulent charitable appeals.

“Are we perhaps people who use fine and pious words, yet exploit pictures of poor children in order to make money?” he asked.

After the Mass, the pope met with Palestinian refugee children from four different camps in the West Bank. He told them not to let the past hinder them, but to always look to the future.

Before the Mass, as the pope’s helicopter flew over Manger Square on its way to the helipad, the crowd cheered wildly, waving flags and banners. A group of Polish pilgrims, accompanied by a guitar player, sang religious songs outside the fenced-in area on the edges of the square, and another group sang in Spanish. On a stage to the side of the square seminarians sang religious songs in Arabic to choreographed movements. They were replaced later by a youth choir, which sang as the pope arrived.

Locals said the pope’s arrival strengthened them.

“We are very few Christians here,” said Majd Banoura, 57, of Beit Sahour, West Bank. “It gives us strength when the pope comes here. It is a sign that this is the land of the Palestinians, and it gives Christians strength to stay here in this land.”

The pope smiled broadly as he greeted people in the popemobile, which drove along a path where he could greet the maximum number of people. The crowd released white balloons and welcomed him with traditional trilling. Parents held their children aloft on their shoulders so they could catch a glimpse of the pope.

Quiet fell over the crowd as the Mass began in Arabic. At the last few minutes of the Mass, the Muslim call to prayer could be heard from the loudspeakers at the mosque bordering the square, and for a moment the call and the closing songs of the Mass intertwined.

Although Israel gave out some 500 permits to people in the Gaza Strip to travel to Bethlehem for the Mass, only 24 people received tickets to the Mass, said two Catholics in attendance. At least two people from Gaza said they thought Israelis did not give permits to entire families out of fear that they would remain in the West Bank.

“I love to be in Gaza and don’t want to leave Gaza even though it is hard. Christians have to be strengthened in Gaza,” said 15-year-old Bolos Swelem, who was the only one in his nuclear family to receive a permit and had come to the Mass with his aunt. “I am here to see the pope and ask him to pray for us, for our life to be made easier.”

Regina Carreon, 47, a Filipino working in Tel Aviv, was among the first to arrive at the square, with five buses of Filipino caregivers. She said she had not slept all night.

“It was our target to get in the front,” she said. “No one was here but us Filipinos. I would stand here even in the sun to see the pope. I feel so blessed. I don’t feel tired, I just feel very good and calm. I will cherish this moment for the rest of my life.”

Local Scout groups helped with the organization of the seating and crowd control, passing out bottles of water, prayer booklets for the Mass and Palestinian and Vatican flags.

“”I think everyone here is happy,” said Yousef Musalem, 42, of Bethlehem, a Scout leader who also helped with the Mass for Pope Benedict. “This is a time to pray with the pope. Everybody is in a good mood.”



Pope invites Israeli, Palestinian leaders to Rome to pray for peace 

By Francis X. Rocca

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople kiss the Stone of Unction in Jeusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher May 25. The two leaders marked the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. (CNS photo/Grzegorz Galazka, pool)

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Pope Francis invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to pray together at the Vatican for peace between their nations.

The pope made the announcement May 25, after praying the “Regina Coeli” at the end of Mass that Abbas attended in Manger Square, in Bethlehem, West Bank.

Later in the day, arriving at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Pope Francis was greeted by Peres and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There the pope repeated his invitation to Peres using exactly the same words with which he had invited Abbas.

He also urged Israel to stay on the “path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace,” saying “there is simply no other way.”

“The right of the state of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders must be universally recognized,” the pope said. “At the same time, there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement.”

Pope Francis also echoed Peres’ and Netanyahu’s words, in their speeches of welcome, condemning the previous day’s shootings at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, where three people, including two Israeli citizens, were killed.

The pope arrived in Israel on the last leg of a May 24-26 trip to Jordan, the Palestinian territories and the West Bank.

Earlier in the day, en route to the Bethlehem Mass, he made an unscheduled stop to pray before a controversial separation wall, built by Israel over Palestinian protests, between its territory and the West Bank. The pope unexpectedly stopped the vehicle and alighted, then walked over to the graffiti-covered structure and rested his forehead against it in silence for a few moments. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, later confirmed that the pope had been praying as he stood against the wall.

Father Lombardi told journalists the stop was a very important symbol of the pope’s understanding of the significance of the wall and was a manifestation of his identification with the suffering of the people, even though he made no mention of the wall in his spoken statements.

The spokesman also told journalists no date had been set for the prayer session in Rome, but that he hoped it would be soon. Father Lombardi said as far as he knew no pope had ever issued a similar invitation.

Peres’ term of office as president expires in July.

Meeting with Palestinian leaders in Bethlehem, Pope Francis voiced his sympathy with “those who suffer most” from the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a situation he called “increasingly unacceptable.”

During a speech to Abbas and other dignitaries in the presidential palace, the pope decried the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s “tragic consequences,” including “insecurity, the violation of rights, isolation and the flight of entire communities, conflicts, shortages and sufferings of every sort.”

“In expressing my closeness to those who suffer most from this conflict, I wish to state my heartfelt conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable,” he said.

The pope said lasting peace would require the “acknowledgement by all of the right of two states to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders.”

“Each side has to make certain sacrifices,” Pope Francis said, calling on Israelis and Palestinians alike to “refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement.”

The pope also expressed his concern for Palestinian Christians, who he said contributed “significantly to the common good of society” and deserved accordingly to be treated as “full citizens.”

Christians make up an estimated 1 percent of the 4.5 million people living under the Palestinian authority.

The pope voiced hopes that an eventual agreement between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority on the status of Catholics would guarantee religious freedom, since “respect for this fundamental human right is, in fact, one of the essential conditions for peace, fraternity and harmony.”

His words echoed his remarks the previous day in Amman, Jordan, where he called for religious freedom throughout the Middle East, including respect for the right to change one’s religion.

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Contributing to this story was Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem.


Families tell pope their concerns during lunch in Bethlehem 

By Judith Sudilovsky

Pope Francis greets children from the refugee camps of Dehiyshe, Aida and Beit Jibrin at the Phoenix Center of the Dehiyshe Refugee Camp near Bethlehem, West Bank, May 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) — When Elias Abu Mohor entered the Casa Nova convent for lunch with Pope Francis, he was surprised to realize he would be sitting at the same table with the pontiff.

Abu Mohor, 44, and his wife Juliet Bannoura, 36, of the neighboring village of Beit Jalla, were among families chosen to eat with the pope after the Mass in Bethlehem May 25. The five — including one Muslim family — represented urgent issues facing the Palestinian community, including land confiscation, imprisonment, displacement from their homes and the situation of people trapped by the embargo of the Gaza Strip.

Abu Mohor told Catholic News Service the first day he was informed his family had been chosen he was in disbelief, but he said he used the opportunity to present Pope Francis with a map showing the encroachment of lands by Israel.

Speaking to the pope is Spanish, he expressed the concerns of families in the Cremisan Valley, where Israel has confiscated land for its separation barrier, sometimes splitting people’s property.

Each of the families chosen told the pope about issues they faced. Most spoke in Arabic, with their concerns translated into Spanish.

Shadia Sbait, 42, who works in the field of banking, and her husband George, 50, a martial arts instructor, traveled from the northern Galilee village of Kafar Yassif. They and their children Nicole, 15, and Caesar, 13, represented the families of Ikrit and Biram.

In the late 1940s, after the creation of the Jewish state, residents of the two Catholic Arab villages were displaced with the promises that they would be permitted to return after two weeks. That never happened, and descendants of the residents, who now live in various villages and cities in northern Israel, have peacefully pursued legal recourses to be permitted to return.

Before the meeting, Shadia Sbait said she would ask Pope Francis to bring up their concerns when he met the following day with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I am not a very religious person but I believe in miracles — and the power of the personality of the pope,” she said.


Pope urges Palestinian refugees to look to future 

By Judith Sudilovsky

Pope Francis kneels before the Stone of Unction in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher May 25. The pope and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople marked the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. (CNS photo/Grzegorz Galazka, pool)

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) — Pope Francis told young Palestinian refugees to look to the future and to always work and strive for the things they wanted.

“Remember that violence cannot be defeated by violence; violence can only be defeated with peace — with peace, effort and dignity to move the nation forward,” he told those who greeted him during a 20-minute visit at the Dehiyshe Refugee Camp’s Phoenix Cultural Center.

As Pope Francis arrived he was warmly welcomed by the center directors and representatives of the camp. He entered the center flanked by a boy and a girl in traditional dress. A large white chair was brought out immediately so he could sit inside the main hall.

Children wearing white caps and shirts held up signs in English and Arabic with slogans such “I’ve never seen the sea” and “I want freedom of worship.”

Speaking in Spanish, which was translated into Arabic by a Franciscan father, Pope Francis said he had understood the children’s English words, and the Arabic had been translated for him.

“I understand what you are telling me and the message you are giving me,” he said. “Don’t ever allow the past to determine your life, always look forward. But do and act and strive for the things you want.”

A boy from the camp welcomed the pope in the name of all the children and told him that the camp was a symbol of Palestinian suffering.

“We Palestinian Christians and Muslims believe in one God, who created the world, and we were created not to fight and be divided but to be united,” said the boy, whose name was not released. “We children of Palestine have not lost hope for the future, and your visit to Bethlehem strengthens our feeling that we must have peace even though we are living under the oppressive occupation of our country. We appreciate all the values you represent, and we would like to live in peace and dignity in our land and our country. ”

He told the pope that the Palestinians were in need of his prayers and support to rid themselves of the occupation.

The children sang a song of brotherhood and unity in Italian, then sang a song of longing for their land in Arabic.

“We send you peace from the land of our ancestors,” they sang.

After they finished the pope complimented the children on their singing, and they presented him with a large carved olivewood arm and hand grasping a key, symbolic of the homes they lost.

“May God bless you, and I ask that you pray for me,” Pope Francis said.

As he walked out, the pontiff stopped to shake the hands of the children, spending a few moments with them.


Fifty years later, pope and patriarch meet again in Jerusalem 

By Francis X. Rocca

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Half a century after a historic encounter between their predecessors, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew met in the same place to seek inspiration for Christian unity at the site of Christ’s death and resurrection.

“We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so, too, every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed,” the pope said May 25 during a prayer service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

“Every time we put behind us our longstanding prejudices and find the courage to build new fraternal relationships, we confess that Christ is truly risen,” the pope said, his voice hoarse and expression fatigued after two full days of public appearances in the Holy Land.

The pope also spoke of an “ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism of blood,” which brings Christians closer through the common experience of persecution. When others kill Christians, he noted, they do not ask if they are Catholic or Orthodox.

Patriarch Bartholomew said Jesus’ tomb sends the message that “history cannot be programmed; that the ultimate word in history does not belong to man, but to God. In vain did the guards of secular power watch over this tomb. In vain did they place a very large stone against the door of the tomb, so that none could roll it away.”

The patriarch said the tomb also encourages Christians to “love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions.”

Their prayer service marked the 50th anniversary of an encounter in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. The earlier meeting, which led both churches to lift the mutual excommunications that started the East-West schism in 1054, opened the modern period of ecumenical dialogue.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew reached the square in front of the church a few minutes after 8 p.m. They arrived from opposite sides and met in the center, where they embraced before entering the church.

Inside, they participated in common prayer with representatives of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches, which share custody of the building. The event was extraordinary because members of the three communities usually observe a strict separation when praying inside the church. Representatives of other churches present in the Holy Land — including Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian, Anglican and Lutheran archbishops — also participated in the ecumenical celebration.

At the beginning of the service, which featured songs and readings in Greek and Latin, the pope and the patriarch knelt and prayed together before the stone of unction, a red limestone slab traditionally believed to be the surface on which Jesus’ dead body was anointed for burial after the crucifixion.

Both Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis gave short addresses, the former speaking in English and the latter in Italian.

Later, the pope and patriarch entered the aedicule, a small wood building containing Jesus’ tomb. They knelt before it and kissed it. After exiting they climbed a stairway to Mount Calvary to light candles at the site of the crucifixion.

Earlier in the evening, the pope and patriarch met privately at the apostolic delegation, the Vatican’s representative office in Jerusalem, where the pope was to spend the second and final night of his visit to the Holy Land.

The two leaders spent more than an hour together, more than twice as long as scheduled. They emerged with a signed common declaration calling for “communion in legitimate diversity” between their churches.

“We look forward in eager anticipation to the day in which we will finally partake together in the eucharistic banquet,” the pope and patriarch wrote, calling for continuing “fraternal encounter and true dialogue” to “lead us into all truth.”

Their declaration also called for common efforts in the “service of humanity, especially in defending the dignity of the human person at every stage of life and the sanctity of family based on marriage, in promoting peace and the common good” by struggling against “hunger, poverty, illiteracy (and) the inequitable distribution of resources.”

The leaders also stressed the need to protect the natural environment and defend religious liberty, especially for embattled Christian minorities in the Middle East.

The Vatican had emphasized that the pope’s meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew was the main reason for his densely packed, three-day visit to the Holy Land. The two leaders were scheduled to meet a total of four times during the visit, whose official logo was an icon of the apostles Peter and Andrew, patron saints of the churches of Rome and Constantinople, joined in a fraternal embrace.

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