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5/5/2009 7:44 PM
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Jerusalem prelates urge media
not to overlook true aims
of the Pope's pilgrimage -
they give assurances that
papal security is not at risk

Translated from
the Italian service of

May 5, 2009

Before a large crowd of journalists and newscameramen, the Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco; the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Mons, Fouad Twal; his Vicar, Mons. Marcuzzo; and Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, held a news conference to update the media on preparations for the Pope's visit to the Holy Land.

Correspondent Robnerto Piermarini reports:

"We invited you because, as newsmen, you have a mission: to present this visit to the world to the best of your ability, understanding the specificity of this papal pilgrimage, which will be an unending prayer the search for unity and peace in this land that has been so tormented."

This is the spirit in which Benedict XVI would like his visit to be seen, according to Mons. Franco and Mons. Twal at a news conference held today in the Notre Dame Center of Jerusalem.

In particular, Mons. Twal conceded that the papal trip could be instrumentalized in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been an explosive political situation for the past six decades.

Nonetheless, the Pope wished to visit a Palestinian refugee camp - the Aida camp near Bethlehem - to immerse himself in the reality of life for thousands of Palestinian refugees who are often neglected by teh international community.

Mons. Twal said that the local church in Gaza has requested travel permits for 250 Christians to travel to Bethlehem for the Pope's Mass
in Bethlehem, but so far, only 100 permits have been issued.

A journalist asked, "Why isn't the Pope going to Gaza?"

Mons. Twal explained that the Gaza Catholics represent only a tiny minority compared to the 15,000 who live on the West Bank, of whom 11,000 so far have been given permits to transit Israeli territory in order to attend a papal event.

On the question of a possible security risk to the Pope in Nazareth, Mons. Marcuzzo gave assurances that there is no reason for concern, because the protests reported in recent days came from a fringe group of extremists who have now been isolated by Israeli security.

he said, the Pope will use the Popemobile at the Mass on Mount Precipice in Nazareth.

The prelates were also asked about the report that Israeli President Shimon Peres has recommended giving the Catholic Church control over some of the most important Christian holy sites in Israel.

"This has been the object of long-standing consultations," Mons. Franco said, "but there is nothing conclusive yet."

About the Pope's visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where a photogallery displays Pius XII in the Hall of Shame, Mons. Franco said Pope Benedict XVI never once linked his visit to Yad Vashem with the controversy, since his visit was a sign of respect and a homage to the victims of the Holocaust.

Mons. Marcuzzo called on the media not to forget the primarily pastoral and spiritual significance of the Pope's pilgrimage. He said that the Pope would face specific themes at various stages of the pilgrimage" in Jordan, the Church; in Nazareth, issues about life; in Jerusalem, peace and reconciliation; and in Bethlehem, the family.

Finally, Mons. Franco recalled the Pope's words at the Regina caeli last Sunday, when he underscored that he was visiting the holy places to confirm and encourage Christians in the Holy Land, going as a pilgrim for peace who wishes to re-emphasize the need for dialog and reconciliation.

Here is a translation of Piermarini's interview with Mons. Twal:

MONS. TWAL: We await the Holy Father with joy, with hope, with enthusiasm - we consider him a sign of Providence who is coming to pray with us, for all of us, for peace for all the inhabitants of the Holy Land.

He is a father who will begin with encouraging the faithful in Jordan and will then proceed here.

We need to have a big heart and not limit ourselves to little things, to ill will. On the contrary, we should reciprocate his beautiful gesture in coming to see us with our hospitality and courage.

Mons. Twal, at the Regina caeli on Sunday, the Pope said he was coming, among other objectives, to encourage the Christians of the Holy Land in facing the considerable difficulties of their daily life. What are these difficulties? You have spoken about 'the calvary of the [Palestinian] Christian communities".
You only have to go to Bethlehem or to Nazareth to see it: all the checkpoints one must go through, the wall which Israel has put up along the border( with Palestinian territory)...

[One must note that all these 'difficulties' - inconveniences, really - are not directed against Palestinian Christians in particular, but against all Palestinians, as legitimate security measures on the part of Israel in defense of its own people. Unfortunate but necessary measures.

Just imagine what the situation would be if the conditions were reversed and Palestinians had the economic and military power that Israel has: they would not just put up a wall against Jews - they would not allow them on the land at all and drive them into the sea, as their leaders have often expressed!]

It is difficult for Palestinians to go to the airport, we have problems getting visas, there is the problem of reunifying families who life in East Jerusalem and those who are in Ramallah. And there was the destruction of homes [in the last Israeli offensive in Gaza].

[They Palestinian Christians surely realize that the Catholic Church itself as an institution is officially persecuted, in effect, by the state of Israel, in overt ways that the Israelis cannot do against Christians as individuals and as a community, much less against the Muslims who life in Israel.]

That is the Calvary for Palestinian Christians, but we must not forget that after Calvary comes the Resurrection. We look forward to the Resurrection and should not linger on Calvary.

Do you suffer about the slow but gradual emigration of Christians away from the Holy Land?
Of course, we suffer. At present, we have barely 10,000 Christians in Jerusalem - Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants combined - compared to 250,000 Muslims and 550,000 Jews.

But the Christians must realize that their presence here is a mission, they have to accept the obstacles and not give up in the face of these difficulties. This is the Holy Land - here we have the roots of our religion.

Is everyone - Jew, Christian, Muslim - aware of the Pope's visit?
Everyone is aware. Just as we are aware that we are 'constrained' to live together, and so, we should be able to live together peacefully.

How does this visit shape up in the ecumenical sense?
Beautifully. One of the Pope's events [his encounter with leaders of other Christian Churches and confessions] will take place at the residence of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem to underscore this.

We have had good relations with the various religious communities in Jerusalem. Once in a while, there may be an incident [the perennial squabbling among the various churches that share the custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre], but in the overall context of the Holy Land, we should not over-dramatize these.

Is it difficult to have courage for peace in the Holy Land today?
Not at all. We must restore to the Holy Land its vocation of holiness. Rather than fighting over territorial rights, we should be committed more to encouraging reconciliation, forgiveness, brotherly charity, holiness. We need all of that, and working for it is our courage.

The photos I added above to illustrate the above story from Vatican Radio actually came from the site of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. which has changed its look from when I first started visiting it in April. From this, which I find has an archaic charm:

to this, very streamlined, to go with a new contemporary layout and more efficient site organization:


It also adds more information about that press conference, in a French report translated here:

Mons. Twal: Above all, this is a pastoral visit. But one cannot forget its political dimension.
Mgr Marcuzzo: Since the Pope first expressed his desire to visit the Holy Land, it was always the pastoral aspect that was the most important. That is why there is a theme attached to each of the important places: in Jordan, the Church; in Jerusalem, peace; in Bethlehem, life; and in Nazareth, the family... The logo for the visit, which says TU ES PETRUS, stresses the pastoral content of this visit.

On the visit to the Aida refugee camp
Mons. Franco: With this visit, the Pope wants to show 'a gesture of solidarity, as John Paul II did when he came here. For Benedict XVI, it will be occasion to meet the people who suffer more than others as a consequence of the experience here.

To a newsman who asked where the ceremony would be held in Aida, he replied: "From the very beginning, it was always planned to hold the ceremony in the courtyard of the UNESCO school." [Israel had said that for security reasons, it would not allow the Aida ceremony to take place from a stage that the Palestinians had built right next to Israel's security fence.]

About the Christians of Gaza
Mons Twal: Since it is difficult for the Pope to go to Gaza [security arrangements would be impossible], then the Gazans will go to the Pope.
Mons. Franco: We asked for 250 permits for the Gaza Catholics who will be going to the Pope's Mass in Bethlehem, along with some Gaza Muslims. We have 286 Catholics living in Gaza City, so if we get the 250 permits, that would be great.

The Catholics of the West Bank
Mr. Abunassar: Eleven thousand permits were requested from the Israeli authorities for the West Bank Christians.
Mons. Twal: They were granted the permits for a period that began with Easter up to May 15, the last day of the Pope's visit.
[That seems very lenient of the Israelis - and the time period indicates that the travel permit does not apply only to going to Bethlehem for the Papal Mass.]

The Mass in Jerusalem
Fr, Pizziballa: The site can accommodate 5,00-6,000 persons. But we have received another 1,000 requests.
Mons. Franco: It would be sad if some do not come to the Mass because of fear. (Responding to a journalist who remarked that some Christians from outside Jerusalem may not want to come to Jerusalem for the Mass because of all the Israeli security checks,)

The Holy Places
Mons. Twal: The Holy Father is not coming to see the sites. He is here for the people. [A newsman asked which Holy Place was Benedict XVI's 'favorite'].

The situation in Nazareth
Mons. Marcuzzo: Almost everything is ready in Nazareth. We have started distributing the tickets for the mass at Mount Precipice. Some agitators had been distributing leaflets expressing hostility to the Pope;s visit to Nazareth, But that protest has been an isolated case. The townspeople have not responded. [In answer to a question on a threatening protest by some Muslim extremists.]

The LPJ site also has a clean copy of the official poster for the visit:

The poster was designed for the Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land to welcome teh Holy Father 'in the name of all the children of Jordan, Israel and Palestine'.

The photo of the Pope underscores that he is coming above allas a pastor to confirm adn rnew the faith among the flock of Christ. The same aspect is underscored in the official logo which is based on a sculpture of Christ naming Peter to take care of his flock - the statue is found in Tabhga, a lakeside town in Galilee, which is also associated with the miracle of loaves and fishes.

The five Holy Places shown on the poster are the Holy Sepulchre in jerusalem; teh Church of the Nativity in bethlehem; the grotto of teh Annunciation in nazareth; the site of Christ;'s baptism in Bethany beyond the Jordan; and the city of Madaba in Jordan.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/6/2009 7:45 AM]
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