Palestinians hoped that if the Pope came to the Holy Land he would visit them, and today they got their wish as Benedict XVI went to Bethlehem. After being received by President Mahmoud Abbas, the Pope stressed the Holy See’s support for a Palestinian state and urged the youth to spurn violence, turning their energies to work for peace.
The Pope began by telling the Palestinians, “I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades.” “My heart goes out to all the families who have been left homeless,” he added, noting that later on Wednesday afternoon he will visit the Aida Refugee Camp to express his solidarity with “the people who have lost so much.”
Saying that he prays daily for a peaceful and just solution in the Holy Land, the Pontiff reiterated the Holy See’s backing for “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.”
Keep the flame of hope alive, he encouraged, while also reminding his audience of the words of Pope John Paul II, there can be “no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness.”
The way forward for the region can only be achieved through “a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, in which the rights and dignity of all are acknowledged and upheld,” the Holy Father said.
“I ask all of you, I ask your leaders, to make a renewed commitment to work towards these goals. In particular I call on the international community to bring its influence to bear in favor of a solution. Believe and trust that through honest and persevering dialogue, with full respect for the demands of justice, lasting peace really can be attained in these lands.”
Pope Benedict also addressed some of the main causes of friction between Israel and Palestine—the freedom of movement, reconstruction of demolished houses and the building of infrastructure.
“Palestinians, like any other people, have a natural right to marry, to raise families, and to have access to work, education and health care,” he insisted.
Of particular concern to the Pope was that the international community help rebuild homes, schools and hospitals damaged during the recent fighting in Gaza.
Finally, the Holy Father directed his words to the “many young people throughout the Palestinian Territories.”
He issued a challenge to them:
“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.”
Benedict XVI left the Palestinians with the words, “I invoke upon all the Palestinian people the blessings and the protection of our heavenly Father, and I pray fervently that the song which the angels sang here in this place will be fulfilled: peace on earth, good will among men.”
At around 9:30 in the morning, Pope Benedict arrived at Manger Square to celebrate Mass next to the place where Jesus was born.