13-May-2009 -- ZENIT.org News Agency |

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Pope Calls for End to Holy Land Exodus

JERUSALEM, MAY 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- In this evening's Mass celebrated outside Jerusalem's walls, Benedict XVI expressed the universal Church's support for Holy Land Christians, and appealed to the authorities to stop their exodus.

The Pope affirmed, "I wish to acknowledge the difficulties, the frustration, and the pain and suffering which so many of you have endured as a result of the conflicts which have afflicted these lands, and the bitter experiences of displacement which so many of your families have known."

The Mass, celebrated primarily in Latin and Arabic, took place in the Valley of Josaphat, located in front of the Basilica of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives where Jesus suffered his agony before the crucifixion.

The site, prepared for 6,000 people, marked the first outdoor Papal Eucharistic Celebration in the city area, and the last public event of the day for the Pope's Holy Land visit which lasts through Friday.

At the beginning of Mass, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, greeted the Pontiff and described the situation of the Catholics in the Holy Land, a "small flock that is shrinking, that suffers from emigration."

The prelate stated: "Around us, we have the agony of the Palestinian people, who dream of living in a free and independent Palestinian State, but have not found its realization; and the agony of the Israeli people, who dream of a normal life in peace and security and, despite all their military and mass media might, have not found its realization.

"And the international community, just like Jesus' beloved disciples, stands apart, eyes drooping with indifference, unconcerned with the agony of the Holy Land, which has gone on for 61 years, and does not seriously rouse itself, to find a just solution."

In this "valley of tears," Archbishop Twal added, "we raise our prayer for Jerusalem, to be shared by the two peoples and three religions."

Not forgotten

The Holy Father, in his homily, expressed the hope that his presence will be to the Holy Land Christians "a sign that you are not forgotten, that your persevering presence and witness are indeed precious in God's eyes and integral to the future of these lands."

He added that because of their "ancient and strong Christian culture" and "unwavering trust in God's promises," they are called to be a "beacon of faith to the universal Church" and a "leaven of harmony, wisdom and equilibrium" in a "pluralistic, multiethnic and multi-religious" society.

Benedict XVI noted the "tragic reality" of the recent emigration of so many Christians that, although understandable, "brings in its wake a great cultural and spiritual impoverishment to the city."

The Custodian of the Holy Land reported that since 1946, the Christian community in Jerusalem has been reduced from 20% of the total population to only 2% of the city's membership.

The Pontiff exclaimed, "In the Holy Land there is room for everyone!"

He exhorted the authorities "to respect, to support and to value the Christian presence here." He assured the Catholics of the "solidarity, love and support of the whole Church and of the Holy See."

The Holy Father's message, greeted with applause from the first words, was primarily about hope based on Christ's resurrection.

He stated, "In this Holy City where life conquered death, where the Spirit was poured out as the first-fruits of the new creation, hope continues to battle despair, frustration and cynicism, while the peace which is God's gift and call continues to be threatened by selfishness, conflict, division and the burden of past wrongs."

The Pontiff urged the Christians to embrace Gospel hope, "bearing witness to the power of forgiveness, and showing forth the Church's deepest nature as the sign and sacrament of a humanity reconciled, renewed and made one in Christ."

Vital importance

Earlier today, the Holy Father gathered the leaders of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land in the Upper Room, the historic place of Pentecost, for the recitation of the Regina Caeli.

He told the ordinaries, including the Latin patriarch, the bishops of the Churches of different rites in communion with Rome, and the custodian of the Holy Land, to emphasize the "communion of mind and heart" effected by the Eucharist.

Benedict XVI affirmed that "the different Christian Churches found here represent a rich and varied spiritual patrimony and are a sign of the multiple forms of interaction between the Gospel and different cultures" as well as a reminder of the mission to "preach the universal love of God" and gather all people into his "one family."

He noted the "vital importance" of the Christian presence in the Holy Land, "for the good of society as a whole."

After leaving the Cenacle, the Pope went to the Latin patriarchate's co-cathedral of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, where he greeted the crowd of some 300 people, including religious contemplatives. Benedict XVI expressed appreciation for the "hidden apostolate of the contemplatives" and asked for their prayers for the Church's evangelization mission.

Afterward, the Pontiff returned to the Apostolic Delegation where he met with the Consuls General of nine countries serving in Jerusalem: Belgium, Italy, France, Greece, United Kingdom, Spain, United States, Sweden and Turkey.

Wednesday, the Pope will visit Bethlehem, where he will celebrate Mass in Manger Square. He will also visit the Grotto of the Nativity, the Caritas baby hospital, and the Aida refugee camp before visiting the president of the Palestine National Authority.

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