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

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Pontiff Calls for Sovereign Palestinian Homeland, Announces Vatican Plan for Bilateral Commission

BETHLEHEM, MAY 13, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Expressing support for the goal of a sovereign Palestinian homeland, Benedict XVI announced that the Holy See will institute a bilateral commission with the Palestinian Authority.

The Pope affirmed this today as he closed a full day of events in the Palestinian Territories, stating that the Holy See "looks forward" to "establishing shortly" the "Bilateral Permanent Working Commission that was envisioned in the Basic Agreement," signed Feb. 15, 2000 between the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Pontiff's visit began this morning as he traveled from Jerusalem, where he is staying until Friday, and passed through the border between Israel and the Palestinian Territories at the Tomb of Rachel door.

He stopped at Bethlehem's presidential palace, where he was greeted by the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

The Holy Father affirmed, "I earnestly beg the Almighty for peace, a just and lasting peace, in the Palestinian Territories and throughout the region."

He assured the president that "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."

Benedict XVI encouraged the crowd assembled for the welcoming ceremony to "keep alive the flame of hope" that a solution will be found to meet "the legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians for peace and stability."

He made a particular appeal to the international community to "bring its influence to bear in favor of a solution."

Acknowledging the effects of recent conflict in Gaza, the Holy Father expressed the hope that reconstruction will happen quickly with international assistance.

Homeless

Later, the Pope visited the Aida refugee camp, north of Bethlehem, where around 5,000 Christian and Muslim Palestinians have made their homes.

On a stage built in the shadow of the cement separation wall marking the Israeli border, formal presentations were made for the Pontiff. Children performed a dance holding black keys, signifying their desire to return "home" to villages in Israel, and recited poetry lamenting the loss of their homeland.

President Abbas addressed the Pope, calling for a resolution of conflicts and sending a message of peace to Israel with an appeal for the withdrawal of the tight security around the Palestinian Territories.

The Holy Father was presented with a scarf embroidered with the Jewish Star of David, the Muslim Dome of the Rock and the Catholic basilica of the Nativity, symbolizing the desire for unity among the three religions.

Benedict XVI addressed the crowd, expressing solidarity with the "homeless Palestinians who long to be able to return to their birthplace, or to live permanently in a homeland of their own."

He affirmed: "Your legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian State, remain unfulfilled. Instead you find yourselves trapped, as so many in this region and throughout the world are trapped, in a spiral of violence, of attack and counter-attack, retaliation, and continual destruction."

The Pope added that "the whole world is longing for this spiral to be broken."

He called for "bold and imaginative initiatives towards reconciliation" to end the stalemate that arises when each side only insists on concessions from the other.

The long-term solution to "a conflict such as this can only be political," asserted the Pontiff.

He added that "no one expects the Palestinian and Israeli peoples to arrive at it on their own."

"The support of the international community is vital," said the Holy Father, as he appealed to "all concerned to bring their influence to bear in favor of a just and lasting solution."

Yet, he added, "diplomatic efforts can only succeed if Palestinians and Israelis themselves are willing to break free from the cycle of aggression."

Leaving the refugee camp, Benedict XVI went once more to the presidential palace for a farewell ceremony. He met privately with the president, and then gave a public address.

The Pope acknowledged that it was "deeply moving" to listen to the stories of the people about "the conditions of life here on the West Bank and in Gaza."

He noted his "anguish" in seeing the situation of the refugees and observing the wall overshadowing the city, "separating neighbors and dividing families."

As he left Bethlehem, the Pontiff gave an assurance "that I will continue to take every opportunity to urge those involved in peace negotiations to work towards a just solution that respects the legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike."

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