May 14, 2009

Vatican Information Service Bulletin

The following, in it's entirety, is a copyrighted transcript of the Vatican Information Service.




VATICAN CITY, 13 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 3.15 p.m. today, the Pope visited the Basilica and the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

  The present situation of co-ownership and administration of the Basilica of the Nativity by Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Latin Catholics dates back to the Status Quo, an 1862 Ottoman decree which regulates religious life at the Holy Sepulchre and at Bethlehem.

  The Greeks own the basilica, except for the north part of the transept which belongs to the Armenians. The Grotto of the Nativity belongs to the Franciscans and is divided into two parts: the Altar of the Nativity, of the Greeks, and the Altar of the Manger in the Grotto of the Magi, of the Latins. Next to the basilica the Franciscans built the church of St. Catherine where the Roman rite is celebrated.

  On both sides of the Greek choir in the basilica are the two entrances to the Grotto of the Nativity which is rectangular and measures 12 meters in length and 3 meters in both width and height. The bronze doors and marble portals date from the era of the crusades. The apse covers the Altar of the Nativity, under which there is a marble slab with a silver star and the Latin inscription: "Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est" (Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary). To the right of the Altar of the Nativity is the Grotto of the Magi where Catholic Masses are celebrated.

  Having completed his visit, Benedict XVI moved on to the Caritas Baby Hospital, a children's hospital founded in 1952 and supported by the "Kinderhilfe Bethlehem" Association, established by Fr. Ernst Schnydrig who died in 1978. The hospital enjoys the support of the German and Swiss episcopal conferences.

 Before greeting the medical and administrative staff, and the Franciscan Elizabethan Sisters of Padua who help care for the patients, the Pope visited the chapel and the maternity ward.

  Addressing some words to the young patients and their families, he said: "The Pope is with you! Today he is with you in person, but he spiritually accompanies you each and every day in his thoughts and prayers, asking the Almighty to watch over you with His tender care.

  "Fr. Schnydrig described this place as 'one of the smaller bridges built for peace'. Now, having grown from fourteen cots to eighty beds, and caring for the needs of thousands of children each year, this bridge is no longer small! It brings together people of different origins, languages and religions, in the name of the Reign of God, the Kingdom of Peace. I heartily encourage you to persevere in your mission of showing charity to all the sick, the poor and the weak".

  Today being the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the Holy Father concluded by invoking the Virgin Mary in these terms: "May love triumph over hatred, solidarity over division, and peace over every form of violence!" And he concluded: "We ask your Son Jesus to bless these children and all children who suffer throughout the world".



VATICAN CITY, 13 MAY 2009 (VIS) - Having completed his visit to the Caritas Baby Hospital, the Holy Father boarded his popemobile and travelled the two kilometres separating it from the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.

  The Aida camp is one of the refugee camps in the Palestinian Territories, which house a total of 1,300,000 refugees who arrived in two waves: in 1948 with the birth of the State of Israel, and in 1967 following the Six-Day War. The Aida camp, an example of co-existence between Christians and Muslims, houses some 5,000 people, including a number of Christian families. Various estimates give the number of people living in the Palestinian Territories as between three and four million. According to 2008 estimates from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Palestinian refugees number 4,600,000 scattered between Jordan (1,700,000 of whom 329,000 live in ten camps); the West Bank (500,000 in nineteen camps); the Gaza Strip (1,000,000 in eight camps, in a total population of 1,500,000); Lebanon (409,000 in twelve camps) and Syria (120,000 in nine camps).

  In his remarks, the Pope welcomed the opportunity to express his "solidarity with all the homeless Palestinians who long to be able to return to their birthplace, or to live permanently in a homeland of their own". He also praised the work of UNRWA officials in this camp and others throughout the region.

  Benedict XVI reiterated the importance of education and called on young people present to "renew your efforts to prepare for the time when you will be responsible for the affairs of the Palestinian people in years to come". In this context, he also called on parents "to support your children in their studies and to nurture their gifts, so that there will be no shortage of well-qualified personnel to occupy leadership positions in the Palestinian community in the future.

  "I know", he added, "that many of your families are divided - through imprisonment of family members, or restrictions on freedom of movement - and many of you have experienced bereavement in the course of the hostilities. ... Please be assured that all Palestinian refugees across the world, especially those who lost homes and loved ones during the recent conflict in Gaza, are constantly remembered in my prayers".

  The Holy Father also praised the work of certain Church agencies in the Palestinian Territories, such as the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who "call to mind the charismatic figure of St. Francis, that great apostle of peace and reconciliation", and the Franciscan family in general which cares "for the people of these lands, by making themselves 'instruments of peace'".

  "Instruments of peace", the Pope reiterated. "How much the people of this camp, these Territories, and this entire region long for peace! In these days, that longing takes on a particular poignancy as you recall the events of May 1948 and the years of conflict, as yet unresolved, that followed from those events. You are now living in precarious and difficult conditions, with limited opportunities for employment.

  "It is understandable that you often feel frustrated. 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 whole world is longing for this spiral to be broken, for peace to put an end to the constant fighting. Towering over us, as we gather here this afternoon, is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached - the wall.

  "In a world where more and more borders are being opened up - to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges - it is tragic to see walls still being erected. How we long to see the fruits of the much more difficult task of building peace! How earnestly we pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built!

   "On both sides of the wall, great courage is needed if fear and mistrust is to be overcome, if the urge to retaliate for loss or injury is to be resisted. It takes magnanimity to seek reconciliation after years of fighting. Yet history has shown that peace can only come when the parties to a conflict are willing to move beyond their grievances and work together towards common goals, each taking seriously the concerns and fears of the other, striving to build an atmosphere of trust. There has to be a willingness to take bold and imaginative initiatives towards reconciliation: if each insists on prior concessions from the other, the result can only be stalemate".

   Benedict XVI emphasised the fact that humanitarian aid, such as the kind provided in the Aida camp, is essential "but the long-term solution to a conflict such as this can only be political. No one expects the Palestinian and Israeli peoples to arrive at it on their own. The support of the international community is vital, and hence I make a renewed appeal to all concerned to bring their influence to bear in favour of a just and lasting solution, respecting the legitimate demands of all parties and recognising their right to live in peace and dignity, in accordance with international law. Yet at the same time, diplomatic efforts can only succeed if Palestinians and Israelis themselves are willing to break free from the cycle of aggression".

   The Holy Father concluded his comments with a plea "for a profound commitment to cultivate peace and non-violence, following the example of St. Francis and other great peacemakers. Peace has to begin in the home, in the family, in the heart. I continue to pray that all parties to the conflict in these lands will have the courage and imagination to pursue the challenging but indispensable path of reconciliation. May peace flourish once more in these lands! May God bless His people with peace!"

   Having concluded his address Benedict XVI travelled to the presidential palace in Bethlehem to pay a courtesy visit to the president of the Palestinian National Authority.



 VATICAN CITY, 13 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 6 p.m. today at the presidential palace in Bethlehem, the Holy Father made a courtesy visit to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority. He also met with a group of residents from Gaza and the West Bank.

   Having described his time in the Palestinian Territories as "a most memorable day", the Pope thanked President Abbas for his hospitality and "for the great kindness you have shown me".

   Referring then to the separation wall, the Pope said that "although walls can easily be built, we all know that they do not last forever. They can be taken down. First, though, it is necessary to remove the walls that we build around our hearts, the barriers that we set up against our neighbours.

   "That is why", he added, "in my parting words, I want to make a renewed plea for openness and generosity of spirit, for an end to intolerance and exclusion. ... There are always grounds to hope that [conflict] can be resolved, that the patient and persevering efforts of those who work for peace and reconciliation will bear fruit in the end. My earnest wish for you, the people of Palestine, is that this will happen soon, and that you will at last be able to enjoy the peace, freedom and stability that have eluded you for so long".

   Benedict XVI gave assurances that he 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. As an important step in this direction, the Holy See looks forward to establishing shortly, in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority, the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission that was envisioned in the Basic Agreement, signed in the Vatican on 15 February 2000".



 VATICAN CITY, 14 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 8.30 a.m. today the Pope travelled by helicopter to Nazareth, town of the Annunciation and of the Holy Family, which is located some 110 kilometres from Jerusalem. Having landed, the Holy Father continued his journey by car to the Mount of the Precipice where he celebrated Mass to mark the closure of Year of the Family, an initiative organised by the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.

   Benedict XVI was welcomed by the mayors of Nazareth and of Nazareth Illit, by Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin patriarchal vicar for Israel, and by Archbishop Paul Nabil El-Sayah of Haifa and the Holy Land of the Maronites. The Holy Father saluted the faithful from his popemobile as he toured the site, a natural amphitheatre located near a wood dedicated to Pope John XXIII. Having then received greetings from Archbishop Elias Chacour, Greek Melkite ordinary for Galilee, he presided at Mass. Among those attending the ceremony was Shimon Peres, president of the State of Israel.

   In his homily, the Holy Father affirmed that, following the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, "we come to appreciate even more fully the sacredness of the family, which in God's plan is based on the lifelong fidelity of a man and a woman consecrated by the marriage covenant and accepting of God's gift of new life.

   "How much the men and women of our time need to re-appropriate this fundamental truth, which stands at the foundation of society, and how important is the witness of married couples for the formation of sound consciences and the building of a civilisation of love", he added.

   "In the family each person, whether the smallest child or the oldest relative, is valued for himself or herself, and not seen simply as a means to some other end. Here we begin to glimpse something of the essential role of the family as the first building block of a well-ordered and welcoming society. We also come to appreciate, within the wider community, the duty of the State to support families in their mission of education, to protect the institution of the family and its inherent rights, and to ensure that all families can live and flourish in conditions of dignity".

   "In the town of the Annunciation", the Holy Father proceeded, "our thoughts naturally turn to Mary, 'full of grace'. ... Nazareth reminds us of our need to acknowledge and respect the God-given dignity and proper role of women, as well as their particular charisms and talents. Whether as mothers in families, as a vital presence in the workforce and the institutions of society, or in the particular vocation of following our Lord by the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, women have an indispensable role in creating that 'human ecology' which our world, and this land, so urgently needs: a milieu in which children learn to love and to cherish others, to be honest and respectful to all, to practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness".

   He also noted how from St. Joseph's "strong and fatherly example" Jesus "learned the virtues of a manly piety, fidelity to one's word, integrity and hard work. In the carpenter of Nazareth he saw how authority placed at the service of love is infinitely more fruitful than the power which seeks to dominate. How much our world needs the example, guidance and quiet strength of men like Joseph!"

   Benedict XVI told the children present "to let the example of Jesus guide you, not only in showing respect for your parents, but also helping them to discover more fully the love which gives our lives their deepest meaning. In the Holy Family of Nazareth, it was Jesus who taught Mary and Joseph something of the greatness of the love of God".

   He then called on everyone to reaffirm their commitment "to be a leaven of respect and love in the world around us. This Mount of the Precipice reminds us ... that our Lord's message was at times a source of contradiction and conflict with His hearers. Sadly, as the world knows, Nazareth has experienced tensions in recent years which have harmed relations between its Christian and Muslim communities. I urge people of goodwill in both communities to repair the damage that has been done, and in fidelity to our common belief in one God, the Father of the human family, to work to build bridges and find the way to a peaceful coexistence. Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men's souls before it kills their bodies!"

   Benedict XVI concluded his homily by expressing his "gratitude and praise for all those who strive to bring God's love to the children of this town, and to educate new generations in the ways of peace. I think in a special way of the local Churches, particularly in their schools and charitable institutions, to break down walls and to be a seedbed of encounter, dialogue, reconciliation and solidarity".

   Finally, he encouraged educators "to persevere in bearing witness to the Gospel, to be confident in the triumph of goodness and truth, and to trust that God will give growth to every initiative which aims at the extension of His Kingdom of holiness, solidarity, justice and peace".

   At the conclusion of Mass, Benedict XVI blessed the cornerstones of various new buildings, including an international centre for the family, a memorial park dedicated to John Paul II and the Pope Benedict XVI University.

   At the end of the ceremony, the Pope travelled to the Franciscan convent in Nazareth where he had lunch with local ordinaries and the Franciscan community. After lunch, he held a private meeting in the convent with Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of the State of Israel, before travelling to the Shrine of the Annunciation, also in Nazareth.



 VATICAN CITY, 14 MAY 2009 (VIS) - The Holy Father:

  - Appointed Bishop Harold Anthony Perera of Galle, Sri Lanka, as bishop of Kurunegala (area 4,763, population 1,508,851, Catholics 51,952, priests 46, religious 63), Sri Lanka. He succeeds Bishop Anthony Leopold Raymond Peiris, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit.

  - Appointed Bishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Nakhon Sawan, Thailand, as archbishop of Bangkok (area 18,831, population 12,860,320, Catholics 110,694, priests 219, religious 722), Thailand. The archbishop-elect was born in Ban Rak, Thailand in 1949, he was ordained a priest in 1976 and consecrated a bishop in 2007. He succeeds Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same archdiocese the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit.

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