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Thursday, November 11, 2004


VATICAN CITY, NOV 11, 2004 (VIS) - Upon learning of the death early this morning in a hospital near Paris of Yasser Arafat, 75, president of the Palestinian National Authority, Holy See Press Office Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls made the following statement to journalists:

  "The Holy See joins in the pain of the Palestinian people for the death of President Yasser Arafat. He was a leader of great charisma who loved his people and sought to lead them towards national independence. May God welcome in His mercy the soul of the illustrious deceased and give peace to the Holy Land, with two independent and sovereign States, fully reconciled with each other."

  Pope John Paul and Yasser Arafat have met 12 times during the Pope's 26-year pontificate. Arafat was received 11 times in the Vatican: the first was on September 15, 1982 and the last time was October 30, 2001. The Palestinian leader and the Holy Father also met in Bethlehem during the pontiff's pilgrimage to the Holy Land in March of 2000.

  Yasser Arafat has met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of State (1996), with then Archbishop and now Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, secretary for Relations with States (1994 in Tunisia and 1995 in Gaza during a trip to Israel) and with Cardinal Pio Laghi when he visited the Holy Land in 2001.

  On October 25, 1994, the Holy See announced that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Holy See will exchange representations to be "open channels for continuing the development of mutual relations, understanding and cooperation. ... It was decided to give to the already long-existing and fruitful working contacts a permanent and official character. The Palestine Liberation Organization will, therefore, open an office of representation at the Holy See, with its own director. The apostolic nuncio in Tunisia will be responsible for contacts with the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization."

  On February 15, 2000, John Paul II received Arafat and a delegation for the signing of a Basic Agreement between the Holy See and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, as the representative of the Palestinian National Authority. At that time the Palestinian leader invited the Pope to Bethlehem. The agreement signed that day dealt with certain juridical questions regarding the presence and activity of the Catholic Church in the territory dependent on the Palestinian Authority.
OP/DEATH ARAFAT/NAVARRO-VALLS                VIS 20041111 (380)

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