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Sunday, May 25, 2014


Vatican City, 25 May 2014 (VIS) – This morning the Holy Father celebrated the Eucharist in Bethlehem's Manger Square, at the confluence of Milk Grotto Street (the site of a shrine situated in a grotto carved out of white tuff rock, where according to tradition Mary fed the baby Jesus) and Paul VI Street, named to commemorate Pope Montini's visit on 6 January 1964. During his journey to the Presidential Palace of Bethlehem to Manger Square, the Pope got out of the jeep and prayed before the wall dividing Bethlehem from Israel, after which he rested his head on it for a moment.

The Mass was attended by the president of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, and groups of faithful from the Gaza Strip and Galilee (State of Israel), as well as many immigrant workers from Asia.

“What a great grace it is to celebrate the Eucharist in the place where Jesus was born!” exclaimed the Pope. “I thank God and I thank all of you who have welcomed me on my pilgrimage: President Mahmoud Abbas and the other civil authorities; Patriarch Fouad Twal and the other bishops and ordinaries of the Holy Land, the priests, the consecrated persons and all those who labour to keep faith, hope and love alive in these lands; the faithful who have come from Gaza and Galilee, and the immigrants from Asia and Africa. Thank you for your welcome!”

“The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, is the sign given by God to those who awaited salvation, and he remains forever the sign of God’s tenderness and presence in our world: 'This will be a sign for you: you will find a child…'. Today too, children are a sign. They are a sign of hope, a sign of life, but also a 'diagnostic' sign, a marker indicating the health of families, society and the entire world. Wherever children are accepted, loved, cared for and protected, the family is healthy, society is more healthy and the world is more human. Here we can think of the work carried out by the Ephpheta Paul VI institute for hearing and speech impaired Palestinian children: it is a very real sign of God’s goodness; it is a concrete sign of a better society. To us, the men and women of the twenty-first century, God also says: 'This will be a sign for you', look to the child… The Child of Bethlehem is frail, like all newborn children. He cannot speak and yet he is the Word made flesh who came to transform the hearts and lives of all men and women. This Child, like every other child, is vulnerable; he needs to be accepted and protected. Today too, children need to be welcomed and defended, from the moment of their conception.

“Sadly, in this world of ours, with all its highly developed technology, great numbers of children continue to live in inhuman situations, on the fringes of society, in the peripheries of great cities and in the countryside”, he continued. “All too many children continue to exploited, maltreated, enslaved, prey to violence and illicit trafficking. Still too many children live in exile, as refugees, at times lost at sea, particularly in the waters of the Mediterranean. Today, in acknowledging this, we feel shame before God, before God who became a child. And we have to ask ourselves: Who are we, as we stand before the Child Jesus? Who are we, standing as we stand before today’s children? Are we like Mary and Joseph, who welcomed Jesus and care for him with the love of a father and a mother? Or are we like Herod, who wanted to eliminate him? Are we like the shepherds, who went in haste to kneel before him in worship and offer him their humble gifts? Or are we indifferent? Are we perhaps people who use fine and pious words, yet exploit pictures of poor children in order to make money? Are we ready to be there for children, to 'waste time' with them? Are we ready to listen to them, to care for them, to pray for them and with them? Or do we ignore them because we are too caught up in our own affairs?”.

“'This will be a sign for you: you will find a child…'. Perhaps that little boy or girl is crying. He is crying because he is hungry, because she is cold, because he or she wants to be picked up and held in our arms… Today too, children are crying, they are crying a lot, and their crying challenges us. In a world which daily discards tons of food and medicine there are children, hungry and suffering from easily curable diseases, who cry out in vain. In an age which insists on the protection of minors, there is a flourishing trade in weapons which end up in the hands of child-soldiers, there is a ready market for goods produced by the slave labour of small children. Their cry is stifled: they must fight, they must work, they cannot cry! But their mothers cry for them, as modern-day Rachels: they weep for their children, and they refuse to be consoled”.

“'This will be a sign for you'. The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, every child who is born and grows up in every part of our world, is a diagnostic sign indicating the state of health of our families, our communities, our nation. Such a frank and honest diagnosis can lead us to a new kind of lifestyle where our relationships are no longer marked by conflict, oppression and consumerism, but fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation, solidarity and love”.

The Pope concluded with a prayer to the Holy Virgin: “Mary, Mother of Jesus, you who accepted, teach us how to accept; you who adored, teach us how to adore; you who followed, teach us how to follow. Amen”.


Vatican City, 25 May 2014 (VIS) – At the end of the Eucharistic celebration, the Pope invited the president of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, and the president of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres, to meet in the Vatican to pray together for peace.

“In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace”, said the Pope following the Regina Coeli. “I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer”.

“All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers. All of us – especially those placed at the service of their respective peoples – have the duty to become instruments and artisans of peace, especially by our prayers. Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment. The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace”.


Vatican City, 25 May 2014 (VIS) – After proposing the Vatican as the the location for a prayer meeting between the presidents of the State of Palestine and the State of Israel, Pope Francis prayed the Regina Coeli, commenting that it was precisely there in Bethlehem that Mary gave birth to her Son Jesus and that the Virgin “is the one who, more than any other person, contemplated God in the human face of Jesus. Assisted by Saint Joseph, she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger”.

“To Mary we entrust this land and all who dwell here, that they may live in justice, peace and fraternity”, he said. “We entrust also the pilgrims who come here to draw from the sources of the Christian faith – so many of them are also present at this Holy Mass. Mary, watch over our families, our young people and our elderly. Watch over those who have lost faith and hope. Comfort the sick, the imprisoned and all who suffer. Watch over the Church’s Pastors and the entire community of believers; may they may be 'salt and light' in this blessed land. Sustain all educational initiatives, particularly Bethlehem University”.

“Contemplating the Holy Family here in Bethlehem, my thoughts turn spontaneously to Nazareth, which I hope to visit, God willing, on another occasion. From this place I embrace with affection the Christian faithful living in Galilee and I express my support for the building of the International Centre for the Family in Nazareth. We entrust the future of our human family to Mary Most Holy, that new horizons may open in our world, with the promise of fraternity, solidarity and peace”.

After the Regina Coeli, the Pope proceeded to the Franciscan “Casa Nova” convent, a reception centre for pilgrims, built in 1908 and extended and blessed in 1986, which is able to host up to 129 people. There, Francis dined with several families of refugees and Palestinian homeless.


Vatican City, 25 May 2014 (VIS) – At 7.30 this morning the Pope transferred from the apostolic nunciature of Amman to Bethlehem by helicopter, where he arrived at 9.20 a.m. local time (8.20 a.m. Rome time); he then undertook by car the journey of two and a half kilometres from the heliport to the presidential palace of Bethlehem, where he was received by the president of the Palestinian State, Mahmoud Abbas.

Bethlehem is first referred to in the Bible in relation to the death of Rachel and is identified with the Euphrates (the fruitful). In the sacred books it is called “Bethlehem of Judea”, the tribe to which it belonged. David was born and consecrated a king by the prophet Samuel there, and with the birth of Jesus, the smallest of Israel's cities gained worldwide importance and grew due to the influx of pilgrims. In the year 135, the emperor Adrian introduced the cult of Adonis but Christianity was restored in 330 by Constantine. Following the Islamic conquest in 638, the Caliph Omar initiated a policy of religious tolerance, but with the arrival of the crusading army in 1099, the Muslims devastated the city. In 1100 the crusader king of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, was consecrated. The Arab reconquest in 1187 and the subsequent Ottoman occupation marked the decline of the citadel which by 1600 had been reduced to a small village. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the city, the majority of whose inhabitants were Christians, began a revival. In 1831, the Pasha of Egypt, Mohamed Ali, conquered the city, and the Muslims, allies of the Ottomans, were driven out and their quarters burned. Ten years later, the city fell under Ottoman control once again. Under British rule from 1918, it became part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1946. In 1967, following the so-called Six Days War, it was occupied by the Israeli army, along with east Jerusalem and most of the West Bank. Since 1995 it has been part of the Autonomous Palestinian Territories following the Oslo Accords (now the State of Palestine). The then-president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, ordered the construction of the presidential Palace which today receives the Pope's visit.

The Holy Father, accompanied by President Abbas, was greeted by various representatives of the Palestinian Christian communities from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, who delivered various messages, and then transferred to the Great Hall where he was awaited by the Palestinian authorities and members of the Diplomatic Corps, whom he addressed.

“For decades the Middle East has known the tragic consequences of a protracted conflict which has inflicted many wounds so difficult to heal”, he began. “Even in the absence of violence, the climate of instability and a lack of mutual understanding have produced insecurity, the violation of rights, isolation and the flight of entire communities, conflicts, shortages and sufferings of every sort. In expressing my closeness to those who suffer most from this conflict, I wish to state my heartfelt conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable. For the good of all, there is a need to intensify efforts and initiatives aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice, on the recognition of the rights of every individual, and on mutual security. The time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good, the courage to forge a peace which rests on the acknowledgement by all of the right of two States to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders”.

“To this end, I can only express my profound hope that all will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement, and that peace will be pursued with tireless determination and tenacity. Peace will bring countless benefits for the peoples of this region and for the world as a whole. And so it must resolutely be pursued, even if each side has to make certain sacrifices”, he emphasised. “I pray that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and their respective leaders will undertake this promising journey of peace with the same courage and steadfastness needed for every journey. Peace in security and mutual trust will become the stable frame of reference for confronting and resolving every other problem, and thus provide an opportunity for a balanced development, one which can serve as a model for other crisis areas”.

He then referred with affection to the active Christian community, “which contributes significantly to the common good of society, sharing in the joys and sufferings of the whole people. Christians desire to continue in this role as full citizens, along with their fellow citizens, whom they regard as their brothers and sisters. Mr President, our recent meeting in the Vatican and my presence today in Palestine attest to the good relations existing between the Holy See and the State of Palestine. I trust that these relations can further develop for the good of all. In this regard, I express my appreciation for the efforts being made to draft an agreement between the parties regarding various aspects of the life of the Catholic community in this country, with particular attention to religious freedom. Respect for this fundamental human right is, in fact, one of the essential conditions for peace, fraternity and harmony. It tells the world that it is possible and necessary to build harmony and understanding between different cultures and religions. It also testifies to the fact that, since the important things we share are so many, it is possible to find a means of serene, ordered and peaceful coexistence, accepting our differences and rejoicing that, as children of the one God, we are all brothers and sisters”.

“Mr President, dear brothers gathered here in Bethlehem: may Almighty God bless you, protect you and grant you the wisdom and strength needed to continue courageously along the path to peace, so that swords will be turned into ploughshares and this land will once more flourish more in prosperity and concord. Salaam!”


Vatican City, 24 May 2014 (VIS) – After celebrating Holy Mass in the International Stadium in Amman, Pope Francis made the fifty kilometre journey to Bethany beyond the Jordan, which was the centre of the activity of St. John the Baptist and the scene of Jesus' life. Bethany is still buried and its precise location remains unknown, although it is perhaps found 200 metres to the west of the Hill of the Prophet Elijah, where archaeological excavations have not yet been carried out. The zone is called “Wadi Al-Kharrar” (“melodious valley”), referring to the murmur of the waters of the Jordan, and is located at 350 metres above the level of the Mediterranean, just a few kilometres from the point at which the river widens and flows into the Dead Sea, the “sea of salt” of the Old Testament and the “Sea of Lot” of Arab manuscripts.

Upon arrival the Pope was welcomed by King Abdullah II, who awaited him in the apse of the Latin Church of Bethany before the Jordan, and from there he went on to visit the place of the Baptism, at the banks of the Jordan, where he prayed in silence for some minutes and blessed the water. He then entered the temple where a private sacristy had been prepared. The church is still in construction and its first stone was blessed by Pope Benedict VI during his visit to the site of the Baptism on 10 May 2009.

The Holy Father was awaited in the Church by 600 people, including refugees and young disabled people, and the Pope mentioned his keenness to meet those who have had to leave their homes and country “As a result of violence and conflict. Here in Jordan you have found welcome and refuge. I have wanted also to meet with you, dear young people who bear the burden of physical disabilities”.

“The place where we are meeting commemorates Jesus’ baptism”, he continued. “Coming here to the Jordan to be baptised by John, Jesus showed his humility and his participation in our human condition. He stooped down to us and by his love he restored our dignity and brought us salvation. Jesus’ humility never fails to move us, the fact that he bends down to wounded humanity in order to heal us. For our part, we are profoundly affected by the tragedies and suffering of our times, particularly those caused by ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. I think particularly of beloved Syria, rent by nearly three years of civil strife which has led to countless deaths and forced millions to flee and seek exile in other countries”.

“All of us want peace!” he exclaimed. “But as we observe this tragic conflict, seeing these wounds, seeing so many people who have left their homeland, forced to do so, I ask myself: who is selling arms to these people to make war? Behold the root of evil! Hatred and financial greed in the manufacturing and sale of arms. This should make us think about who is responsible for this situation, for providing arms to those in conflict and thereby sustaining such conflict. Let us think about this and with sincere hearts let us call upon these poor criminals to change their ways”.

Francis thanked the Jordanian authorities and people for “the generous welcome they have extended to the immense number of refugees from Syria and Iraq. I also thank all those who offer them assistance and solidarity. I think too of the charitable work undertaken by Church institutions such as Caritas Jordan and others, who assist the needy regardless of their religious beliefs, ethnic origin or politics; in this way they reveal the radiant face of Jesus, full of kindness and love. May the Almighty and Merciful God bless all of you and every effort you make to alleviate the sufferings caused by war”.

“I urge the international community not to leave Jordan, so welcoming and courageous, alone in the task of meeting the humanitarian emergency caused by the arrival of so great a number of refugees, but to continue and even increase its support and assistance. And I renew my heartfelt appeal for peace in Syria. May the violence cease and may humanitarian law be respected, thus ensuring much needed assistance to those who are suffering. May all parties abandon the attempt to resolve issues by the use of arms and return to negotiations. A solution will only be found through dialogue and restraint, through compassion for those who suffer, through the search for a political solution and through a sense of fraternal responsibility”.

“Dear young people, I ask you to join me in praying for peace. You can do this by offering your daily efforts and struggles to God; in this way your prayer will become particularly precious and effective. I also encourage you to assist, through your generosity and sensitivity, in building a society which is respectful of the vulnerable, the sick, children and the elderly. Despite your difficulties in life, you are a sign of hope. You have a place in God’s heart and in my prayers. I am grateful that so many of you are here, and for your warmth and enthusiasm”.

Finally, he added, “As our meeting concludes, I pray once more that reason and restraint will prevail and that, with the help of the international community, Syria will rediscover the path of peace. May God change the hearts of those who seek war. May God change the hearts of those who manufacture and sell arms, and may he strengthen the hearts and minds of peacemakers and grant them every blessing”.


Vatican City, 24 May 2014 (VIS) – Following his meeting with the Jordanian authorities, the Pope transferred by car to the International Stadium in Amman, which forms part of the “Al Husseini” sports complex, the construction of which was initiated by King Hussein. The stadium, in which Benedict XVI celebrated mass in 2009 during his apostolic trip to the Holy Land, holds more than 25,000 people and several thousand were able to follow the event broadcast on maxi-screens installed outside. Numerous Christian refugees in Jordan, originally from Palestine, Syria and Iraq, participated in the Eucharist presided by Pope Francis, during which 1,400 children received their first Communion.

Pope Francis began his homily by commenting, “We are not far from where the Holy Spirit descended with power on Jesus of Nazareth after his baptism by John in the River Jordan, and today I will go there”. He continued, “Today’s Gospel and this place to which, by God’s grace, I have come as a pilgrim, invite us to meditate on the Holy Spirit and on all that he has brought about in Christ and in us. In a word, we can say that the Holy Spirit carries out three actions – he prepares, he anoints and he sends”.

He explained, “At the baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus to prepare him for his mission of salvation. ... Yet the Holy Spirit, present from the beginning of salvation history, had already been at work in Jesus from the moment of his conception in the virginal womb of Mary of Nazareth ... and acted in Simeon and Anna on the day of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. ... They gave prophetic expression to the joy of encountering the Redeemer and, in a certain sense, served as a preparation for the encounter between the Messiah and the people. These various works of the Holy Spirit are part of a harmonious action, a sole divine plan of love. The mission of the Holy Spirit, in fact, is to beget harmony – he is himself harmony – and to create peace in different situations and between different people. Diversity of ideas and persons should not trigger rejection or prove an obstacle, for variety always enriches. So today, with fervent hearts, we invoke the Holy Spirit and ask him to prepare the path to peace and unity”.

Secondly, “the Holy Spirit also anoints. He anointed Jesus inwardly and he anoints his disciples, so that they can have the mind of Christ and thus be disposed to live lives of peace and communion. Through the anointing of the Spirit, our human nature is sealed with the holiness of Jesus Christ and we are enabled to love our brothers and sisters with the same love which God has for us. We ought, therefore, to show concrete signs of humility, fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation. These signs are the prerequisite of a true, stable and lasting peace. Let us ask the Father to anoint us so that we may fully become his children, ever more conformed to Christ, and may learn to see one another as brothers and sisters. Thus, by putting aside our grievances and divisions, we can show fraternal love for one another”.

Finally, the Holy Spirit sends. “Jesus is the one who is sent forth, filled with the Spirit of the Father. Anointed by the same Spirit, we also are sent as messengers and witnesses of peace. The world has much need of us as messengers of peace, witnesses of peace! The world needs this. The world asks us to bring peace and to be a sign of peace! Peace is not something which can be bought or sold; it is a gift to be sought patiently and to be 'crafted' through the actions, great and small, of our everyday lives. The way of peace is strengthened if we realise that we all of the same stock and members of the one human family; if we never forget that we have the same heavenly Father and are all his children, made in his image and likeness”.

“It is in this spirit that I embrace all of you: the Patriarch, my brother bishops and priests, the consecrated men and women, the lay faithful, and the many children who today make their First Holy Communion, together with their families. I also embrace with affection the many Christian refugees; let us all earnestly turn our attention to them, to the many Christian refugees from Palestine, Syria and Iraq; please bring my greeting to your families and communities, and assure them of my closeness”.

“The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the Jordan and thus inaugurated his work of redemption to free the world from sin and death”. The Holy Father concluded. “Let us ask the Spirit to prepare our hearts to encounter our brothers and sisters, so that we may overcome our differences rooted in political thinking, language, culture and religion. Let us ask him to anoint our whole being with the oil of his mercy, which heals the injuries caused by mistakes, misunderstandings and disputes. And let us ask him for the grace to send us forth, in humility and meekness, along the demanding but enriching path of seeking peace”.


Vatican City, 25 May 2014 (VIS) – The Holy See Press Office announced yesterday, Saturday 24 May, that as a gift from the Holy Father to the Arabic-speaking faithful, “vatican.va” will be available in Arabic. This includes the website www.vatican.va, the site for mobile devices, widgets, and the application vatican.va for Android and Apple, and for mobile devices and tablets. Documents translated into Arabic will gradually be added to the site.
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