March 23, 2000
volume 11, no. 59
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Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.


    BETHLEHEM, MAR 22 ( Today, the Holy Father travelled to Palestinian territory to celebrate one of the high points of the Jubilee: Celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Manger Square in Bethlehem.

    Bethlehem has become a symbol of the complicated evolution of territorial claims in the Middle East. Thus, the Pope used this opportunity to remind his listeners of the urgent need for peace in this region and to reaffirm the "natural right" of the Palestinian people to "a homeland" and to "live in peace and tranquillity with the other peoples of this area."

    "No one can ignore how much the Palestinian people have had to suffer in recent decades. Your torment is before the eyes of the world. And it has gone on too long," the Pope asserted.


    John Paul II was received with every honor and courtesy by the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. The Pope kissed a bowl of earth from Bethlehem upon arrival. This is a typical gesture of devotion, explained Holy See spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls, and should not be interpreted as an act of implicit recognition of the Palestinian State. "It would have been rather strange if the Pope had not kissed the land on which Jesus was born," he explained.

"Do Not Be Afraid!"

    Afterwards, the Holy Father celebrated the Eucharist on Manger Square, near the Grotto of the Nativity. The celebration was a celebration for all the Christian communities of the Holy Land. The Pope called for renewed hope for the Christians of this land. Bethlehem, he recalled, means "house of bread" in Hebrew, where "God lies hidden in the Child; divinity lies hidden in the Bread of Life."

    From a stage dominated by a giant star, like that which guided the three Kings to the manger, John Paul II invited the 10,000 faithful gathered there, along with all the Christians of the region, to have no fear. "Today from Manger Square, we cry out to every time and place, and to every person, 'Peace be with you! Do not be afraid!' " he cried.

    "Do not be afraid," he repeated, "to preserve your Christian presence and heritage in the very place where the Saviour was born." This very concrete message was directed toward the Arab Christian community, which has been leaving the Holy Land in increasing numbers, due to the few opportunities for work, political instability, and Islamic fundamentalism.

The Meaning of the Cross

    During the homily, the Pope recalled that this humble city "has known 'the yoke' and 'the rod' of oppression. How often has the cry of innocents been heard in these streets? Even the great church built over the Saviour's birth-place stands like a fortress battered by the strife of the ages. The Crib of Jesus lies always in the shadow of the Cross."

    However, this poverty and weakness has meaning in the light of the Gospel. "The Crib and the Cross are the same mystery of redemptive love; the body which Mary laid in the manger is the same body offered up on the Cross," explained the Pontiff.

    The Kingdom of Christ "is not the play of force and wealth and conquest which appears to shape our human history. It is rather the power to vanquish the Evil One, the ultimate victory over sin and death. It is the power to heal the wounds which disfigure the image of the Creator in his creatures," continued the Holy Father.

Muslim Call to Prayer

    After the Pope's homily, the prayer caller in the minarette of the mosque located adjacent to the stage began to call the Muslim faithful of the city to prayer, by means of a loudspeaker, while the faithful in Mass were waiting in a moment of prayerful silence. The event disturbed many of those present, particularly Yasser Arafat.

    Varying explanations were given for the call. Some thought it a provocation, while others felt it was an act of deference toward the Holy Father, because the caller had waited until after the homily was over. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, almost applauded. He explained that the prayer for peace of the Pope combined with the prayer of the Muslims provided joint testimony before God that Christians and Muslims wanted peace.

Meeting with Arafat

    Before Mass, the Pope met with Yasser Arafat in the Presidential Palace in Bethlehem. In his discourse, the Palestinian leader stressed that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Palistinian people, presumably in response to Israeli President Ezer Weizman, who yesterday called the Holy City the capital of the Jewish State.

    A political cartoon in the "Harez" newspaper illustrates well the political overtones that various factions want to give to this pilgrimage. It shows the Pope, arms outstetched in a cross, with a Star of David pulling on one arm, and the Muslim crescent moon pulling the other. When he spoke about interreligious relations in Jerusalem, Arafat only mentioned the Christians and Muslims, omitting the Jews. Arafat ended his discourse quoting Jesus, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God!"

    "The promise of peace," responded the Pope, "made in Bethlehem, will become a reality for the world when the dignity and rights of all human beings created in the image of God are recognized."

Refugee Camp

    The Pope also took the opportunity to visit a Palestinian refugee camp. He greeted the descendants of the shepherds who were present at Christ's birth to comfort them. "Dear refugees, do not think that your present condition makes you any less important in God's eyes!" he shouted. "Never forget your dignity as his children! Here at Bethlehem the Divine Child was laid in a manger in a stable; shepherds from nearby fields who were your ancestors were the first to receive the heavenly message of peace and hope for the world. God's design was fulfilled in the midst of humility and poverty." ZE00032208


    BETHLEHEM ( -- Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on March 22 in the basilica built upon the spot in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

    The Pope, arriving in Bethlehem after a short helicopter ride from Jerusalem, went to the Nativity Basilica in Manger Square. That ancient church-- which faces a small mosque on the opposite side of the square-- is maintained by Latin-rite Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox clergy.

    "Bethlehem is at the center of my Jubilee pilgrimage," the Pope commented during his homily. This is the place, he observed, where "the eternal entered into history, to remain with us forever."

    The birth of Jesus was not a manifestation of earthly power, the Holy Father remarked. On the contrary, the Lord was born amidst poverty and neglect; his kingdom was not to be an earthly kingdom but a victory of good over evil, "the definitive victory over sin and death." And that victory, he continued, can "transform our weak nature and make us capable of living in peace with one another and in communion with God."

    As he concluded his homily, the Pope encouraged the Christians who live in Bethlehem-- a dwindling minority in a predominantly Muslim town-- to "preserve your presence and your Christian patrimony, in this place where our Savior was born." After the Mass, the Pope had lunch at a nearby Franciscan residence for pilgrims. He returned to the basilica in the afternoon, to go to the grotto beneath the altar that marks the spot where Jesus was born.


    BETHLEHEM ( -- During a March 22 visit to a Palestinian refugee camp, Pope John Paul II renewed his challenge to the international community to help the people living in such "degrading" conditions.

    The Deheisheh camp, which was built in 1948 to accommodate Palestinians driven from the villages during the quest for Israeli statehood, now has 8,000 inhabitants. The Pope made a quick tour through the camp, and stopped in a cinder-block schoolroom to make his remarks about the conditions in which the refugees have now been living for more than half a century.

    "Only a resolute commitment on the part of the leaders of the Middle East, and of the international community in general, can solve the causes of your current situation," the Pope said. He then issued a call for all political leaders to make their contributions to the peace process.

    The Pope saluted the humanitarian agencies which work with Palestinian refugees, urging them "do not be discouraged." In particular he singled out the Catholic services and the UN's Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, which helps to administer dozens of camps in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria-- serving a total of over 2 million Palestinian refugees.

    "I pray that my visit will bring you a bit of consolation in your suffering," the Pope told the residents of the Deheisheh camp. He also said that he hoped his visit would call public attention to the plight of the refugee population.

    At the conclusion of his remarks, the Pope spoke extemporaneously for several minutes, concentrating his attention on the young people in his audience. "You can never allow yourselves to think that your current condition makes you any less important in the eyes of God," he assured them.

Greek-Melkite Exarch of Jerusalem Comments on Pontiff's Visit

    JERUSALEM, MAR 21 ( "We are Arabs but not Muslims. Orientals but not Orthodox. Catholics but not Roman. We are open to the West but we are not part of it. This is the reason we have all the cards to develop a special 'mission' of dialogue, especially between the Orthodox Church and Rome," Archbishop Lufti Laham said to the Italian newspaper "Avvenire."

    Archbishop Lufti Laham, 67, Catholic Greek-Melkite Patriarchal Exarch in Jerusalem, represents Patriarch Maximus V Haxim, Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem of the Greek Melkites. He is an interesting personality in the Holy Land from the ecumenical standpoint. This rather singular Eastern Church has a total of 50,000 faithful in the Holy Land; many of them live in Galilee.

    The Pope is in a part of the world in which Christian Churches have survived uninterruptedly for 2000 years, in the midst of grave difficulties. "This adds to the importance of his spiritual pilgrimage. Perhaps, in the West, the blood of our martyrs is forgotten, the price that these Churches have paid to preserve the faith," the Archbishop explained.

    Among the reasons the Pope asked for forgiveness was the division of Christians. Archbishop Leham says that the Christians of the East felt somewhat left out by the Euro-centrism of that prayer for forgiveness. "I will be sincere with you. Here Christians have lived with a bit of unease and upset by the instrumentalization they have suffered. We ask ourselves: What responsibility do we have for the Crusades and the Shoah, which are the domain of the European Churches?"

    "The Pope's merit is in inviting everyone, with the strength of his example, to an act of repentance in order to express renewed will to serve God," the Archbishop continued. "The Church is certain of her dogmas, but she also wants to be self-critical, to give an example to all and come close to the Father."

    The Archbishop says this visit will help to bring about a lasting peace in the Holy Land and will help the Christian minority. It will be "a further contribution on the road toward true peace, which will confirm our dream: to preserve the Christian presence in the Holy Land. In order to do this, the local Church must be ever more rooted, especially investing in youth."

    "As a concrete gesture in memory of this visit, our Church will create a credit bank to support the new families who want to construct their home here, so that the Christian presence in Jerusalem will be reinforced, and in cities like Nablus where we are few. But this isn't the only thing. As a Greek Catholic Church, we have worked on a document on the delicate question of the Primacy, which we will to give the Pope within the next few months," Archbishop Laham continued.

    This topic is very dear to John Paul II. "So much so, that he spoke to us, the Catholic patriarchs of the East, back in 1989. I believe we must insist on this, encouraging meetings not only at the highest levels, but favoring and appreciating dialogue experiences in the local churches," explained the Exarch. "The Council of Catholic Patriarchs is working on this. I am convinced that we all must return to 'Orientale Lumen,' which is somewhat forgotten. And to Catholics of the Latin rite I say: do not fear the contribution of your eastern brothers." ZE00032101

Testimony of Jewish Woman Who Was About To Die at 16

    JERUSALEM, MAR 22 (ZENIT).- This Thursday will be an unforgettable day for Edith Zirer, a Jewish woman who was born in Poland but who has lived in Haifa for decades. At last, in the Yad Vashem Memorial to the Holocaust, she will be able to personally thank Karol Wojtyla, the man who saved her life 55 years ago, she said.

    The Israeli newspaper "Maariv" reported this event today. ZENIT reported on Zirer's story in February 1998 (ZE98020605).

    At that time, Edith Zirer said: "I remember perfectly well. I was there, I was a 13 year old girl, alone, sick, and weak. I had spent 3 years in a German concentration camp at the point of death. And, like an angel, Karol Wojtyla saved my life; like a dream from heaven: he gave me something to drink and eat and then carried me on his back some 4 kilometers in the snow, before catching the train to safety."

    Edith Zirer tells the story as if it had happened yesterday. It was a cold morning in early February, 1945. The young Jew, who was not yet aware that she was the only member of her family to survive the Nazi massacre, let a tall, strong 25-year-old, tonsured seminarian carry her and give her a ray of hope.

    Today, at 66, Edith is the mother of two and lives in a beautiful home in the Carmel hills, on the outskirts of Haifa. She rebuilt her life in Israel, where she arrived in 1951, suffering from tuberculosis and frightful dreams connected with the war.

    For many years, she kept this incident to herself. When Karol Wojtyla ascended the Chair of Peter in 1978, she felt the need to tell the story and express her gratitude. The question that arises immediately, of course, is how could she be certain that that seminarian is the Pope? The reporters of Haifa's weekly newspaper "Kolbo," who heard the story for the first time in 1998, say her story is very convincing. "She is not trying for publicity, all the details she gives seem credible."

    The story speaks for itself. "On January 28, 1945 Russian soldiers liberated the Hassak concentration camp, where I had been imprisoned for almost 3 years, working in a munitions factory. I felt confused, I was prostrated with illness. Two days later I arrived at a small railway station between Czestochowa and Krakow." At this time, Wojtyla was in Krakow preparing for his priestly ordination.

    "I was sure I would arrive at the end of my journey. I was lying on the ground, in the corner of a large hall where dozens of refugees were gathering the majority of whom still wore uniforms with the numbers of the concentration camps. Then Wojtyla saw me. He came with a big cup of tea, the first hot beverage I had had in weeks. Then he brought me a cheese sandwich made with Polish rye bread, wonderful. But I didn't want to eat. I was too tired. He made me eat. Then he told me I would have to walk to catch the train. I tried, but I fell down on the ground. He then took me in his arms and carried me for a long time. All the while the snow fell. I remember his brown jacket, the tranquil voice who told me about his parents' death, and his brother's, the loneliness he felt, and the need not to be overcome by sorrow and to fight for life. His name was indelibly imprinted in my memory."

    When they finally arrived at the convoy that would take the prisoners to the West, Edith met a Jewish family who alerted her: "Be careful, priests try to convert Jewish children." She was afraid and hid. "Only later did I understand that all he wanted to do was to help me. Now I want to thank him personally," she said. ZE00032206

For news on the Pope's "Jubilee Journey" to the Holy Land this week, see also
Day ONE or Day TWO


March 23, 2000
volume 11, no. 59

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