Catholic World News
[APR. 05, 2002]


BETHLEHEM, Apr 5, 02 (FIDES/ --
The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, fearing an
imminent Israeli assault on the Church of the Nativity,
has issued a public statement insisting that the friars
inside the Christian shrine are not hostages.

The Franciscan become concerned after hearing an
Israeli official, Marcel Aviv, refer to the monks
inside the Church of the Nativity as "hostages." The
Franciscans said: "It is impossible not to fear that
the use of this term is meant in an effort to
legitimize a perhaps imminent military assault."

Father David Jaeger, spokesman for the Franciscans in
Jerusalem, asked the Fides news service to circulate a
statement of clarification. In the statement, the
Franciscan insist: "The friars are NOT hostages; they
are in their own house, in the precise place where they
belong, in fidelity to their divine calling, and in
obedience to the orders of their superiors."

The statement warns: "Any armed assault involving that
most sacred place, on whatsoever pretext, and however
it may be presented, must be absolutely out of the
question." An Israeli assault, the statement continues,
would be "an extremely grave violation of the holy
place, of the fundamental principles of humanity and
civilization, and of precise undertakings at the level
of international law."

On Friday afternoon, the Israeli troops occupying
Bethlehem raised a round-the-clock curfew for three
hours, to allow residents to secure food and water. But
the more than 200 people inside the Church of the
Nativity were not allowed to leave. "This means we
shave have to put up with our hunger and thirst," said
a Franciscan source inside the building. "As time
passes the situation is ever more critical."

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio in Jerusalem,
reported that four Franciscan friars were allowed to
leave the Church of the Nativity, under an agreement
negotiated with Israeli and Palestinian officials. The
four friars were taken to a medical clinic for
emergency treatment.