Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Meets Pope

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 15, 2002 ( John Paul II met Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem today to discuss the Holy Land and the peace initiatives under way there.

The Vatican Press Office has published no further details on the meeting, which was followed by a luncheon, during which the Pope asked the Patriarch to call the Nativity Church and spoke directly with Fr. Ibrahim Faltas and encouraged him to stay firm and thanked the Franciscan Fathers of the historical service to the Holy Places.

Afterwards, the patriarch visited the Msgr Jean-Louis Tauran and discussed with him the issue of the Basilica of the Nativity and urged him to do whatever possible to find a peaceful solution to this crisis.
On Saturday, the Latin patriarch, together with other Christian leaders of Jerusalem, presented proposals to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell for an end to the Israeli army's siege of Bethlehem's Basilica of the Nativity.

Franciscan and Armenian religious are confined and suffering there, following the April 2 invasion of the basilica by 200 mostly armed Palestinians.

Ruins everywhere, civilians exhausted. Caritas sounds humanitarian alarm

Jerusalem (Fides) – This morning, April 15, a Caritas Jerusalem convoy was allowed into Bethlehem after passing the checkpoint. "We were allowed to take a little comfort to some of the many desperate and exhausted families" Fides was told by Claudette Habesch Secretary general of Caritas Jerusalem which organised the convoy. To allow the distribution of humanitarian aid the 24 hour curfew was lifted for two hours 11am-1pm local time. However the Caritas workers were not allowed near the Nativity Church compound still under siege by the Israeli troops.

"The situation is serious. There is destruction everywhere. At the moment we limit aid to emergency supplies of food and water and medicines for hospitals. We give help to all in need without discrimination" Ms Habesch said. Caritas is trying to provide assistance for the Palestinian civilian victims of the Israeli military offensive.

Concern on the part of Caritas Jerusalem and humanitarian workers the world over is voiced in a statement issued by Caritas Internationalis. "shocked by the violent and frightening events now happening in the Holy Land…We view with grave concern the massive assault on Palestinian cities, towns and refugee camps…Under these circumstances it is becoming increasingly difficult for organisations like Caritas Jerusalem to provide medicines, clothing, food and other basic necessities to those who need it most, namely women, children and the elderly," the statement says.

Caritas Internationalis sounds a humanitarian alarm. "Ambulances are being prevented from saving lives and even being shot at by the Israeli army. Palestinian clinics and hospitals are in need of medicines but cannot get them. Many children cannot go to school. There has been random shooting of civilians, including children and women, by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints. The showering of missiles on civilian areas by helicopters, bombers and tanks is causing widespread terror. Israeli and Palestinian human rights defenders are prevented from doing their work. Journalists are denied access to areas where there is fighting. ".

The Catholic Church’s international aid organization says it "unreservedly condemns the attacks against Israeli civilians which undermine the just cause of the Palestinian people" At the same time it warns that "the current military operation in civilian populated areas of Palestine will only worsen the situation and create more hatred", at a moment when hope had been kindled by the peace proposal put forward by Saudi Arabia and the Arab League. "As long as the illegal occupation of Palestine continues there will be no peace, Caritas Internationalis. says, adding that as a faith–based Confederation it hopes for "a just peace based on understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation".

Meanwhile the occupation and blockade have ruined Palestine’s economy. Caritas Internationalis recalls that "the territories have been sealed off hermetically…agricultural crops have been devastated. Many people cannot go to work. The blockade is pushing ever more families below the poverty line". Finally the Organization calls for an immediate end to occupation and an international monitoring presence in the occupied territories, "this would be a deterrent to violence and violation of human rights". (Fides 15/4/2002)