VATICAN, Apr 30, 02 ( -- The Vatican has
confirmed that Cardinal Roger Etchegaray will visit
Jerusalem this week, as a special envoy of Pope John
Paul II.

The cardinal's mission-- as reported by CWN yesterday--
will be to negotiate an end to the occupation of the
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Vatican
indicated that Cardinal Etchegaray hopes to celebrate
Mass in that basilica on Sunday, May 5.

The Fides news service reports that Christians in the
Holy Land are eagerly anticipating the cardinal's
arrival. Father Raed Abushalia, the chancellor of the
Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said that the
Catholics of the region hold "strong hopes that this
will be not just a visit of solidarity." The papal
envoy, he said, might " contribute to finding a
solution to the tragic siege of the Nativity Church."

"People are pinning their hopes on the cardinal,"
Father Abushalia continued. He added that as a personal
envoy for Pope John Paul, the French-born prelate will
carry "all the weight of the moral authority and
international credibility of the Catholic Church."

The spokesman for the Catholic Church in Jerusalem
pointed out that the month-long siege at the Nativity
basilica-- along with the curfews imposed by Israeli
troops on Palestinian communities-- have taken a heavy
toll on the people of the region. The curfews have been
devastating for the economy, Father Abushalia observed.
The Palestinian people, he said, "are desperate,
starving-- and the sick and the elderly are dying."

The spiritual life of the Christian community has also
suffered, Father Abushalia remarked. He explained that
"for 4 weeks now there has been no Sunday Liturgy, for
either Catholic or Orthodox Christians" in Bethlehem.

"Sunday May 5 is the Orthodox Easter," Father Abushalia
noted. "If the Orthodox community here is denied the
celebration of the Easter Solemnity it will an be
extremely serious fact-- unprecedented in 2000 years.
The Church must be restored to the faithful before the
end of the week."