Youth Taking a Papal Message of Peace to Holy Land
Will Participate in Palm Sunday Procession in Jerusalem

ROME, MARCH 21, 2002 ( A group of Italian youth who met today with John Paul II in St. Peter's Square is being sent to the Holy Land with a message of peace.

"We will take the message of Assisi to the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, represented by the peace lamps," Father Giuseppe Pellegrini of the Italian Office for Missionary Cooperation Among Churches told the Italian newspaper Avvenire. "It is the gift of peace we will pray for, which we hope to take to the parties in conflict."

The Italian youth were asked to go to the Holy Land with the message of peace by John Paul II himself.

"We intend to reaffirm that the two nations must overcome the logic of terrorism and arms and enter that of coexistence and mutual acceptance". Father Pellegrini added.

Father Pellegrini and Father Giacomo Ruggeri, of the National Service for Youth Pastoral Care, will leave Friday with a group of 25 people, who come from various dioceses, associations, groups and ecclesial movements.

"To be in the Holy Land at this critical time means above all to witness to shared faith in Christ Jesus with Christians, in a minority, present in the holy places," Father Ruggeri said.

The young Italian pilgrims will engage in real "dialogue with the Palestinian and Israeli authorities to express to them the commitment of the Church to peace and fraternity, founded on the word of Jesus: 'Blessed are the peacemakers,'" the priest said. "Lastly, they will visit some realities that give signs that are contrary to the atmosphere of war."

The delegation will meet next Saturday with the community of Ramallah, and will visit a refugee camp and meet with a local parish youth group.

On Palm Sunday, the delegation will meet with youth in Bethlehem and will take part in the afternoon in a Palm Sunday procession led by Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah.

On March 26, before returning to Italy, the youths will meet with the ecclesial community of Nazareth, in the presence of Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo.

"We wish to express our solidarity and closeness to the Christian communities we will meet, especially the youth," the organizers said in a statement. "We are well aware that Christians, especially young people, are obliged to leave the Holy Land for reasons of work."

"Our presence is an expression of solidarity and hope, appealing to our Western Christian communities to banish fear and resume pilgrimages to the land of Jesus," they concluded.