VATICAN CITY, FEB. 12, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II met the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority in audience and said the Holy Land needs "forgiveness not revenge" in the quest for peace.
In his brief address in English to Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, the Pope stressed that it "is reconciliation that the Holy Land needs: forgiveness not revenge, bridges not walls."
"No one must yield to the temptation of discouragement, let alone to hatred or retaliation," the Holy Father added.
"This demands that all leaders of the region follow, with the help of the international community, the path of dialogue and negotiation which leads to lasting peace," he said, expressing the Church's position on the Middle East conflict.
John Paul II told the Prime Minister that his visit "brings back vivid memories of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, during which I prayed fervently for peace and justice in the region."
"While signs of hope have not been altogether absent, unfortunately the sad situation in the Holy Land is a cause of suffering to all," he said.
John Paul II and Qureia met privately for about five minutes in the Pope's library. They were then joined by the Prime Minister's seven-member entourage.
Qureia gave the Holy Father a small mother-of-pearl Nativity scene, made by Christian artisans of Bethlehem. In turn, the Pope gave the Prime Minister a book on his trip to the Holy Land in 2000 and medals of his pontificate in gold, silver and bronze.
The Palestinian's visit to the Vatican was in the framework of his tour of European countries, including Italy, to explain the Palestinian position on the state of the "road map" promoted by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the Russian Federation.
On Dec. 11, John Paul II received Israel's Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in audience, and stressed the need for "concrete acts of reconciliation on the part of all."
On several occasions, Vatican and other Church leaders have expressed their opposition to the security wall Israel is building to block terrorists from entering via the Occupied Territories. The U.N. General Assembly condemned the barrier in October.
On Nov. 16, the Pope also condemned this construction, as well as "all the terrorist actions perpetrated in recent times in the Holy Land."
The official position of the Holy See and of the Pope on the Mideast calls for the recognition of Palestinian sovereignty and the guarantee of Israel's right to security.
Regarding Jerusalem, the Holy See has called for the creation of a special
status, guaranteed internationally, to ensure free access and respect for
the holy places of the three monotheist religions.