HOLY FATHER IS WELCOMED IN BETHLEHEM

March 22 ( EWTNews) Pope John Paul II began his visit to Bethlehem with a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace with Palestinian Chairman Yassar Arafat and an outpouring of Palestinian and religious leaders of various faiths and Catholic rites. It was commented that the warm reception the Holy Father received from all corners of the Bethlehem community was in response to the consensus of the Pope being truly a man of God.

The welcoming ceremony began with Yassar Arafat, thanking the Pope for undertaking this visit.  "In the name of the Palestinian people, and in my name personally, I welcome your Holiness, I welcome you as an esteemed guest to Palestine, the land of prophets and messengers, in this holy and blessed land, in the city of the Nativity, which  welcomed the prophet of peace and love, Jesus Christ, peace be upon Him."

Yassar Arafat continued, "Your presence as a pilgrim to our Holy Land, where you will meet with the family of believers, will be recorded in Palestinian history. Today the successor of St. Peter returns to his roots. We have perceived you to be a man of word and deed and your presence in occupied Jerusalem is an act that gives witness to the oneness of God." Arafat then ended his remarks telling the Holy Father, "the Holy Land needs your prayers and let us all pray for a just and lasting peace repeating the words of what our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for theirs is the kingdom of God.’ "

"Today your presence in Bethlehem and at the Dheisheh refugee camp, which is inhabited by displaced Palestinian refugees, is an act that gives witness to the oneness of God, showing that there is no difference between one human being and another as long as they are obedient to the Almighty."

After Yassar Arafat completed his address, the Holy Father began by stating that the birth of Christ to the Virgin Mary is the reason for the Great Jubilee and the reason for his coming to Bethlehem today. He then underscored the importance of Bethlehem to people everywhere, "Bethlehem – stands out in every place and in every age, as the promise of God’s gift of peace. The message of Bethlehem is the Good News of reconciliation among men, of peace at every level of relations between individuals and nations. Bethlehem is where all peoples can meet to build together a world worthy of our human dignity and destiny."

He personally thanked Chairman Arafat for the warm welcome and rhetorically asked, "How can I fail to pray that the divine gift of peace will come and be more of a reality for all who live in this land uniquely marked by God’s interventions? Peace for the Palestinian people! Peace for all the people of the region!"

The Holy Father then stated that the "Holy See has always recognized that the Palestinian people have a natural right to a homeland and the right to be able to live in peace and tranquility with other peoples of this area. Only with a just and lasting peace – not one imposed but secured through negotiation – will legitimate Palestinian aspirations be fulfilled."

The Pope recognized the great challenges facing the Palestinians and encouraged all nations to help this land to develop as peace in this part of the world is not just a Palestinian or Israeli issue. The Holy Father ended his welcoming address by stating "the promise of peace made at Bethlehem will become a reality for the world only when the dignity and rights of all human beings made in the image of God are acknowledged and respected." He then gave his blessing and again assured the Palestinian people of his prayers for their destiny.

Afterwards, the Holy Father, holding hands with Yassar Arafat, left the Presidential Palace and walked to the popemobile. The Holy Father then proceeded to Manger Square to Celebrate Mass and waved to the crowds lining the streets along the way