POPE CALLS FOR PEACE IN EVERY TIME AND PLACE

VATICAN CITY, MAR 22, 2000 (VIS) - Following the welcome ceremony at the heliport in Bethlehem, the Pope traveled to Manger Square which is in front of the Basilica of the Nativity.
The square marks the junction of the road of the Shepherds' Fields, which is the place the angel appeared, the road of the 'Milk Grotto', where according to tradition Mary fed the Infant Jesus, and the road of Paul VI which recalls the visit of that Pope on January 6, 1964.

The theme of the Mass was: "To us a child is born". In the homily, the Holy Father recalled that in 1978, during his first Christmas as Pope, he had expressed the desire to celebrate the beginning of his pontificate at Bethlehem, yet only now had it proved possible for him to visit the city.
"Bethlehem," he said, "is the heart of my Jubilee pilgrimage."

John Paul II then greeted those present, including President Arafat; His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins; members of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land and representatives of the Orthodox Churches and the ecclesial communities of the region.

"Because it is always Christmas in Bethlehem," he continued, "every day is Christmas in the hearts of Christians. And every day we are called to proclaim the message of Bethlehem to the world - 'good news of great joy': the Eternal Word, 'God from God, Light from Light,' has become flesh and made His dwelling among us."

The Holy Father referred to Jesus' affirmation that "all power has been given to me in heaven and on earth," and explained that this meant "the power to vanquish the Evil One, the ultimate victory over sin and death. It is the power to heal the wounds which disfigure the image of the Creator in His creatures. ... This is the message of Bethlehem today and forever. This is the extraordinary gift which the Prince of Peace brought into the world two thousand years ago."

"Today from Manger Square, we cry out to every time and place, and to every person, 'Peace be with you! Do not be afraid!' These words resound through the pages of Scripture. They are divine words, spoken by Jesus Himself after He rose from the dead: 'Do not be afraid!' They are the words of the Church to you today. Do not be afraid to preserve your Christian presence and heritage in the very place where the Savior was born."

Following Mass, the Pope traveled to Bethlehem's 'Casa Nova', a house built by Franciscans in 1908 to welcome pilgrims, where he had lunch.