13-May-2009 -- Vatican Information Service |

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Pope Visits Basilica of the Nativity and Children's Hospital

VATICAN CITY, 13 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 3.15 p.m. today, the Pope visited the Basilica and the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The present situation of co-ownership and administration of the Basilica of the Nativity by Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Latin Catholics dates back to the Status Quo, an 1862 Ottoman decree which regulates religious life at the Holy Sepulchre and at Bethlehem.

The Greeks own the basilica, except for the north part of the transept which belongs to the Armenians. The Grotto of the Nativity belongs to the Franciscans and is divided into two parts: the Altar of the Nativity, of the Greeks, and the Altar of the Manger in the Grotto of the Magi, of the Latins. Next to the basilica the Franciscans built the church of St. Catherine where the Roman rite is celebrated.

On both sides of the Greek choir in the basilica are the two entrances to the Grotto of the Nativity which is rectangular and measures 12 meters in length and 3 meters in both width and height. The bronze doors and marble portals date from the era of the crusades. The apse covers the Altar of the Nativity, under which there is a marble slab with a silver star and the Latin inscription: "Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est" (Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary). To the right of the Altar of the Nativity is the Grotto of the Magi where Catholic Masses are celebrated.

Having completed his visit, Benedict XVI moved on to the Caritas Baby Hospital, a children's hospital founded in 1952 and supported by the "Kinderhilfe Bethlehem" Association, established by Fr. Ernst Schnydrig who died in 1978. The hospital enjoys the support of the German and Swiss episcopal conferences.

Before greeting the medical and administrative staff, and the Franciscan Elizabethan Sisters of Padua who help care for the patients, the Pope visited the chapel and the maternity ward.

Addressing some words to the young patients and their families, he said: "The Pope is with you! Today he is with you in person, but he spiritually accompanies you each and every day in his thoughts and prayers, asking the Almighty to watch over you with His tender care.

"Fr. Schnydrig described this place as 'one of the smaller bridges built for peace'. Now, having grown from fourteen cots to eighty beds, and caring for the needs of thousands of children each year, this bridge is no longer small! It brings together people of different origins, languages and religions, in the name of the Reign of God, the Kingdom of Peace. I heartily encourage you to persevere in your mission of showing charity to all the sick, the poor and the weak".

Today being the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the Holy Father concluded by invoking the Virgin Mary in these terms: "May love triumph over hatred, solidarity over division, and peace over every form of violence!" And he concluded: "We ask your Son Jesus to bless these children and all children who suffer throughout the world".

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