05/13/2009, 00.00
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Walls are easily built, but sooner or later they fall, Pope says

In Bethlehem Benedict XVI talks about the Israeli-built barrier, which splits families and fields. Again he urges Palestinians and Israelis to overcome “fear and mistrust.” He praises the work of Caritas Baby Hospital.
Bethlehem (AsiaNews) – Although walls can be easily built, experience teaches us that sooner or later they fall, but for that to happen man must take to the road of reconciliation. The “protective barrier” Israel built is visible from Bethlehem as it surrounds almost entirely the al-Aida refugee camp, one of the afternoon stops in Pope Benedict XVI’s busy schedule in the city where Jesus was born. 

“I have seen, adjoining the camp and overshadowing much of Bethlehem, the wall that intrudes into your territories, separating neighbours and dividing families,” the Pontiff said.

Since the start of his Mideast trip, the Pope speaking in English has always referred to the barrier as a wall and not a fence, as Israelis are wont to do. As much as they might claim they built it stop terrorist attacks and that it might even be working, its effects on the Palestinian economy are devastating.

“In a world where more and more borders are being opened up—to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges—it is tragic to see walls still being erected. How we long to see the fruits of the much more difficult task of building peace! How earnestly we pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built!”

Peace indeed remains Benedict XVI’s goal. “On both sides of the wall, great courage is needed if fear and mistrust is to be overcome, if the urge to retaliate for loss or injury is to be resisted. It takes magnanimity to seek reconciliation after years of fighting. Yet history has shown that peace can only come when the parties to a conflict are willing to move beyond their grievances and work together towards common goals, each taking seriously the concerns and fears of the other, striving to build an atmosphere of trust. There has to be a willingness to take bold and imaginative initiatives towards reconciliation: if each insists on prior concessions from the other, the result can only be stalemate.”

If in the morning he made a plea to the peoples of the region to put aside their grievances, in the afternoon, on taking his leave from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he made a “renewed plea for openness and generosity of spirit, for an end to intolerance and exclusion. No matter how intractable and deeply entrenched a conflict may appear to be, there are always grounds to hope that it can be resolved, that the patient and persevering efforts of those who work for peace and reconciliation will bear fruit in the end. My earnest wish for you, the people of Palestine, is that this will happen soon, and that you will at last be able to enjoy the peace, freedom and stability that have eluded you for so long.”

Until that time comes he told the families living in the refugee camps to be “sure to support your children in their studies and to nurture their gifts, so that there will be no shortage of well-qualified personnel to occupy leadership positions in the Palestinian community in the future. I know that many of your families are divided—through imprisonment of family members, or restrictions on freedom of movement—and many of you have experienced bereavement in the course of the hostilities. My heart goes out to all who suffer in this way. Please be assured that all Palestinian refugees across the world, especially those who lost homes and loved ones during the recent conflict in Gaza, are constantly remembered in my prayers.”

Finally the Holy Father also mentioned those whose vocation is to relieve the pain of others, people like the staff at Bethlehem’s Caritas Baby Hospital. In his afternoon visit to the medical facility Benedict XVI expressed his “appreciation to the administrators, physicians, nurses and staff of Caritas Baby Hospital for the invaluable service they have offered—and continue to offer—to children in the Bethlehem region and throughout Palestine for over fifty years. Father Ernst Schnydrig founded this facility upon the conviction that innocent children deserve a safe haven from all that can harm them in times and places of conflict. Thanks to the dedication of Children’s Relief Bethlehem, this institution has remained a quiet oasis for the most vulnerable, and has shone as a beacon of hope that love can prevail over hatred and peace over violence.” (FP)

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