Franciscans: make Christmas in Bethlehem a festival of hope!

Bonn, Germany (ots) - In a statement on the tense situation in Bethlehem, the brothers of the Franciscan order in the Holy Land have pointed out that both Israelis and Palestinians have guaranteed in international treaties and agreements that the Christmas festivities in Bethlehem will be able to go ahead freely and without restriction. Their statement calls on all parties, organizations, authorities, army and police units in the Bethlehem area to ensure that the Christmas festivities can take place in a peaceful atmosphere and be a festival of hope for the Bethlehem region and the entire Holy Land.

Bethlehem has particular significance for Christians, say the Franciscans. Both parties to the conflict are aware of this. Therefore, they are full of hope and wish for the festivities to proceed without "fear and restrictions". Amid the violent conflict with all its bitter consequences of death and destruction, and bearing in mind the traumatic events at the Church of the Nativity this Spring, the feast of Christmas should be a lasting and powerful symbol that peace is possible and, with goodwill on both sides, can be achieved.

The President of the Franciscan Mission Centre, Father Helmut Schlegel OFM, today referred in Bonn once again to the dramatic situation in the town where Jesus was born: "The curfew prevents people from practising their religion at this time that is so important to Christians. Our fellow brothers at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem cannot provide their pastoral care!" Father Helmut pointed out that approximately 30% of the population of Bethlehem belong to the Christian faith. Muslims were also subject to massive restrictions in recent days when celebrating Ramadan. The representative of the North German Franciscans for the Holy Land, Father Werner Mertens OFM, believes that the restrictions will be tightened still further for Christmas: "The rumour that Al Quaida fighters were present in the Palestinian territories leads people to fear the worst". Father Werner called on those in positions of responsibility in politics and society not to forget Bethlehem: "In the Christmas period, all of Christianity looks to the Stable in Bethlehem. This year, our thoughts should not only turn to the events of that time, but we must also be aware that every day in the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, civil rights are being infringed".

In view of the continuing conflict in the Palestinian territories, the President of the Franciscan Mission Centre, Fr. Helmut Schlegel and the Representative for the Holy Land, Fr. Werner Mertens express their support to the Franciscans in Bethlehem, and call for Christmas in Bethlehem to be allowed to be celebrated without restrictions. They ask that, despite the recurring events in the Holy Land, people should not tire of expressing their solidarity and making a clear protest.

This statement was issued by:

Franciscan Mission Centre

Albertus-Magnus-Str. 39

53177 Bonn

Tel.: 0228-95354-0

Fax: 0228-95354-40

eMail: post@missionszentrale.de

Contact for further information or questions:

P. Werner Mertens OFM

Kommissariat des Heiligen Landes

Franziskanerkloster, Klosterstr. 17, 59457 Werl

Tel.: 02922-982131

Fax: 02922-982154

eMail: khl.werl@franziskaner.de