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Pope phones beseiged Franciscans in Bethlehem

"Continue with courage to resist and guard the holy sites" was the message of the Holy Father when he telephoned the Franciscan friars in Bethlehem yesterday afternoon.

The community has been holed up for more than a week in the Church of the Nativity complex in Bethlehem without essential supplies.

Fr Ibrahim Faltas, rector of the Bethlehem Franciscan complex, took the call and later relayed the Pope's words to the rest of the community.

The Jerusalem-based Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land, Fr Giovanni Battistelli, expressed on behalf of the entire community their immense gratitude for the gesture of the Holy Father.

"With this careful attention he confirms us in the mandate of Custodians of the Holy Sites of Redemption, encouraging the confreres of Bethlehem to persevere in their mission".

The Vatican press confirmed the phone conversation between the Pope and Fr Ibrahim. In a brief statement the Holy See explained that "the Holy Father thanked the friars for their Christian testimony and gave them their blessing in these moments of such hardship".

Meanwhile, on Monday morning morning two wounded Palestinians were evacuated from the Nativity complex by health personnel. There are still contrasting reports regarding who retrieved the two men in urgent need of medical care, some sources say an Israeli military ambulance, while others the Red Cross.


16 Apr 2002