Bethlehem Franciscans stress neutral stance
A spokesman for the Franciscan friars barricaded inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem has warned against any suggestion that the friars are aligned with one or the other side in the Palestinian-Israeli struggle.
"This conflict is between them-- the Israelis and the Palestinians," said Fr David Jaeger. "It has nothing to do with us."
He also stressed that the friars inside the Bethlehem basilica have no way to know exactly what is happening around them. On Tuesday evening, heavy gunfire was reported in the vicinity of the church, and both Israelis and Palestinians claimed that the other side had begun the shooting.
Meanwhile two elderly Franciscans in need of medical attention have been evacuated from the basilica, while four elderley nuns wished to continue staying in the church out of faithfulness to their vocation of care and service to the holy places.
In Geneva, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Holy See permanent observer to the Office of the United Nations in Geneva, told the 58th session of the Human Rights Commission that any long-term solution to the crisis in the Middle East "must indeed address the question of respect for and unrestricted access to the religious sites, sacred to each tradition".
Archbishop Martin described this "dimension of religious freedom" as a "precondition for fostering a climate of dialogue between religions in the Middle East in the service of peace".
Eyewitness report from Bethlehem (ICN)
18 Apr 2002