Bethlehem’s Mayor Vera Baboun is hoping that the Pope’s visit to the town of Christ’s birth next Sunday will give fresh impetus to the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need,” this Catholic who, since 2012, has been the first woman to head the city’s administration, said on Tuesday (20.5.): “We hope that through the visit we can pass from the hope for peace to the attainment of peace itself. Pope Francis lends a new dimension to the papacy. He speaks from person to person. Through his simple actions he gives expression to Jesus’ teaching of peace and reconciliation.”
She read the fact that Pope Francis, unlike his predecessors, will be travelling directly from Jordan to Palestine and not first to Israel as a strong indication of his support for Palestinian statehood. “This is indeed a first as are so many things that Francis does. I hope that he will set further examples in this respect.”
“ Recognizing others means recognizing peace “
Ms Baboun also described the time of the Pope’s visit as favourable with respect to the peace process. “Pope Francis is coming at a time when we Palestinians are doing everything to advance the peace process. Since 2012 we have been recognized by the UN as a state. In addition we are endeavouring to attain national reconciliation internally.” These were different conditions from those which the preceding papal visits would have encountered, Ms Baboun continued.
The mayor went on to stress that it was important for the Pope to experience the situation of the Palestinians himself. “It’s not enough to look up Palestine on the Internet. You have to experience the situation and the discrimination for yourself. The Pope will meet refugees. He will have lunch with Christian families. Each of them expresses a different facet of the Palestinian suffering, such as land confiscation or deportation.”
Ms. Baboun also anticipated that Francis would pass this experience on in Israel. “He will do that. But the attainment of peace requires good intentions and a good heart. That is my message to the Israeli leadership: For sustainable co-existence we need sustainable peace. Recognizing others, means recognizing peace.”
Mayor Baboun also hopes that the visit will have positive effects regarding the Christian presence in Palestine. “The mere fact that he is coming to Bethlehem expresses support for us. But the Christian presence is best served by progress in the peace process. After all, it’s not Islam under which the Palestinian Christians are suffering, but the Israeli occupation,” Ms Baboun made clear.