"THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE HAVE NATURAL RIGHT TO A HOMELAND"
VATICAN CITY, MAR 22, 2000 (VIS) - Shortly after 8 this morning Pope John Paul travelled by
helicopter from Jerusalem to Al-Maghtas in the Jordan Valley near Jericho for a private visit to the
nearby Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to John the Baptist. The monastery was built on the
remains of a fortress constructed by Emperor Justinian to protect pilgrims. Near the monastery
there is a site commemorating the baptism of Jesus.
"For many thousands of years," said the Pope in brief remarks, "this area around Jericho has been
a human habitat. ... But its memory becomes still richer when we turn to Holy Scripture, which
shows Jericho as a place which bears the footprints not only of man but of God Himself. In my
mind I see Jesus coming to the waters of the River Jordan not far from here to be baptized by
John the Baptist, I see Jesus passing on his way to the Holy City where He would die and rise
again; I see Him opening the eyes of the blind man as he passes."
After this visit the Pope went by helicopter to Bethlehem, which is in the Autonomous Territories
of the Palestinian National Authorities, where he was greeted by its chairman, Yasser Arafat.
Among the religious authorities were Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah and Fr. Giovanni
Battistelli, O.F.M., Custos of the Holy Land.
Bethlehem, ten kilometers south of Jerusalem, is a town of 35,000 inhabitants. In Hebrew its name,
"Bet Lehem" means "House of Bread"; its name in Arabic, "Beit Lahm" means "House of Meat."
In 1995, with the Oslo Accords, Bethlehem became part of the Palestinian Autonomous
The Holy Father, following a welcome speech by Yasser Arafat, addressed those gathered to
greet him, recalling that "the message of Bethlehem is the Good News of reconciliation among
men, of peace at every level of relations between individuals and nations."
Expressing "all my happiness at being here today," the Pope asked: "How can I fail to pray that the
divine gift of peace will become more and more a reality for all who live in this land, uniquely
marked by God's interventions? Peace for the Palestinian people! Peace for all the peoples of the
region! No one can ignore how much the Palestinian people have had to suffer in recent decades.
Your torment is before the eyes of the world. And it has gone on too long."
John Paul II continued: "The Holy See has always recognized that the Palestinian people have the
natural right to a homeland, and the right to be able to live in peace and tranquillity with the other
peoples of this area. In the international forum, my predecessors and I have repeatedly proclaimed
that there would be no end to the sad conflict in the Holy Land without stable guarantees for the
rights of all the peoples involved, on the basis of international law and the relevant United Nations
resolutions and declarations."
"Only with a just and lasting peace B not imposed but secured through negotiation B will legitimate
Palestinian aspirations be fulfilled," the Pope emphasized. "Only then will the Holy Land see the
possibility of a bright new future, no longer dissipated by rivalry and conflict, but firmly based on
understanding and cooperation for the good of all."
"I am fully aware of the great challenges facing the Palestinian Authority and People in every field
of economic and cultural development," the Holy Father said. "In a particular way my prayers are
with those Palestinians - Muslim and Christian - who are still without a home of their own, their
proper place in society and the possibility of a normal working life. My hope is that my visit today
to the Deheisheh Refugee Camp will serve to remind the international community that decisive
action is needed to improve the situation of the Palestinian people."
"The promise of peace made at Bethlehem," he closed, "will become a reality for the world only
when the dignity and rights of all human beings made in the image of God are acknowledged and