John Paul II has returned to Bethlehem | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

John Paul II has returned to Bethlehem

John Paul II has returned to Bethlehem, in the land that he loved, on a day devoted entirely to the Pope who came "from afar". The commemoration of Karol Wojtyla began early in the afternoon at the Convention Palace of Ortas, next to the pools of Solomon. Ten years after the siege of the Nativity and one year after his beatification, the precious relics with the blood of the Pontiff are carried by the Custos of the Holy Land into the hall, while a large group of local Christians has already begun to pray the rosary. In the room, one can hear the voice of the Polish pope, while there is also space to remember those moments of the pilgrimage that was so desired by John Paul II.

In the hall there are many exhibits telling of the living faith of the Christians in the Palestinian Territories. On the tables there is the Bible in Arabic, and the DVD on the Holy Land, articles that communicate the beauty of a contradictory, yet beloved land. That afternoon, popular devotion alternates with moments organized by the Custody for the commemoration. In the splendid setting of a packed theater - almost 1,300 faithful - local authorities and others walked on stage. Speakers included the secretary general of the Palestinian Authority Tayeb Abdel Rahim, who described in his speech what the figure of John Paul II meant for the Palestinians.

Tayeb Abdel Rahim
General Secretary of the Palestinian Authority
"I have a great appreciation for John Paul II, he has a special place in the heart of the Palestinian people. He was the first to recognize the Palestinian state and the first to ask for the right of this people to have a state."

During the long afternoon in Bethlehem, there were also some singing performances, innovative dances, and melodies composed for the occasion. Moments of reflection and entertainment were intertwined in one great commemoration of the Pope who has returned to Bethlehem… a commemoration that perhaps reached its peak in the video that retraced ten years of history of the cradle of Christianity, from April 2, 2002 to today, recalling the siege of the Basilica, the siege of the city, and the help of the Franciscan friars that has never lacked. Also contributing to the event was the presence of some local authorities and a delegation of Italian parliamentarians, among them the vice president of the chamber Rosy Bindi.

Rosy Bindi
Vice President, Italian Lower Chamber
"Remembering John Paul II here, the man of the spirit of Assisi, of the dialogue between religions and dialogue among peoples, and to remember the occupation of the Basilica means relying on the method of St. Francis, which is that of peace and of dialogue, never that of arms. To resolve difficult situations such as that of the Middle East, where we meet two rights, two reasons, and not two wrongs, not two errors. They are two reasons that we must learn to unite, that of security for Israel and a state for the Palestinians."

It’s a concept that is well summarized in the book of Father Ibrahim Faltas, presented at the end of the ceremony. A text that entrusts to the collective memory the stories of the siege, telling of the great personalities who worked for Bethlehem, and witnessing to the tireless work of the Franciscans in the Land of God, according to the mission that John Paul showed us with his life and his words… the words of one who could affirm the need to build bridges, not walls. Especially here, where it all began.