THE CATHOLIC HERALD JANUARY 6 2012
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Archbishop prays for Bethlehem Christians
At midnight Mass the Archbishop of Westminster raises plight of families fighting for their homes
BY ED WEST
ARCHBISHOP Vincent Nichols of Westminster has offered prayers for Christians in Bethlehem who risk losing their homes in a homily at Westminster Cathedral.
During midnight Mass Archbishop Nichols spoke of 50 families in the West Bank town who he said could lose their land to Israel.
Addressing the congregation, Archbishop Nichols urged people to “see more clearly all those things which disfigure our world”, adding: “We too live ‘in a land of deep shadow’.
“That shadow falls particularly heavily on the town of Bethlehem tonight. At this moment the people of the parish of Beit Jala prepare for their legal battle to protect their land and homes from further expropriation by Israel.
“Over 50 families face losing their land and their homes as action is taken to complete the separation/security wall across the territory of the district of Bethlehem.
“We pray for them tonight.”
The archbishop went on to speak of the importance of kindness and forgiveness, adding: “In the words of St Paul we are to be a people with ‘no ambition except to do good’.”
He also spoke of hope, saying: “We live in a world in which the prospects for the future, in the terms the world can offer, are distinctly shaky. Yet we find an unshakeable hope in our Saviour.”
In his Christmas Day sermon the Archbishop of Canterbury talked of the “broken bonds and abused trust” in a British society torn apart by riots and financial speculation.
Speaking at Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Rowan Williams asked the congregation to learn lessons about “mutual obligation” from the events of the past year.
The 470-mile long West Bank barrier, which began to be confronted in 2000 during the Second Intifada, was built to prevent suicide bombers from attacking Israel, although it has been credited with significantly decreasing attacks, it has been widely criticised. Some critics have compared it to an “apartheid barrier” and criticised the route, which takes in over 10 per cent of the West Bank.
Bethlehem is surrounded on three sides by the barrier, and locals say that it has damaged their economy. In Bethlehem, where the barrier takes the form of a 30-foot wall, it runs right past private houses, including the home of one Catholic family in the Rachel’s Tomb district, the Anastases, whose house faces the wall on three sides.
In a traditional midday procession from Jerusalem on Christmas Eve. Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the leader of Latin Rite Catholics in the Holy Land, crossed through a massive metal gate in the barrier. “We ask the Child of Bethlehem to give
A concrete security wall is dismantled nine years after it was first built in the Jewish neighbourhood of Gilo, Jerusalem us the peace we are in desperate need for, peace in the Middle East, peace in the Holy Land, peace in the heart and in our families,” He told reporters before heading to the Church of the Nativity, where he celebrated Midnight Mass.
Bethlehem was once a stronghold of Palestinian Christianity, but the proportion of Christians in the town has fallen from over 80 per cent at the time of the Six Day War in 1967 to barely more than 25 per cent today. Across the West Bank the proportion of Christians has declined as the world’s oldest
Christian community has moved to South America, the United States and Europe to escape from the violence of the Israeli-Arab conflict and subsequent economic problems.
In October the Israeli government announced the construction of a new settlement that threatens to cut Bethlehem off from Jerusalem. Givat Hamatos would connect two other settlements, Har Homa and Gilo, closing the corridor that had connected Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Har Homa is built on land where angels are said to have announced the birth of Christ to local shepherds.
Local priest Fr Ibrahim Shomali of Beit Jala parish said: “If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed. He would either have to be born at a checkpoint or at the separation wall. Mary and Joseph would
AP photo have needed Israeli permission – or to have been tourists. This really is the big problem for Palestinians in Bethlehem: what will happen when they close us off completely?”
The Israeli Embassy press office was unavailable for comment.
Documents show pope’s effort to end Irish hunger strike
BY MICHAEL KELLY
DECLASSIFIED British documents have disclosed the extent to which Blessed Pope John Paul II tried to intervene to end a 1981 hunger strike by Catholic prisoners in a British jail in Northern Ireland.
The documents claim that, after the pope sent a special envoy, the leader of the Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoners, Bobby Sands, was willing to suspend the fast just days before he died.
The offer was conveyed to the
British authorities by the pope’s secretary, Irish Mgr John Magee, whom Pope John Paul dispatched to persuade the prisoners to call off the hunger strike.
The state papers, declassified under the 30-year rule, claim that Sands told Mgr Magee, who later became the Bishop of Cloyne, that he would suspend his strike in return for discussions with a British government official, two priests and three other prisoners as witnesses.
But, the British rejected the offer, claiming it was an attempt to open negotiations. The prisoners, incarcerated for paramilitary activity against British rule in Northern Ireland, had begun their hunger strike in an attempt to be reclassified as political prisoners, a move Britain vehemently rejected.
Sands died on May 5 1981 after 66 days on hunger strike. He was buried with a crucifix that Mgr Magee had given him as a gift from Pope John Paul. Ten prisoners starved themselves to death before a compromise was reached that October.
The hunger strike significantly polarised tensions between the
Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland.
More than 100,000 Catholics attended Sands’s funeral, and Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, began contesting elections for the first time.
Most Northern Irish Catholics want Britain to cede the region to the Irish Republic to form a single independent Ireland, while most Protestants support the region remaining part of the United Kingdom.
A 1998 peace accord committed all sides to pursue their goals by purely peaceful means. As a result, Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom but is governed by a cross-community power-sharing government based in Belfast.
The declassified papers also reveal that Irish prime minister Garret FitzGerald appealed to Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich in 1981 for a change in the Catholic Church’s approach to interchurch marriages.
At the time, children of interchurch marriages were required to be raised Catholic.
But Mr FitzGerald said he believed a change would aid peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
He wrote to the cardinal saying that the government wanted to “indicate concern” and “raise the possibility” that the Vatican “might not perhaps be disposed to take special account of the Irish situation if invited to do so”.
“I trust that Your Eminence will appreciate and understand the motives that have led me to write to you at this time in these terms, in full recognition of the separation of Church and state,” he added.
Soon after, the Irish bishops decided to postpone publication of a revised directory on mixed marriages.
After a meeting with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in November 1981, Mr FitzGerald described the bishops’ postponement as “significant”.
The new directory issued in November 1983 retained the promise by the Catholic partner to raise the children Catholic, but stressed that parents had joint responsibility for the religious upbringing of their children.
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Retreat centre worth millions is sold to developer BY MADELEINE TEAHAN
THE ALL SAINTS Pastoral Centre in London Colney, Hertfordshire, is to be sold to property developers, the Diocese of Westminster has announced.
In a statement on its website the diocese said: “The Trustees of the Diocese of Westminster have now given permission for its agents to conclude the sale to the preferred bidder and to ensure that this complies fully with Charity Law concerning the sale of property.
from time spent there, finding encouragement, companionship, new understanding and deeper prayer. Thank you all very much.”
The announcement deeply disappointed campaigners who are determined to keep the centre, which is worth millions of pounds, open.
Peter Baker of the group Save All Saints (SAS) told the Herts Advertiser that the decision was “a great disappointment to all concerned” but that they would keep fighting for the centre’s survival.
“In January 2011, the Diocese of Westminster announced the closure of All Saints Pastoral Centre. An earlier review concluded that the costs of upgrading the centre facilities would not have represented a prudent use of diocesan resources.”
The statement continued: “In what is a challenging economic climate, the sale of All Saints Pastoral Centre will help this diocese make better use of its resources. It will allow us to invest in expanding our ministry to young people.”
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster added his personal thoughts on the sale of the centre.
He said: “I want to thank and pay tribute to all who have worked at the All Saints Pastoral Centre over its 37year history. Valiant efforts were made to get the centre established and to sustain it over these years. Many thousands of people have benefited
Mr Baker wrote to Westminster Auxillary Bishop John Arnold in November last year suggesting ways of raising money in order to keep the centre alive. But his group received a letter before Christmas outlining the centre’s sale to a property developer.
Chris Brazier, Herts county councillor for the Colneys, said: “The diocese has not entered into negotiations with local people, and has gone for the highest price.”
Brian Plunkett, another member of the SAS group, said that he hoped the diocese would re-think its decision to sell the property given that “passions are running high in London Colney”.He said: “It would be wonderful to find a chink in the sale. The ink is not dry yet.”
All Saints was built in 1901 and originally housed the All Saints Sisters. It was obtained by the Diocese of Westminster in 1973.
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