Pope Benedict celebrated Mass for 5,000 people at Manger Square, which is in front of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.


[display_podcast] This podcast made available from Vatican Radio

In this podcast we hear a report of how Pope Benedict was officially welcomed into the Territories by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and later in Manger Square celebrated Mass.

“Do not be afraid”

At the beginning of his homily, the Holy Father addressed himself particularly to “pilgrims from war-torn Gaza: I ask you to bring back to your families and your communities my warm embrace, and my sorrow for the loss, the hardship and the suffering you have had to endure. Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead, and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted”.

He proceeded: “For men and women everywhere, Bethlehem is associated with the joyful message of rebirth, renewal, light and freedom. Yet here, in our midst, how far this magnificent promise seems from being realised”, he said.

In this city of Christ’s birth, “amid every kind of contradiction, the stones continue to cry out this ‘good news’, the message of redemption which this city, above all others, is called to proclaim to the world”.

“And this is what the message of Bethlehem calls us to be: witnesses of the triumph of God’s love over the hatred, selfishness, fear and resentment which cripple human relationships and create division where brothers should dwell in unity, destruction where men should be building, despair where hope should flourish!”

“‘Do not be afraid!’ This is the message which the Successor of St. Peter wishes to leave with you today, echoing the message of the angels and the charge which our beloved Pope John Paul II left with you in the year of the Great Jubilee of Christ’s birth. Count on the prayers and solidarity of your brothers and sisters in the universal Church, and work, with concrete initiatives, to consolidate your presence and to offer new possibilities to those tempted to leave. Be a bridge of dialogue and constructive co-operation in the building of a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration. Build up your local Churches, making them workshops of dialogue, tolerance and hope, as well as solidarity and practical charity.

“Above all”, the Holy Father added, “be witnesses to the power of life, the new life brought by the Risen Christ, the life that can illumine and transform even the darkest and most hopeless of human situations.

“Your homeland needs not only new economic and community structures, but most importantly, we might say, a new ‘spiritual’ infrastructure, capable of galvanising the energies of all men and women of good will in the service of education, development and the promotion of the common good. You have the human resources to build the culture of peace and mutual respect which will guarantee a better future for your children. This noble enterprise awaits you. Do not be afraid!”

Following the celebration of the Eucharist, the Pope went to the Casa Nova monastery in Bethlehem, a house built by the Franciscans to welcome pilgrims. There he had lunch with the ordinaries of the Holy Land and the Franciscan community.


Pope Benedict XVI celebrating mass in Manger Square on May 13, 2009 in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.