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On last morning in Holy Land, Pope Francis reaches out to Muslims, Jews


Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis spent the last morning of his three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land meeting with Muslims and Jews and calling for closer relations among the three major monotheistic religions as the basis for peace in the region.

At his first appearance May 26, Pope Francis toured the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, sacred to Muslims as the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven, and spoke to Muslim leaders.

Pope Francis embraces Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka after praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem May 26. Looking on is Omar Abboud, Muslim leader from Argentina. “We did it,” Rabbi Skorka said he told the pope and Abboud. The pope’s message contained the text of the Our Father and of the 122nd Psalm, traditionally prayed by Jewish pilgrims who travel to Jerusalem.(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Addressing his listeners as “brothers,” rather than “friends,” as indicated in his prepared text, the pope pointed to Abraham as a common model for Muslims, Jews and Christians, since he was a pilgrim who left “his own people and his own house in order to embark on that spiritual journey to which God called him.”

“We must constantly be prepared to go out from ourselves, docile to God’s call,” especially “his summons to work for peace and justice, to implore these gifts in prayer and to learn from on high mercy, magnanimity and compassion,” the pope said.

In his remarks to the pope, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, accused Israel of impeding Muslims’ access to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Pope Francis then visited the Western Wall, the only standing part of the foundation of the Second Temple, destroyed in 70 A.D.

The pope stood for more than a minute and a half with his right hand against the wall, most of the time in silent prayer, before reciting the Our Father. Then he followed custom by leaving a written message inside a crack between two blocks.

Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a longtime friend of the pope from Buenos Aires and an official member of the papal entourage, said the pope’s message contained the text of the Our Father and of the 122nd Psalm, traditionally prayed by Jewish pilgrims who travel to Jerusalem.

Stepping away from the wall, the pope simultaneously embraced Rabbi Skorka and Omar Abboud, a Muslim leader from Buenos Aires and a member of the papal entourage.

“We did it,” Rabbi Skorka said he told the pope and Abboud.

The pope also visited a memorial to victims of terrorism, a stop that had not appeared on his original itinerary. It was added at the request of Israeli authorities, in reaction to his spontaneous decision the previous day to pray at Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank. The separation wall, which Israel says it needs to protect itself from terrorism, has been a target of Palestinian protests and international condemnation. At the terrorism memorial, the pope prayed with his hand against the stone, the same gesture he used at the separation wall and at the Western Wall.

Following a brief wreath-laying at the grave of Theodor Herzl, father of the Zionist movement that led to Israel’s founding, Pope Francis visited the Yad Vashem Memorial to victims of the Holocaust. There he greeted half a dozen survivors of the Nazi genocide, kissing their hands in honor.

“He took my hand in his two hands and kissed my hand. I was dumbfounded. I never had a rabbi do that,” Joe Gottdenker of Toronto told Catholic News Service.

Gottdenker, who was rescued as a baby by a Polish Catholic couple, said he “was moved much more than I had even anticipated.”

In his remarks at Yad Vashem, the pope echoed and elaborated on God’s words to Adam after the fall, asking: “Who convinced you that you were god? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god.”

“Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done,” the pope prayed, “to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, of having despised and destroyed our own flesh which you formed from the earth, to which you gave life with your own breath of life.”

Pope Francis’ next stop was a visit to the two chief rabbis of Israel, leaders of the country’s Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities. The pope told them that relations between Jews and Catholics had progressed greatly in the half century since the Second Vatican Council, which declared that Jews were not collectively responsible for the death of Jesus and that God’s covenant with them had never been abrogated.

Pope Francis called on Christians and Jews to develop greater appreciation for their common “spiritual heritage,” through deeper knowledge of each other’s faith, especially among the young.

Even by the standard of his densely packed Holy Land trip, the pope’s morning was especially busy, and he soon fell behind schedule. Many other Jerusalem residents found themselves in the same situation, as streets cleared to facilitate the pope’s movements caused traffic jams across the city.

His public appearances for the morning ended with a visit to President Shimon Peres at his official residence, where the pope greeted and blessed a group of children with cancer and planted an olive tree in the garden as a symbol of peace.

The pope told Peres that he wanted to “invent a new beatitude, which I apply to myself, ‘Blessed is the one welcomed into the home of a wise and good man.’”

It was only the latest sign of the pope’s friendship with Peres, who invited him to Israel shortly after the start of his pontificate. At Yad Vashem, the pope greeted other dignitaries with a handshake but gave the president a warm embrace.

In his address at the presidential palace, Pope Francis praised Peres as a “man of peace and a peacemaker,” and, as the pope had done the previous day to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, asked that “all parties avoid initiatives and actions which contradict their stated determination” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The pope also stressed the “universal and cultural significance” of Jerusalem, and its importance to Christians, Muslims and Jews.

“How good it is when pilgrims and residents enjoy free access to the holy places and can freely take part in religious celebrations,” he said.

As in his speeches to Abbas and to the king of Jordan over the previous two days, Pope Francis also spoke up for the local Christian community, telling Peres its members wished to “contribute to the common good and the growth of peace,” and thus deserved to be “full-fledged citizens’ of Israel.

Contributing to this story was Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem.


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Fifty years later, another pope and patriarch meet in Jerusalem


By Francis X. Rocca

Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Half a century after a historic encounter between their predecessors, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew met in the same place to seek inspiration for Christian unity at the site of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople embrace during an ecumenical celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem May 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so, too, every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed,” the pope said May 25 during a prayer service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

“Every time we put behind us our longstanding prejudices and find the courage to build new fraternal relationships, we confess that Christ is truly risen,” the pope said, his voice hoarse and expression fatigued after two full days of public appearances in the Holy Land.

The pope also spoke of an “ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism of blood,” which brings Christians closer through the common experience of persecution. When others kill Christians, he noted, they do not ask if they are Catholic or Orthodox.

Patriarch Bartholomew said Jesus’ tomb sends the message that “history cannot be programmed; that the ultimate word in history does not belong to man, but to God. In vain did the guards of secular power watch over this tomb. In vain did they place a very large stone against the door of the tomb, so that none could roll it away.”

The patriarch said the tomb also encourages Christians to “love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions.”

Their prayer service marked the 50th anniversary of an encounter in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. The earlier meeting, which led both churches to lift the mutual excommunications that started the East-West schism in 1054, opened the modern period of ecumenical dialogue.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew reached the square in front of the church a few minutes after 8 p.m. They arrived from opposite sides and met in the center, where they embraced before entering the church.

Inside, they participated in common prayer with representatives of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches, which share custody of the building. The event was extraordinary because members of the three communities usually observe a strict separation when praying inside the church. Representatives of other churches present in the Holy Land — including Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian, Anglican and Lutheran archbishops — also participated in the ecumenical celebration.

At the beginning of the service, which featured songs and readings in Greek and Latin, the pope and the patriarch knelt and prayed together before the stone of unction, a red limestone slab traditionally believed to be the surface on which Jesus’ dead body was anointed for burial after the crucifixion.

Both Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis gave short addresses, the former speaking in English and the latter in Italian.

Later, the pope and patriarch entered the aedicule, a small wood building containing Jesus’ tomb. They knelt before it and kissed it. After exiting they climbed a stairway to Mount Calvary to light candles at the site of the crucifixion.

Earlier in the evening, the pope and patriarch met privately at the apostolic delegation, the Vatican’s representative office in Jerusalem, where the pope was to spend the second and final night of his visit to the Holy Land.

The two leaders spent more than an hour together, more than twice as long as scheduled. They emerged with a signed common declaration calling for “communion in legitimate diversity” between their churches.

“We look forward in eager anticipation to the day in which we will finally partake together in the eucharistic banquet,” the pope and patriarch wrote, calling for continuing “fraternal encounter and true dialogue” to “lead us into all truth.”

Their declaration also called for common efforts in the “service of humanity, especially in defending the dignity of the human person at every stage of life and the sanctity of family based on marriage, in promoting peace and the common good” by struggling against “hunger, poverty, illiteracy (and) the inequitable distribution of resources.”

The leaders also stressed the need to protect the natural environment and defend religious liberty, especially for embattled Christian minorities in the Middle East.

The Vatican had emphasized that the pope’s meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew was the main reason for his densely packed, three-day visit to the Holy Land. The two leaders were scheduled to meet a total of four times during the visit, whose official logo was an icon of the apostles Peter and Andrew, patron saints of the churches of Rome and Constantinople, joined in a fraternal embrace.

The text of the common declaration can be found at http://www.news.va/en/news/common-declaration-signed-by-pope-francis-and-the.


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Pope invites Israeli, Palestinian leaders to Rome to pray for peace


Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to pray together at the Vatican for peace between their nations.

The pope made the announcement May 25, after praying the “Regina Coeli” at the end of Mass that Abbas attended in Manger Square, in Bethlehem, West Bank.

A large crowd is seen as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 25. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

Later in the day, arriving at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Pope Francis was greeted by Peres and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There the pope repeated his invitation to Peres using exactly the same words with which he had invited Abbas.

He also urged Israel to stay on the “path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace,” saying “there is simply no other way.”

“The right of the state of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders must be universally recognized,” the pope said. “At the same time, there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement.”

Pope Francis also echoed Peres’ and Netanyahu’s words, in their speeches of welcome, condemning the previous day’s shootings at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, where three people, including two Israeli citizens, were killed.

The pope arrived in Israel on the last leg of a May 24-26 trip to Jordan, the Palestinian territories and the West Bank.

Earlier in the day, en route to the Bethlehem Mass, he made an unscheduled stop to pray before a controversial separation wall, built by Israel over Palestinian protests on West Bank land. The pope unexpectedly stopped the vehicle and alighted, then walked over to the graffiti-covered structure and rested his forehead against it in silence for a few moments. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, later confirmed that the pope had been praying as he stood against the wall.

Father Lombardi told journalists the stop was a very important symbol of the pope’s understanding of the significance of the wall and was a manifestation of his identification with the suffering of the people, even though he made no mention of the wall in his spoken statements.

The spokesman also told journalists no date had been set for the prayer session in Rome, but that he hoped it would be soon. Father Lombardi said as far as he knew no pope had ever issued a similar invitation.

Peres’ term of office as president expires in July.

Meeting with Palestinian leaders in Bethlehem, Pope Francis voiced his sympathy with “those who suffer most” from the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a situation he called “increasingly unacceptable.”

During a speech to Abbas and other dignitaries in the presidential palace, the pope decried the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s “tragic consequences,” including “insecurity, the violation of rights, isolation and the flight of entire communities, conflicts, shortages and sufferings of every sort.”

“In expressing my closeness to those who suffer most from this conflict, I wish to state my heartfelt conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable,” he said.

The pope said lasting peace would require the “acknowledgement by all of the right of two states to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders.”

“Each side has to make certain sacrifices,” Pope Francis said, calling on Israelis and Palestinians alike to “refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement.”

The pope also expressed his concern for Palestinian Christians, who he said contributed “significantly to the common good of society” and deserved accordingly to be treated as “full citizens.”

Christians make up an estimated 1 percent of the 4.5 million people living under the Palestinian authority.

The pope voiced hopes that an eventual agreement between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority on the status of Catholics would guarantee religious freedom, since “respect for this fundamental human right is, in fact, one of the essential conditions for peace, fraternity and harmony.”

His words echoed his remarks the previous day in Amman, Jordan, where he called for religious freedom throughout the Middle East, including respect for the right to change one’s religion.


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At River Jordan, pope meets suffering, speaks against arms trade


Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s powerful and marginalized joined together at the banks of the River Jordan to welcome Pope Francis at the site believed to be where Jesus was baptized.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, his wife, Queen Rania, and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, the monarch’s personal representative and special adviser on religious matters, welcomed the pontiff to a very intimate setting of reflection, followed by testimonials of courage in the face of life’s difficulties.

Pope Francis makes the Sign of the Cross after praying as he visits Bethany Beyond the Jordan May 24, believed to be where Jesus was baptized, southwest of Amman. (CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis brought his trademark human touch to those suffering, the marginalized in society, as he visited the sacred place.

There, near the banks of the River Jordan he prayed, spoke and blessed Syrian and Iraqi refugees sheltering in Jordan, along with Jordanian orphans, the sick, and the disabled who shared their stories.

Young Jordanian orphans tenderly sang the cherished song of St. Francis of Assisi, “Make Me A Channel of Your Peace,” and more hymns followed: “Welcome, Welcome, to Pope Francis, to His Holiness,” the exuberant crowd belted out in Arabic.

The pope signed a welcome book, his message reading, “I ask the all-powerful and merciful God to teach us all to walk in his presence with our souls and feet uncovered and our hearts open to divine mercy and love for our brothers and sisters. In that way, God will be all in all and peace will reign. Thank you for offering humanity this place of witness. Francis. 24.5.2014.”

In a papal address, Pope Francis hit hard on those who perpetrate and perpetuate wars, instead saying that peace must be pursued particularly in the troubled Middle East region.

“Arms are the main reason for the war. … We pray for those making and selling arms, that compassion fill their hearts,” he said.

“May God change the hearts of the violent and those who seek war and those who make and sell arms. And may he strengthen the hearts and minds of peacemakers and grant them every blessing,” the pope said.

He singled out Syria, in desperate need of healing and peace.

“Jesus’ humility never fails to move us, the fact that he bends down to wounded humanity in order to heal us,” he told the packed Catholic church in Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

“We are profoundly affected by the tragedies and suffering of our times, particularly those caused by ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. I think particularly of Syria, rent by nearly three years of civil strife, which has led to countless deaths and forced millions to flee and seek exile in other countries,” he said.

A young Syrian refugee in the audience told Catholic News Service of his trials back home and in Jordan.

“My brother and I fled because of the dangers of kidnapping and killing of Christians in northern Syria,” said the 33-year-old man named Moussa. “Christians are perceived to have money, and that’s why they are kidnapped by militants.”

“On top of that, there are many difficulties just living in Syria at this time. There is no work, prices have shot up. There is no water and electricity available. Actually there is nothing,” the part-time university student/salesman said.

“I want the pope to pray for us, for peace in Syria and for the war to end,” he said.

Pope Francis said before that “he doesn’t want Christians to leave the Middle East. But if you stay here, maybe some people will be killed and others face great difficulties, so what do we do?” the refugee asked.

The pope also urged the international community to help Jordan bear the economic burden posed by hosting more than 1 million Syrians, 600,000 registered with the U.N. refugee agency, and 300,000 Iraqis still sheltering in the country.

The pope listened to stories of courage by the sick and disabled gathered at the Baptismal Site and gathered many in his arms.

Zaina Haddad, 19, told the pope how her faith in Christ helped her overcome cancer.

“I had faith I would get through this, I know that God ordained the time of my sickness and that Jesus gave me this time to be in solidarity with him,” the young Jordanian woman said.

“I finished my high school exams I knew that God stood with me, and that he would not leave me,” she added, embracing the pope and placing around his neck a traditional red and white checkered scarf with the papal visit emblazoned on the material.


—By Dale Gavlak


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Memorial Day: Veterans remember the fallen every day

May 25th, 2014 Posted in Featured, National News Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

Memorial Day, the traditional kickoff of summer marked by family getaways, cookouts, picnics and parades, also includes somber events the day was created for such as wreath-laying ceremonies, prayer services and visits to war memorials.

The holiday, created in 1868 by an organization of Union veterans, was initially called Decoration Day and meant as a time for Americans to put flowers on the graves of those killed in the Civil War.

Retired U.S. Navy Master Chief Engineman Ken Faller, 74, recalls his service in Vietnam on the grounds of the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington. In an interview with Catholic News Service, recalled his tours of duty in Vietnam. For Faller and other veterans, Memorial Day doesn’t stand out for them, because they always remember fellow soldiers who died in battle. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Today, those who lost their lives in military service are remembered in both large-scale events and simple tributes across the country and in Washington in particular. At least 900,000 motorcycle riders were expected to take part in the Rolling Thunder rally in Washington May 25 to pay tribute to POWS and MIAs from the Vietnam War, and thousands planned to attend ceremonies May 26 at Arlington National Cemetery,  the burial ground for U.S. soldiers from the Civil War up to recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just a few miles from the major war memorials, two Vietnam veterans at the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, planned to mark the holiday without any fanfare.

Ken Faller, retired master chief engineman with the U.S. Navy, said he thinks about the shipmates who served with him and remembers those who died but he doesn’t “dwell on it.”

He joined the Navy at age 17 and spent 23 years there, mostly on submarines and serving two tours in the Vietnam War, first on riverboats preventing the transfer of weapons between the North Vietnamese troops and then as a Navy adviser.

“I cannot get myself to see” the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he told Catholic News Service May 20, the day before his 74th birthday.

“I don’t care to. I don’t want to do it,” he said matter-of-factly. He acknowledged that many others not only visit the monument but also touch some of the names of the 58,000 U.S. soldiers carved in the black granite wall symbolizing those who died in the war.

“I don’’ want to see names. I know who did it, who got killed,” he said.

Faller, raised in Patterson, New Jersey, has visited the city’s other war memorials and says he can’t explain his unwillingness to go to the Vietnam memorial, but he also said without hesitation that he will always remember those who died.

“They’re not forgotten,” he said.

Faller has lived in the city’s oasis of 250 acres for retired service men and women for the past five years. More than 500 residents live on the property, which is also home to President Abraham Lincoln’s summer cottage. The property, on a hillside near The Catholic University of America, includes housing for independent living, assisted living and long-term care.

A key part of the property for Faller is its nine-hole golf course where he plays almost daily.

For Terry Sawyer, a 62-year-old Army combat medic during the Vietnam War who just moved to the home two weeks earlier, it’s the garden plots.

“Now I garden,” said Sawyer, showing the rows of tomato, strawberry and corn plants he started, remembering tips his grandfather, a tobacco farmer in North Carolina, showed him when he was a kid. Sawyer also is growing two rows of flowers he hopes to use to “bribe the nurses.”

The fenced-in gardens, to keep out the deer, are surrounded by tall grasses at the edge of the property that bumps up to the city streets. There are a few massive oak trees, some old picnic tables, grills and rusted lawn chairs alongside the garden’s wooden toolshed.

Sawyer, who tends this garden daily, might not doing anything special on Memorial Day, but he has wrestled for decades with the memories of deaths he witnessed firsthand in the Vietnam War. Joining the Army at 18, the former beach lifeguard and high school football and wrestling captain from Norfolk, Virginia, says he “wanted to do something” for his country.

“You don’t realize what you’re getting into until you get over there and see bodies and you say, ‘Man, they are really killing people here.’”

Just last year he said he finally put some closure on this experience by making a 450-mile trek along Appalachian trail from Georgia to Virginia to honor the memory of those who died.

He described the two-month hike during March and April, often on snow-covered trails, as a way to put behind him the horrors he witnessed firsthand of countless burns and gunshot wounds on soldiers crying out, and sometimes dying in his arms, as he tried to get them to medical care.

Although the hike gave him closure, he admits, “I don’t think you can close it totally,” which is why he finds solace now in gardening and being with other service men and women.

Diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, Sawyer said it has taken him a long time to get over what he saw and that during the roughest part of dealing with these memories he “really had to dig deep” into his faith.

“At that point, you really depend on your faith,” he added.

Fuller, who like Sawyer, was raised Catholic, likewise said his faith helped him through several rough spots.

“You could always rely on it,” he said, from a lawn chair at the golf course check-in spot.

“I’ve been in some tight situations and got out of it, so somebody beyond my shipmates took care of it. My faith was never in question, never.”

Father James Dixon, the Catholic chaplain at the Armed Forces Retirement Home for the past seven years, said he encourages those in his pastoral care, whom he describes as men and women who followed a calling of self-sacrifice, to spend time in prayer and reflection.

He joined a group of them May 18 at a Sunday Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. It was celebrated in honor of Memorial Day celebrated by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.

In his homily, the archbishop said the annual Memorial Day observance is meant to remember “those who have perished in the service of our country, the veterans and the chaplains who have died.” For people of faith, he said, this remembrance goes a step further and is not just “passive, merely a looking back, or turning the pages of a scrapbook.”

The archbishop said Catholics should continue to pray for those who died and also “offer consolation to those who lost loved ones in the tragic circumstances of war” which he said is “always a defeat, a loss and an unnecessary expenditure of precious resources.”

Memorial Day videos accompanying this story can be viewed at http://youtu.be/DZJbfEaG1KM and http://youtu.be/7y8FWy1p03g


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Faith leaders say time for Israeli-Palestinian peace ‘is now’


WASHINGTON — The work of “achieving peace” between the Israelis and Palestinians peace needs “your continued, determined engagement,” U.S. Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders told Secretary of State John Kerry.

“We believe the time for Israeli-Palestinian peace is now,” they said in a May 20 letter to Kerry.

The Dome of the Rock is seen in the background as Palestinians attend Friday prayers on the compound known to Muslims as al-Harem al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last summer. (CNS/Reuters)

“We continue to be committed to mobilizing public support of our members in synagogues, churches and mosques across the country for your efforts, and we look forward to meeting with you at an appropriate time to discuss ways we can help,” they said.

The letter, signed by 33 faith leaders and released May 21 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was sent in advance of Pope Francis’ May 24-26 trip to the Holy Land. He said his visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories would be “strictly religious.”

Catholic signers of the letter to Kerry included Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S. bishop’s Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington.

Jewish signers included Rabbis Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, and Rick Block, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The Muslim signatories included Imam Mohammed Magid and Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, president and national director, respectively, of the Islamic Society of North America.

“A two-state agreement in which both peoples will live in peace, security, and mutual recognition represents the only realistic resolution of the conflict,” the letter said. “Over time, developments on the ground and failures of leadership are making that goal more difficult to achieve.”

The signers noted their united support for Kerry’s “commitment to achieve peace, drawing on benchmark principles and practical ideas from previous official and informal negotiations that offer possible compromises to resolve all issues in the conflict.”


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Governor visits St. Elizabeth to observe iPads in action




WILMINGTON – Gov. Jack Markell visited St. Elizabeth High School on May 22 to meet teachers and students as they used their iPads in classes. Markell and his education policy adviser, Lindsay O’Mara, went to a math class and a chemistry class.

After the classroom visits, the governor met with seniors Jack Harkins, Sabrina Hackendorn, Donovan Sweeney and Michael Whiting, who shared their experiences this year in the 1:1 iPad environment. Markell also met with St. Elizabeth’s director of technology, Christopher Matarese, and principal Shirley Bounds.

Gov. Jack Markell views a demonstration of how St. Elizabeth sophomores Rafael Parra (left) and Alex Hantman use their iPads in their everyday classroom work. Markell was at the Wilmington school on May 22. Photo courtesy of St. Elizabeth junior Kyle DeGhetto.

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Bethlehem residents look forward to papal visit on Sunday


Catholic News Service

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — A long line of cars trailed down the road next to the Church of the Nativity as Franciscan Father Ibrahim Faltas helped coordinate the placement of the electricity generator for the May 25 papal Mass.

A Palestinian shop owner arranges souvenirs May 19 inside his shop in Bethlehem, West Bank. Pope Francis will visit Bethlehem May 25 during his May 24-26 trip to the Holy Land. (CNS photo/Mussa Qawasma, Reuters)

“We are working night and day,” he said calmly May 23, as he worked to quickly free up the road while drivers waited patiently in their cars. “I think it will be very nice. The people here are happy.”

Sitting in her car with a rosary twisted around her rearview mirror, Jane Zacharia, 37, nervously grasped her steering wheel, admitting that though she was a bit anxious to arrive home to her waiting children, she was also excited about the pope’s arrival in two days.

Leaving the square in front of the Church of Nativity, a trio of tickets for the papal Mass in her hands, Nahida Sleiby, 39, said she felt like she was walking on clouds.

“I am happy because he is coming to us,” she said, adding that she wanted to attend the Mass because of the message of Christian unity Pope Francis is bringing and, he took the name of her favorite saint.

The arrival of the pope is bigger than any of the minor inconveniences the city is dealing with, she said, looking out at the barriers snaking all around Manger Square.

Though the square was full of pilgrim groups and tourists, and the line down to the manger in the Nativity church was packed, Elias Giacamman, whose souvenir story is one of the many around the square, said tourism was down this year. He said he hoped that Pope Francis’ visit will give an impetus to pilgrims to come as did the visit of St. John Paul II.

“This is a great spiritual experience for Christians and all Palestinians. We are very fortunate,” he added as he took down a welcome banner; city authorities told him only official banners are permitted around the square.

Visitor Eileen Fagan, 50, of California, who was raised a Catholic, was examining the large panels placed around the square juxtaposing biblical Renaissance paintings with modern photographic depictions of the current political situation. Some of the panels replaced Jesus with an image of a Palestinian; she called it “intentionally provocative” and wondered whether they had any place at a religious ceremony.

“It will depend on how the pope handles (the pictures),” she said.

Though this will be a Mass only for local Christians, Sonya Quesada, 54, of Honduras, said she would be able to watch the Mass from the home of a Palestinian friend whose house is on Manger Square.

“It is marvelous,” she said, as she left the Church of the Nativity together with a steady stream of other pilgrims. “It is a great privilege to be able to see the Mass by a Hispanic pope here in Bethlehem. It is an unforgettable experience.”


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St. Thomas More alumna aiming for spot in NCAA track and field champs


Christina Hillman, a 2011 graduate of St. Thomas More Academy in Magnolia, will compete for Iowa State University in the NCAA track and field West Regionals May 29-31, trying to advance to the NCAA championships. Those are scheduled for June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore. Hillman will participate in the shot put.

Hillman is currently ranked fourth nationally in the NCAA in the shot put. She won the Big 12 Conference championship May 17 in Lubbock, Texas, with a throw of 57 feet, 8.5 inches, setting a record for Fuller Track Stadium. Her result was nearly four feet longer than the nearest competitor. Read more »

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St. Mark’s graduate earns athletic honors at Delaware


Staff reporter


Lindsay Prettyman, a 2010 graduate of St. Mark’s High School, was honored this week as the Mary Ann Hitchens Award winner at the University of Delaware, which is given to the senior female letter-winner who best exhibits the qualities of hard work, dedication, leadership, fairness and striving for excellence. The award was presented May 19 in Newark.

Prettyman, a standout in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, also was named the Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year and most valuable player for each of the three sports. She earned 12 letters for the Blue Hens, served as a team captain, set 10 school records and won 29 meet titles. Read more »

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