Monday, December 05, 2005

Pope Benedict Receives FIrst Citizen Passport for Bethlehem, Palestine

Press Release: 5 December 2005

Pope Benedict - First New Citizen of Bethlehem
President Abbas comments on presentation of passport

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has become the first new citizen of Bethlehem, having been presented with a Bethlehem passport by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, in a meeting at the Vatican on Saturday 3 December.

Commenting on the meeting, President Abbas said today (5 December): "His Holiness was moved to receive this accolade from the people of Bethlehem and paid special attention to the message of the passport."

The passport bears the stamp of the municipality of Bethlehem and of Open Bethlehem and states that: "The bearer of this passport is a citizen of Bethlehem; that they recognise this ancient city provides a light to the world, and to all people who uphold the values of a just and open society; that they will remain a true friend to Bethlehem through its imprisonment, and that they will strive to keep the ideals of Bethlehem alive as long as the wall stands; we ask you to respect the bearer of the passport and to let them pass freely."

Bethlehem faces a state of emergency following the completion of an eight metre high illegal cement wall at the entrance to the city that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem and other Palestinian towns. With the Israeli wall and other closures, including militarised fences and illegal Jewish settlements, Bethlehem has been reduced to its urban core: a modern-day ghetto town.

President Mahmoud Abbas said: "The warmth of the meeting between the Palestinian delegation and His Holiness the Pope underlines the positive role that the Vatican can play in making the Holy sites accessible to all people, tourists, pilgrims and local worshippers. In accepting the Bethlehem passport, His Holiness reaffirms not only the importance of Bethlehem to our world heritage, but also the importance of the relationship between this ancient city and the Vatican, and the role that the Vatican can play in safeguarding the sacred relationship between Bethlehem and Jerusalem."

The Mayor of Bethlehem, Dr Victor Batarseh, said: "It is the multi-faith character of Bethlehem that makes it so important to an open democratic Middle East. The fear and loss of hope inspired by the wall is driving our citizens abroad, and this exodus is most pronounced among the Christian community."

Leila Sansour, chief executive of Open Bethlehem, said: "We are appealing to the Pope as well as citizens of the world to help us uphold the message of hope and renewal that was born in our city. We hope that the millions of people who hold Bethlehem close to their hearts will act for Bethlehem now, as it faces the most serious threat in its history."


Notes for editors:

* Open Bethlehem was launched by the Mayor of Bethlehem on 9 November, declaring Bethlehem an open city and announcing the issue of a Bethlehem passport.
* Open Bethlehem is a city initiative that aims to promote Bethlehem as a prime destination for tourists, bold initiatives and investment. The core of its message is that Bethlehem is a city of openness and diversity, with a centuries-old tradition of welcoming travellers, refugees and pilgrims from across the world.

For more information and photographs please contact:

London: Patrick Orr: (44) 207 2225479; (44) 7909534430 Charlotte Carson: (44)7768305897
Bethlehem: Carol Dabdoub T. (972) 2 2741241 ext. 2470; M. (972) 545439841