WASHINGTON (May 10, 2002) – Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville (IL), President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, today issued a statement expressing his relief that the "unprecedented and intolerable standoff at the Church of the Nativity" in Bethlehem had ended.
The full text of his statement follows:
"The long-overdue resolution of the unprecedented and intolerable standoff at the Church of the Nativity, with the confinement to their homes of the civilian population of Bethlehem, is a tremendous relief to Christians around the world. The actions of the Palestinian gunmen and the Israeli military during this lengthy siege raise serious concerns about the commitment of both sides to respect and protect the Holy Places. How tragic that the birthplace of the Prince of Peace was desecrated by those who turned this sacred place into yet another battleground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every effort must be made by the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the international community to protect against such violations of the Holy Places in the future.
"We appreciate the persistence of the U.S. government and its willingness to collaborate with the Holy See and other intermediaries, as well as representatives of both parties, in pursuing an agreement to end the occupation and siege of the Church of the Nativity. We hope that the U.S. will persist in doing all that it can to end an unacceptable cycle of violence and to press the parties to return to the arduous task of negotiating a just peace. As the Holy Father said a few days ago, 'Neither the blind violence of terrorism nor the violence of war can bring a solution to the Palestinians' desire for a homeland and the Israelis need for security.' The only solution lies in genuine dialogue based in new attitudes of understanding and mutual respect."