Pope calls for two-state solution in Middle East peace process
Pope Francis used his Christmas message on Monday to call for a negotiated two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after US President Donald Trump stoked regional tensions with his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Francis spoke of the Middle East conflict and other world flashpoints in his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) address, four days after more than 120 countries backed a UN resolution urging the United States to reverse its decision on Jerusalem.
“Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders,” he said, referring to the Israelis and Palestinians.
“We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica to tens of thousands of people.
It was the second time that the pope has spoken out publicly about Jerusalem since Trump’s decision on December 6. On that day, Francis called for the city’s “status quo” to be respected, lest new tensions in the Middle East further inflame world conflicts.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state, whereas Israelis have declared the whole city to be its “united and eternal” capital.
Francis urged people to see the defenceless baby Jesus in the children who suffer the most from war, migration and natural calamities caused by man today.
“As the winds of war are blowing in our world … Christmas invites us to focus on the sign of the child and to recognise him in the faces of little children, especially those for whom, like Jesus, ‘there is no place in the inn’,” he said.
Francis, celebrating the fifth Christmas of his pontificate, said he had seen Jesus in the children he met during his recent trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, and he called for adequate protection of the dignity of minority groups in that region.
More than 600,000 Muslim Rohingya people have fled mainly Buddhist Myanmar to Bangladesh in recent months. The pope avoided the word “Rohingya” while in Myanmar, which does not recognise the minority group, though he used the term when in Bangladesh.
“Jesus knows well the pain of not being welcomed and how hard it is not to have a place to lay one’s head. May our hearts not be closed as they were in the homes of Bethlehem,” he said.
There was a brief moment of chaos in the square when a topless activist from the feminist group Femen tried to snatch the statue of baby Jesus from the Nativity scene but was stopped by police as she grabbed it.
A Reuters photographer said the woman jumped over guard rails and rushed onto the larger-than-life Nativity scene shouting “God is woman”. She had the same slogan painted on her back.
A Vatican gendarme stopped her from taking the statue and she was detained. The incident happened about two hours before Pope Francis delivered his Christmas message.
The group’s website identified her as Alisa Vinogradova and called her a “sextremist”. It said the goal of the group, which was founded in Ukraine, is “complete victory over patriarchy”.
A Femen activist staged a similar action on Christmas Day 2014 but managed to take the statue out of the cot before she was arrested.
Additional reporting by Reuters