VATICAN CITY: The Vatican’s Secretary of State yesterday defended the Palestinians’ right to a “sovereign and independent” homeland and said he hoped Pope Francis’s upcoming visit would lead to “courageous decisions” for peace.
“We know that the Pope is going to a particularly suffering land,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, whose role is equivalent to that of a prime minister, told Vatican television ahead of the Pope’s three-day visit starting tomorrow.
“I really hope that the fruit will be to help politicians and all people of good will take courageous decisions on the path to peace,” Parolin said in the interview, which was posted on the website of Vatican Radio.
Asked about particular points that Francis will talk about during the visit amid stalled peace talks, Parolin said they would be in line with Vatican policy. “On the one hand, Israel’s right to exist in peace and security within internationally recognised boundaries. And the Palestinian people’s right to have a homeland, sovereign and independent, the right to move around freely, the right to live in dignity,” he said.
The Vatican recognised the Palestinian Territories as the “State of Palestine” in 2012 and has incurred Israeli ire in the past for appearing to side with the Palestinians although relations have improved markedly in recent years.
The Pope will hear first-hand accounts of the horrors of Syria’s war when he meets refugees in Jordan tomorrow. The Pope will meet Christians and Muslims forced to leave their homes and flee to the kingdom, now home to more than 600,000 refugees and the first stop on Francis’ trip ahead of Israel and the Palestinian territories.
He will pray with the refugees and hundreds of disabled youths, cancer patients and orphans at Wadi Al Kharrar on the eastern bank of the river Jordan. In all, some 450,000 Syrian Christians have been displaced by the conflict since it began in March 2011, according to Gregory Laham, Syrian Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
The pontiff will begin his visit with a courtesy call to King Abdullah II and Queen Rania before celebrating mass at Amman’s international stadium. Later, he will head to the baptism site in the Jordan Valley. He will leave Amman on Sunday morning by helicopter to Bethlehem, where he will celebrate mass in Manger Square, before heading to Israel.
The Vatican’s decision for Pope to fly by helicopter directly to Bethlehem from Jordan without passing through Israel as normally required by diplomatic protocol is a first that has cheered Palestinians and angered Israelis.