POPE SENDING SPECIAL ENVOY FOR BETHLEHEM TALKS

VATICAN, Apr 29, 02 (CWNews.com) -- Pope John Paul II has sent a special envoy, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, on a peace mission to the Holy Land.

Cardinal Etchegaray, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, will leave Rome on May 1. He will meet with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, in an effort to resolve the stalemate at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The appointment of a special papal envoy is intended as a strong sign to both sides of the conflict, expressing the intense concern of the Holy See regarding the failure to respect the holy places.

The Vatican has not indicated how long Cardinal Etchegaray might remain in the Holy Land. Some officials remain hopeful that the impasse in Bethlehem will be resolved before the cardinal begins his journey.

Sources among the Franciscan custodians of the Holy Land have indicated some signs of movement in the latest talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Bethlehem. At the same time, the Franciscans caution that the situation remains "explosive," particularly in light of the desperation among the Palestinian gunmen who have now been trapped inside the church for 28 days.