POPE MAY SEND PERSONAL ENVOY TO BETHLEHEM

VATICAN, Apr 18, 02 (CWNews.com) -- The Vatican may
send a special envoy to Bethlehem, in answer to a
request from the city's mayor, in an effort to resolve
the stalemate at the Church of the Nativity.

Mayor Hanna Nasser asked Pope John Paul II for help
after a plan for negotiations between Israeli and
Palestinian representatives collapsed on Thursday,
April 18.

The mayor observed that the situation is becoming "more
complicated every day," as the stalemate entered its
16th day. The confrontation at the Church of the
Nativity began when 200 Palestinian gunmen broke into
the church and barricaded themselves there. They remain
trapped inside, surrounding by Israeli troops. There
are also 40 Franciscan friars and nuns, and 20 Orthodox
monks, inside the church compound.

Pope John Paul may send a personal envoy to Bethlehem,
to confer with both Israeli and Palestinian
representatives, in an effort to move negotiations
forward. A decision from the Vatican is expected
shortly.

There is some precedent for such a mission. In June
2001, the Holy Father sent Cardinal Pio Laghi, the
former prefect of the Congregation for Catholic
Education, on a personal mission to the Holy Land.
Cardinal Laghi spoke privately with Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yassir
Arafat, conveying a personal message from the Pope.