NEW YORK – Christian leaders in the Holy Land, led by Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, met today with Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority at his headquarters in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. On the occasion of Eid el-Fitr, the three-day Muslim feast closing Ramadan, the Latin Patriarch conveyed the Palestinian Christian community’s best wishes to the Palestinian leader, who was accompanied by leaders of the Muslim community.
Msgr. Robert L. Stern, President of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and Secretary General of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), reported that the 45-minute meeting was a warm one, demonstrating the peaceful coexistence between the Palestinian Muslim and Christian communities:
“Chairman Arafat received us with his usual warmth; personally mixing up the group,” Msgr. Stern reported by telephone. “Again, he emphasized that a future Palestinian state must include Christians and Muslims, adding that the rights of Christians would be respected and enshrined in a future constitution. He further added that his grievance with Israel is not with Jews, but with Zionists.”
The Christian delegation met in Jerusalem then traveled through Israeli checkpoints to Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters, which is under Israeli tank surveillance, Msgr. Stern said.
Msgr. Stern noted that the Christian delegation had originally planned to meet at the Imperial Hotel near the Jaffa Gate:
“The Israelis closed the hotel, however, and briefly detained the Palestinian Authority’s official for Jerusalem affairs, Dr. Sari Nusseibeh.” Instead, the delegation gathered at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. George in the heart of the Old City.
Msgr. Stern, who has discussed the work of the Pontifical Mission with Chairman Arafat on several occasions, travels every Christmas to the Holy Land, where he concelebrates the liturgies of Christmas in Bethlehem, continuing a tradition that began with the agency’s founding in 1949.
The Pontifical Mission is CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East.