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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 December 2005, 02:44 GMT
Archbishop urges Bethlehem visits
Bethlehem has been separated by Israel's West Bank barrier
The leader of Catholics in England and Wales has urged Christians to visit Bethlehem despite a "blockade" of the West Bank city.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor described the inhabitants of the city, the birthplace of Christ, as "terribly alone" in his Christmas sermon.

It is separated from Jerusalem by Israel's West Bank barrier.

The Archbishop of Westminster was addressing a congregation during midnight mass.

'Terrible wound'

His comments came as Pope Benedict XVI in Rome made a plea for peace in the Middle East celebrating his first Christmas mass since becoming pontiff.

The archbishop said: "The eyes and the hearts of the world be opened to what is happening there."

Let Bethlehem be what it is meant to be: a free and open city
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor

He said the continuing conflict in Holy Land was "a terrible wound on humanity" and urged both sides to "bind that wound" and "build bridges, not walls".

"Let Bethlehem be what it is meant to be: a free and open city," he said.

The cardinal recounted how he had once celebrated mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

"What has happened to that town since? How sad it is that Christians in Bethlehem feel compelled to leave the land of their birth for foreign lands, on account of the political situation in the Holy Land," he said.

Archbishop of Westminster
Cardinal O'Connor said the people of Bethlehem were "terribly alone"

The cardinal also remembered the victims of storms "in America, the earthquake in Pakistan, bombings in our own city here in London and, of course, the tsunami".

Of the 7 July attacks in London, he said the bombers "did not know, or care, whom they killed".

The cardinal said "from terror which sought to exterminate a faceless crowd, there arose people with names and stories".

The cardinal gave his Christmas message just hours before he is due to fly to Sri Lanka to mark the first anniversary of the Boxing Day tsunami.

See worshippers inside Westminster Cathedral

Bethlehem a 'prison' - patriarch
25 Dec 05 |  Middle East
Pope appeals for Mid-East peace
25 Dec 05 |  Europe
Bethlehem's Christians cling to hope
22 Dec 05 |  Middle East

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