THECHRISTMAS MESSAGE OF THE LATIN PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM...
Ian Elmer is on holidays and in his place today we presentthe Christmas message of the Latin Patriarch of Jeruslam, His BeatitudeMichel Sabbah.
Brothers and Sisters here in Palestine, Israel, Jordan, and Cyprus, Iwish each and every one of you joy, serenity, tranquillity and peace.This year again, Christmas is coming to Bethlehem amid the same circumstancesof death and frustration, with the Wall and the checkpoints on the groundand in the hearts. The occupation and deprivation of freedom on one side,and fear and insecurity on the other, continue as before. Gaza remainsa big prison, a place of death and of internal Palestinian dissension.Even children have been killed. And everyone, including the internationalcommunity, remains powerless to find the right road to peace and justice.Fear of the future has engulfed the entire region: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria,Egypt and Jordan. For everyone, the future is at stake. In this context,world terrorism is feeding on all of the open wounds.
That is the way Christmas is seen today from Bethlehem. And yet, theChristmas message is meant to be one of life, peace, and justice. Theprophet Jeremiah said:
"In those days, I will raise up for David a just shoot;he shall do what is right and just in the land … and Jerusalem shalldwell in security" (Jer33, 15-16).
And Isaiah extended his vision to include all nations:
"So will the Lord God make justice and praise springup before all the nations" (Is61, 11).
Saint Paul, for his part, in the second readings of the Advent Season,tells us that we enter into the ways of justice and peace through loveof neighbour and through holiness:
"May the Lord increase you and make you overflow withlove for one another and for all … and may he strengthen your hearts,making them blameless and holy before God" (1Thes 3, 11).
Moreover, since the First Sunday of Advent, the Church has put beforeour eyes the person of John the Baptist, the Precursor of Christ. He preachedrepentance, and various categories of people came to listen to him andasked him questions about the ways of repentance and new life. Even soldiersasked him what they should do to save themselves:
"Soldiers also asked him: 'Teacher, what is it thatwe should do?' He told them, 'Do not oppress anyone, do not extort anything,and be satisfied with your wages'" (Lk3, 14).
Today, life in Bethlehem and its surrounding area has become very difficultto endure, in spite of the numerous initiatives of solidarity that havecome from the outside. Yes, we are in need of solidarity, and we are gratefulfor all the messages of brotherhood we have received from around the world.But our fundamental need is for peace, justice, freedom, and an end tothe occupation. Faced with this, the world seems powerless. However, wesay: each and every person, even soldiers and political leaders, havethe capacity to appreciate love, salvation, and life. But for that tohappen, a conversion must take place, a conversion from death to life,from viewing the other as an enemy and a murderer to viewing him as abrother and a giver of life.
Ourpolitical leaders also must ask the Baptist:
"And what is it that we should do to find salvationfor ourselves and for all those who have put their destiny into our hands?"They too must be prepared to receive the same answer: "Do notoppress anyone, do not extort anything, and be satisfied with your wages"(Lk 3, 14).
They must listen to the voice of the oppressed in this Holy Land, tothe voice of those who have died, of those who are still threatened bydeath and humiliation, those on whom they think they can impose deathor humiliation in order to assure the security of the other party.
Bethlehem is meant to be the city of peace. Unfortunately, it is nowjust the contrary, a city of conflict and death. Life and peace, however,would be easy and possible to come by if only those in positions of responsibilitywere sincerely determined to pursue them. Salvation will come from bringingthe two peoples together, not from separating them. In that lies the salvationof the Palestinians and the Israelis, as well as of the entire region.The two peoples are capable of living together in peace and tranquillity.When that comes about, murders, vengeance, rejection, and extremism willdisappear little by little, as they progressively cease to feed on oppression,occupation, poverty, and humiliation.
Christmas brings joy to humanity. It announces salvation to everyone,especially to those who live in Bethlehem and its surrounding area, Palestiniansand Israelis alike. "Let us go to Bethlehem" and see what hastaken place and what continues to take place there (cf.Lk 2, 15). What is the Wall telling us today? What are the inhabitantsof Bethlehem telling us today? Let us go to Bethlehem so that we too canhear the angels announce peace on earth, peace to all people of good will,peace to all who long for a sincere brotherhood that rejects all hatredand hostility, and find, in the coming together of the two peoples, bothsecurity and an end to the occupation which will bring freedom.
For all of you, Brothers and Sisters, I pray to God that you might hearand live the message of Christmas, a message of peace, joy, and new life.
+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch