A Shepherd of Jerusalem Holds On to Hope

Olive Branch Is Most Effective Weapon in Holy Land, He Says

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JERUSALEM, DEC. 23, 2001 (Zenit.org).- When he read his Christmas message last Thursday, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem told reporters that the «olive branch is the most effective weapon in the hand of Palestinians, in their effort to recover their land and liberty.»

He elaborated on the Mideast situation in this interview.

–Q: How is it possible to attain peace, as you wrote in your message, when «injustice, land occupation, humiliation of people, massacres, imposed siege, denial of God-given freedom,» continue?

–Patriarch Sabbah: I also wrote that God is close even if he seems to be distant. Every good and evil will have its recompense in this very life, both for individuals as well as nations. Injustice will come to an end one day, and we will see on this earth the face of God, peace and the freedom of his children, Palestinians and Israelis.

Ours is a message of patience, courage and hope. As I have said, it is an invitation to carry an olive branch, instead of arms. I am convinced that in the long term the olive will triumph over violence; it will paralyze it. I continue to hope and to proclaim peace despite everything. What would the flock do if the shepherd lost hope?

–Q: What kind of peace should be hoped for?

–Patriarch Sabbah: In general, a peace that stems from the conversion of hearts; in particular, a peace that is possible, in good relations with one´s neighbor. A peace, as I said in my message, that will put an end to occupation, to a military event that has lasted since 1967. A peace that will free soldiers, that will restore to them the ability to love and build, instead of keeping them under orders that force them to stain their hands with the blood of others. This is also possible and necessary.

–Q: What do you wish to say to the Israelis?

–Patriarch Sabbah: I have just suggested it, in part. Then I say to them Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukkah.

My message to the Jewish people is one of hope, but it is also an invitation to rectify the measures taken by their leaders. The people must achieve the peace that the governors have been unable to conclude. Political action is causing increasing violence; it must change course.

If the occupation continues — which is the greatest cause of violence — if attacks and reprisals continue, no progress is made. God´s goodness and grace can be more present in the heart of a people than in the plans of politicians and military men. And violence will end when there is justice, when all, Israelis and Palestinians, enjoy the same freedom and security.

We need a new generation of leaders, a new vision of the world. We don´t need chiefs in the Holy Land who teach us how to make war and who ask their people for so many sacrifices, including that of life; but rather chiefs who have a clear view of justice and peace and the courage to bring them about. They themselves must be willing to pay the high prize of freedom, including martyrdom. As the Psalmist says, we need that «generation that seeks God and his face.»

He who does not believe in God, does not believe in man; he does not know how to recognize and respect in his neighbor´s face the dignity that comes from God.

–Q: Yet, there are those, such as some fanatics, who kill in the name of God.

–Patriarch Sabbah: God is love; he does not want man to kill his brothers. Whoever kills does not do so in his name but in the name of a God of his own.

–In your message you allude to a long history of suffering and humiliations. Are you also referring to Christians?

–Patriarch Sabbah: It´s the history of all, from President Yasser Arafat to the youngest Palestinian, and the patriarch is in the midst. Christians have suffered much; some are leaving. We are increasingly less numerous, but there will always be a little flock to witness that, precisely here, as St. Paul says, the Grace-bringing-salvation appeared.

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