Jerusalem Patriarch Reviews Lights, Shadows of 2010

Notes Satisfaction With Record Numbers of Holy Land Pilgrims

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JERUSALEM, DEC. 24, 2010 ( In his traditional message for Christmas, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem offered eight points to «emphasize above all the positive events [of the Middle East] without, however, excluding the suffering and the concerns that remain.»

His Beatitude Fouad Twal discussed issues ranging from the synod on the Middle East to the forest fires in Israel.

Regarding the Oct. 10-24 synod, the patriarch thanked the Pope for convening it. He said, «During that time, we were able to put our fingers on our wounds and our fears, and at the same time express our expectations and our hopes. The synod called on Christians in the Middle East to live as true believers and good citizens, not distancing from public life, but involved in the development of our communities, whether in Arab countries or in Israel.»

The patriarch expressed his satisfaction at record numbers of pilgrims to the Holy Land. He explained that by November, some 3 million people had visited the Holy Places. «This number could still increase to arrive at nearly 3.4 million visitors, a figure never reached before, even in 2000, the Jubilee Year,» he said.

Future projects

Patriarch Twal welcomed an improvement in the process for obtaining religious visas, though he affirmed, «We still have a long way to go.» He also praised the resumption of talks between the Holy See and the Palestinian Authority for the application of the basic agreement signed in 2000. And he decried the massacre of Christians in Baghdad in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, saying, «These innocent victims are added to the thousands of victims of fundamentalism and violence afflicting our world.»

He spoke of his trips to Central and South America, where he was able to visit people of the Middle East who have emigrated to these lands. «Now they are all well integrated into the local society, and many have expressed their willingness to support our projects in the Holy Land and come on pilgrimage,» he said. «Among the major projects that the Latin Patriarchate is trying to accomplish, I would like to mention: the new pediatric hospital in Bethlehem which will be named after Pope Benedict, the University of Madaba, which will open in October next year, and the new Pilgrims’ Center in Jordan, on the site of the Baptism of Christ.»

Significant beginnings

Patriarch Twal praised «a very significant gesture and [what] may be a beginning of a fruitful collaboration in the future, when peace will be established in this troubled land.» He was speaking of the offer from the Palestinian Authority to make available teams of firefighters for the forest fires of Haifa.

Still, he said, «We suffer from the failure of direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.»

But the patriarch continued: «This should not lead us to despair. We continue to believe that on both sides, and in the international community, there are men of good will who will work and put their energies together in their commitment for peace.»

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