JERUSALEM, DEC. 21, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Christmas message of Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem, presented today at a press conference held in the patriarchate’s headquarters.
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“I am listening. What is God’s message? God’s message is peace for his people, for his faithful, if only they renounce their folly” (Psalm 84:9).<br>
1. A Blessed and Joyous Christmas to all who seek peace and justice in this Holy Land. May the peace and joy of Christmas fill your hearts and minds. With all of you, and with the psalmist, “I am listening. What is God’s message? God’s message is peace for his people, for his faithful, if only they renounce their folly” (Psalm 84:9).
We celebrate Christmas and we rejoice so as to renew our energies, learn patience, and conquer the forces of evil in our land. As we celebrate Christmas, we pray, we pray more than ever, we fast, and we purify our hearts and our intentions so that we might be filled with the holiness, life, love and strength of spirit that are needed to build the peace that seems so difficult, if not impossible, to attain.
2. At this time, there seem to be prospects of peace. We are hopeful that peace will indeed come about, after so many prayers, so many lives sacrificed, so many tears, and so much suffering. We hope that the political leaders will have the courage needed to sign a just and definitive peace and to accept the painful sacrifices this might entail either for themselves personally or for their people.
Each one of us has surely drawn lessons from the past violence that has destroyed the image of God in both the perpetrators and the victims, the oppressors and the oppressed. Though, in recent years, there have been many victims, much fear, many homes demolished, and much agricultural land devastated, we are still at the same point. Israelis are still looking for security, and Palestinians are still yearning for an end to the occupation, for their freedom and for their independence.
Yet, both peoples are destined to live together in peace. This is our conviction, and we believe that it remains possible.
3. However, the people must be freed from fear and given reasons to hope. It is the role of the leaders to facilitate this process. Palestinian leaders are now preparing for their elections with great calm and have adopted plans for peace. Israeli leaders are invited to do likewise by putting an end to their military interventions and by stopping the construction of the wall as well as the hunt for the wanted, which only increases the number of prisoners and dead. Peace cannot be held hostage to those who still see violence as a means of obtaining justice and peace.
For its part, the wall of separation will really never separate or protect. Quite to the contrary, it will only increase hate, ignorance of the other, and, therefore, hostility toward the other and, as a further consequence, violence and insecurity. What is needed is a search, in all humility, for the underlying causes of the violence. In all humility and sincerity, the cries of the poor and the oppressed must be heard. Ending the oppression and the humiliation of the Palestinians would at the same time put an end to the fear and insecurity of the Israelis. It would also put an end to those who are exploiting the attendant oppression and the poverty.
The wall of separation will not produce secure borders. Only friendly hearts can produce them. With friendly hearts, all borders will become pure symbols and disappear before the life and joy that will come from being able to live in peace and fraternity.
4. Religious leaders have a double role at this time: to continue insisting on justice, on the dignity of the human person, on security, and on the end to occupation. But at the same time, they must point out the paths to peace. Neither of the two peoples is condemned to continue offering up its youth to death. Each one has the desire and the right to see its young people live like their counterparts elsewhere in the world. The Israelis are not condemned to live eternally in insecurity and war. Likewise, the Palestinians are not condemned to live eternally asking for an end to the occupation and to remain on the road to death.
5. We have seen the life and we have heard what says the Lord. God says “peace for his people, for his faithful, if only they renounce their folly” (Psalm 84:9). The Christian significance of Christmas is this: the Word of God has made his entrance into the world and has brought us life. Christmas is a promise of life, joy, and dignity in the presence of God who has chosen our land to be his dwelling: “No one has ever seen God. It is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. From his fullness we have all of us received” (John 1:18,16). Only in this perspective and in the presence of God can the peace of Jerusalem and of the Holy Land be built.
To all, a Blessed Christmas filled with Peace, Justice and Joy.
+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch