Here are excerpts of the Christmas message of Ignatius Youssef III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch for Syriac Catholic Church, provided to Zenit by Patriarch Younan:
Christmas Message 2017
of Ignatius Youssef III YOUNAN
Patriarch of Antioch for Syriac Catholic Church
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)
Dear brothers and sisters: I am quite confident that in each Christmas celebration, while contemplating the Divine Child of Bethlehem, Emmanuel, we deepen our faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ and strive to live His message of Love and Peace. God so loved us that He became one of us to lift us up to Him:
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14)
The message of Christmas Night brought down by the angel to the humble shepherds of Bethlehem, still resonates year after year in our heart, as a message of peace, joy and reconciliation. A wonderful message that was chanted by the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to people of good will”. Let us remember that in the Syriac-Aramaic version of this angelica song, we read: “..and Good hope for human beings!” (Lc 2:14).
Saint James of Sarug (5th-6th century) one among the greatest fathers of the Syriac Church, gave us this following hymn: ”Glory to the Father who sent His Word to become flesh, adoration to the Son who, though unlimited, became limited in a manger and thanksgiving to the Spirit who chanted in the mouth of the angels: Glory in the highest and peace on earth”
From the Middle East where your Christian brothers and sisters are still enduring a lot of hardship because of the ongoing violent tribulations that undermine their future, I want to remind you how much we need your solidarity and prayer.
Lebanon the only country of the Middle-East where all citizens enjoy the best possible liberty and equality, had to face in the past year a lot of trials. Pope John Paul II had rightly called this tiny nation: “Lebanon is more than a country, it is a mission. We surely thank God that the Lebanese army could finely overcome the terrorist bands that were threatening its very existence. Given the wisdom of the President of the Republic, we keep praying that Lebanon will reach the haven of peace, to fulfill its great mission in the region.
During this joyful season, our thoughts and prayers will particularly go to our brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq, who have been suffering for long, because of their steadfast faithfulness to the Gospel.
Let us remember what Pope Francis wrote in his Message for the 51st World Day of Peace 2018: “In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands.”
We, as the shepherds of the flock will keep speaking up as John the Baptist, “crying loud in the wilderness…” to defend the human rights of our Christian people in the Middle-East, pleading with the world civil and political instances, for justice and liberty for them and for all persecuted minorities.
After many years of been savagely uprooted from their homeland in the Plain of Nineveh in Iraq, forced into exile and scattered in many countries, many thousands of our Syriac families have now the unique opportunity to return home. The terrorist bands are now mostly defeated and hope has risen that at least a good percentage of those who were forced to leave would return home. Their presence as Christian minority, the truly indigenous people, that endured every kind of hardship is essential to the rebirth of their country. We have to keep hoping that the local governments and the international instances will definitely expel the terrorists and restore peace and security in order to rebuild one reunified Iraq that insures justice and equality for all its citizens.
Violent upheaval in Syria happened to be not only a “wrong reading” of the nature of this country, but also a dangerous agglomerate alliance threatening the very existence of this nation, known to be a cradle of the Christian faith. In the name of the so called “democracy”, hundreds of thousands were killed, millions were uprooted and the land destroyed. Western politicians allied with regional countries known to be among the most undemocratic and retrograde regimes, kept fomenting sectarian conflicts and financing bands of terrorists in the name of Allah. Christian communities with other minorities were the easiest target of the radical jihad.
Economic sanctions on Syria must be lifted. They are like crimes against humanity because they target the most vulnerable segments of a nation. Poor and defenseless people are the ones who pay the price. The family of nations must look for other ways to deal with a legitimate country recognized by the United Nations, even if this government happened to be taxed by some country or organization, as an outlaw regime.
Jesus words are for us a beacon that guides our lives. We cherish to repeat to you what the Lord used to say to his disciples: “Do not be afraid, little flock!” Yes, Lord, as long as you walk with us, there is nothing to fear of and nothing will be able to separate us from you!
With a great joy, I impart on you, your dear ones my apostolic blessing: May the Almighty and One God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
[Provided to Zenit by Patriarch Younan]