JERUSALEM, DEC. 21, 2004 ( Peace in the Holy Land is a possibility but it should not be "held hostage" by those who insist on resorting to violence, says a patriarch in his Christmas message.

In the message presented today at the Latin-rite patriarchate's headquarters, Patriarch Michel Sabbah said: "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," he continued, "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."

"Peace cannot be held hostage to those who still see violence as a means of obtaining justice and peace," the patriarch contended.

In his letter, he wrote: "We celebrate Christmas and we rejoice so as to renew our energies, learn patience, and conquer the forces of evil in our land."

The letter was published on the eve of the Day of Prayer and Fasting proposed to all Christians worldwide by the bishops' conference of the region of North Africa and the Latin-rite prelates' conference in the Arab regions.

Patriarch Sabbah stated: "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," the patriarch emphasized. "This is our conviction, and we believe that it remains possible."

He contended that the barrier being built by Israel to isolate Palestinian territories and stop terrorist attacks "will really never separate or protect."

"What is needed is a search, in all humility, for the underlying causes of the violence," the prelate continued. "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," affirmed the patriarch of Palestinian origin.

"The wall of separation will not produce secure borders," he added. "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."