Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah
To our faithful and to all men and women of good will
Brothers and Sisters
1. Our Christmas message for this year is first of all an imploration to God and an act of worship before the unfathomable mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God: "The Word became flesh, he lived among us " (Jn 1:14).
The message of Christmas is one of justice, peace and love. Yet our land is full of hatred and bloodshed. Not for this God wanted us in this Holy Land. It is not for making the Holy Places a field for our struggles. They should be rather a meeting point where together we encounter God, where we build together our dwelling and His dwelling. We must also realize with God, that in this dwelling, more holy than the places themselves is the human being whom we see today humiliated, deprived from his freedom and often from his life too.
Therefore our message is also an appeal to all persons of good will, to the international community, and to all our Churches over the world, to wake up and to come and help both peoples of this land to make peace, based on justice, equality and dignity. To all we say: Do not forget this land and do not abandon us to our fate.
Some might perhaps say: it is impossible today to live together. But we say: living and having peace together is still possible. What is impossible is to ask for security on one side, while the other is being oppressed, to have one people occupying when the other is under occupation. This is really impossible. But with equal justice for both sides, when the Israeli lives on his land and state, and the Palestinian also has his land and state, then living together will be possible.
2. Many people ask us: how shall we celebrate Christmas this year? What is the meaning of the interdiction to President Arafat to attend Midnight mass?
Our difficulties did not begin this year. Since generations we live in a bloody struggle. However we tell everybody: Christmas is first of all a feast for prayer and an act of faith. Our faith invites us to meditate on the mystery of God, the mystery of the Incarnation of His Eternal Word, and of His presence among us, as light and life for all: "What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light" (Jn 1,4). Therefore this year also, and despite all the difficulties, we will meditate this truth of our faith and we will raise our prayer to God, and we will celebrate the feast as usual.
3. As for the prohibition to President Arafat to attend Midnight mass we say that it is a useless measure; if the Israeli Authorities were on the real path towards peace they would have spared themselves issuing such inappropriate measure.
As for the siege and the humiliation imposed on the Palestinians of Bethlehem itself and on all the Palestinian towns and villages, and the demolition of houses and the killing of people, all these measures push us rather to renew our courage, our hope and our love even to those who make hard our life. Therefore we have to pray, may God put an end to all that and give us instead justice, dignity and love. The present difficulties will not compel us to cancel our feasts. Besides the sufferings already imposed upon us, it is not necessary to dispossess ourselves from the joy of the feast and from our duty to worship God and present Him ourselves with all our sufferings.
We address an appeal to the Israeli Authorities to take away once and for all the check-points around the Palestinian towns and villages. If they have to remain we say to our faithful: transform them in places of prayer. From places of humiliation, hatred and death, as they are now, transform them in places for worship. Call for prayer gatherings there, may God inspire intentions of justice and peace to those who ordered to establish them.
4. Our Christmas message for these days - as the siege is still imposed on the towns and villages, and as we face with death there as well as in the Israeli towns and streets - is an appeal to put an end to the siege and then to the occupation and an appeal to stop bloodshed on both sides, in the Palestinian towns and villages and in the Israeli towns and streets. If the present leaders do not succeed in making peace, there is only one solution: open the way to other leaders, perhaps they will succeed better where the present ones have failed. Our appeal is to make peace, to stop injustice, to reach the so much invoked security for the Israelis, to put an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, which is the source of all evils and all obstacles accumulated in the hearts of the leaders and the peoples in front of peace.
Christmas is faith and prayer, Christmas is light in the darkness and the oppressions we live. The angels have sung in the sky of Bethlehem: "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to people of good will". We hope that this people will grow more and more so that the message of the angels given to humankind from our land will be also a message to us and transform us in peacemakers. We hope and we pray so that the feast which will come back next year will bring us better times with justice, peace and holiness for all of us in this "Holy Land".
Amidst all trials, I wish you all, brothers and sisters, and you especially inhabitants of Bethlehem, Christians and Moslems, I wish you a holy Christmas.
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