Affirms That Palestinians and Israelis Are Capable of Living Together
The patriarch of Jerusalem says that Christians in the holy city will again celebrate Christmas searching for a peace that seems impossible, but with faith that it can be achieved.
Archbishop Michel Sabbah affirmed this in a Dec. 19 Christmas message.
"We joyfully celebrate Christmas, hoping to see better days in our Holy Land, by the grace of God, by our own contribution to bring peace to this land and by sharing in all the sacrifices that it requires," the patriarch wrote. "Because God is with us, we remain hopeful in the midst of all the daily difficulties we experience as a result of the occupation and of the insecurity and deprivations that arise from it. God is with us, reminding us that the commandment of love, which was given to us by Jesus, born in Bethlehem, still remains valid for the difficult times in which we are living today."
The archbishop called for a love that sees "the image of God in every human being, of every religion and nationality […] that knows how to forgive and, at the same time, to demand all our rights, especially those given by God to each person and to the entire community, such as the gift of life, of dignity, of freedom, and of the land."
Archbishop Sabbah expressed both dismay at the ongoing conflict, and the faith that peace is possible.
"Palestinians and Israelis are capable of living together in peace, each in their own territory, each enjoying their security, their dignity, and their rights," he affirmed. "But to attain that peace, it is necessary to believe that Israelis and Palestinians are equal in all things, that they have the same rights and the same duties, and that both parties must adopt the ways of God, which are not the ways of violence, whether they be carried out by the state or by extremists."
The patriarch lamented that "the entire region, because of the conflict in the Holy Land, is in turmoil."
He continued: "In Lebanon, in Iraq, as well as here, the forces of evil seem to have been unleashed and to have decided to pursue their course along paths leading to death, exclusion and domination. Despite all of this, we believe that God has not abandoned us to all these forces of evil.
"A new peace effort was begun these last few weeks. In order for it to succeed, there must be a firm willingness to make peace. Until now, there has been no peace, simply because there has been no willingness to make it."
Archbishop Sabbah contended that recent proposals to establish "religious states" in the Holy Land do not provide a viable solution.
"In this land, which is holy for three religions and for two peoples, religious states cannot be established because they would exclude or place in an inferior position the believers of the other religions," he said. "A state that would exclude or discriminate against the other religions is not suitable for this land made holy by God for all of humanity.
"Political and religious leaders must begin by understanding the universal vocation of this land in which God has brought us together throughout history. They must know that the holiness of this land does not consist in the exclusion of one or the other of the religions, but in the ability of each religion, with all of their differences, to welcome, respect, and love all who inhabit this land."
The 74-year-old prelate also appealed for more rights for pilgrims to the Holy Land.
"The holiness and the universal vocation of this land also includes the duty to welcome pilgrims from around the world, those who come for a short visit, and those who come to reside, to pray, to study, or to perform the religious ministry to which the faithful of all religions have a right," he said. "For many years, we have been suffering from a problem that has never been solved, that of entry-visas into the country for priests and for religious men and women who, in this land, because of their faith, have duties to perform as well as rights.
"A state in this land must understand that it must respect and promote the universal vocation of the land with which it has been entrusted and, accordingly, must be open to welcoming all believers of other religions."
Archbishop Sabbah concluded with a prayer that the grace of Christmas "will enlighten all the leaders of this land. For all our faithful, in all parts of our diocese, may the grace of Christmas renew their faith and help them to live it more fully and to better carry out all their duties in their respective societies."