Retiring Archbishop Recalls Unique Role of the Faithful

Authentic Christians are called to enrich society with their spiritual energy, says Archbishop Michel Sabbah.
Archbishop Sabbah, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote this in a 38-page pastoral letter to commemorate his 20 years of service to the Church of Jerusalem upon his retirement. He will turn 75 on March 19, the age of retirement for bishops.

The patriarch will be succeeded by Archbishop Fouad Twal, who has served as coadjutor for the past two years.

In the letter, dated March 1, Archbishop Sabbah wrote to thank God and all those with whom he has worked over the years, especially the Franciscans who have been the custodians of the Holy sites of the Christianity since 1342. He also wrote a long section specifically to thank and encourage his priests.

Recalling his experiences of the past 20 years in the conflict-filled Holy Land, Archbishop Sabbah explained: "Because the Church of Jerusalem is the Mother Church, because she is small and faces many difficulties, and because she is always on the Cross, the number of messages of solidarity, as well as pilgrims from all the Churches, were countless, and first of all from the Church of Rome and the Holy Father.

"The pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II in the year 2000 was the crowning of the Catholic Churches’ presence among us. We hope that the next pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI will renew hope in this land and will give the Churches, all the believers of all religions, as well as the political leaders in this land, a new vision of forgiveness, justice, reconciliation, and peace."

"The Christians," the Patriarch continued, "are few in number in this Holy Land and in the Church of Jerusalem. That is not only the result of historical or social circumstances. This reality is linked directly to the mystery of Jesus in this land. 2000 years ago, Jesus came here and with his apostles, his disciples and the small number of faithful who believed in him, also remained few in number."

"Today, 2000 years later," he added, "Jesus remains in the same situation of ‘not being recognized’ in his land; and Jerusalem, the city of redemption and the source of peace for the world, remains a city that has not yet welcomed redemption and that has not yet found its peace. And in this situation, the Christians are a small number of witnesses to Jesus in his land."

Outlining the unique call of Christians, Archbishop Sabbah said: "Every society counts on the number of its citizens, its soldiers, and on the quantity of its weapons. We Christians, with or without numbers, count first of all on the faith of each one of us. Jesus says: ‘With faith you can move mountains.’

"A Christian must accept himself as Christian. What does that mean? It means to accept the whole gospel of Jesus Christ, the Eternal, Incarnate Word of God, and to live one’s daily life, whether it be easy or difficult, in the light of this mystery, which the society to which we are sent considers to be impossible.

"An authentic Christian knows that he or she is part of society and that he or she has to face the challenges and to bear responsibility for it together with all the members of society."

"It is certainly not asked of Christians that they transform their faith into fanatical and provocative attitudes," the Patriarch underlined, "But the Christian is called to enrich society with the gifts and sources of spiritual energy that he or she has received. Society itself demands this of the Christian; otherwise, why does the Christian remain different, if his and her different faith brings nothing new to society?"

Gift of peace

"In our Holy Land," the Patriarch explained, "we sometimes have the impression that we are living with one part buried underground in the past and with only a part that emerges above the ground and lives in the present. This paralyzes the vision and activity of the Church and the community of believers and creates tensions."

"The roots are the past. And the roots, which remain underground, must give new flowers and fruits," he continued. "A deed and a renewal are necessary at the level of mentalities, of dialogue and of relations between the various dioceses and Churches with their multiple institutions. All must believe and let themselves be guided by the vision of St. John in the Book of Revelation: "See, I am making all things new."

"In a land belonging to God," Archbishop Sabbah concluded, "only the ways of God will lead to a resolution of the conflict. Human violence, whether it be done by the one who is stronger or by the one who is weaker, is not the normal or effective way to reach peace. Peace in the land of God will be a gift of God."