I would like to talk about what and whom I represent: the Christian community of the Holy Land which means for me Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and about its contribution to peace.
I would like to talk about what and whom I represent: the Christian community of the Holy Land which means for me Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and about its contribution to peace. My community is a demographically modest reality. However, it still has enormous influence and can help to shape the future of the Holy Land in general and of Jerusalem in particular.
For two thousand years, a living Christian community has been present in the Holy City. Through all the changes and vicissitudes of history, this Community continues to dwell and worship in Jerusalem, and is deeply committed to bearing witness to the life, death and resurrection of Christ around the Holy Places, where these mysteries were first enacted. In fidelity to this commitment, our local community relies on the solidarity of the universal Church.
To put it in figures, we Christians are more or less 370,000 out of 17 million people living in our three countries of Palestine, Israel and Jordan. This makes 2% of the total population. As you know, the Arab-Israeli conflict and other types of tensions, including religious, social and economic, have had a significant impact on our local Christian presence, resulting in diminishing by emigration. What was once a sizable Christian community has now been hugely reduced. Although our numbers might seem rather small, the Christian presence is valuable and strong in the Jordanian and Palestinian society. The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, recognizes this on the highest level. In his book entitled The Christians, the former Crown Prince Hassan, a faithful friend of mine, paid tribute to the Roman Catholic community which, despite its small number, is a strong and effective presence in Arab society.
In the directory of the Catholic Church of the Holy Land, it is recorded that the different Churches together run 170 parishes, 118 schools serving 64,000 students from different religions, 15 homes for children and disabled, 12 hospitals, 7 homes for elderly people and 15 charitable and humanitarian organizations. We do what we can. But I believe that together and with your solidarity we can do so much more.
If God wanted us to live together in the Holy Land, surely it is not that we should make war, but rather that we should build the land and keep it holy – a place of prayer for all, Jews, Muslims and Christians; a place in which we meet God and all God’s children, all the inhabitants of the land, and the universal world, having in that place their roots and their foundational religious memories.
Now we are in a land of conflict. Therefore we need a dialogue in order to find a way out of it. We are also in a holy land, in which religion is an essential component both of society, and of individuals. Therefore a political dialogue alone will not be sufficient to resolve the conflict and find a definitive peace.
An inter-religious dialogue is also necessary for that. Religion and Love alike can be used as a constructive power; they can be also abused and transformed into a destructive power:
· Jews passionately love Jerusalem and consider it their capital for ever
· Christians honor it. There, the words of Christ so often resounded
· There, the great events of the Redemption were accomplished: Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord
· There, in the city of Jerusalem, the first Christian community was born and remained throughout centuries, despite the difficulties
· There, all Christians, with their many rites, come to praise the Lord and to witness to the Resurrection. Jerusalem, the city of divisions, is, at the same time, a city of strange unity and communion between all believers
· Muslims also call Jerusalem ‘holy’, with a profound attachment that goes back to the origins of Islam
Conscious of the unique significance of Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions and, bearing in mind the responsibilities which stem from its unique vocation, in front of God and humanity, we find it fitting, that Jewish, Christian and Muslim faithful work together, with sincerity and in mutual trust.
This city then may truly be able to fulfill its divine calling: a universal symbol of fraternity and peace, a place of dialogue and reconciliation among religions and peoples – not a city of violence and death.
Today the three of us are present in the Holy Land. Now we are together, and in the future not one of us will remain alone in this land: Jews, Christians, Muslims will remain together to make war or to make peace. Each of us has to make our choice: we speak, we dialogue, we recognize each other, or we keep killing each other, as we unfortunately did for decades and continue even until to-day.
Forty years have passed since 1967 war; many suffer from killings, lack of security and instability. The list of sufferings is long, and affects all men and women who lived or still live in this Holy Land.
This sad situation created separation between individuals and peoples; man became the enemy of man, and the language of force and violence prevailed. Our Churches were profoundly affected; closed borders separated our faithful, and obscured the hopes for living in dignity and for a better future; many have left the land of their ancestors, diminishing the size of our Christian communities.
Just as an example: the number of Christian Palestinians living outside the Holy Land is more than double the number which still lives inside.
It is totally unacceptable for this situation to continue, we sincerely believe that it is time to intensify action, particularly through negotiation, that will help ensure the safety and security of everybody, thus giving both people, Israelis and Palestinians alike, human dignity, security and equal opportunities.
Expectations and Needs
What are the challenges and the expectations of the Catholic Church and its mission?
As I mentioned earlier, our Diocese covers Jordan, Israel, Palestinian Territories as well as Cyprus.
This means that we minister to various countries, with diverse cultural, social, economic and political conditions and with many borders. As you understand, travel and communications are difficult between the countries of the Diocese as a whole, and also between town and town within the Palestinian territories.
This is a major challenge and a major burden for us; we need to increase our staff, our offices and our resources, human as well as financial. Peace remains our major need, for if and once we have permanent peace based on justice, then we will flourish, and most of our financial burden will vanish. The ongoing injustice and the lack of peace are sources of frustration and even desperation.
Our youth and our young couples are, tragically, still leaving to go abroad for good – this is our life blood ebbing away. Many of them do not see any hope for a better peaceful future in their own land. This situation has unfortunate implications on their lives at all levels.
We want our children to be secure; we want our young people to find a bright future in our country; we want all fathers and mothers to be able to provide a quality life for their children; we want our present generation to build a better future in the Holy Land;
· a future where everyone can live in dignity, justice and mutual trust
· a future where no man can do injustice to his fellow brothers and sisters
· a future where no people controls another one
· a future where all rights are protected
Faced with this painful situation, we raise our voices to say NO MORE:
· No more occupation and suffering of human beings
· No more killing and unchecked violence
· No more insecurity and instability
· No more violations of human rights and human dignity, of all men and women, whoever they may be
· No to the logic of violence
It is time to stand in front of God, who is the Father of all, and the judge of all, that we might change our ways and return to Him. For when we go back to God, we go back to our fellow brothers and sisters. The love of God cannot be separated from loving men and women and defending their dignity.
With our fervent prayers to God, we raise our voices and call upon all decision-makers, who influence the future and destiny of our country.
To every man and woman who cares about the future of our land we say our message today is one of hope:
· Human beings, who are capable of destruction and evil, are also capable, with the help of God, of leading the way to justice, to truth and to real peace.
Brothers and Sisters:
Let us defend the Truth.
Let us work for Peace.
Let us build bridges among nations,
So that we fulfil the desire of Our Lord Jesus Christ:
I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.
Archbishop Fouad Twal
Coadjutor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem