Address of Most Reverend John F. Donoghue, Archbishop of Atlanta Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation Banquet Honoring His Beatitude Michael Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem at Peachtree Presbyterian Church on June 15 2001
Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation
Banquet Honoring His Beatitude Michael Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
Peachtree Presbyterian Church
June 15 2001
First, let me express my gratitude to Dr. Pentz, (the Pastor here at Peachtree Presbyterian Church), for making this evening possible, and for inviting me to take part. I don’t believe there exists a greater champion for the work in the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation anywhere in the world, and I am honored to be at his side this evening.
There are indeed, many distinguished men and women in the room tonight, brought together by the importance, the dire importance of the cause we espouse.
But one person stands out as representative and as leader of all the rest. It is our great, and humbling honor to have with us tonight, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. I am sure that he will have many revealing things to tell us tonight, things that hopefully recharge our energies, and fill us with zeal to promote this cause, the welfare, indeed, the future of the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.
Patriarch Sabbah brings to us a voice that is suffused with strength of personal heroism. Now, I am sure he would quickly attribute what we perceive as courage, to the grace of his ordination, and the strength of the Holy Spirit, which indwells our church, and which we all share.
Nevertheless, it is almost impossible for us, who live in a land free of internal strife – violent strife – to conceive of the hardship, the burden, the challenge of leading a dwindling Christian population, in the midst of a war of such persistence, that the Crusades and the terrible invasions of the Holy Land in the past, pale by comparison. His voice in our midst, is a clarion call for us to remember what is important, what is treasurable, and to move upon the force of our conviction.
His voice also reminds me of a terrible, sad, but powerful line from Holy Scripture, heard in the gospel for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, celebrated on the 28th of December in the Christian churches of the West. It is a line, a prophecy from Jeremiah, remembered by the evangelist Mathew, as he tells the terrible massacre perpetrated by Herod on the innocent children of Bethlehem:
A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud
lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and
she would not be consoled, since they were no more.
Tonight, though not fulfilled in the same way, this voice comes to us again, in the visit of Patriarch Sabbah. For he reminds us of the terrible plight of people who are our own brothers and sisters in the Lord, a people who preserve in themselves a treasure more precious than gold and diamonds- the blood of the first Christians, of the first witnesses and believers- the line of direct link to those who first heard our Lord, who walked at His side, who saw His death, who wondered and wept at the joy of his Resurrection, and who lived, and often died, with joy, for the sake of what they knew and what they had to pass down.
The transmission of our Faith has taken many side-roads in the centuries since Jerusalem fell and was destroyed (in 70 A.D.), and its heart moved westward- but the people, the children, the voice of integrity and authenticity lived on and lives yet in this remnant people, the Christian Arabs of Palestine.
Every day in this country, we hear of the terrible war being waged between the Jews and the Arabs, and for most in this country- if such an analysis even occurs – for most, the conflict is between the Jewish faith, and the faith of Islam. So small is the contingent of our people, of the people of Christ, that their cries for justice and for peace are lost in the terrible din of those who outnumber them. Their suffering, as great as any other’s, is swallowed up and never or hardly ever mentioned by the media. And as a consequence, an unjust consequence, their struggle is mostly unknown to the people, especially the Christians of our country.
But we in the United States are overwhelmingly Christian – and who better in the world, with the affluence we enjoy, to come to their rescue, to espouse and preach their cause, to afford them all the relief, the sustenance, the support and friendship that we can? Who better than us, to publicly and with great display, ally ourselves to these people, these Christians, these men and women, husbands and wives, and above all, these children, who in the midst of terror, of bloodshed, of turmoil and the horrible pressure of hopelessness, still live their daily lives, still go to their daily work, still attend their churches and schools, and with unbelievable courage, still praise God and His Son Jesus Christ, and know the joy of salvation in their hearts.
We cannot, thankfully, say that the cry of need for help that arises from the Holy Land is like the cry of Ramah, the voice of lamentation over what was no more – for though greatly reduced in numbers, the Christians of the Holy Land still survive, still cling to their homeland, still live as witnesses to the truest of faiths, the most hopeful of promises, and the gospel which commands its adherents to live with love and in peace – a lesson, a fierce yet benevolent lesson, and a just rebuke to the madness that surrounds them.
But their cry must be heeded, and we, the Christian churches of America, are best able to hear this call and to answer it with the fullest love, and the fullest relief possible.
I do not want to preach to the choir, as they say, and to go on would be to perhaps do just that. Everyone here knows what I am talking about – everyone here feels the moral compulsion that dwells in the heart of any of Christ’s followers, and with His voice, tells us to do something – to do everything – for our friends in the Holy Land. We would not be involved in this Ecumenical Foundation otherwise.
But what I want to do, in closing, is to express the solidarity of my own churches, and the 300,000 Catholics of North Georgia, and to promise to do everything I can, to make the goals and aspirations of the HCEF better known, and more passionately supported. In the reckoning, God will not question perhaps, our personal zeal. But He might ask us how effectively we worked to share our zeal.
That is the outcome we desire as a result of this event, and that is the prayer we lay before the Holy Spirit this night- to show us a way, to grant us the means and the energy, to move us into a mode of more active zeal on behalf of our brothers and sister in the Holy Land, the treasure forgotten by so many, but displayed to us once more by the courage and ardor of Patriarch Sabbah in our midst.
And so, dear friends, with our hearts and minds, let us attend to all he says to us, and to go forth from this place, renewed in our determination to help with all means possible, our brothers and sisters who live and who suffer in the land where Christ lived, suffered, died and rose. For as Christ rose and brought joy back into the lives of His friends of His day, it is our power to bring great joy, relief and hope, to His friends in our day.
And how great our own happiness will be, if we make this happen. It will be the happiness of another prophecy of Jeremiah, the happiness that is a natural outcome of those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of all hope:
For I will restore this country as of old, says the LORD…and the cry of joy, the cry of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, the voice of the bride, the sound of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD will be heard once more, singing, “Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good; his mercy endures forever.”