BETHLEHEM – Here below is the homily of His Beatitude Fouad Twal, during Mass on Christmas Eve, in the Basilica of the Nativity.
President Mahmoud Abbas,
The Honorable Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs representing His Majesty King Abdallah ll,
My Brothers in the Episcopate,
The Honorable Ambassadors and Consuls,
Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters
I greet you all from the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a few steps away from the grotto where the Blessed Virgin brought forth her admirable Son into the world. I greet all our television viewers and especially the faithful of the diaspora.
On Christmas night we celebrate the event that brought us the good news of salvation; the night that brings about and announces other wondrous nights, like that of creation,and the night of Holy Thursday that preceded the resurrection of the Lord. This night promises to be the dawn of a new era for mankind.
We marvel at the unique splendour and identity of this wonderful child. On one hand, he resembles children of his age, our own children whom we love, watch grow and mature, and increase in knowledge and wisdom. He was born poor, lived poor and chose freely to have no privileges. He experienced fatigue, pain, cold, hunger, thirst, fear, persecution, flight and later, his own death and self-sacrifice. He wanted to be a true “son of man,” sharing in our sufferings and our hopes, happy to be one with us, accepting the attention and maternal tenderness of his Mother, and finding sufficiency in the food and clothing that the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph could offer him.
On the other hand, he is not like other children. He was born of a Virgin Mother. He is the Word of God and at the same time the Son of the Father. His name announced by the messianic prophecies is “Emmanuel” or “God with us”. The words of the prophet Isaiah still echo in our ears: “For unto us a child is born, a son is given (….) he shall be called Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”(Is 9: 5-6).
Then, we consider the reasons for his Incarnation and his Birth in Bethlehem. He was born for the poor, the oppressed and the suffering, for the simple and ordinary people who have not lost hope in God. He came for transgressors and sinners.
He wanted to give back to man his humanity, to the sinner his innocence and initial goodness, and God’s image that was distorted by sin. He wanted to internalize precepts and laws, making “religion” the expression of love towards God rather than a series of obligations. Instead of love of the law, he proclaimed the law of love: “Love one another!” (Jn 15:17)
Behold this Infant’s dream, that all human beings become brothers, because they all have one God and Lord, who is the Father of all, the Father who shows compassion to all and who watches over all! He came to reconcile the sinner with his Lord and Creator, and man with himself and with his brother. He came to turn enemies into friends. Thus, the prophet Isaiah foretold in messianic times, “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat. (…) The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lays his hand on the adder’s lair.” (Is 11: 6-8a).
These are the symbols of the universality of reconciliation when all shall partake in justice and peace. The realization of the Angel’s message to the shepherds of Bethlehem is coming: “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David, a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Lk 2: 10–11).
We, the faithful of the monotheistic religions are in agreement that the divisions between men are the work of the devil, while reconciliation is God’s work. From this holy place, I invite politicians and men of good will to work with determination for peace and reconciliation that encompasses Palestine and Israel in the midst of all the sufferings in the Middle East.
Let us pray fervently for our brothers and sisters in Syria, who are dying mercilessly! Let us pray for the people of Egypt who are fighting for national agreement, freedom and equality! Let us pray for unity and reconciliation in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Sudan, in the other countries of the region and the rest of the world. Let us pray for stability and prosperity in Jordan.
Dear brothers and sisters, Christmas is an occasion for celebration, even at a time when many of you are suffering for one reason or another. Thousands of young people are anxiously waiting in prison to regain their freedom! Families are separated and awaiting travel permissions in order to live or gather together under the same roof. You continue to suffer the unending occupation. Gaza and the south of Israel have just emerged from a war with consequences that are still visible both physically and mentally. Our prayer includes all Arab and Jewish families that have been touched by the conflict! May the Lord give them patience, comfort and consolation, and that communities and people all over the world offer them assistance and support!
On this night, we need a moment of silence and prayer. Let us turn our eyes to the Child of Mary and listen to him: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”(Mt 5: 5, 6, 9)
You, Mr President, with His Majesty King Abdallah ll, have been at the forefront of those who worked and continue to work for nonviolence, peace and justice. May the Lord bless and protect you. We appreciate your efforts and the courageous positions you have taken at the regional and international levels. Please continue to fight for a just cause to achieve peace and security for the people of the Holy Land!
Your efforts have borne fruit in the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state by the United Nations. This recognition should be a decisive step towards peace and security for all. Only justice and peace in the Holy Land can re-establish balance and stability in the region and in the world!
Oh Child of Bethlehem, who knew poverty and together with your Mother and adoptive father escaped the cruelty of Herod by fleeing to Egypt, deliver us from all the tyrants of this day and make of us a sanctuary where you constantly renew your birth so that we may be witnesses of your Love!
And you, Mary our mother, who lavished your maternal attention on your divine Child, protect the children of the world from all evil and sow in their hearts the seeds of faith, hope and goodness.
Dear brothers and sisters, I wish you a Merry Christmas and the gift of peace that the Lord has promised all “men of good will.” (Lk 2: 14) Amen!
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem