I would like to thank you for your presence here today at the Latin Patriarchate, and on behalf of the Universal Church, I wish you a Christmas full of blessings, joy and love! In our region surrounded by wars, violence and injustice, our God, coming as a Child, has so much to teach us.
Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, is a time to prepare for God’s surprises. We know that He is coming and we want to be prepared to welcome Him with open hands and hearts. Two thousand years ago, he surprised us when He came to us as a Child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying exposed in a manger. We remember that incredible gift to all humanity at Christmas. But this is not only a time to remember but also to prepare, because we know that He will come and most likely surprise us again. We need God’s surprises. With these surprises, God opens up the horizon and brings the novelty that can change our world and our lives.
The year that is about to end has been a difficult one, and more than ever we need our horizons to be opened up and our hope renewed.
- The situation of Christians in Syria, Iraq and Egypt is a complete tragedy. In these countries, cradle of our civilization, the vicious cycle of violence which is at work seems hopeless and endless. We all saw the images of Aleppo last week but also of the whole region during the long years of the conflict. Syria and Iraq are destroyed. Wars and the way of force have not been able to bring peace and justice, it only brought more violence, death and destruction. These terrible wars are blindly driven by arms trade, by the game of interests of powers, by relentless fundamentalism. Peace would imply political negotiations and solutions. The army can win the war, but to build you need the politics. And we do not see it. Many interests are at work in these wars but finally the poor and the powerless are the ones who paid for them, and they paid too much.
- In our dioceses, in Jordan we welcomed thousands of refugees, Christians, who chose to be loyal to their faith and also Muslims, all running for their lives. Their anguish, their thirst for peace, should be made ours.
- In Egypt, the Christian community is continually living under threat as we saw about a week ago with the church bombing in Cairo, 25 people were killed while attending Sunday mass. It is time to lift up our eyes to the only One able to save us. We have our part of responsibility in those devastating tragedies: we cannot continue to only speak about dialogue, justice and peace. Words are not enough. We must combat poverty and injustice, and give a continual testimony of mercy to reveal to the world the love and the tenderness of our God.
- Our situation in the Holy Land resonates that of the whole world facing growing extremism and fundamentalism. What strikes us is that this fundamentalism is rooted in the young generation. We have deplored several acts of vandalism against Christians, cemeteries or churches, during the year. Not only we want to raise our voices to denounce such acts, but we want to help finding solutions, tackling the problems at the root, by offering to the young generation a brighter future. Education is fundamental in our vision. This is the very beginning of the construction of a better future for all. Nevertheless, our schools in Israel are still passing through an unprecedented crisis and no concrete solution has been offered till now.
- Our future seems blurred. We are lacking vision. The continuing obstacles to peace in Israel and Palestine and the lack of dialogue and commitment to a true peace built on justice and security, are still obvious… As a result of the lack of unity and the lack of vision on both sides, it seems that hatred and violence are prevailing over reason and dialogue. False pretenses and egoism should be left aside, politicians should look with courage at their people suffering and aspiring for peace and justice for all. In Cremisan (near Bethlehem), the wall has been built after a long struggle despite our multiple calls to the Israeli authorities. The expropriation of the land of Christian families is a sequestration of their heritage.
- In Israel too, we, as a universal Church, are welcoming and caring for thousands of foreign workers, many of them Christians. We are trying to rebuild hope, again with a special attention given to the little ones, to the powerless, to the children. We recently opened a new day-care center in Jerusalem for them.
- In the face of so many problems, we have to take our responsibilities, we have to continue working to create a mentality for peace. Our local Church here in the Holy Land also recognizes its own need for spiritual renewal and is entering a period of reform in terms of organization, administration and pastoral work.
- And here we can lift up our eyes and see some lights in the horizon. Pope Francis is guiding us and preaching good news. On the international stage, in the actual political turmoil the world is facing, the pope is the only clear and prophetic voice we can hear and trust. We can recognize his voice as the one of the Good Shepherd. His message is universal.
- The Year of Mercy he offered us to live, has refocused us on our mission to strengthen confidence in God’s mercy as He is never tired of forgiving us. God is a father of all and is always waiting or us and coming towards us. Among the Churches, we have to continue walking towards unity.
- The restorations of Jesus’ Tomb in Jerusalem and of the Nativity in Bethlehem, both realized through the cooperation of the different confessions, gave us great examples of how it is only together that we can build on the rock. As a Church, we will also continue without respite to work with those of good will – Jews, Muslims and those with no faith – to build bridges, assist the poorest, educate our children, welcome the refugees and the homeless.
As a conclusion, I would like to underline how, in spite of all, we have hope. This hope is the light that is continually guiding us among the darkness and the confusion of this region and of the whole world. Our broken hearts should be ready for surprises. And Christmas is actually the time to renew our faith in the God of surprises as we go to Bethlehem to venerate an apparently powerless God: The Child Jesus. In our prayers, we are and we will continually carry this wounded world.
+ Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Source: The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem