A Conversation With Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah
“The Holy See can play a unique role for reconciliation in the Holy Land between Israelis and Palestinians. It is accepted by both sides. It is above parties . . . it is a unique entity which can offer mediation,” said Monsignor Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem, in an interview with Zenit.
Monsignor Sabbah, head of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, commented on the question of “normalization,” stated in a press release of the Commission, published on May 22, 2017, as “some people, also here in the country, seem to be used to living with drama, with daily death and mutual hatred,” he said.
ZENIT: On the international scene, can the Holy See help the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue?
Monsignor Sabbah: I believe the Holy See can play a unique role for reconciliation in the Holy Land between Israelis and Palestinians; it is accepted by both sides; it is above parties. It has evangelical values that make it present in the world, without drowning in the world’s problems. Therefore, I believe, it is the unique entity that can offer a mediation, especially at this time and this standstill, to which the situation has arrived. Nothing more remains than the Holy See. In Israel and in the Jewish world, there is a great number <of people> who want to see the end of this drama that is played in the Holy Land. I hope that the Holy See can truly bring to the Holy Land the peace that Christ came to bring to the whole world, and there, where He came, to Jerusalem and to all the Holy Land.
ZENIT: Why did the Justice and Peace Commission publish the press release on “normalization”?
Monsignor Sabbah: There is no particular event that called for the publication of this document. In its monthly meeting, the Commission engages simply in a reflection on the country’s situation. This subject was presented for its reflection as a characteristic of a situation lived by all, Palestinians and Israelis, a situation of conflict that began at the beginning of the 20th century and has never ended. There have been many wars and confrontations between the two sides, without being able to put an end to the mutual hostilities. In this situation of conflict, of an ever open wound, there are every day men, women and children that suffer or die. They seem to be forgotten. Certain <people> in this country also, seem to be used to living with the drama, with daily death and mutual hatred. The same is true of the many visitors, politicians, men of the Church, pilgrims, who seem to pass by and return home as if the situation were normal, as if there is no more conflict, injustices to redress, a military occupation to end, in short, two peoples to reconcile. A dialogue carried out here should have one concern, one prayer, for the reality lived, so that the conflict comes to an end and the two peoples can finally be reconciled and truly begin a situation of normal.
ZENIT: What can the Church do on the spot?
Monsignor Sabbah: One side is conscious of the “disease” present to be healed; another side fears burning its fingers, or thinks that any intervention is futile and that the question is purely political, without any human dimension that must draw its attention, its love and its action. It’s not about appealing for revolt, but of completing the prayer in God’s house by a look at what is happening in the street, and by a love that bears the concerns of human persons that suffer and a love that tries to help the healing of the wound of more than one sufferer.
ZENIT: Without getting involved in politics?
Monsignor Sabbah: On the part of the political Authorities, as well as the structures of the Church, the “political” situation here is considered as a taboo for the Church. Whereas the situation is not only political, it is a “human” situation where men and women suffer, and to whom help must be brought, and it is altogether necessary to be simply conscious of their existence and their sufferings, and not have the attitude of the rich man in the parable of the Gospel, who was unable to see the poor Lazarus lying at his door. In short, it’s not about engaging in politics but of seeing “the human person” that suffers. For the Church, for every Christian, for the Lord Jesus, everything that is human concerns us. And what is happening today in Israel-Palestine is very simply an abnormal human situation of which one must become aware to be capable and to have the courage to love and to say a word to heal.