The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, presided over midnight Mass for Christmas at the Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem, addressing the impact of the Israel-Hamas war on Gazans and sharing the news that on Christmas Eve the local Church was able to deliver supplies to the people taking refuge at Holy Family Parish in Gaza.
Concelebrating at the Mass were papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, and the bishops of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Representatives of the diplomatic corps and civil society were present at the Mass in the front rows.
Applause from the faithful in attendance greeted the patriarch’s words directly addressed to the Christians of Gaza:
“I used to spend some days with you before Christmas every year. Only God knows how many attempts we tried to be there this year. We are ready to do whatever we can for you. All our lives are at your service. You’re not alone. We’ll never abandon you. You are experiencing fear, death, and tragedies, but you’re a light in this moment, for your courageous presence there. From Bethlehem, we are hugging you. May you feel the warmth of our closeness and affection as much as possible.”
The patriarch announced that thanks to collaboration with Jordan, the Church of Jerusalem succeeded in delivering supplies to the Latin parish in Gaza on Christmas Eve. He did not elaborate on details.
Pizzaballa also called for a definitive solution for Gaza.
“It is not enough to talk about a cease-fire; we don’t want a cease-fire, we want the hostilities to end,” he said. “We have to stop this nonsense.”
The patriarch spoke in his homily of the need to make a place for all people.
“It seems for us today that there is no room for Christmas,” Pizzaballa said in his homily. “The noise of weapons, the children’s tears, the suffering of the refugees, the cry of the poor, the grief of so many mourning families, seem to make our songs lose harmony.”
But it is in the darkness of this world that the Church proclaims Christmas anew, he said.
“Every night, God always finds room for his Christmas. Even for us, here, today: God can make room even in the hardest of hearts,” Pizzaballa said.
Pizzaballa invited all “to increase our actions that speak of brotherhood, peace, acceptance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Saying yes to what is good, yes to peace, yes to dialogue, and yes to others. It should not be a rhetorical exercise but a responsible commitment. It should make room, not occupy it; find a place for others and not deny them one.”
The church was filled with local Christians taking the place this year of pilgrims who can’t be in Bethlehem at this time because of the Israel-Hamas war.
“Thank you for being here,” the patriarch said to the faithful in attendance.
After his homily, he sang a song in Arabic called “Jesus Is Born, Alleluia” and invited the congregation to join with him. Because even in the darkness “we are children of the Light,” he said. “Jesus is with us; he’s our joy. That’s why we are not afraid! We’re never afraid!”
At the end of the Mass, the patriarch processed to the Grotto of the Nativity, cradling the statue of the Baby Jesus, which was unveiled by the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land during the singing of the Gloria. Pizzaballa placed it on the silver star that marks the birthplace of Jesus.
From there, the Gospel of the Nativity according to Luke was proclaimed, and the statue of Baby Jesus was placed in the niche, traditionally identified as the manger.