Jerusalem Patriarch's Christmas Message
"O Infant of Bethlehem ... Plant in Our Hearts a Love for Peace"
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The Nativity Church bells ring again, singing with the Angels the eternal hymn: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests." (Luke 2:14)
From the humble town of Bethlehem where Jesus was born, I address this Christmas message, to all the inhabitants of the Holy Land: in Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Christian nationals and Pilgrims, Jews, Muslims, Druze and to all those who love the Holy Land, to pray to the Lord, so that He brings about in this land "a Kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace." (Preface to the Roman Liturgy of Christ the King).
It is our wish that our prayerful celebration of the Christmas Feast, may bring the peace desired by all peoples, founded on justice and truth. Thus, our life in this land, a land ennobled and sanctified by the Prophets, might have the chance of becoming a continuous and increasing Christmas, where joy might reign in our hearts and our families, showing forth in our streets. Then might our dear pilgrims be touched by our faith, by our love for each other, our hospitality and our fraternal co-existence, united by our faith in God, in one inalienable destiny.
We ask God to grant us peace, so that these countries might prosper, and job opportunities might increase. We entreat Him as well, for a true human encounter, among all our citizens of all denominations, for exchange and fruitful dialogue, among religions and cultures. Stability will do a great deal, to help stop emigration, as families will be at peace, and have a serene prospect, for the future of their children. As it is, emigration uproots people, from their religious and national roots, erasing their identity.
Christmas has come and so we are full of hope. We are thankful for hopeful signs around us, such as recent international encounters, at the highest levels among religious leaders and among other peacemakers. These encounters have been based on a genuine desire, to contribute to a harmonious social life, a social live, characterized by the dignity and acceptance of the other, not determined by prejudices, especially those that lead to labeling fellow people as "infidels" and anathematizing them.
May the grace of Christmas and the sincere prayers of the faithful, accompany the leaders who have undertaken these peace initiatives, and may this grace, bless their efforts crowning them with success. This hopefulness on our part, however, does not prevent us, from being saddened on a daily basis by the instability, insecurity, the unclear vision for the future, and, not least, the aggression against citizens and their land and property.
As Bethlehem waited throughout history, for the One who would "smash the yoke that burdened" the people, "and the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster," (Isaiah 9:3) so are we awaiting a manifestation of the Savior's grace, that will put an end to the occupation and the injustice, delivering us from those fears, hardships and internal divisions that beset this land. We are looking forward, to the dawning of a new era, where the false road of revenge, no longer leads us to perdition, but where our steps turn instead, to the true path of forgiveness, where love releases those captured by hatred; an era when the sun of peace and justice rises, when greed and grudges do not rule us, and when enmities among us decline; a time when people find agreement, in a spirit of harmony and friendliness. "Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse with the little child to guide them." (Isaiah 11:6)
On this occasion, we shall not forget Jerusalem, this inestimably great treasure entrusted to our keeping. We are deeply concerned about the Holy City! We bear the responsibility of defending its holiness and preserving its unique characteristics. It is the very Shrine, where the followers of the three monotheistic religions meet: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They all come together, in their common belief in one God, and in their shared descent from Abraham, the common father of all the faithful. We do not forget what divides us: greed mixed with injustice, violence and man's persecution of his fellow man. All these, beset the Holy City, not mentioning the building of settlements which strangle it. In consequence the Jerusalem Churches suffer from the ongoing emigration of the Christians, due to the lack of peace and the deterioration of the political situation. All this makes us anxious for the future of the Christian community, in the Homeland of Christ.
In this Christmas feast, we pray for the towns, cities and villages of the Holy Land, because they are isolated from each other. With pain and deep sadness, we observe civilians being blockaded by the erection of walls and barriers. These contribute to the creation of violence and humiliation, generating grudges and hatred, whereas what we need most urgently, are bridges leading to a quiet and serene life, sustained by mutual trust and friendly co-operation.
Together with all the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East "we turn to our faithful and to all the citizens of the Holy Land, living in deteriorating conditions, especially the unjust siege that has struck Gaza, and the hundreds of thousands of innocent residents there. And while we offer our thanks and appreciation, for the efforts invested by all those of good will, to break the siege, we appeal to the local and international authorities, to finally reach a just and final peace in the Holy Land, so that it might return, to being a source of redemption, reconciliation, justice and forgiveness for its people and the whole world. We also call upon the Palestinians themselves, to return to unity in the context of a recognized Palestinian legal structure, and in this way, to spare the people the continuing and degrading siege." (Final Statement: 18th Conference of the Council of Oriental Catholic Patriarchs)
The second tragedy, about which our conscience permits us neither to ignore nor to keep silent, is that of Iraq whose population, culture, heritage and history have been undermined, because of its occupation by foreign military forces. This has brought about the destruction of its fundamental structures, transforming it, into a jungle of chaos, violence, and terrorism. It is our wish that all Iraqi citizens should be able to remain in their homeland. We pray for the unity of Iraq and for its return to normal life.
Dear brothers and sisters,
With joy we would like to announce to you the desire of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, to visit the Holy Land, as a Pilgrim next May. The Supreme Pontiff wishes to pray with us and for us, and to acquire a first hand knowledge, of the hard conditions of our region. We are confident in the Lord, that this pontifical pilgrimage and pastoral visit will be a blessing for us all, as well as a substantial contribution, to a better understanding among the various nations of the region, lifting the barriers and helping solve the problems, removing distress and consolidating good relations among peoples, religions and denominations, in security and peace.
From Bethlehem, I call upon my Brothers the Bishops and other world religious Leaders, the religious Orders and Congregations, the Consecrated persons and all other people of good will, the Pilgrims and all those who love the Holy Land: please, remember Bethlehem and Jerusalem in your prayers! The Holy Land appeals to your conscience and entreats your support. Do not leave it alone in its distress. Assist it so that it might become and remain a land of love, peace, reconciliation and equality among all its children.
O Infant of Bethlehem, you who wanted to be born in silence and stillness, plant in our hearts a love for peace, justice and serenity! You, who have experienced poverty, wandering and fear, have pity on our poor, our wanderers, our prisoners and refugee camp dwellers!
O unlimited God who, in your incarnation, accepted to experience the limits of time and place: you knew the limits of place, by being born in a grotto and being compelled to escape and wander; you knew the limits of time, when you dwelt in the holy womb of the Virgin. You, who with your mother Mary and guardian Joseph were, in the Grotto, the model of refugees and rejected people, sanctify your Country, so that your name be hallowed everywhere, and that we draw closer to You and to each other, under the hard circumstances in which we live.
O Infant of the Grotto, who rejected violence, homicide and hatred, you, whose Birth, divided History into two - the old and the new, before Christ and after Christ, expel war from your homeland, and bring an end to the destruction of its homes. Sow the seeds of brotherhood! Grant to the afflicted and the poor, hope and comfort! O You, the Poor, the Fugitive and the Persecuted One, look upon those who emigrated from Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and other suffering countries. May your Homeland be the Land of blessings and prosperity, where the followers of all religions meet in harmony, so that "no nation raises the sword against another." (Isaiah 2:4) May our faithful celebration of your Birth, be the birth of a new era of peace, stability and security, Amen!
+ Fouad Twal, Patriarch