Patriarch: Holy-Land Christians Should Stay Put

Says They Have Vocation to Be Where Jesus Lived

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JERUSALEM, DEC. 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The patriarch of Jerusalem says Christians in the Holy Land have a vocation to live in the land of Jesus, and not elsewhere in the world.

Archbishop Michel Sabbah affirmed this at Christmas Midnight Mass, telling Christians pressured to leave the Middle East to "listen to the voice of your vocation."

He invited his listeners to "meditate on the mystery of our land which has not yet succeeded in seeing God within it, and naturally has not succeeded in making peace."

"With Christmas," the archbishop said, "with the goodness of God which he himself placed in every human person, it is essential, first of all, to believe that we are capable of making peace."

Another vocation

The patriarch of Jerusalem affirmed again that the Holy Land has a "universal vocation" and said it is important to "see the will of God for the land both in the Scriptures and in the evolution of history of which the same God is Lord. He is the one who gathered all of us here throughout the centuries, Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze, we who today constitute two peoples, Palestinians and Israelis.

"To understand and accept this universal vocation is to accept the plan of God for this land and to become capable of establishing peace within it. Any exclusivism that pushes the other party aside or imposes occupation or any other type of submission on it is not in keeping with the vocation of this land. This land of God cannot be for some a land of life and for others a land of death, exclusion, occupation or political imprisonment. All those whom God, the Lord of history, has gathered here must be able to find in this land life, dignity and security."

The 74-year-old prelate contended that "each one knows what it takes to make peace."

He continued, "Each one knows what is due to each of the two peoples who inhabit this land. It is not up to the weakest to submit themselves and continue to live a life of deprivation; it is up to the strongest, to those who have everything in hand, to detach themselves and to give to the weakest what is due to them. All of the difficult questions can be resolved if all those involved are truly determined to make peace."

God's presence

Affirming that God is love, Archbishop Sabbah called on all believers -- Muslims, Jews and Christians -- to do the will of God, not their own will.

"Violence cannot claim to be part of any religion," he said. "Extremism, in all religions, is the desire to appropriate to oneself, to exclude, and to subject others, not to a faith in God, but to human behaviors that are hostile to the others. Religious leaders have a role to play in the education of believers, by confirming them in the ways of justice, of what is right, and of forgiveness, all the while demanding their rights, and collaborating with all men and women of good will."

Turning his attention to the Christians present, the patriarch of Jerusalem said: "Brothers and sisters, you might be asking yourselves what is your role as Christians in the peace process and in the future of this land. Pope Benedict XVI, in his recent encyclical on hope, says that the characteristic of 'Christians is that they have hope, and to have hope is to have a future.'

"This applies to us, Christians in the Holy Land and in the entire Middle East. Everyone is worried about our Christian presence here: Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority. [...] Numerous Muslim voices are being raised in many quarters, calling attention to the vacuum that the exodus of Christians would create in the Arab Muslim world. The Christian world, for its part, is equally worried about our survival and about our disappearance.

"To you, brothers and sisters, to all of you Christians in this land, you who are tempted to emigrate, you who are the object of everyone's preoccupation, I say to you what Jesus told us: Do not be afraid. Christians should not be afraid and should not run away from difficulties. Being Christian means sharing the concerns of all, building peace with everyone else, and accepting the sacrifices this implies, prison, possibly life, or the difficulties of daily life, of occupation, of the wall of separation, and of the lack of freedom of movement. All of this is our common fate, and all of us together, by our sacrifices, we must build peace for everyone."

A place here

The archbishop added: "To those who are tempted or pressed by difficulties to leave the country, we say: You have a place here, and more than a place, you have a vocation: to be Christians here, in the land of Jesus, and not elsewhere in the world.

"Accept your vocation, despite the fact that it is difficult. [...] Listen to the voice of your vocation, and listen to the voice of all those who want you to be present here."

Archbishop Sabbah said the peoples of the Holy Land are not only in the midst of conflict, but are also "part of a history of which God is the master, a history made by God who invites us to make this history with him."

"He is Lord of the entire history of the human race, since its distant beginnings, since the time of biblical history until today," the patriarch affirmed. "He is the one who was, who is, and who will be. No person or period in history can avoid him. He is the inevitable one with whom and before whom we live, act, and exist. Full of hope, free from fear, we continue to move ahead."