The message, published today, condemns both the Israeli government's ban on Yasser Arafat's attending Midnight Mass -- which the Jerusalem patriarch celebrates in the Church of St. Catherine, in Manger Square -- as well as the military occupation of the city of Jesus' birth.
"Our message," the patriarch explains, "is also an appeal to all persons of good will, to the international community, and to all our Churches over the world, to wake up and to come and help both peoples of this land to make peace, based on justice, equality and dignity."
"To all we say: Do not forget this land and do not abandon us to our fate," the native Palestinian patriarch says in his message.
"Some might perhaps say: It is impossible today to live together," he notes. "But we say: Living and having peace together is still possible. What is impossible is to ask for security on one side, while the other is being oppressed, to have one people occupying when the other is under occupation. This is really impossible. But with equal justice for both sides, when the Israeli lives on his land and state, and the Palestinian also has his land and state, then living together will be possible."
The leader of Catholics of the Latin rite in the Holy Land adds: "As for the siege and the humiliation imposed on the Palestinians of Bethlehem itself and on all the Palestinian towns and villages, and the demolition of houses and the killing of people [...] all these measures push us rather to renew our courage, our hope and our love even to those who make our life hard."
"Therefore we have to pray, may God put an end to all that and give us, instead, justice, dignity and love," the patriarch affirms. "The present difficulties will not compel us to cancel our feasts. Besides the sufferings already imposed upon us, it is not necessary to dispossess ourselves from the joy of the feast and from our duty to worship God and present him ourselves with all our sufferings."