Friday, December 28, 2007
Brothers and Sisters,
I wish you all a Blessed Christmas.
1. “The grace and love of God have appeared to us” (Titus 3, 4). We joyfully celebrate Christmas, hoping to see better days in our Holy Land, by the grace of God, by our own contribution to bring peace to this land and by sharing in all the sacrifices that it requires. For this reason, at Christmas, we renew our faith in the One in whom we have believed, the Word of God made man, Jesus born in Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace, and the Savior of humankind. He became man in order to bring us back to God our Creator and to let us know that we are not alone, that we are not abandoned to ourselves as we face the numerous challenges of this Holy Land. Because God is with us, we remain hopeful in the midst of all the daily difficulties we experience as a result of the occupation and of the insecurity and deprivations that arise from it. God is with us, reminding us that the commandment of love, which was given to us by Jesus, born in Bethlehem, still remains valid for the difficult times in which we are living today: our love for one another and for every man and woman. This love consists in seeing the image of God in every human being, of every religion and nationality. It is a love that knows how to forgive and, at the same time, to demand all our rights, especially those given by God to each person and to the entire community, such as the gift of life, of dignity, of freedom, and of the land. A love that requires from every one to care for one another. A love that is dedication and sharing with all who suffer from deprivation and poverty so that the same life, which God has given to all of us, may be lived to the fullest, namely, the “abundant life” that Jesus came to give us.
2. Again this year, we celebrate Christmas still searching for a peace that seems impossible. Nevertheless, we believe that peace is possible. Palestinians and Israelis are capable of living together in peace, each in their own territory, each enjoying their security, their dignity, and their rights. But to attain that peace, it is necessary to believe that Israelis and Palestinians are equal in all things, that they have the same rights and the same duties, and that both parties must adopt the ways of God, which are not the ways of violence, whether they be carried out by the State or by extremists.
The entire region, because of the conflict in the Holy Land, is in turmoil. In Lebanon, in Iraq, as well as here, the forces of evil seem to have been unleashed and to have decided to pursue their course along paths leading to death, exclusion, and domination. Despite all of this, we believe that God has not abandoned us to all these forces of evil. The situation beckons every man and woman of good will to enter into the ways of God in order to establish the reign of good among peoples as well as a sense of and a respect for every human being. We believe that God is good. He is our Creator and Savior, and he has placed his goodness in the heart of every human being. Therefore, everyone is capable of working for good and peace on the earth.
A new peace effort was begun these last few weeks. In order for it to succeed, there must be a firm willingness to make peace. Until now, there has been no peace, simply because there has been no willingness to make it: “Peace, peace! they say, though there is no peace” (Jer 6, 14). The strong party, the one with everything in hand, the one who is imposing occupation on the other, has the obligation to see what is just for everyone and to carry it out courageously. “O God, with your judgment endow the king,” with your justice endow our governments so that they can govern your people with justice (cf. Ps 72).
3. In recent times, there has been some talk about creating "religious " States in this land. But in this land, which is holy for three religions and for two peoples, religious States cannot be established because they would exclude or place in an inferior position the believers of the other religions. A State that would exclude or discriminate against the other religions is not suitable for this land made holy by God for all of humanity.
Political and religious leaders must begin by understanding the universal vocation of this land in which God has brought us together throughout history. They must know that the holiness of this land does not consist in the exclusion of one or the other of the religions, but in the ability of each religion, with all of their differences, to welcome, respect, and love all who inhabit this land.
The holiness and the universal vocation of this land also includes the duty to welcome pilgrims from around the world, those who come for a short visit, and those who come to reside, to pray, to study, or to perform the religious ministry to which the faithful of all religions have a right. For many years, we have been suffering from a problem that has never been solved, that of entry-visas into the country for priests and for religious men and women who, in this land, because of their faith, have duties to perform as well as rights. Every State in this land is not a State like all others because it has special duties stemming from the holiness of the land and from its universal vocation. A State in this land must understand that it must respect and promote the universal vocation of the land with which it has been entrusted and, accordingly, must be open to welcoming all believers of other religions.
4. I pray to God that the grace of Christmas, the grace of the God who is present with us, will enlighten all the leaders of this land. For all our faithful, in all parts of our diocese, may the grace of Christmas renew their faith and help them to live it more fully and to better carry out all their duties in their respective societies.
May you all have a Joyful and Holy Christmas.
The response of Zionist attack-dogs Abe Foxman and Rabbi Marvin Hier was predictable and reminded me of my post " Bishops Tell Truth, Zionists Apoplectic." The Anti-Defamation League was "deeply disturbed" and in a statement on the Simon Wiesenthal Center web site, Hier says (emphasis in original):
“Patriarch Sabbah’s denial of the State of Israel as a Jewish State is nothing less than a campaign to de-legitimize her and is feeding fodder to the majority of the Arab and Muslim world that their long-held dream of a Middle East without a Jewish State is still possible,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center. Hier said that Sabbah’s latest outburst contradicts both Pope John Paul II’s 1987 declaration that, ‘The Jews have a right to nationhood as do all other peoples according to international law and the United Nations Declaration of 1947 that called for an Arab and Jewish State. “Israel does not need lessons from Patriarch Sabbah on how to treat citizens of other faiths and religions,” said Hier. “He would better serve the Christians in the Holy Land by going to Gaza and defending the beleaguered Christian minority there from Hamas extremists.”Playing to widespread Islamophobia, the wily Rabbi Hier wants folks to think that Muslims are a major threat to Christians in Gaza. And, of course, the Rabbi neglects to mention that Patriarch Sabbah was, in fact, in Gaza on December 16th. Below are two photos from the trip, you can see the whole album here and you can read (in French) his homily in Gaza here. In his homily, the Patriarch did concern himself with the well-being of Christians in Gaza but he also stressed the unity and equality of Muslims and and Christians as Palestinians and as "enfants de Dieu"--children of God.
“We call on Pope Benedict to reject Sabbah’s demand and all those supporting this insidious campaign to de-Judaize the State of Israel,” Rabbi Hier concluded.
And here's a Gazan Christian perspective:
Manawel Musallam - priest, headmaster and Gazan - is a rotund, avuncular man, fond of wearing berets.Source: "Christmas under Hamas rule" by Katya Adler (BBC; 12/22/07)
I have come to his office to ask how Christians in Gaza were faring on this, their first Christmas under the full internal control of Hamas.
"You media people!" Father Musallam boomed at me when I first poked my head around his door.
"Hamas this, Hamas that. You think we Christians are shaking in our ghettos in Gaza? That we're going to beg you British or the Americans or the Vatican to rescue us?" he asked.
"Rescue us from what? From where? This is our home."
The pupils at the Holy Family School, Gaza City, all call Manawel Musallam "Abunah" - Our Father in Arabic.
His is a huge family of 1,200 children and, although the school is part-funded by the Vatican, here, as in all of Gaza, Christians are the minority.
Ninety-nine percent of the pupils here are Muslim. This is one of the reasons Fr Musallam says he does not fear the Islamists.
"They should be afraid. Not me," he chuckled.
"Their children are under my tutelage, in my school. Hamas mothers and fathers are here at parents' day along with everyone else."
And from the CBC ("Little Christmas joy in Gaza for Palestinian Christians") we learn:
"Christmas is destroyed, it's smashed in Gaza," says Father Musallam Manue of Holy Family Church. "There is no more joy in Gaza and because of that there is no more peace in Gaza."See also:
These are tough times in the territory, the CBC's Nahlah Ayed reports.
Under an Israeli blockade imposed after Hamas fighters seized control of Gaza in June, the economy has collapsed, prices have gone through the roof and Gaza is even more isolated than in the past. That's why so many Christians want out, even if just for the holidays.
- 2007 Sabeel Christmas Message: "Bethlehem not Annapolis"
- "Israel denies entry to Christian clergy" by the Campaign for the Right of Entry via The Electronic Intifada
- "Gaza's Christian Community—Serenity, Solidarity and Soulfulness" in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs