Once again we are preparing to welcome the Christmas feast and its joy in the midst of the very same trials that continue to assail us year after year. Despite this, and in the midst of these trials, at Christmas we seek to hear the angel announce to the shepherds of Bethlehem and to us as well: "Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy a Saviour has been born for you" (Lk 2:10-11). In this world, leaders speak peace and make war. The word of the prophet applies well to our times: "They have mislead my people by saying "Peace," when there is no peace" (Ez 13:10, Jr 6:14). In fact, we continue to live under occupation. We continue to endure violence, humiliation of the human person, fear and insecurity. When we pray and meditate on the mystery of Christmas, we say that this must all change. After all, it is not for this that God created us in His image and likeness. It is not for this that He gave us our liberty and our dignity. It is not for this that He wanted us to live in this Holy Land. God wanted us here, in this Holy Land, in order to be brothers and sisters to one another. He wanted us here in order that we might be a source of peace and justice for each other and in order that we might cooperate together in putting an end to all oppression and all evil in our lives. For this reason, the Christmas message is first of all a message of hope and spiritual strength that opposes all material strength. It is a message of hope and spiritual strength despite all the obstacles that rise up in the way of peace. Truly, nobody, neither Israeli nor Palestinian, wants war and bloodshed. Israelis are in search of their security and Palestinians are in search of their land and liberty. In addition, the Holy Places, the arena of our daily lives and of our bloody struggle, are not places of death and hatred but rather holy places. They are places in which we put ourselves in the presence of God, in order to meet God there as well as to meet the children of God of whatever nationality or religion they might be. The holy place is a place of prayer and not a place of war. God says to all who contradict this: "My house shall be called a house of prayer and you make it a den of robbers" (Mt 21:13). However, in order to reach peace, one must believe that the other is capable of wanting peace and of edifying with us. The rulers must begin by professing this. The voices that are now being heard from among the people and the diverse initiatives that call for peace and for an official change of attitude show that the two peoples want peace and that peace is indeed possible. The separation wall that is being erected is a measure that pushes peace further away, delaying peace until this same wall comes falling down. With its fall will also come crashing down hostility in the hearts and blood will stop flowing. Let all then say with the Psalmist: "Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, God of my salvation, and my tongue shall proclaim your justice" (Ps 50:16). "Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy - a Saviour has been born for you" (Lk 2:10-11). This is our message in the midst of trial and fear. Christmas renews our faith in God and in His mystery in our land. It renews our love for one another. Let us pray and rejoice. We ask that God fill the town of Bethlehem and all the inhabitants of the Holy Land with His joy. May His grace bring joy to the hearts of all families, giving them new life and renewed patience in the love and the strength of the Spirit. Happy and Holy Christmas! +Michel Sabbah, Patriarch Bethlehem, Christmas 2003
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