Letter from Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal in Jerusalem

 Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie Above the deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by Yet in thy dark street shineth, the ever-lasting light The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight Christmas Eve began with sixty people travelling from Jerusalem to mark the day with the traditional observance at East Jerusalem YMCA, Shepherd's Field. in Beit Sahour at 4.30 pm. The delegation was comprised of international and local pilgrims and representatives of the area's Christian Churches. Twenty-one Magis who had travelled to the Land of the Holy One from different parts of the world joined the worshippers in marking this holy event. At 7.00 pm two buses of clergy, laity and pilgrims, lead by Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, travelled from St George's Cathedral in Jerusalem to Bethlehem, to celebrate Christmas Eve at the Church of the Nativity. Along the way, almost all the shops of Bethlehem were closed and the people of the city were not to be seen. It was a cold rainy night, and upon arrival we found Manger Square to be deserted. It was the visible manifestation of the tragedy that has beset the Christians of this historic town, on the millennial anniversary celebration of Jesus' birth. The Roman Catholic celebration, to be held at midnight, was so under attended that participation was opened to local worshippers for the first time in recent years. After waiting almost an hour for the key to be found to unlock the door to the Church, the delegation made its way to the Chapel of St George to begin our celebration of this blessed event. Bishop Riah delivered a sermon addressing the 'hopes and fears of all the years' in Bethlehem that night, and appealed for a just and lasting peace that allows a life lived in hope rather than fear, in which reference was made to the following: * Over fifteen thousand of God's children, created in his own image from this Land of the Holy One have been torn to pieces in recent months. * The peace of the peaceful threatens those who speak of peace but go for war. * Christ was born to affirm the basic truth that once light comes into the world, darkness can never quench it. It can never overcome it. * In Christ, was the life and His life was the light of the world. * Christmas is not the event of yesterday; it is the event of today, the event of tomorrow. Christ came to reconcile us, human beings, with God and guarantee us life. * In reconciling us with Himself, He also entrusted us with the mission of reconciliation. * Reconciliation in no way sets aside the search for justice or the search for truth or the search for righteousness. This mission is not the mission of the politicians alone. This is our mission, the mission of those who have been counted worthy to be God's Children His Excellency, Yasser Arafat, President of Palestine, honoured the event by attending and extending his wishes for a time of peace to prevail in the coming days. He joined the group in singing Christmas carols and reciting the prayer for peace, the Prayer of St Francis. The Rt Rev Riah Abu El-Assal

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