Jerusalem: Latin Patriarch appeals for peace in final Easter message

 The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, the first Palestinian to hold the office in the Holy Land, celebrated his 75th birthday yesterday. In keeping with Church tradition, he announced plans to send his official letter of retirement to the Vatican. In his final Easter address, which he will read on Sunday, the Patriarch expressed his concern at the ongoing violence. "I wish you all a Happy Easter full of God's grace. This will be my last Easter with you as I reach the age of 75 and retire. Yet, and as I have said in my last pastoral letter, I shall remain with you in my prayers and shall continue to accompany you in your happy moments and grievances," it said. "Unfortunately, this land remains a land of bloodshed, ignoring its own vocation and incapable of accepting it "All of these incidents form a chain of inhumane and futile violence, regardless of the party behind it. Facts on the ground prove that violence has failed to achieve the desired security." Throughout his tenure, Sabbah has been a vocal advocate for the Palestinian cause and an outspoken critic of violence. Sabbah was named Patriarch by Pope John Paul II in 1987. A church official says Sabbah will stay on the job at least through the upcoming Easter holiday. The official says Sabbah is expected to be succeeded by another Palestinian church leader, Archbishop Fuad Twal. In his annual Christmas message, Sabbah had criticized Israel for insisting Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state and said God made the Holy Land for Muslims and Christians too. Michel Sabbah, the Holy Land's Roman Catholic leader, said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had unleashed "forces of evil" across the Middle East and it was up to Israel to make a relaunched peace process work. Sabbah told a news conference in Jerusalem's Old City. "The one who will decide is Israel. If Israel decides for peace, there will be peace." Sabbah said he was concerned about Israeli demands, rebuffed by the Palestinians, that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state because that would discriminate against Muslims and Christians. "God made this land for all three of us, so a suitable state is one who can adapt itself to the vocation of this land," said Sabbah, who was born in Nazareth, the town where Jesus was raised, which is now part of Israel. "If it's Jewish, it's not Muslim or Christian." The Holy Land -- particularly the Old City of Jerusalem -- is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians. Palestinians say defining Israel as Jewish is unfair for the millions of Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, who live there. Sabbah expressed hope for peace in the Holy Land and urged Palestinians and Israel to shun violence, whether "carried out by the state or by extremists". He said Israel, as "the strong party", bore most responsibility for forging a peace deal. "Until now, there has been no peace, simply because there has been no willingness to make it," he said. Source: Latin Patriarchate

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