Every New Year, the Pope invites the Church to a world day of peace,
because everywhere in the world peace is always menaced, very often, wounded
mortally at times. This same morning, John Paul II, in St. Peter’s
Square, celebrates a mass for world peace with a crowd of jubilee pilgrims,
and we, ourselves, join in unison with his prayer. If he had wanted
to send me among at Jerusalem and Bethlehem, it is because, here more than
anywhere else, and today more than ever, peace is a pressing aspiration,
which makes prayer also compelling.
The years of anguish in which we live have reached a point in time of
utter exasperation. Each pilgrim, each tourist, each reporter is
unable to predict, to grasp, to describe your daily life. In this
land of Christ, where peace and prayer get their most significant expression,
their roots become more profound, here we come together to witness at which
point peace and prayer are vitally linked to one another.
Peace? Who does not speak about it? Who does not desire
it? But how many really believe that it is possible? How many
really desire it with all their strength? Prayer? Which Christian
does not pray to God the Almighty? And where more does he reach the
bottom of their misery? But how many see in prayer other things like
it is only a refuge in the time of panic? Or perhaps other things,
like a simple alibi from total human commitment?
Prayer for peace in the Middle East is at the same time a sure and
lasting test of faith wherein we take seriously prayer and peace, one together
with the other, one through the other. What solid peace is to be
built between people with memories murdered by a history of recurring revolts,
humiliations and vengeance? What fruitful peace awaits like the dew,
this extraordinary land, where all the contradictions, which tear the world
apart, find an expression and a symbol.
What exemplary peace must dwell in Jerusalem, this city which is, at
the same time, unique yet universal, and which sums up the destiny of humanity.
Jerusalem! Jerusalem! If it is easy to sing of it with the
harp of David, it is difficult to grasp it, that which is is in the complexity
and the plenitude of its vocation. It is better for us to understand
the separation of these families, issues of Abraham, Jew, Christian and
Muslim; each finds itself with different names but equally inviolable.
All claim it as their own, but none claim it to the exclusion of the others.
It is not a place that one possesses, but it is a place, which possesses
us only in our sole allegiance to God.
Certainly, peace in the Middle East is no different from that which
is sought in other parts of the world, it is simply the ground of justice,
and fraternity, of mutual respect of the rights of all people and the spirit
of confident co-operation between peoples.
But here the reasons for peace are even more pregnant because they are
nourished by this prophetic vision, this messianic vision described by
Isaiah, which helps all people to ascend to peace. Because nothing
is less eutopic than a prophecy, also nothing is more concrete; it undertakes
to live already in anticipation those things of the Kingdom of the Beatitudes
which are promised us. In this land of prophets all seekers for peace
must be prophets, clear and intrepid prophets who will go to the very limits
in the harassing journey towards peace.
And on this way, all of a sudden, the only practical but great
and irreplaceable way is our Christian responsibility, vitalised by prayer.
Because we know that God has already come to dwell among us to give
us a new way to peace on earth; that is the whole meaning of Jubilee.
We know that the peace of Christ reveals to us the roots which recall
to us the need to fight against the evil within ourselves, and the Christian
makes no mistake in the battle for peace. Above all we know, and
that is our strength, that not only does Christ give us peace, but He himself
is Peace. In personifying peace, St. Paul has made of it more of
a life than a message, it is that which, destroying the wall of hatred,
and by the cross created in his flesh, has created from brothers who are
enemies a new man (Ephesians 2: 11 – 17). Who speaks better?
Who does better for the cause of peace? To touch peace, it is more
than touching a man, rather it is to touch God Himself!
We are all thinking this morning of John Paul II and we pray also for
him of whom the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to Mount Nebo, to Nazareth,
t Bethlehem and Jerusalem was an enlightened trail of prophetic gestures,
samples of truth and courage.He could affirm so much to the world
the desperation of the Palestinians in the refugee camps of Dheisheh and
the Jewish sadness at the Shoah – the Yad Vashem Memorial . He could,
like in an unbroken chain, encompass the way, which crosses the square
of the Mosque, the Wall of Lamentation, and the Holy Sepulchre. He
could approach Mount Sinai and the Mount of Beatitudes to entrust to the
youth in Galilee the secrets of true peace that emanate from those two
summits and call them to be “the living stones to build a civilisation
of love and to reconstruct an original unity of the human family, of which
the source is God, Father, Son and Spirit.” (Message for the New
Yes, I repeat, very high is the responsibility of the church for peace
in the Middle East, because its own mission, its charism, which surmounts
all strategy, is to be the teacher of conscience, like a good mother looking
after her children. In this teaching, like Penelope, the smallest
stitch broken in the tunic of peace is a risk that the whole tunic will
fall apart under the pressure of the most violent and blind fanaticism.
No peace made by any agreement will hold, if it is not accompanied by peace
of spirit and peace of heart. Peace does not need only experts, it
is also in the hands of everyone. It is needed in the thousands of
tiny gestures that are the make up of daily life. Everyday by our
way of life with others we show ourselves for or against peace. Christians
of the Holy Land, Church of the Middle East, in this crucial time, you
are more than ever necessary for the peaceful future of your country.
In reinforcing your witness of unity, of fraternal communion, you will
resist all the temptations and dangers that this land can be left without
you in all justice and truth. This land is your land! You have
a right to live here and the duty to work here for peace!
Cardinal Roger Etchegaray,
Envoy of Peace for Pope John Paul II