Brothers and Sisters
Mr. President Yaser Arafat
1. This year again, we came to Bethlehem, in this venerable basilica in order to pray. We adore the Most- High while we meditate the mystery of the Nativity of his Eternal Word made man. The one that the world cannot contain, a cave welcomed him and a Virgin conceived him. He came, prince of peace, to bestow peace upon all human person, peace with God, peace with oneself and with all his brothers and sisters, without distinction of race, religion or color. He is the Lord Savior of all.
This holy night brings us at a time before the mystery of God’s love and before the mystery of our land’s sufferings. In our land indeed God wanted to manifest to all of us His mercy and love. And we must acknowledge that we were until today incapable to be fully conscious of the mystery of God’s love in our land, as we were incapable to recognize and to accept ourselves mutually as brothers and sisters
Mr. the President Yaser Arafat, for you too we pray in this holy night as we came to pray with your people. You would have wanted to be present with us, but the increasing confusion in the truth of this earth and in the manner to deal with the human person prevented it. We ask God to grant you wisdom and courage, during the siege that is imposed upon you, so that you may pursue your difficult task in the research of justice and peace.
2. Brothers and sisters
The mystery of the Incarnation leads us to the depths of the mystery of God and the way with which He deals with men. God loved us, created us and entrusted to us this land in order to construct it and to make it a dwelling for God’s love. St John says : «We have recognized the love that God has for us, and we have believed » (cf 1Jn 4,16). With this verse, the apostle introduces us in the authentic significance of Christmas. He says : ‘we recognized the love and we believed '. He and the other disciples who lived with Jesus Christ have recognized that Jesus is the Eternal Word of God who came to save the world. In this, we too we believe, as the Apostles believed and the successive generations of Christians.
St Jean adds: “God is love. And whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him…In love there is no room for fear, perfect love drives our fear » (1Jn 4,16.18).
Yes, we speak of love, whereas we live in hard times, facing difficulties, demolitions, hatred and death. Because we believe in Christmas’ deep significance and in the difficult love of which the apostle has spoken to us. He also had to live this commandment, which was new for him and for the other disciples, as well as for the society of their time. For us, also, this new commandment is difficult, and puts us in perplexity : how to apply it and to live it, given the death that is imposed upon us. And we tell you, brothers and sisters: for the believer nothing is impossible. It is not impossible to love, to love all those with whom we live, all our brothers and sisters, Moslems, Jews, Druzes and Christians, and even with the Israeli soldiers who impose upon us siege, curfew and humiliations…
St Jean says again: “Anyone who says, I love God, and hates his brother is a liar; since no one who fails to love his brother whom he can see can love God whom he has not seen » (1Jn 4, 20).
3. Bethlehem is besieged by soldiers from all sides. Similarly are all Palestinian cities and villages. Christmas comes in difficult times. The gates of life are closed and not only the gates of the city. And you say, brothers and sisters, how can we celebrate Christmas and how can we live this difficult commandment of love? How to join between these two demanding realities: on one hand, this demanding commandment, and on the other, the reality of our daily life?
To all those who put this question, we say: to celebrate Christmas means to pray and to put ourselves in presence of God and not of men. Secondly, our difficult reality must not lead us to despair and to its consequences. We believe in God, in His love; one day, at the moment that He wants, He will inspire those whom He created and put in this land that is His, love and justice. Meanwhile, we have to be patient and to resist, the resistance of the spirit facing all discouragement, the resistance of the spirit facing the temptation not to believe in man's goodness, and the resistance of the spirit to all bloodshed, while we persevere in asking our freedom and our dignity.
Brothers and sisters, put yourselves in the presence of God the Most-High and before the deep mystery of His love. In Him, in spite of all oppressions of men, you will find strength and peace. Our daily life is a witnessing to God, to His power and to His providence. The task of the Christian is to exercise patience, not to weaken and to escape. We pray, we exercise patience, and we do everything that must be done to put an end to the occupation and to the sufferings that ensue from it. In this way, we face all difficulty and even the fast or slow death that is imposed upon us.
4. As for the siege of Bethlehem, and the siege imposed upon the Palestinian human person everywhere, - who, like all human person and like all people in the world, is precious in God's eyes -, we say that this siege must not remain, for no pretext at all. Moreover, as measure of security, the experience has showed that it didn't carry the wanted security.
5. Therefore, we address our message to the Israeli people and the Israeli authorities, to them we say: to you all, peace and security. For you also there was bloodshed in your cities and your streets, and among innocents. However, we tell you that the ways of peace are not those that you follow. You have power, make it a power of peace and then you will harvest peace and security. Believe in the peace in this phase of history after one hundred years of conflict. The Palestinian people wants you security and peace, as they wants peace for themselves. You say: they go to violence and terrorism and they want us peace? Yes, it is so. They want peace for you, and for themselves, and, with the peace; they want their freedom and the end of the occupation.
We say no to all violence and terrorism, but we also say no to the oppression that makes it be born. You say: violence and terrorism. It is so. But we invite you to ask yourself what is the cause of it? You will perhaps find that the reason is between your hands, and it is the occupation and the deprivation of a people of his freedom and dignity. We invite you to open your mind and your heart to see the reasons that give birth to the terror of which you are afraid. The keys are in your hands. Take away the cause, the effect will disappear. Cut the tree and its fruit at a time. The tree is the occupation and the numerous oppressions that accompany it. In your hand, not in the power of your army, is the capacity to stop all what you say to be violence and terror. Your military action demolished so many things and crushed the Palestinian human person; it made at a time war and produced terror; but it didn't manage to make peace and didn't procure you the wanted security. Your armies won wars and until today didn't win peace. You need to have a new leadership that has new visions able to make peace, that cannot only promise you but can procure you security, while granting to Palestinians their right, their liberty and their security.
6. We remember in this holy night the tragedy of this venerable church, few months ago; and we express our esteem and our love to the Franciscan Fathers and religious, as well as to the Greek Orthodox and to the Armenian orthodox monks, during this hard period. We greet their courage, their faith and their love for all.
We carry in our prayer the feelings of all the poor of this conflict, the strong and the weak, and all its victims: the demolished houses, the injured, the dead, the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli prisons, those who receive the order to kill and those who give them. We put them all before God, we ask Him to purify them and to make them all, yes all, on whatever side they are, capable of love, justice and peace.
To all our faithful in all parts of our diocese, Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus, we ask God to make this feast an opportunity to renew their faith and their love, as we ask Him to grant them a new year with abundant blessings.
From Bethlehem to all Christians of the world, we convey in this holy night, our wishes of peace and joy. And for all the inhabitants of this land, we ask God Almighty to give us justice, peace and love. Amen.
+Michel Sabbah, Patriarch,