|EntwurfSpeech of H.B. Patriarch Michel Sabbah
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
On the occasion of the presentation of the book „Die Grabeskirche zu
Abbey Hagia Maria Sion - Jerusalem
Saturday 25. November 2000, 18.00 h.
The church of the Holy Sepulchre and its
significance for Jerusalem
Nuntio, Brothers Bishops,
Reverend Father Abt,
Brothers and Sisters
„Here at the Holy Sepulchre and Golgotha, as we renew our profession
of faith in the Risen Lord, can we doubt that in the power of the Spirit
of Life we will be given the strength to overcome our divisions and to
work together to build a future of reconciliation, unity and peace?“ These
words were addressed by H.H. Pope John Paul II exactly eight months
ago. He addressed them to all Christians, from the church of the Holy Sepulchre,
here, in Jerusalem, during the Holy Eucharist he celebrated there. Each
one of us, believer in Jesus Christ, can repeat for himself the same question:
“Standing before the church of the Holy Sepulchre can we doubt our
faith? When we know what happened in this church, can we doubt that we
can and we must succeed in overcoming all kinds of separations and disputes?“
We gathered together this evening, to celebrate though in difficult
times, the publishing in German language of the book „Die Grabeskirche
zu Jerusalem“. With the publishing of this book, the church of the Holy
Sepulchre is brought once again to the attention of the public. I am grateful
to be given this evening the occasion to say few remarks on the significance
of this church for the city of Jerusalem. I am glad that the Pope himself
has spoken from within this same church about its message which is a command
for us: to work for unity and peace. His homily in the Holy Sepulchre has
inspired courage and strength to all Christians in the Holy Land, as he
used the expression of St John of Damascus who rightly called the church
of the holy Sepulchre the „Mother of all the Churches“. And it is truly
so. The church of the Holy Sepulchre was in the past and is still today
the mother of all the churches. It remains the center of Christianity.
It is the place to which all Christians all over the world turn their look,
so that with the celebration of the Risen Lord on every Sunday the memory
of the Holy Sepulchre remain alive.
The church of the Holy Sepulchre is the center of our faith; it is the
heart of our belief. We Christians of this Holy Land we love this heart,
in which we see also the heart of Jerusalem, in which the love of God extends
not only to Christians but to all the inhabitants of the city, and to all
it brings the same message of peace which only God can give. Talking about
the church, different confessions claim this heart. Talking about the city,
different peoples and religions claim it. But the message for us all is
clear: we should cooperate to give to this heart a better life, in which
we can overcome our divisions, as churches and as peoples.
The apostle Paul has said in one of his letters: „If one part of the
body is hurt, all the parts share its pain. And if one part is honoured,
all the parts share its joy“ (1 Cor 12:26). It is the same with the church
of the Holy Sepulchre, which is in its totality one and has many parts.
It is the ecumenical witness of Jerusalem. If we succeed to overcome the
divisions, the heart will still beat more regularly with more life, and
give new life to the Church of Jerusalem as to the Churches of the world.
I am glad that the publishers Schnell and Steiner has offered to us
and to the world this new book. It does not only give us a piercing
look in all the parts of the building, but it deals also with the delicate
question of ownership with an ecumenical feeling and attention: on both
aspects the author has proven to be competent. I wish that this book reach
those who are concerned by the ecumenical action in the Church, because
they will be able to understand that this heart which is the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre is the key to an authentic ecumenical action.
I have already said that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the old
city of Jerusalem bears to all the inhabitants of the city a message of
peace. As we stand in a difficult and dramatic period of our history, it
is useful to consider the mystery and the message of this church. The events
of last months speak for themselves. They speak a terrible language of
hatred and bloodshed. How many children from our people should still die,
how many men should still die? Jerusalem the holy city is in danger, hence
all the Middle-East is in danger. Between guns and slingshots rises the
dome of the Holy Sepulchre, old, venerable and eloquent, speaking a different
language, a language of strength, hope and peace. This church of the empty
tomb is the true place of peace. From here, the Risen Lord has announced
the peace on the morning of Easter. I appeal therefore to all parties to
look to this source of peace which comes from the Holy and empty tomb.
Language of hatred, violence and killing should come to an end. Fear, injustice
and oppression should come to an end. We need freedom which makes peace.
We need justice which makes peace. Freedom, justice and peace for both:
Israelis and Palestinians. But we can no more hide our consciences behind
slogans or feelings, behind pacifist and unreal calls for peace: all peoples,
Palestinians as Israelis, are children of God. They have same rights to
freedom and political independence. The ongoing events should open the
eyes of all that something new should be born in this country: equality
of both peoples, and hence a new era of friendship, trust and reconciliation.
All men and women of good will are called to look to this church of the
Holy Sepulchre, as well as to the shrine of his human conscience, in order
to understand and to act according to the language of this symbol: a
new peace and a new freedom for all.
The church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock and the Western
Wall are the most significant holy places of the three monotheistic religions:
in the deep heart and religious significance of all these holy places,
peace should be born. The old city of Jerusalem, as the patriarchs of Jerusalem
have stated it together in July of this year, should not be divided in
parts. After a just political solution between both parties, Israelis and
Palestinians, the holiness of Jerusalem needs a special regime protected
and supported by international guarantees. So that for the three religious
communities the right of free access of each one to his own holy
place be saveguarded. Therefore I seize this occasion to say to all parties,
that in the peace talks and in the quest of peace, the question of Jerusalem
should be the first question to be addressed: from the present and the
future of Jerusalem depends the present and the future peace of all the
region. Without peace and justice in Jerusalem to all its inhabitants,
Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Moslems, the Middle East
will remain threatened by more troubles and wars.
May our future generations be able to sing with the Psalmist: „I rejoice
that they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord“ (Ps 122: 1).
Since innumerable centuries peoples come as pilgrims to Jerusalem. For
Christians of all denominations here is the heart of every pilgrimage.
There are many places in the world where the pilgrims go and pray. But
Jerusalem with the Holy Sepulchre has a special meaning because of its
centrality. Here the Christian pilgrims meet with the foundations of their
faith, because in this church death and resurrection have met.
Dear friends, the church of the holy Sepulchre has not lost anything
of its significance for the spiritual needs of the pilgrims. But its double
aspect and relation, the first regarding church interrelations and ecumenism,
the second, regarding peoples interrelations and peace, it seems to have
so little significance and impact. Jerusalem, the universal patrimony of
all humankind, the crossroad of religions, source of peace and reconciliation
for the world, should become as well a source of reconciliation for its
inhabitants and its churches. The church is old and silent. Those who enter
and pray in it make it speak: it should speak the language of peace, and
love: because here God has manifested his utmost love to all humankind.
The prayer of the Psalmist „Seek peace and pursue it“ (Ps 34, 14), is the
message which comes out today and in this hour from the church of the Holy
Sepulchre, to all of us. May God give us all his true and permanent