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“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:13-14).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Bethlehem welcomes us with its immortal message, a message of salvation, love, humility and peace.  In this city, the Child-God was born of Mary, the very same one who will return one day as king and judge of the whole world.

It is with great eagerness that we await today his second coming, the time when everything will again find its place within creation, the time when peace, justice and freedom will come to us.  Like Paul, the Apostle to the Nations, we look forward to “leading a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity” (1 Tm 2:2).
 
These values of peace, justice and freedom disappeared from our scene a long time ago.  Since then, we have sought them relentlessly.  We have asked for everyone’s help – visitors, pilgrims, and world leaders – to help us regain them.  We are all aware of the difficulties and sufferings experienced on a daily basis by our people.  They are the result of war and of the political tensions which are ruining our region.  They have already cost us, in addition to repression, countless human lives and enormous disasters.

In our country, values such as peace, justice and freedom have become all too rare, almost a fantasy.  For many among us, they exist only in history books.  These gospel values are so rare that we have become strangers in our own country, reduced to begging for freedom of movement in our own streets, and for freedom to work in our own cities.

In vain do our young men and women look for these values in the government institutions which are all-too-often paralyzed by dysfunction. International institutions sympathize with our fate, but their call for more justice remains nothing more than ink on paper, a cry in the wilderness. Our young people and our elders knock on all doors, but no one seems to want to open them.  They cross oceans and crisscross continents in the hope of finding in foreign lands what they cannot find in their own country: security, subsistence, a respectable social life, and a future for their children.

O Child of Bethlehem!

To escape iniquity and to save your life, you yourself had to flee from Bethlehem, your native city, and go into exile in the land of Pharaoh, under the leadership of your father Joseph.  With the Virgin Mary, your immaculate Mother, you traveled over steep, dark and painful paths, from the time of your birth in a grotto until your death on Calvary, “death on a Cross” (Phil 2:8).

However, you returned, O Child of Bethlehem, you came back home to the Holy Land to live a humble and hidden life with your parents, “advancing in wisdom and age and favor” (Lk 2:52).

Oh, how we long for the day when our sons and daughters will be able to return from abroad and fill all our houses, churches and streets once again with their faith, their vitality, their energy, their passion and their laughter!

In Bethlehem, we want to be able to sing joyfully every day of your glorious and royal birth! In Bethlehem, we want to see in our day the fulfillment of the joyful promise the angels made to the shepherds: “I bring you good news of great joy, to be shared by all the people.  Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11).

O Child of Bethlehem!

We have many unanswered questions:

How, why and until when?

Will we find a solution to our problems?

Why must we live this tragedy in this land which overflows with milk and honey, the Holy Land?  When shall our hardships come to an end?  When will our young people feel safe and hopeful about their lives and their future? 

When will the mass exodus come to an end?  When will our faithful people stop leaving this land, blessed by you, and stop abandoning the culture which they inherited here? 

When will they regain their sense of belonging to their homeland three-times blessed: the land of Our Lord, of the immaculate Virgin Mary, and of the first Church?   

O Child of Bethlehem! We need you ever-so-much!  We need to rediscover child-like innocence.  We need to imitate the courage of the Virgin Mary, the patience of Saint Joseph, and the humility of the shepherds.  Our world is hard and difficult; it is cruel; it believes that might makes right, rather than right makes might!

O Child of Bethlehem!

Come and be reborn in our midst!  Come and share our life and let us hear your voice!  As we sing during the Christmas novena, borrowing the words of the Prophet Isaiah, we long for you: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you ... Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up!” (Is 63:19; 45:8).  O Child of the Grotto, we want your voice to echo anew in our sky:
 
“Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called children of God.” (Mt 5:9)

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” (Mt 5:5)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Mt 5:7)

Yes, come and be reborn here in Bethlehem, in our homes and in our hearts; come walk through the streets of Bethlehem and of all the cities of Palestine.  Look with your divine pity upon the abandoned houses, the confiscated lands, and the closed shops; look with your divine mercy at the checkpoints, and at the obstacles and barriers that men have erected against their brothers.
 
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The faith of the Virgin Mary our Mother is an example to be followed and imitated.  Throughout all her life, her faith remained bright and pure, despite the many questions that went through her mind, and to which only God could provide an answer.  She was committed to doing the will of God, as she declared to the heavenly messenger: “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).  In so doing, Mary gave us the best example of harmonious synergy between the plan of God and the human will. And “she kept” everything that happened to Jesus and everything that he said and did, “reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As the new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem for Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Cyprus, I want you to know that I am very pleased to be among you today. I thank you for your warm welcome, full of fervor and affection.  With all my heart, I thank Reverend Father Samuel Fahim, pastor of Bethlehem and, with him, all the Franciscan friars.  I express a cordial thanks to my brother priests and to all the religious men and women here present.  Also, I want to thank the civil authorities and personalities who have honored us by their presence. 

I hope that we will be able to meet more often in the future in order to work together at improving the life of all our citizens, both Christians and Moslems. 
 
I extend my congratulations to all the Christian associations active in Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.  I express special greetings to the choirs and the scouts.  I hope to be able to meet you again in the future in order to learn more about your activities and initiatives.  We will continue to walk hand-in-hand, inspired by the light of the Divine Child of the Grotto.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At this time when the Patriarchate is celebrating the "Year of the Family," I pray to the Child of Bethlehem, to his mother the Virgin Mary, and to St. Joseph so that they may assist you and protect your families and your young people.  May we all be united in fulfilling our mission of peace, justice, and love in this land of peace and love.

And may the blessings of almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be with you and guide your steps by the grace of the Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us.”   Amen.

+  Patriarch Fouad Twal
 Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
Bethlehem, June 25, 2008

 

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