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Patriarch Emeritus

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Christmas Homily 2005

Brothers and Sisters
Mr. President Mahmoud Abbas:
1.         We welcome you with all those who accompany you in this venerable
basilica on this holy night. For you, in your efforts to achieve peace by the ways of peace, we ask God for courage and perseverance in the difficult path that you took. We thank you for your choice, which is the best, though the most difficult. We wish you peace and the blessings of the Lord.
Brothers and Sisters,
2.         I wish you a holy Christmas, full of the grace of God and of the divine life that Jesus, in his birth in Bethlehem, came to bring us. Christmas means God's entry in our human history. "The Word of God took flesh and lived among us". He became the Emmanuel, God with us. He walked on our land and became for each of us a companion on the various roads of our life.
            He is the Word of God. He is the fullness of being, "by whom all things came to be, and nothing came to be except through him" (Jn 1,3). He is the image of the invisible: "No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son who is close to the Fathers' heart, who has made him known. And from his fullness we have all of us received" (Jn 1,17.16). Christmas is the opportunity, ever renewed year after year, to deepen this mystery of God's presence among us, and of our union with Him, Whom "the only Son made known to us". Christmas reminds us that our life cannot be lived without this permanent relationship with the fullness of being and divinity that appears to us on this holy night in the humble child Jesus.
            In the joy of Christmas, we also remember that God who is present among us chose our land to be His home, a humble home, in which he lived a human life of sacrifice, then in that same humanity died for us and for our salvation. "Being in the form of God, he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming a humble human being, even accepting death, death on a cross " (cf Philip 2,6-7). He gave His life to give back the abundance of life to us and to all without distinction, because He came for all humankind. All humanity, of every race, nation and faith, is precious in His eyes and for us and for our salvation He came. And today we pray and meditate this mystery of His love for all of us.
3.         The message to our Church of Jerusalem, 40 years after the Second Vatican Council,  is a message of new spiritual and religious life, a new life of dialogue with the religions of Islam and Judaism, and with all human beings that we encounter in our path.
            But first it is a renewal of our own faith, so that we can better dialogue with others, know them and make us known. It is a new and persevering effort in order to transform our life in an ongoing journey before God, in order to better read the Word of God, listen to it, and convey it; in order to learn how to see the will of God, His Providence, and his love in all the events of our life.
Many of you indeed have also repeated this year the question: How can we celebrate Christmas and rejoice  with the wall around us to imprison us, with parts of our lands confiscated, our young taken away in the middle of the night and thrown into Israeli prisons, with many killed around us, with the clamours of vengeance, to say nothing of the general instability and insecurity within our own society? With all that, how can we celebrate and rejoice?
            Precisely because of it all, because of this reality of death, we need the
grace of Christmas, in order to transform it into a reality of life, in order to be able to accept the challenges and stay alive and firm in our faith and belief in God who loves us and who is just, in order to have the courage to see the image of God in every human being, whoever he or she might be, and to start from today to build with Him a new life in this land.
            Forty years after the Council, we invite all our Churches of Jerusalem to continue our efforts towards unity and to keep walking together despite all the complications of our various situations. To the Catholic Churches it is an invitation to continue our own renewal already begun with the Synod, in light of our Common Pastoral Plan that was its fruit.
4.         The message of Christmas to our land, a land of conflict, a land of three religions and two peoples, is a message that says peace to all, in spite of all differences, national or religious; a message that reminds us that every human being is precious in the eyes of His God and Creator; a message of peace that tells us that blood, for so long and still easily shed in this land, the blood of every human being, on both sides of the conflict, cries divine vengeance and reaches the ears of the Most High.
            We remember here the recent victims of terrorism in Jordan, a few months ago, and all victims of the conflict here in our land, all the victims these days in Lebanon and in Iraq, and all the region whose peace depends on the peace of Jerusalem, the city of God and the heart of humankind. To all we say: God is first the God of love. He is the Father of all without distinction of race or religion.
He created us in His image and likeness. The barriers of race, religion, or nationality are our own creation and with these barriers we have limited our capacity to love and to build together. With these barriers that we have created, it is instead our capacity for death that has increased. Human dignity is a fundamental value. Freedom is too. The right to have one's own land is also a fundamental value, as is independence and sovereignty. But a wrong concept of belonging to religion, or to a nation, and a false concept of sovereignty, transforms all these fundamental human values into factors of death. And it is not for that that we were created. It is not for that that independent and sovereign states were founded. All believers have the duty to review their positions in order to remain faithful to all the fundamental values of human life. All leaders in the governments of this country have that duty also, whatever their beliefs might be. They have the obligation to find the means not to sacrifice the human person, human life and dignity, for requirements of security.
5.         At Christmas, on this holy night, we notice the Israeli effort to provide security for its people through various military actions. We also notice the Palestinian desire for an end to the occupation of their land and for complete freedom. Christmas says to all: peace, security and justice are possible. But to reach that, one must begin by stopping all violence on both sides.
            The  birth and growth of a new Israeli and Palestinian political reality seems to be happening through multiple contortions and hesitations. But men and women of good will can make of this time a moment of grace if they want to, with a complete stop of all violence and all vengeance, and the liberation of political prisoners. Let us stop the past for a while, to allow a new future to begin, a new  land to be rebuilt, in which new hearts, not walls, will insure
 the security of Israelis, and for the Palestinians, new hearts, rather than violence
 will insure the end of the occupation and will allow the beginning of a new life for all in this country.
            To the leaders of the two peoples of this Holy Land: to you Palestinian leaders here present, and to you leaders of Israel, Christmas says: the ways in this land sanctified by God are ways of  peace, based on justice and equality between the two peoples, no one  superior to the other, no one under submission to  the other. The two must be equals in dignity, in rights and in duty.
            "Do not fear,Jerusalem,“ said the Prophet, “God is in your midst" (Soph 3,17).  May we see the day in which no one in Jerusalem and in the Holy Land is 
afraid, no one is triumphing at the expense of the other, no one is excluding the other: because God is in the city to save and to re-establish the dignity of all, because all human beings, Palestinians and Israelis, are His creatures and the work of His hand…
6.         Brothers and sisters here present, and all of you in our diocese, in Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus, to all inhabitants of this Holy Land, Jews, Christians, Moslems and Druze, to the prisoners in their jails, to the sick, to all those who are suffering and are victims in the different conflicts in this region, and to all those who pray all over the world with us, we ask God for all abundance of grace and peace.
Happy and Holy Christmas.

                                                                                       + Michel Sabbah, Patriarch


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