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Mass of Thanksgiving at Gethsemane
Saturday, June 21, 2008

Your Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal
Your Eminence Cardinal Patrick Foley, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher
Your Excellency Archbishop Antonio Franco, Nuncio and Apostolic Delegate
Very Reverend Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M., Custos of the Holy Land
Brother bishops, priests, and religious men and women
Brothers and sisters

1.We celebrate this afternoon, in this holy place, a Mass of thanksgiving for all the gifts the Lord has given to us and to the entire Church of Jerusalem during these past twenty years.  My prayer as well as yours, this afternoon, includes the past and the future and is made on behalf of myself and my successor, His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal, who assumes today his responsibility as Pastor of the Church of Jerusalem.  With his brothers, the Patriarchs and the bishops, the heads of the communities in Jerusalem, he continues the journey toward the future God has in store for this holy city.  The patriarchal succession, or his appointment as Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, was officially published at noon today in Rome. 

I greet and congratulate my brother, His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal.  I greet my brother bishops, and all of you, dear faithful, pastors, and religious men and women, who have come to participate in our thanksgiving this afternoon.

I greet all our guests, His Excellency the Nuncio and Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Antonio Franco, and Very Reverend Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M., Custos of the Holy Land.

Representatives of the Churches of Jerusalem, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant: with you, brothers, heads of the Churches of Jerusalem, we give thanks to God for the road he has allowed us and enabled us to travel together during these past years, in collaboration and fraternal charity.

I greet the consular corps and thank its members for their collaboration with all of the Churches of Jerusalem and for their fidelity to its mission of peace, justice and reconciliation in this holy city.

I thank our guests from overseas, particularly the representatives of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, His Eminence Cardinal John Patrick Foley, Grand Master of the Order, and with him, all the authorities of the Order present here and in the various countries throughout the world.

I greet the representatives of the civil authorities who have come to pray with us.  We pray for all our political authorities, in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and on the Island of Cyprus, which is also part of our diocese and which also has a political crisis to resolve.  In praying for our political leaders, we ask God to put them on real paths that lead to justice, peace and reconciliation. Our points-of-view – those of the Church and of the States – are not always similar on certain positions regarding the human person, the victim of these positions. However, our prayer and our love are the same for all human beings and for all leaders.  As the Psalmist says, “The Lord is the one who judges the nations” (Ps 7, 9).

In our prayer we remember the concerns, joys, longings and sufferings of all the inhabitants of this land, Jews, Muslims, Druze, and Christians.  We bear in mind the bleeding wounds of both peoples, the occupier and the occupied, Israelis and Palestinians.  For all, we ask that God grant them the wisdom and courage they need to overcome the evil of occupation and the evil of fear that obstruct the road to peace.  For that also, we pray here in this holy place where Jesus prayed on the night before he died, just as he was about to give his life for all.  We ask that he grant to everyone the abundant life he came to bring on earth.

2. This holy place, the Garden of Olives at Gethsemane, is the appropriate place for me to give thanks to God and to hand the mission back to him after 20 years.  It is also the appropriate place for my successor to take over that mission, on this very rock which witnessed the prayer and agony of Jesus before he had accomplished his mission on this earth.  Here, we remember that every mission that is confided to us is his work and not a human undertaking that belongs to anyone of us.  Here, Jesus prayed and accepted to offer his life for our salvation and for that of all humanity in order to grant us, by his Resurrection, the joy of being able to live under any and all circumstances, whether easy or difficult.  At Gethsemane, this afternoon, we are praying with Jesus.  With him, we have carried, and our successor will continue to carry, the concerns of each and every one of our brothers and sisters, of all religions and nationalities.  At the same time, he will also continue to bear responsibility for promoting peace, justice, forgiveness and reconciliation in this Holy Land, thereby making of our faith a road toward peace, beyond the barriers of religions, sensitivities, and human quarrels.

3. Christians in this country can take action by praying just like Jesus who accepted to give his life for his brothers.  To give one’s life is arduous and difficult.  It is the narrow path of which Jesus spoke when he said: “Enter through the narrow gate…  how narrow is the gate that leads to life” (Mt 7, 13-14). It is by following this path that Christians and their pastors can become authentic witnesses to Jesus and to what he did and taught in this land.

To the faithful of this country, to Christians in all parts of our diocese, in Palestine and Jordan, in the Hebrew-speaking community, and in Cyprus, I wish to underline the example of the first Christian community here in Jerusalem, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to the communal life, and to the breaking of bread … and they were of one heart and one mind” (Acts 2, 42 and 4, 32).  Our communities in our parishes, like the first community of Jerusalem, must see themselves as Christians and must live as such, i.e., as a Church that reads the Scriptures, that meets for the breaking of bread in the mystery of the Eucharist, and that lives according to the commandment of love in all of its aspects.  In other words, it must first of all see the image of God in all human beings; second, it must forgive, all the while retaining its ability to demand its God-given rights; and third, it must live in communion with others by sharing their concerns and by trying to grow and mature together both spiritually and materially.

Our Christians must free themselves from all complexes of weakness or fear due to their small numbers or to anything else.  Indeed, we live here today under the same conditions as did Jesus himself as well as the first Church of Jerusalem, 2000 years ago.  And what he said to his disciples 2000 years ago, he is repeating to us today: “Do not live in fear, little flock” (Lk 12, 32). Christians do not have the right to feel or to behave as if they were weak, when God fills the earth with his presence.  They become strong when they enter into the mystery of God, the mystery of his Providence and of the vocation he has given to this land, along with all who inhabit it.  And so, by becoming part of this mystery, we are able to discover the abundant life contained therein.  And as we ponder the depth of this mystery, our guide is the faith we have in the words of Jesus: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14, 6).

The road is difficult, for we are called to live a difficult life.  Such is our vocation.  But that does not mean that we are called to subject ourselves to the inevitability of the evil that surrounds us, and it does not mean that we must give in to evil and to the oppression of men.  On the contrary, relying on the presence of God in his Creation, and relying on the commandment of love that must be well-understood and well-lived by us, we must face evil and resist it until the day when life re-becomes just and abundant for us and for everyone.  This implies that we must make a human effort, one that is nevertheless supported by the Spirit of God:  “All who are led by the Spirit of God,” says Saint Paul, “are sons of God” (Rom 8, 14).  And he adds: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8, 28). This means that we must think of the situation in terms of an invitation to work with God in order to become capable of redressing the inhuman situation we are living and which does not come from God. 

And so we look to the future which is not simply a question of survival.  The Christian life can survive by custom and by traditions.  But it is not just a tradition or a heritage to be kept alive.  It is a life that grows, develops, becomes stronger, and prospers.  It is not just a question of surviving but of renewing oneself in faith at all times, and of renewing the face of the earth.  This we do with the help of God our Creator and Redeemer, for it is he who “sends forth his Spirit through whom he renews the face of the earth” (Ps 104, 30).

4. I wish to thank you, dear faithful, pastors, and religious men and women for your prayers and for your faith during these past twenty years.  I renew my thanks to our guests.  I ask God to bless you.  With my final blessing at the end of this Mass, here on this rock at Gethsemane, I am handing the mission over to my successor, His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal.  With all of you, I wish him long life, a fruitful mission, and the strength of the Holy Spirit so that He might support him and give fresh life to the entire diocese and to all of society.  I entrust myself and I entrust him to your prayers and to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary who, after the prayer of Jesus here at Gethsemane, stood at the foot of the Cross on Calvary.  Amen.

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch

 

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