ACNS 2314 - MIDDLE EAST - 29 November 2000

Opening of the Bethlehem Peace Center

Address to the Opening of the Bethlehem Peace Center




"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world
should be enrolled. This was the first enrolment, when Quirin'i-us was
governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And
Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to
the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house
and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with
child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And
she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths,
and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over
their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the
glory of the Lord shone around than, and they were filled with fear. And the
angel said to them, 'Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a
great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in
the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign
for you; you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a
manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly
host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth
peace among men with whom he is pleased." Luke 2:1-14

"Come to the Manger" is an exhibition that symbolizes the global Christian
family, focusing not only on an event in history (which Christians believe
to be of cosmic significance), but also on the people of the Land of the
Holy One, the people of Palestine: The people who have kept the faith during
the last two millennia and continue today to struggle and suffer with their
Lord and Master, the Babe of Bethlehem, the one rejected and murdered for
the cause of Peace and Truth. He comes bearing glad tidings of Peace to a
weary Land, and a weary world, and he becomes the victim of that world and
of this Land.

The images here are the collective glad tidings of people from around the
world who hold our people and Bethlehem dear in their hearts. As the
Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, I hope that everyone who visits this
exhibition will think of the millions of people that are represented here by
their participation in this millennium project.

Missing from this display today are the images of the innocent children, who
were murdered in Bethlehem by King Herod. "Then, Herod, when he saw that he
had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and
killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all the region, who were
two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from
the wise men" Matthew 2:16

Two millennia pass and the biblical drama continues. The plot remains but
the actors change. We shall not forget the children of Bethlehem and its
surrounding towns and villages, who are being harassed and oppressed. Nor
will we be able to forget the murdered children, and their companions, over
270 Palestinians, or the 11,000 injured. It is not possible to forget the
15,000 people of Beit Jala, the picturesque Christian city and its over 220
homes that have been destroyed, with people unable to move to places of
work, hospitals or schools. We will not forget the Gaza Strip, which has
been the recipient of repeated night-time helicopter bombings, a city under
siege with a complete closure in effect, a city with no humanitarian
shipments allowed entrance in over one month, contrary to all publicized
reports. It is not possible to forget these brutal and inhuman attacks on
the children, women and men of our community.

Remembering the voices of those voiceless people killed, injured and
displaced is going to remain with us always. To them, to us, and to the
whole world appears the voiceless Babe of Bethlehem, who later became the
victim of the powerful; he appears bearing the price of history, and his
Name becomes the name of all the lost and voiceless. As he stands in the
middle of his followers, he says "Peace be with you." After he says this, he
shows them his hands and his side (John 20:19-20), showing the price of his
victory. He remains their unity and the unity of all the oppressed.

Jesus is the one who always clings to hope, to God, even when entirely burnt
out and in the most desperate situation, when all words disappear. He comes
to tell us that there is a sun, even if it does not shine. His resurrection
affirms that the lost are not actually lost; it affirms that there is a
future; there is a voice for those who are voiceless, To him we turn our
thoughts and our prayers that Peace may prevail and be established on the
foundation of Justice, Truth and Righteousness.

In this faith, in this hope even in a hopeless situation; and in this
spirit, the spirit of life in the midst of death; we open and dedicate this
exhibition of Christmas cribs from around the world in the name of God; the
Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

+ The Rt Revd Riah Abu El-Assal
Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem