Catholic World News
[DEC. 18, 2000]




JERUSALEM (FIDES/ --  To mark Christmas 2000, the
patriarchs and heads of all the Christian communities in the Holy Land have
addressed a joint message to their people in which they affirm that "our
people will not enjoy many of the customary Christmas celebrations in this
land this year" because of violence and insecurity, but they urge everyone,
including the leaders of the international community,  to "rekindle their

The message says that "the land of Jesus' birth, cries out in pain-- hope has
been replaced with fear, despair, pain, loss, and death. Stones and shells are
competing unequally on a daily basis. Palestinians and Israelis are living
once again with the painful realities of violence, terror, injustice, closures,
insecurity, and dehumanization."

Israeli authorities have threatened to prevent access to Bethlehem, which
would make liturgical celebrations at the Nativity basilica practically
impossible. "We remain conscious that our people will not enjoy many of the
customary celebrations for Christmas this year," the message says. "Yet we
urge them not to lose sight of that event in Bethlehem some two thousand
years ago."

"We urge the leaders of the international community to help all those
fighting to tackle the root causes of the conflict, and to give back to the
Palestinian people their freedom and dignity so that the Israeli people can
then enjoy security and tranquility."

The Church leaders' message calls on all Christians, in the Holy Land and
throughout the world, to work and pray for peace. "We have heard and
accepted the Gospel of the peace of Christ and we are his witnesses and
ambassadors who are entrusted with the message of reconciliation."

The Christian leaders call on their people to join them, in the few religious
celebrations that may be held, "to pray for those who are dead, bereaved,
afflicted, and injured so that God will bless us all with an even deeper faith
and comfort us with his healing power." They conclude by calling on their
faithful to "be patient and to rekindle their hope in the face of difficulties, so
that this very hope may become an in-breaking of light and a resurgence of
faith." In this way, the message ends, "we, not unlike the shepherds, can go
forth into the darkest of nights, glorifying and praising God who came to
save human kind and to fill the earth with justice and peace."