Speech of the Patriarch during the Student’s Meeting in Bethlehem
October 2, 2002

Dear students

In the beginning of this scholastic year, we meet in front of the Basilica of the Nativity. We, heads of the Churches in the Holy Land, we came to tell you, Christians and Moslems alike: do not be afraid, do not let the fatigue overcome you, do not lose hope. Begin this scholastic year with decision and enthusiasm. Be dedicated to your studies in order to prepare your future, keep faith in God and in your land.

We have been through a very difficult and critical period of our history, and we still are. Instead of having days full of love and activities you are witnessing all kinds of atrocities. Instead of love, happiness and life, death and hatred were inflicted upon you. Curfews, lockdowns, closures, interrupted schools all over our Palestinian cities and towns. Despite all of this we call upon you to keep faith and hope, and to prepare yourself, with strength and love, to build a future of freedom and dignity.

“Your perseverance will win you your live” (LK 21:19) these are the words of the Lord. We have to remain constant in our faith, no matter how long this suffering will be; it could still be long. Our destiny is in the hands of God not man. True, the men of this world make plans and God allows them to go ahead with their plans, they kill, they besiege, they demolish houses and close schools, but God nonetheless is stronger and from his strength and love we take our strength to resist. No one condone occupation. No one can accept to be deprived from his freedom. Siege on towns, limitation of jobs and closure of schools are flagrant violations of basic human rights.

We call upon the Israeli authorities and the international community, and we urge them to put an end to this siege, to open the schools and to walk in the true path of peace, which respects the Palestinian human being, and responds to his claims for freedom and dignity. Military power produces demolitions and confusion, but cannot bring about the long desired peace. It kills individuals but cannot kill the soul of a people who is claiming his inalienable internationally recognized rights to self-determination, freedom and dignity. Spare both peoples all this death and hatred and follow decidedly the path of life.

Dear students,

Watch out for your studies, and take care of your schools. May your hope sustain your parents and teachers. Be firm and patient, do not be afraid and remain strong. Your childhood was assaulted, too many sufferings were inflicted upon you, Nonetheless, be ready to endure everything and to resist every aggression, with your perseverance, in order to build in every moment your homeland which will definitely one day enjoy its freedom and dignity.

You are the children of Bethlehem, where Jesus himself was born, who came as messenger of peace and love. With the same love he brought, your task and your duty are to stop all aggression upon you, upon your parents and your land. Love is strength, neither weakness nor surrender or concession. God is love and He teaches us to love each other. With this love we have the strength to face all enemies and aggressors; with this love we can neutralize and put an end to all power and deadly weapons.

We pray the Lord to grant you his strength and patience so you could resist all aggressions against your childhood and youth and against your land. We pray God to fill you with his love in order to resist the evil of death that surrounds you in these days. We pray God to fill you with his strength and love, so that you fill this land with joy and life.

Bethlehem, 2 October 2002