[In recent weeks, several sources in Israel-- including the nation's government-- have insisted that Christians are experiencing persecution under the Palestinian Authority. In view of these complaints, the official Christmas message of Jersualem's Patriarch Michel Sabbah-- himself a Palestinian, and the representative of Catholics in the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority-- has special news value.]

Christmas message 1997

1. My Christmas message is a message of hope. Jesus-Christ is born. He is the Savior. "Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Lk 2:11) He brings freedom and joy, the inner freedom for each one, from his own sins and evil, as well as from exterior evil imposed upon him by others.

A message of hope, as our general situation, political, economic, and social, is getting worse. Hope for all those who are tired, frustrated, and worried for their future and the future of their children.

2. A message of hope and courage for our leaders, Israelis, who have in hand war and peace. A message which says: you can make peace. The way to peace is justice. Justice which allows each one, individual and people, to enjoy his own freedom, to take his own decisions for his life and destiny. A message of hope for our Palestinian authority, not to lose hope before all kinds of difficulties, coming from the blockage of the peace process, or coming from its own interior administration; hope which gives strength and light to find the people who can build in this difficult but decisive moment of its history.

3. A message of hope for all the region threatened by instability, and by extremism and violence, relating themselves to religions. Hope to those extremists themselves: Jews, Muslims, or Christians: they are not condemned to exclusion of the others, and hence to extremism and violence. They too can free themselves from self and others oppression. They are able to come back from their extremism and share in the building of the new order of the world, based on the respect of all brothers and sisters, all being children of God, loved by him, who calls us to the same destiny of loving each other, and to find our salvation in this same love.

4. A message of hope for all Christians and Muslims in the Arab world. They are called to live together and to build together. No one can build the common home alone. A world campaign is being raised in these days about that matter: the relations between Christians and Muslims in the Arab countries. The campaign is striving to stress upon a "persecution" of Arab Christians by their countrymen Arab Muslims. Our comment on this campaign is the following:

First, this campaign will lead nowhere except to more extremism. Second, relations between Arab Christians and Arab Muslims, on the level of all governments, in Palestine, Jordan, and even all Arab countries in the Middle East, are good: all governments are very attentive and careful on that issue. Third, within the one Arab society, in various fields of the daily life, friendship, and collaboration have developed along centuries and is still developing. Fourth, on the other side, incidents between individuals happen; transgressions on the hand of subaltern employees can also happen. Conclusion: all this campaign calls our attention, Christians and Muslims, to deepen the relations and to analyze situations in order to reach the best way of living and building together. Salvation of Christian Arabs, if needed, can come only from their awareness of their own vocation as Christians in their Arab society.

5. A message of hope to all our faithful in Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and Cyprus. Hope for the improvement of our own religious life, as we celebrate the anniversary of a limited period of the recent history of our Patriarcate: 150 years after the reestablishment of the Catholic Latin Patriarchal See in Jerusalem in 1847. A message of hope on the occasion of this particular jubilee, on the occasion of our synod which is a continuous effort, made by all, to analyze the various aspects of our life, individual and in society, and on the occasion of the great Jubilee of the year 2000, which concerns us in a particular way, as it has its center in our own diocese and country, in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Nazareth.

6. A message of hope to all Christian Churches in this Holy Land: with the grace of God, with our good intentions and hearts, all of us, we can walk together, believe together, and build together our Churches and our society.

7. A message of hope to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and especially to religious leaders: we are able to live together and to build together. We are able to love each other. We are not condemend to hate, to criticize, to be afraid. We are not condemned to make war. We can make peace. We can respect each other, we can make justice to each other. We can build together our Israeli and Palestinian society. We can help our political leaders and our people to free themselves from fear, mistrust and to reach the so long desired peace..

8. This is the message of hope which stemms from the joy of Christmas. Our hope is founded on Godís word: "You can rely on God, who has called you to be partners with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." (1 Co 1: 9) The Prophet had also said: "For you who fear my name, the Sun of jusice will rise with healing in his rays." (Mal 3:20).

+Michel Sabbah, Patriarch Jerusalem, December 22, 1997

******* Blessed is he who knows in truth that we are but tools in God's Hands. -St. Maximos the Confessor *******