CHRISTMAS MESSAGE 1999
1. Christmas this year is a special one since it is the 2000th anniversary
of the birth of Our Lord and God Jesus Christ, in our land in Bethlehem,
where he gave us the grace to know him, to adore him and to love him, and
where He gave us the commandment to love each other as He loved us. We
give praise to God for this gift and for the mystery of the Incarnation
of His Eternal Word, as says St. John in the prologue of his Gospel: "In
the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.The
Word became flesh: he lived among us" (Jn 1,1.14). Made man similar to
us, He took upon himself our weaknesses and our sins and reconciled us
with Himself and with our brothers and sisters. To all of us He brought
peace, though until today peace remains a wish as yet to be fulfilled.
2. In our Holy Land, peace is still a difficult process. In these recent days it has extended to include all parties concerned. Peace will be the fruit of justice. In our context, it should restore to the refugees their dignity and their rights, to the political prisoners their liberty, and to Jerusalem it should guarantee its sacred character. Peace with the Palestinian people remains at the heart of the problem and the essential condition for peace in the whole region.
The year of the Jubilee, as we put ourselves before the mystery of God
who became our companion and is the Lord of our history, reminds us that
peace is possible, and that we have the duty to pursue and fulfil it.
3. As we celebrate the Great Jubilee, we see with pain that the centers of the Jubilee in our land, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, are deprived from peace. Jerusalem remains the center of the conflict. Bethlehem still suffers form instability and diverse limitations to freedom and Nazareth became in these days the heart of a problem which has torn the secular fraternity between its inhabitants, Moslems and Christians alike and has even had worldwide repercussions. We believe firmly however that God in his goodness is greater and stronger than everything: He will re-establish His peace in our cities and in our hearts.
4. Jerusalem is the city of God; its peace comes from the peace of God. Its rulers should become disciples of God to be taught by Him how to practise justice and equality with all its inhabitants. The key of any solution for the future of Jerusalem is sharing and equality in sovereignty as well as in duties and rights. All believers, Jews, Moslems and Christians alike, should speak and be listened to when the time comes to decide the future of this city.
Bethlehem will reach its stability in an independent Palestinian State enjoying its own sovereignty and full freedom. Its inhabitants as in all of Palestine will then know an era of peace, security and tranquillity. We hope this will be achieved in the new year.
As for the question of Nazareth, it should be taken together by Moslems and Christians, with one vision and one heart, helped in that by those responsible of the public order in Nazareth. So all houses of God, churches and mosques, will become houses of prayer, love and fraternity which should be born again in the hearts of all, Christians and Moslems. We appreciate the position and the solution proposed by Arab and Moslem countries, as well as by many Moslem personalities. We sincerely wish that nobody will feel defeated in the final outcome to this question. We sincerely wish that all parties will feel winners by a restoring of fraternity among all, Moslems and Christians. We are sure that all together we are able to achieve this wish.
5. At the occasion of the Great Jubilee, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, will make his spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It will be a visit of faith and prayer. All the Heads of the Catholic Churches wanted this visit. They hope it will be a blessing for all, a voice of the Spirit in our country, a message of peace to our peoples in quest of peace, a strengthening of the faith of our Churches, and an encounter with all believers in God in this land of God.
6. Our message to all our governments, to the faithful and citizens, Christians, Moslems and Jews, in all the parts of our diocese, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus, is a message of peace and hope founded on the presence of God among us, in the mystery of His Incarnation and Nativity. Our message to all the Arab world, Christian and Moslem, is a message of love and fraternity, which we hope will grow and become stronger, with the starting new century, thanks to the new orientations and new programs within our religious education. To the Jewish people our message is a message of peace which is the fruit of justice and which will produce for us all tranquillity and joy.
Our message from Bethlehem to the world is the message of the Spirit and of the presence of God among us: God accompanies us in the history which we make day after day. May the world, in his efforts to create a new world order, welcome the Spirit of God: only the Spirit will renew the face of the earth, the heart of humanity and restore justice in relations among peoples and persons. In this way, diverse religious extremisms manifested by so many believers will disappear, and every one will finally see that to believe in God is to love God and all the creatures of God.
We ask God to bestow upon us the grace to listen to Him and to see Him, in all our actions and in all our brothers and sisters.
Happy Christmas and Holy New Year 2000.
+Michel Sabbah, Patriarch
Jerusalem, 22 December 1999