1. The peace of Christ be with you.
We begin our fast on Ash Wednesday, remembering the passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His death and His glorious Resurrection. He is our model: just as he prayed and fasted for forty days in the desert of Jericho, we also fast for the forty days that precede Easter.
Jesus began his preaching, saying: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is
close at hand” (cf. Mk 1,15). The Kingdom of God is God’s presence in us,
for He created us in His own image and likeness. The Kingdom of God is
God who accompanies us in our present trials through which, today, he constructs
Over the past few days I have visited some parishes in Palestine and I
listened to the faithful. I also listened to the civil authorities. Their
language is that of all the parishes, their concerns are the concerns of
all of you. The first concern, which comprises all the others, is the difficult
political situation these days: the closed roads, the blockade imposed
on the towns and villages, the lack of work, the continual Israeli bombardment,
the destruction of houses, and in addition, the difficulties within Palestinian
society, and finally, the idea of emigration. Nonetheless, I saw, despite
the trials, the anxieties and the idea of emigration, the basic will to
stand firm and to patiently wait until our liberty is returned to us and
until the image of God in us and also in those who oppress us is manifested.
Concerning emigration, we add our voice to the voice of all those who are
patient, and we say to you: Brothers and sisters, do not leave your land.
Be patient. It is here that God wants you, as believers in Him and witnesses
of Jesus Christ in His land. Stand firm around the Holy Places. In this
land, you are a part of the mystery of God in it. Try to reflect on this
so that you might be able to see God and neighbour and understand the meaning
of our presence here. You have been called to a difficult life: do you
have the courage to accept the difficult life to which God is calling you?
Some say: “The future is not clear”. The future depends on what you do
today and on what you fear to do. Why leave to others the making of your
future? This is a time when the believers say, with the freedom of children
of God, what they want to express and thus contribute effectively towards
the construction of their future, founded on the solid bases of peace,
justice and love.
Furthermore, know that our help comes from one another and from our love
for each other. If someone is in need, let them search out those in greater
need than they are. Let them then bring the necessary help from the little
or the lot that they possess. To all those who are hungry, we say that
we want to share your hunger and share our bread with you. We invite the
faithful in all our parishes and the religious to share their bread with
those who are in need, either by inviting them to their tables or by covering
the costs of daily food through contributions to Caritas or to some other
philanthropic organisation. We are living through a war which has been
imposed on us. We must adapt ourselves and our way of living to privations
and to generosity with regard to all our brothers and sisters in need.
As regards the houses which continually undergo the Israeli bombardments,
we say to the Israelis: Destroy our churches but spare the homes of our
faithful. If you must impose, at any price, collective punishment and if
there needs be a ransom in order to procure the tranquillity of innocent
children and families, we offer our churches: Destroy them; we will find
other places in which to pray and we will continue to pray for ourselves
and for you. And to the Palestinian militants who think that it is necessary
to direct their fire against the Israelis from populated houses, even when
the orders are clear: Do not transform peaceful homes into a line of fire
– to them too we say: Obey the orders, preserve the cohesion of Palestinian
society, and spare the homes of the innocent. We agree to offer our churches
as ransom for any house that they want to demolish. However, we cannot
agree to the demolition of the homes of our children so that they be forced
to abandon their land.
During these days, we pray and we walk the way of repentance in order to
go to meet God. We say to every Palestinian and to every Israeli who loves
peace and asks for security: Try to see God with us. To the Israelis we
say: In the sight of God, try to see that the Christian or Muslim Palestinian
is not the image that you have decided to see: they are neither terrorists
nor people who want to hate and kill. Try to see that your occupation of
their land since 1967, the privation of their liberty, and, today, the
blockade of the towns and villages with all the suffering that results,
leads to that which you call terrorism. In fact, this is the cry of the
poor and the oppressed who are demanding their liberty and their dignity.
Remember this and be just today. That which you call security measures
is simply an invitation to more violence. Give back the land to its owners,
give them back their liberty, listen to the voice of the oppressed and
the poor for it is lifted up to God and God will listen one day and answer
To all those who suffer among our children, we say: Be patient. We remind
you of the difficult commandment, love your enemies. “Love your enemies
and pray for your persecutors, in order to become children of your Father
who is in heaven, for He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good
and makes rain fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:44-45). Love is not
a weakness nor an escape. It is the vision of the face of God in every
person, both Palestinian and Israeli. The Israeli who withholds our liberty
remains a carrier of the image of God. With this vision I purify my heart
of all anger and I ask the Israeli, with the force of the spirit and the
truth, to put an end to the oppression, to end the occupation of the land
and the privation of liberty.
We ask for justice and peace because God is justice and peace. For this we pray and we fast during these days in order to purify ourselves of our sins and in order to co-operate with God in the construction of our new history. Here, in our land, God was revealed and He manifested His love for all humanity. Let us ask God to introduce us into the depths of His mystery so that we might see Him and love Him: thus we will be able, all of us together, to see Him in all of His creatures and to love Him in all of His children, in justice, equity and mercy.
I ask God to give you the force of the spirit and of love so that you will all be ready to welcome the glory of the Resurrection. Amen.
+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch
Jerusalem, 1 March, 2001