JERUSALEM (CNS) — Once again Christmas in the Holy Land is faced with “circumstances of death and frustration,” but the holiday still brings joy and announces salvation to all, said Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem in his traditional Christmas message.
“Christmas is coming to Bethlehem … with the wall and the checkpoints on the ground,” he said in the message read to journalists at a press conference Dec. 20.
“The occupation and deprivation of freedom on one side and fear and insecurity on the other continue as before,” he said. “Gaza remains a big prison, a place of death and of internal Palestinian dissension.”
Though the West Bank city of Bethlehem should be a city of peace it is a place of “conflict and death,” Patriarch Sabbah said. Peace could be reached if those responsible were “sincerely determined,” he said.
Life in Bethlehem has become “very difficult to endure” despite the numerous solidarity initiatives, for which Palestinians are grateful, the patriarch said. Palestinians’ “fundamental need” is for “peace, justice, freedom and an end to the occupation,” he said.
Bethlehem has been “transformed into a big prison” by the Israeli separation wall, he added.
The patriarch said every person has “the capacity to appreciate love, salvation and life.”
“But for that to happen a conversion must take place from viewing the other as an enemy and murderer to viewing him as a brother and a giver of life,” he said.
In the Gospel of Luke, soldiers and leaders asked John the Baptist what they should do to save themselves, he said.
If today’s leaders ask the same, Patriarch Sabbah said, they should be prepared to receive the same answer, “Do not oppress anyone, do not extort anything and be satisfied with your wages.”
“Salvation will come from bringing the two peoples together, not from separating them,” he said in the message. “In that lies the salvation of the Palestinians and the Israelis, as well as of the entire region. The two peoples are capable of living together in peace and tranquillity.”
Responding to journalists, Patriarch Sabbah said Palestinians need a strong government to overcome internal problems like the current strife between Hamas and Fatah forces.
He also said there had “been some difficulties” regarding the relations between Christians and Muslims, but pointed a finger at “general instability” as the main culprit. He did not elaborate on the problems, but many Christians have expressed concern about increasing Islamic fundamentalism and sectarianism.
“We need a strong government that will (deal) with each citizen equally,” Patriarch Sabbah said, using Jordan as an example where a strong government is in place and Christians are “not afraid.”
When asked about internal Palestinian violence, the patriarch told journalists the two factions would find a way to meet halfway.
“It will not go to a civil war because both sides understand that way they will both lose,” he said.
He said Christians have important values to contribute to both the Israeli and Palestinian societies in which they live, bringing the “spirit of love and reconciliation” to both.
“In this spirit can we find a solution for everyone,” he told journalists.
He added that the church sees with concern the departure of even a single Christian from the Holy Land.