First Pastoral Letter of Patriarch Michel Sabbah: “In pulchritudinous pacis”
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah



My dear Brothers and Sisters, beloved Sons in the Lord,

Lay-persons, Religious and diocesan Priests.

  1. I am addressing this first pastoral letter to you on the Feast of the Assumption. The whole Church celebrates in this day the Closing of the Marian Year which started last year on Pentecost Sunday, June 7th 1987.

We come to the close of a year of prayer, supplication, veneration of the Blessed Virgin, meditation on her mystery and her important part in the faith because of her intimate participation in the plan of salvation.

  1. I assume my new responsibilities as pastor of the Church of Jerusalem, successor of venerable Patriarchs, who consecrated themselves to the service of the faithful and of the Church in the Holy Land, being themselves the successors of the Apostles. Their work bore fruit, the fruit of a living faith. As their successor in these difficult days, and during this Marian Year, I turn towards the Most Holy Virgin, daughter of this land of suffering and of salvation. I am sure to find with her help, strength and serenity in the midst of the storm.

I put this letter, the whole of my work as a pastor, and the whole diocese, under the protection of this model of virtue, of beauty and of humanity, made perfect by God Himself. She remains the model at which each faithful looks continuously, so that he may be guided by her beauty and strength towards the First Model, at the image of which all men have been created: “God created man in the image of Himself” (Gen 1:27).


  1. In this first pastoral letter I would like to mark certain points along our way of faith, which proves to be a difficult one. But, on the one hand, a difficult way may be more beneficial for a dignified human life and for a healthy spiritual life. On the other hand, Christ himself invites us to walk along this path: “Enter by the narrow gate… since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:13-14). This is why our situation, however difficult it may be, should not lead us to despair or to abandon our responsibilities. On the contrary, it should lead us to more hope as we trust in the Word of the Master: “Have no fear, I am with you…”.


  1. Faced with the present situation, we have to participate continuously in its transformation for the better. Whenever our work and efforts are of no avail, we have to stop and contemplate the will of God and his Providence, and we shall remain calm, no matter how difficult and hard the situation: because He is our Father, our Creator and our Redeemer. Our acting is an acting in Him. Therefore, we do what we can and where our own powerlessness stops us, we ask Him to complete what lacks in our doings.


  1. While showing the way and the mission, I invite all my brothers and sisters to participate in this effort, which aims at clarifying the vision and the way in which to proclaim the message of the faith according to God’s Will: to carry out our mission means to serve Him and our fellow-men. It does not consist in a service to ourselves, which would be the object of egoistic quarrels and differences. Our service is a common one, in which we all take part in the love of God, who sends us, and in the love of our neighbors, to whom we are sent.

Because of our fidelity to this view of things, we can transmit the faith which was given to us, in order to be lived and to be handed down.


  1. Our principal mission then, the frame of all our responsibilities, consists in living our faith and to hand it down, such as it has been given to us by Jesus, the Word of God Incarnate, and such as the Holy Catholic Church defines it.

After a few reflections on the principal theme of the faith, I would like to make a few points with regard to the situation in which we live: peace, dialogue, the “small lock” or the condition of the minority, religious as the bearers of the Gospel message in the Holy Land.


  1. We, here in the Church of Jerusalem, have inherited our faith from the Apostles and their successors. This faith has been handed down to us, after it has been faced with difficulties and many various challenges. The generations of the faithful have kept it throughout the course of many centuries, through the various period of history and the successive civilizations. Each generation has enriched it with its experience of life. Therefore, it is our turn now, we the community of the faithful, who have inherited from these first times of the faith, to carry this same faith as a light for ourselves and for others. We too have to enrich it with our experience of life and to hand it down to the generations following. “Now, before God the source of all life…, I put you to the duty of doing all that you have been told, with no faults or failures, until the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Tim 6:13-14).


  1. Faith is a gift of God to a person living in a community, incarnated in a definite reality.

Faith is a gift by which man is enabled to know God through Revelation, and to know himself in the light of this same Revelation. He is enabled to know his mission, the meaning of his existence and of his life, and to behave according to this knowledge.

In the light of our Faith we know that man is created after God’s image: his dignity is based on this divine resemblance. God then has exalted man and ennobled him through the Incarnation, the Redemption and the Resurrection, which is the victory over death. In this way the new man is born.


  1. Faith offers us a new vision on man, because the old man is buried and the new man is born by faith: “You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.”(Eph 4:22-24). The old man is the one who limits himself to the boundaries of this earth and its goods and encloses himself within these boundaries, in this way amputating his spirit from the view of eternity. He is the man of conflicts with his interests at variance, often ending up in so many individual or collective egoism.
  1. As to the new man, his interests go beyond the limits of this time and this earth, rising to the level of the Spirit, drawing light from Revelation and accepting his divine calling, which is situated in time, but will only find its fullness and realization in eternity. With this divine calling as his basic starting-point, the new man links this life to the one hereafter, he links time to eternity, he takes care of the things of this world, enlightened by his faith and guided by his vision in faith of God. In this way he participates in the edification of the universe, according to God’s Will and the divine plan of salvation, – awaiting the new heavens, the new earth – where God will be all in all.
  1. This distinctive characteristic and this responsibility pertain to all without distinction. Because all are sons, all are inheritants of the kingdom, and all build it up, united by the same love when challenged by difficulties, so that these difficulties become in this way a bridge to live and love, and not one to dominate or subject man by his brother.


  1. In the parable of the talents (Mt 25: 14-30), those who received more talents, made them more, and when the moment arrived, they handed them over to their master together with the benefit they had realized. The one who received but one talent, was irritated, went away grudgingly, buried his one talent and gave it back to his master, such as he had received it, without losing anything, but also without any benefit. He was judged for this behaviour and condemned. The only reason for his condemnation was that he did not bear fruit: the gift he had received remained sterile.
  1. In fact, God does not need our multiplied quantities or fortunes, but He wants us to return to Him a greater and better personality, matured by the gifts which He granted us. Our faith is the greatest gift He has given us: in faith God reveals Himself to man. Man then has to enrich and to raise one’s self by this divine manifestation. That is how he will return to God at the end of his life, be it short or long: enriched with this grace by means of which God has wanted to accompany him du-ring his life, and strengthened by all the means of salvation and perfection which have been put at his disposal through the Incarnation and Redemption.


  1. In order to turn our faith into that talent that bears fruit, we have to give a conscientious, free and responsible assent to it. The believer should not remain a minor in matters of faith. He has to take up responsibilities. Faith should not remain a mere inherited gift either. It has to become a personal, free, efficacious choice in private life as well as in public life.

Therefore, we now stop at these following points:

  1. Faith is a belonging to God.
  2. Faith is not first of all a belonging to a human community; it is not above all and in the first place a social fact, but a belonging to God, an adhesion to his Word, which is realized within a visible community, which is the Church, the local Church or the Church universal. Faith then is above all a belonging to God, in order to know Him better and to grow above oneself.
  1. Therefore, when the vision of God disappears from the faith, faith itself is emptied of its real contents, and becomes a mere belonging to a human community: faith is then turned into confessionalism and sectarianism, and is lost in the excesses of fanatism and intolerance. The true believer is the one who sees that the object of his faith is God in the first place, and thanks to this clear and evident view, he sees that his faith is a welcoming of God and of man, who is the son of God and the image of God.
  1. b) Faith is the way to freedom.
  1. Faith is not intended for spiritual or social slavery. Christ says: “I shall not call you servants any more… I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father.”(John 15:15). And Saint Paul: “When Christ freed us, He meant us to remain free… you called to liberty.”(Gal 5:1.13).
  1. Faith then, rightly understood, well lived, personally and consciously chosen, is the best educator towards human free-dom. Man indeed, contemplating himself in God, his Creator and Saviour, who has made him after his image and has called him to participate in his own life, discovers the true roots of his dignity and freedom. By this realizing of his own divine roots, he finds himself better prepared to live up to his calling and to conquer his liberty.
  1. c) Faith is a knowledge.
  1. By faith, man remains in the presence of God, in order to look at Him and to know Him. He is the object of our faith, He, the Transcendent One, the Hidden One, the Most High, the Almighty, but the One too who is near to those who turn to Him.

Therefore, in spite of his divine Transcendence, Jesus has invited man to look up to God, to make Him the object of his contemplation, to find in Him the model to imitate: “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48). It is then man’s destiny to be near God, to participate in His perfection. In this consists his existence and the meaning of his life. Far from God, he keeps looking for Him as one who tries to find truth and knowledge without being able to reach them. But when God manifests Himself to man in faith, and when man tries to reach the perfection which is God’s, then his life becomes meaningful.

  1. d) Observances and rites.
  1. Faith is knowledge and life. Therefore, the rites and forms of worship in which the faithful express their faith, are so many meeting points with God, by which they renew their spiritual strength which are also the source of each service, that is, of each part taken in building up the world and of each collaboration with their brethren. This service and this participation in building up the world are a natural consequence of the strength stored up in the soul through the rites and the acts of worship. This strength is the strength of love since God is love and all He has done is love: He has made each man so that he may walk in this same path of love, of freedom and perfection, towards the same destiny of love and eternal happiness.
  1. e) To serve God and man.
  1. The believer then has to take his part in each service within society. But in the service done out of faith, the personality of the apostle should not hide the Word of God. All be¬ longs to Him; we are but his creatures, bearers of his message and preachers of his word. The great title which we should made known is God, God’s Love, the Redemption and Salvation offered in Jesus Christ to all mankind. We, we are the servants of this Redemption who proclaim and present it to all those who want to welcome it and to make it their means of salvation: “People must think of us as Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. What is expected of stewards is that each one should be found worthy of this trust.” (Luke 17:10). Hence the need of truth and humility in the one who proclaims God’s message.
  2. f) Service and conflicts.
  1. In this view of things the service will be well done and will keep its nature of service. But where this view lacks, and the apostle makes God’s message his own, then we touch on the source of disputes, of spiritual possessiveness and insistence on spiritual titles and rights which cannot, -exist in a healthy faith. The service then is transformed in an act of love of self: it easily becomes spiritual dictatorship or tyranny and will be at the origin of conflicts between brother and brother, between the servant and the one who is served, between believer and believer. The conflict will even spread to the interior of the soul itself, a conflict of passions which alienate the apostle from the true meaning of service.
  1. How to believe and to serve?

The service of faith has to embrace all levels of human life. The person has to start by being himself a believer, making f1Jlitful each spiritual or material gift which he has received from God for the service of his fellow-man, who is created after God’s image and subject of His first commandment: “You shall love your neighbour”.

  1. PEACE


  1. The believer has to accomplish his task on all levels. In private as well as in public life he is responsible for himself and for his family. In his Church, he takes part in the spiritual life and also in all material and social needs of the community. In his country and society, he has to take his share in the civic and national duties. Each person has his own service to render, to serve in his own way according to his activities and possibilities. Some have to take a direct part in the civic field in order to build up society and to watch over national security. Others play an indirect part by performing their own task with a sincere and total commitment and by doing well what they are called upon to realize in society. In order to fulfill his part as a citizen, the Christian is inspired by his faith, in which he discovers the principles according to which he has to act and from which he draws the spiritual strength and the courage to remain faithful to his duty.


  1. Among the main questions facing the citizen and the believer in the diocese, the question of peace occupies the first place. This problem in fact does not only concern our diocese but the whole of the Middle East, where inhuman wars rage. This question is first of all one of suffering man, whatever his place in the conflict. And this man has been created after God’s Image of his Glory and Beauty. In this very country, he has redeemed man at no other price but the one of his Blood. He too has taken upon Himself contempt, suffering and death in order to assure to each man, in the Holy Land and in the entire world, glory, dignity and “life in abundance”.


  1. The Church and each of its faithful have to take up responsibility in this problem. The faithful has to choose the way of justice, because what is at stake is man, his rights, his dignity which is being scoffed at as well in the person of the strong one as in the person of the weak one, in the conqueror as well in the conquered one. Both face the same problem: the problem of human values which concerns each person and each believer. Therefore, the Church cannot remain silent and the believer has no right to withdraw behind religious rites and observances. Rites are the living expression of the faith; but they cannot be such if they are reduced to the rites of times gone by, without any link with present day life with its sufferings, its wishes and its fears.
  1. This problem has been a burden and continues to weigh on the life and faith of the Christian and of each believer. Therefore, this dramatic situation, which we live at present, has to be on the first place among all cares of a man who believes in God and lives in his presence, praying and meditating on the greatness of God and the dignity of man.


  1. This situation to which we want to contribute by our humble service, inspired by faith, hope and charity, is a challenge for each one of us. What can we do? What is the task of the Church of Jerusalem in this situation, made up of conflicts, sufferings and the lack of peace?
  1. Hereby I wish to ask each faithful to continue this reflection and meditation on the situation which we live at present, keeping in mind the values of justice and love and the whole of Christ’s teaching, with regard to the situation. A true faith does not allow the faithful to remain a mere spectator or to live on the efforts of others and their sufferings. Saint James says: “Take the case, my brothers, of someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith… If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that?” (James 2:14-16). Each one of us then has to take part according to his own place and possibilities, in order to establish the peace which is founded on truth, justice and charity.
  1. The part of the Church is to show which are the superior principles, the principles of salvation and liberation; liberation of man from his own faults and external servitude. If man succeeds in freeing himself from the links by which he binds himself, he will be strong enough to free himself from all external links, may they come from individuals or from society. In this way his interior freedom is the measure and guarantee of each exterior liberty.
  1. The Church does not create political parties and does not link itself with any of the existing ones. It does not belong to its mission either to present political solutions for the problems. It pertains to the mission of the Church to present a message for each man, be he great or small, that the dignity of man be respected and all his rights be recognized. It is the duty of the Church to face each injustice and each aggression against dignity of man, whatever side they may come from. It is its task to defend the rights of man against all injustice.

The Church appeals to each man to be conscious of his own dignity and to take up his part in society, whatever the situation, be it one of peace or one of struggle.


  1. The dialogue is one of the characteristics of this diocese and of this country, seen the great variety of its religious and cultural communities.

Dialogue means “to see the other one”, such as he is, with the whole of his identity and personality, individually and socially, with the whole of his religious and cultural context. The first condition for each dialogue is respect for the personality of the other in his totality. A second condition consists in trying to know the other one such as he knows himself and judges himself, not by prejudices and historical or individual “a priori”, linked to past positions or resulting from the’ whole of present interests.


  1. This knowledge of the other one is a way of enrichment for oneself through the human heritage of our partner. This interest taken in the other one, does not mean lack of interest in our own patrimony, or a diminishing of its importance. Nor does it mean that we sacrifice our own faith for that of the other one. But it means that our own faith is enriched by a dimension which is a logical consequence of Christian charity. Faith in God is in fact love of God. Love of God implies love of man. And in order to love man, one has to know him, to respect him, not to ignore him nor to attack, in whatever form his person, his patrimony or his faith.

The dialogue contains no danger whatever for the partner, since it is based on the integral respect of the personality of the other one. On the contrary, it enriches the personality, develops it and allows the partner to serve better and to have a greater respect for the other one.


  1. The dialogue imposes a not so easy duty on the faithful. It presupposes that the person willing to dialogue, first of all knows himself, so as to clarify his own ideas and to know his own personality, to delimit his part and service towards society. If he does not know himself, he risks to be confounded by the personality of the partner, to take up each color or identity presented to him. He himself will have but an instable identity, not capable of a real dialogue. Hence the duty to know oneself, to know one’s heritage and one’s faith defining the spiritual, individual and social personality of the believer.


  1. Dialogue is based on an open and positive understanding and intelligence. Intellectual capacities are powers or potential ones, which can be used in a positive way: this will result in a true and enriched knowledge. But they can also be used in a negative, unhealthy way. On the religious level this would end up in a blindness with regard to the other and the fanatic one will only harden himself in his ignorance. The possible issues of faith and charity will be transformed into hatred and aggression. The believer will be in the illusion of giving glory to God when he attacks his neighbor who does not share his faith or his point of view on things and matters. Jesus says: “Indeed the hour is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is doing a holy duty for God.”(John 6:2). Today this can befall each one of us, if our vision is not wide enough to see first, God and his glory. In acting like this, the believer turns God’s glory into human interests or ambition. This can indeed happen and then the so called faith becomes the starting-point of many injustices of a physical, moral or spiritual nature.
  1. The dialogue can offer to the believer protection against this danger of exploiting religion in order to justify the attack of one’s neighbour. The dialogue leads the partaker to leave the complex of the small or large group, the complex of wanting to affirm oneself at whatever cost and against whoever and it also prevents the religious belonging to a church and the fidelity to one IS faith, from becoming confessionalism or sectarianism or whatever deformation.


  1. The dialogue deals with the principles and values which form mentalities. If the dialogue orientates these in the right direction, practical life will be orientated in this same direction, which will lead to finding principles of solution for the problems of daily life, exactly there where many discussions and fights find their source, among persons belonging to various churches and of different spiritual personalities. The common background in each culture and each religious patrimony consist in the faith in God and the service to man. Therefore, one has to acquire a true vision of God and a true idea of man, so that room is created for respect and mutual love, the only foundation of justice and peace, the ever wavering foundations-stones of our land.


  1. A country like ours, which has been known throughout the centuries for its pluralism, has to respect this characteristic if it wishes to remain faithful to itself. Fidelity to pluralism is expressed in dialogue. If not, all parties interested would do nothing but running into suicide and killing their one mother, that is the land which nourishes them and is keeper of the heritage of them all.
  1. Another characteristic of our Church is that it is a “small flock”. We are a minority. But we, know that the greatness or the quality of the mission does not depend on the small or the large number of those who fulfill this mission. The mission is the same, irrespective of the numbers of those carrying it out. On the other hand, however, the responsibility of those fulfilling this mission, becomes greater if they are but few. If there is plenty of salt, only a small quantity is needed to season the food. But if there is little of it, all is needed. Hence the earnestness of the task and mission to be fulfilled by a community of faithful which is not numerous, because the temptation to resign is great. Each one has to take up his responsibility and to play his part. Each one has to know his faith and to transform it from a faith which is inherited to a faith to which he gives his free assent as the result of a personal, mature and accepted choice, renewing his assent to each moment and in the face of challenge. His faith is a living power acting and reacting in the midst of new events contributing by a permanent effort to build up human society.


  1. There is an earnest duty of continued education in all things concerning the faith. This is the duty of the pastors and of all those who work in the field of education. This responsibility is a serious one and at the same time a noble one, which requires a faithful and continuous effort of all. To neglect this duty means to betray the faith, the faithful and society.

In spite of all efforts already made we are faced with superficiality and a grave ignorance regarding the faith in a rather large number of our faithful. They have no real knowledge of their faith; they ignore their identity and their real place in Church and society. They have no roots and lack the feeling of belonging to the Church. Therefore, they easily give up the fight (exactly then when life becomes a real struggle) emigrating, or remaining as mere spectators, hoping for salvation from something indefinite and distant or foreign.


  1. The minority has the mission to live and hand down the faith and all the values, human and divine ones, contained in it, values of redemption, which may contribute to building up society. The mission of the minority consists on the one hand in bearing witness to Christ, to the Redemption worked by Him and to the patrimony created round faith in Him, which is an integral and important part of the patrimony of this Holy Land. On the other ‘hand it consists in a constructive service and collaboration. The faithful cannot run away, take to flight or beg for help when nobody is in a position to help. First of all faith has to lead to knowledge of oneself. By means of this knowledge, faith will show the means of helping oneself, of coordinating all resources so that. in this way it can be a nourishment offered to a living person who is capable of assimilating this food, and not some scraps offered to a dying man.


  1. The minority is confronted with pressures of all kinds. This is normal. In order to eliminate these pressures, it cannot depend on its numerical strength, but on its spiritual dimension. And this spiritual dimension depends on the measure in which the minority realizes itself, living up to its calling, remaining faithful to its spiritual personality, and by this very fact to its history and its faith.
  1. Each one has to commit oneself as the servants who have received several talents, even if in fact, because of our small number, we have a greater resemblance with the servant who received only one talent. It has deemed good to our heavenly Father to turn us into a small flock, put at the service of the faith. Each one therefore has to struggle and to double his efforts, so that the gifts, received from God, may bear fruit and be returned to Him one day, meriting praise and reward. On the other hand, each reward starts already on this earth; and each man and each of the faithful, with God’s grace, earns and prepares his own reward by the work of his hands and his own efforts.


  1. The faith in God and the meaning of life at the light of this faith consist in serving and this in difficult circumstances. Therefore, the believer should not say: we are but a few; or: we have no influence; or: life is difficult; or: the problems of my society do not touch me, it is the problem of the majority. Let him rather listen to Christ who says: “Have no fear, little flock… you are the salt of the earth…”. Faith is like a small seed: it has to grow and will grow, not ‘necessarily in numbers, but in making the believer himself, even if he belongs to a minority, strong and courageous.
  1. Difficulties are there to be borne, on the one hand, in the spirit of taking part in Christ’s sacrifice, and on the other hand in the spirit and desire of collaboration in the service of society. When the believer accomplishes his part of the service, and sees himself as a useful member of and for society, he remains there and feels at home there and is happy about the service he gives; society itself acknowledges him, and this acceptance is a source of stability and courage.
  1. When Christ said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted”, it does not mean that the faith consists first of all and exclusively in being persecuted and in supporting various suppressions, but it does mean that one has to persevere and to take up responsibilities even if the circumstances are difficult. And difficult circumstances bring with them their own merit and reward, whereas merit and reward may be lost in easy circumstances. The Christian in the Holy Land is not called to lead on easy life, he is called to a difficult one; and in our faith we find enough inspiration to be enabled to meet difficulties with security, inner strength, without isolating ourselves from society or life in general.


  1. We have to remain closely linked to our faith and to our patrimony, because we have handed down the faith from generation to generation throughout the centuries and the successive civilizations. We are an integral part of this land and its culture. Therefore, we have a responsibility with regard to our faith and our culture. By them we enrich our society and in them we find the strength to serve. In this acceptance of the faith and of the service following from it, we survive and our identity precises itself and imposes itself on us and on others.
  1. I start by expressing my gratitude and appreciation to all the religious who have fulfilled their mission in the diocese and do not stop fulfilling it. I appreciate their efforts and sacrifices, made by the Institutes and the persons who have consecrated their lives to God for the service of man in this diocese.

The number of religious institutions is – thank God – ¬very high. Some of them have been here for a very long time, like the Venerable Custody of the Holy Land. Others have come later and have been welcomed in the diocese to participate in the mission in the Land of Jesus.


  1. All together, we share a great riches and we have great possibilities to bear witness and to serve the Church and society. In order to fulfill to the best of our abilities this task of witnessing and serving~ we have to know that we are first of all Church, before we are an Institute; and in this way we form one body, have one faith only and take upon ourselves the same responsibilities. Therefore, there is a need of coordination, of an orientation in this sense, which has to arise from the interior itself of each community, in order to cross the individual borders and to enter the horizon of the Church.

Workers in the same harvest, workers for God and for man, we have to know one another, to pray together, to remain together before God, our one Father, with serenity and strong in the love of our Saviour, who unites us all as brothers and sisters.


  1. We all, we are at the service of the Holy Land. And we know that the service in the Holy Land is a difficult one. It requires God’s special grace, who has willed to sanctify this land and has willed that its building up be a difficult mission. Because, since this country has received the mystery of God, it has become the object of desires and wishes from all mankind. Therefore, it has been and continues to be a country of conflicts.


  1. The Holy Land derives its beauty from the mystery of God in it and from the faithful living there, who have remained as a symbol of suffering man throughout the centuries, since their country has become the object of desires, covetousness and ambitious. The believer of the Holy Land has remained a faithful witness to his faith throughout the centuries in spite of all struggles and difficulties, during the darkest days, faced with all kinds of calamities. Therefore, this faithful witness to the faith and the Holy Places, draws from this very faithfulness, dignity and greatness. And he is the first object of our service.
  1. In our service to the Holy Land we have to see the man and the believer in an objective and realistic way, in his real situation. Looking on the Holy land as the place where our faith originated, we might forget or put on the second place this man with his own personality. He really risks to be submerged or even deformed under the pressure of the universal wishes of all faithful of the world looking at the Holy Places.
  1. The Holy Land and the Church of Jerusalem have a universal nature, since the proclamation of the faith started from here throughout the whole world. But this note of universality has not to suffocate the person who remains faithful to his faith and to the land in spite of suffering and sacrifice.

The Church universal owes to this man as to his land a particular service, on a spiritual and human level, so that he himself may realize his dignity and as a believer, may continue to bring the faith to his land, to all its guests, residents or pilgrims passing through it, who have come to study and to pray.


  1. As to the present conflict, which does nothing else than repeating the drama of the country, each minister of the Word, while supporting each man in his legitimate rights, has to raise above the conflict in order to bring a message of peace. Because the minister of the Word cannot side with any party except with justice, charity and the legitimate rights of any person without discrimination.


  1. In this letter I wanted to dwell, on various subjects, which are so many lines of thoughts, dealing with the general situation in which we live. There is a need for. more and deeper reflection.

I call on each one, that he may take up his responsibility: the lay-people to deepen their Christian identity and to fulfill their part in society, because their salvation is to be found there, in a total integration in the situation and in their service of liberation as founded on their faith to which they give their assent and which they live well; the clergy, the religious from their side have to support the lay-people in the realization of their Christian personality, and to contribute more light and more hope in the difficult situation which we live, by their own reflection and their various services.

  1. May Our Lady, whose Assumption we celebrate today, and the crowning of her life on earth in the glory of heaven, accompany us with her protection, in this land which she has known before us, and obtain for us the graces which we need so that we remain faithful to the sanctity of the Land in which we have been called to live and to serve.

Jerusalem 15 August 1988.


Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem
Patriarch Michel Sabbah – Pastoral Letter

Second Pastoral Letters
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

“In pulchritudine pacis”
“Pray for peace in Jerusalem”
(Ps. 122,6)

on the Feast of Pentecost 1990

Why, O Lord, do you stand aside?
Why hide in times of distress?
Rise, O Lord! O God, lift up your hand!
Forget not the afflicted!
You do see, or you behold misery and sorrow,
taking them in your hands.
On you the unfortunate man depends,
of the fatherless you are the helper (Ps 10,1.12.14).

To the priests,
the religious,
and laity of our diocese,
to all those who love the truth, who desire the rule of justice as the road to the triumph of peace.

1-     Peace to you in Christ, who has reconciled us with God our Father and with each of our brothers and sisters.

“Non of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rm. 14,7-8).

No text could be more appropriate to the situation of death and violence which we are undergoing. Together with St. Paul we discover the presence of the Lord in all things, in death and in suffering. We strive to discern his will in the unfolding of our history.

2-     Dear brothers and sisters, we address our message to you on this day of Pentecost in this Holy City. Here the first Pentecost took place and as we contemplate “the love of God… poured out into hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rm. 5,5), we invite you to reflect with us on the three long years of conflict that have afflicted all of us here in the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, a subject of concern to us, but also a source of inspiration.

3-     In the words of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council: “The joys and the hopes, the grieves and the anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the grieves and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts” (The Church in the Modern World, 1).

Dear brothers and sisters, you are suffering greatly in this conflict. We fully share your suffering. But you expect a word of light and encouragement from us. We have already spoken out on several occasions. In this message we continue to speak to you and share the hard trial you are undergoing. Together let us discover what our faith has to tell us about the dramatic situation we are experiencing. In addressing these words to you we are fulfilling our duty as shepherd, as a man and as a citizen of the Holy Land.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!… since all are my brother and friends, I say: Peace be with you!” (Ps 122,6.8). in the beauty of peace, “In pulchritudine pacis”, this was and continues to be the motto and theme of our episcopal service.

4-     This conflict directly affects the faithful who live in the Occupied Territories. But in one way or another all the faithful of the diocese, wherever they might live, suffer the consequences, and feel that sense of solidarity which binds them to their brothers and sisters in their time of trial. We address ourselves to all of you and invite each of you to reflect upon our common faith.

We also direct this message to all those involved in this conflict, whosoever they are, whatever their religion or nationality.


An imposed tragedy

5-     This conflict between the Palestinian people and the Israeli people has lasted many years. Many of you were born into it, you first saw the light of day in the very midst of the tragedy imposed on your parents. They too had been fatefully drawn into this situation in their childhood. The situation has only worsened day by day.

Suffering an everyday experience

6-     My dear brothers and sisters, we are involved in this tragedy together with you. Every day there is the toll of the dead for whom we offer up our prayer. We have endeavoured to bring a word of comfort to the wounded and to those disabled for life. We would have liked to visit the prisoners, those under administrative detention. We have listened to those who have been tortured. We pity those who are obliged to carry out such orders, perhaps against their conscience and against their will. We lament the wound which will scar their soul, their human person.

We have seen people deported from their homeland, houses sealed or demolished, and whole families left without shelter.

Economic sanctions

7-     Economic sanctions continue to add to the hardship of life: water resources are seized, land is expropriated, trees are torn down, corps destroyed, access denied to markets, high taxes are imposed in an arbitrary manner, etc.


8-     The field of education has been notably affected. Schools have been closed for long periods at a time, and classes are still seriously affected. The universities have remained closed for nearly three years. This long closure has serious implications both for the future of the thousands of youngsters who are prevented form continuing their studies, and for the future of the newly developing Palestinian society. There is a real need of all the moral and intellectual abilities of these young people if their society is to develop and organise itself adequately.

Refugee camps

9-     Like you we pass the many refugee camps and our thoughts dwell on them. They are surrounded by barbed wire and guards; transformed into enormous cages for human beings. Their very existence is a continuous appeal for justice, freedom, and human dignity, and at the same time they bear witness to the determination of a people to survive and find its own place among the peoples of the world.


10- The many repercussions of the situation, both positive and negative, are perhaps at present not clearly visible. They are nonetheless real and deep-rooted. They are all the more important since they are intimately bound up with the human formation of the new generations.

Repercussions on the Palestinians

Negative repercussions

Destruction of the social fabric

11- The steady disintegration of the economic, agricultural and educational infrastructures is leading to the destruction of the social fabric. The lack of any genuine open political life is a serious contributing factor. What political activity there is, is limited and underground. Moreover, there are no legislative, executive and judicial channels, no institutions commanding the respect of the people as belonging to them. As a result, people take the law into their own hands, with deplorable consequences.

In their struggle against the authorities oppressing their people, young people have revolted against those sectors of society that led to or prolong the tragedy of military occupation. This results in the risk that they could rebel against all forms of authority, at school and in the family.

The hardening of children’s hearts

12- The children themselves, their elders, their parents have witnessed violence, suffering and humiliation. They have been victims of it. The harmful psychological consequences necessarily lead either to hatred and thirst for revenge, or to fear and despair of any human justice. Two apparently different paths that lead to the same disastrous result: both feed the foul, inhuman cycle of violence.


13- Extremist political stance and the hardening of ideological positions have prevented any progress in the peace process. The frustration caused by this has led to the development of an increasingly radical stance among adults.

Press censorship

14- The censorship of the press has contributed to this hardening of attitudes by preventing the publication of facts which often may be useful in the search for peace.

Exploitation of religious feelings

15- At the same time, religious feelings have been exploited or manipulated with a view to fostering fanaticism. Fidelity to the homeland and all hope of peace are stifled in fratricidal struggles and extremism. We can only deplore this assault on what is most sacred and intimate to the individual, and to human society.


16- One of the most serious threats for the future is the accelerating pace of emigration, which deprives Palestinian society and the local church of vital human resources. In our message for Lent this year, 1990, we drew attention to the lamentable affects of emigration on the Church and the homeland. We said that difficult times are not a time for flight, and precisely when there are difficulties all brothers and sisters must remain here to support one another. To live in the Holy Land is a grace and a particular vocation; it is a vocation to a hard life. The grace given must be understood, and the vocation, with the mission it brings with it, welcomed bravely.

17- The Palestinians are overwhelmed by all these negative repercussions. They seem to be left with no alternative but to cast off this oppression or to submit to a regime which their occupation would never accept for themselves.

Positive repercussions

This suffering has not been without its positive aspects.


18- We perceive the desire of a people to take its responsibilities into its own hands. We observe that the young are developing an awareness that they have a role to play in building peace and the future of their country. We can only regret that confusion is inevitable in such situations. Nonetheless we must also take note of the discipline and solidarity at all levels of society born out this very suffering. A fraternity as new as it is old has been discovered and reaffirmed in the shared experience of the curfew, the strike-, days, the incidents of daily life, in summer and in winter, and especially in imprisonment.

Religious awakening

19- A further positive fruit of these difficult times is the religious awakening revealed in a more personal development of the faith, finding its expression in renewed fidelity of the homeland and to the values of peace and justice.

We have also observed the beginning of a Christian reflection on the role of the laity, the role of the Christian and the whole local church. On more than one occasion we have been asked to further this reflection and to cast some light which will contribute to the maturing of faith in these circumstances.

Fraternity and reconciliation

20- This conflict has also led to the fostering of fraternity between the leaders of the Churches of Jerusalem. The faithful welcomed this development with joy, because they have long felt the need for unity in the face of the very real problems in their life and the necessity to respond to them as Jesus himself would have done.

Equally welcomed is the consolidation of relations between Muslims and Christians, and the deepening understanding that is developing. Faithful to their own faith, both communities wish to serve the same society and homeland and their co-operation is based on the same spiritual values.

The appearance of the peace movements in Israeli society has opened up new channels of communication with Jewish representatives. Courageous contact with these men and women of good-will is a means of breaking down the traditional positions of fear, violence and oppression and of opening up the possibilities of sincerely working together for justice and peace.

The Birth of a Nation

21- The harsh reality with which it is confronted is forcing a people to become aware of its own capabilities, and a nation is being forget. This people is determined to establish a just peace in which both it and its present adversary can flourish. More than the birth of a nation, it is a people’s coming of age. A people has taken the measure of the negative forces which seek to limit its growth and the exercise of its rights and responsibilities, and has determined to reject them.

This marks an important stage in the life of a people seeking recognition for its state. It demands independence for its community, the right and to choose its political system and to elect its own leaders.

Desire for peace and justice

22- Among the Palestinians this situation has also produced a desire for peace and justice for themselves and for their enemy. This is what we constantly hear both form private individuals and from those who bear public responsibilities. Of the positive aspects born in the Intifada, this desire is perhaps the most important. It has favoured a new readiness for the initiative a dialogue for peace.

23- The awareness of having experienced oppression goes deep, but accompanying it there is a clearer, more just understanding of the oppressor. This given rise to a new perception, a human and objective vision both of the adversary and of the peace that must be built together with him.

We must testify to this desire for peace. It is our duty of all peoples of good will, to promote this message of peace proposed by the Palestinians.

Repercussions on the Israelis

Negative repercussions

Moral loss

24- The Jewish people in the West were overwhelmed by the menace of death and sought refuge in this land, amongst Palestinians. They are still haunted by this obsession for survival, and fear often dictates their attitudes in specific situations.

In Israel the individual and national conscience has suffered a human and moral degradation in the repression of the Intifada. The greater part of Israeli society seems unable to face reality and grasp the meaning of the Israeli military repression and the refusal to dialogue with the Palestinians. Nonetheless, a growing number feel, as it were, wounded at the thought that they are colonisers of another people. They morally suffer form presenting to humanity those among them who beat, torture or kill others because they are demanding their freedom and their rights.

In Israel there is a deep split in the consciousness of the Jewish people. Tow different outlooks are developing into opposing ideologies. This opposition has paralysed every step towards peace. We are aware of their share of suffering. They have their victims, their wounded: wounded in body, heart and conscience.

Tragedy of the Israeli soldier

25- We observe and we live the tragedy of the Israeli soldier. He is a father, a brother, a husband, not only a soldier subject to orders, not only an instrument of repression who is required to be indifferent to the killing, the crushing and violation of the dignity of his Palestinian brother.

Positive repercussions

Peace Movements

26- There is an extremist hard line which rejects any dialogue for peace and sees violence as the means of suppressing every Palestinian demand. At the same time, we observe diverse peace movements springing up among the Israelis. Though still few in number and unable as yet to shift the general political outlook, a growing number of Israeli voices are beginning to express solidarity with the Palestinians and declare their trust in the latter’s proposals of peace with Israel.

Mention must also be made of the growing number of Jews in the Diaspora who see the true dimensions of the conflict. They are beginning to work towards an equitable solution for the two peoples based on justice.

Palestinians and Israelis

27- For more than 22 years the Palestinians have been subject to Israelis military occupation. Like every human being and all people of the world, they are claiming their rights, their freedom and independence.

The Israelis long for freedom from fear. They claim the right to a secure future. The Palestinian demands are opposed by repression precisely because a continuing occupation is seen as the only guarantee for this security.

On both sides of the conflict there are human beings, created and loved equally by God. This is the divine and human consideration that inspires our message. On both sides of the conflict it is the human person who suffers, who need to be saved. The Palestinian longs for freedom and independence. The Israeli longs to be emancipated from fear. He needs reassurance that he can survive in peace.

There is a tendency to paint the blackest possible picture of our opponent, showing only the other’s faults, real or imagined. We must firmly resist this temptation. If we believe that our own freedom is necessarily opposed to the freedom of others, we have lost faith in the human community. Our freedom is found in the freedom of others, not in its denial. It is essential for us to see that a fruitful, joyful future lies ahead for those who embrace each other in a truly human encounter.


28- The roots of this conflict lie far back in history. Different and even opposing historical interpretations have, on both sides, fostered the positive virtues of patriotism and fidelity to a set of values. At the same time, however, they have regrettably led to acts of violence clearly opposed to the values of peace and justice which both sides are seeking.

The Palestinians

29- The Palestinian people considers that its history has been “confiscated”, that it is prevented from expressing its own view of how it has lived this history. The unjustified confusion of any act of resistance or legitimate self-defence with acts of  terrorism has led to the labelling of the Palestinian people as “terrorist”. This people has thus been stripped of all credibility in the eyes of international opinion. As a result, the world has made no objection to all the despoilment to which it has been subjected.

Christian and Muslim Palestinians equally are deeply conscious that they have always lives in this land. Palestine is their country, their political and cultural patrimony. They wish for no other.

This is why they gradually perceived the increased immigration of Jews to Palestine in the first half of the 20th century as a growing threat to their Palestinian identity and to their autonomous presence in their own land. The formation of a new majority with its origins abroad would have left them with no alternative but to submit or leave, and so was opposed by all means available. Western governments frequently seemed to be deeply involved in this undertaking . the Palestinian national resistance took on all possible forms: political conscientization, international appeals, armed intervention.

The Israelis

30- The Jews look on this same land as their holy land, the land of the prophets, promised to their fathers in anticipation of a blessing for all mankind. Scattered throughout the world they have frequently been victims of all kinds of discrimination and persecution, culminating in the Nazi project of genocide against the Jewish people: the Holocaust or Shoat. This crime against humanity is a great open wound on the history of the 20th century. It is a warning for all time that we must be on our guard against the presence of evil in the human heart, and against the potential for evil that can develop in any human grouping of whatever ideology, when it loses sight of the truth about man and hid divine origin.

Zionism sought to free the Jewish people from these threats by the establishment of an autonomous existence in Palestine. But the realisation of this nationalist ideology inevitably clashed with the aspiration of the Palestinian people living in this same land.


31- This conflict led to violent outbursts from the 1920s onwards, and the situation quickly deteriorated tragically. As a peaceful solution seemed more and more impossible, Great Britain renounced her mandate over Palestine, and in 1947 the United Nations Organisation voted for the partition of Palestine into a Palestine State, a Jewish State, and an internationalised City of Jerusalem. At that time the Palestinians rejected that decision. They denied the right of the international community to dispose of their country and grant over half of it to a recently arrived minority, without seeking the agreement of those who formed the great majority.

The armed clashes that followed left 77% of mandatory Palestine in the newly proclaimed State of Israel (1948).

1967 War

32- The resulting situation of neither open war nor peace provoked numerous armed conflicts. The occupation of the whole of Palestine by the Israeli army in the course of the 1967 war the cause of further deep upheavals.

Regime of military occupation

33- In the Occupied Territories and the Gaza Strip the Israeli regime of occupation increasingly weighs heavily on the Palestinians, who see a progressive deterioration in their living conditions. The expropriation of land, seizure of water resources, expulsions, the multiplication of settlements, numerous and arbitrary arrests, the restrictions imposed on building, travel and the Palestinian economy… all this has fostered a sense of marginalization among the Palestinians. They are treated as foreigners and are oppressed in their own land.

The Intifada

34- The protests and appeals to the international and regional communities received no effective response. An explosive situation gradually developed. The outburst of the Intifada in December 1987 was the result. This uprising is a cry of protest against a situation which is unbearable. It proclaims that the humiliation is unacceptable, that the occupation cannot continue, and a solution must be found.

The uprising is the language in which a people can formulate its demands for justice and peace to the Israeli neighbour and brother who has become an occupying power and oppressor. The Palestinians have proclaimed that they will not be satisfied by a status that reduces them to a kind of appendix to another people, or a human reservoir for the work force.

Two people, two histories, a common future

35- There is then one land, with two confronting histories, peoples and cultures. There are two outlooks, several ideologies and so many prejudices. There is, however, a fundamental difference between the two situations. One nationalism has already created the State of Israel, the Palestinian nationalism is still struggling to establish its own.

The danger is that each will seek refuge in exclusivism and refuse to recognise the other. At the moment the problem has not been resolved. In its meeting in Algiers in November 1988 the Palestine Liberation Organisation declared in the name of the Palestinians that they were prepared to initiate a dialogue and recognise the other, that is, the State of Israel. Israel’s reply to the hand stretched out by the Palestinians is still awaited.

Every right has its beginning in the cry of the new-born, of the widow, the orphan, the oppressed. That cry seeks a sincere human response. In the name of this truly human truth we have a future to build together. We must talk to one another and share outlooks and ideas. We have choices to make, agreements and alliances to formulate as a means of sharing our history.


Christian involvement in the conflict

36- On both sides of the conflict Christians are involved. The Occupied Territories are part of our diocese. They are at the forefront of our concerns, our anguish and our humble efforts to build faith in God and in man. The main fruit of this faith will be justice and peace.

This Christian presence, the presence of a “small flock”, has a special meaning. As the basis of our reflection and our Christian understanding of the situation, we turn to Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church to find the principles on which a solution must be based. These principles are: love, truth and justice as a condition for freedom, the dignity of the poor and the oppressed, and co-operation with others.

Love as the pathway to justice

37- Love is the first pathway to justice. Jesus says: “Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven”(Mt 5,43). Such a love, true and sincere, in which each sees oneself and one’s adversary as brothers and sisters, because are children of God, above all hostility and conflict, will lead the enemy and the persecutor to negotiate in order to establish justice.

The Truth

38- “The truth will set you free” (Jn. 8,32 ). The truth is an essential condition to any solution. To know the truth and to accept it, a spirit of detachment, of ascetics and faith in God is required. For this reason Jesus declares that the Spirit of God alone can “guide you to all truth” (Jn 16,13). God alone can renew the face of the earth (Ps 104,30). God is the source of the maturing of every human conscience when he enlightens it by his truth, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there us freedom” (2 Cor. 3,17). Filled with the Spirit of God, the faithful is capable of respecting all human dignity. The Spirit of God within the Christian is the source of courage, daring and generosity.

Dignity of the poor and the oppressed

39- “By revealing to man his condition as a free person called to enter into communion with God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has evoked an awareness of the hitherto unsuspected depths of human freedom” (Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, 5). Hence the poor, the oppressed and the humble or “little ones” must be shown that they are objects of the infinite love of God, and of the solicitude of the Church. Each of them can say: “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2,20b). none of the “great ones” of the world can deprive them of the dignity that flows from the love of God for them (cf. Ibid.21).


40- “Furthermore, every individual is oriented towards other people and needs their company. It is only by learning to unite one’s will to the others fore the sake of true god that one will learn rectitude of will. It is thus harmony with the exigencies of human nature which makes the will itself human. This in fact requires the criterion of truth and a right relationship to the will of others. Truth and justice are therefore the measure of true freedom. By discarding this foundation and taking himself for God, man falls into deception, and instead of realising himself he destroys himself”.

“Far from being achieved in total self-sufficiency and an absence of relationships, freedom truly exists only where reciprocal bonds, governed by truth and justice, link people to one another. But for such bonds to be possible, each person must live in the truth” (Ibid. 26).

Truth and justice

41- Truth and justice are therefore the measure of true freedom, and hence of a stable, definitive peace. Consequently, the full development of a free personality and a free people is a duty and a right for each individual and each people. It must be furthered, not impeded, by society or by any ruling power.

Appeals by the Sovereign Pontiffs

42- Form the beginning of the conflict the Catholic Church has constantly sought to point out and follow the line of justice and equity between two peoples in dispute. The Sovereign Pontiffs have been untiring in their calls for mutual recognition and acceptance. They have stressed the equality of rights to a homeland, to self-determination, and to security. They have appealed for an end to violence and urged recourse to negotiation. They continue to do every thing possible to further these ends, longing for that day when peace based on truth and justice will finally be established between the two peoples, the Palestinians and Israelis.

Declarations of the Leader of the Christian Communities in Jerusalem.

43- In company with our brothers, the leaders of the Christian Communities in the Holy City of Jerusalem, we have on more than one occasion expressed our solidarity with those who suffer, deplored the use of all forms of violence, and urged a recourse to dialogue.

Common religious values

44- All the religions involved in this conflict, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, share those same values which can and must form the basis of any solution.

The value of the human person as a free being created in the image of God, and master of his own destiny is the basis of his dignity, of his right to exercise his freedom and to be respected, both as an individual and as member of a community.

God’s justice and forgiveness are two values emphasised in all the holy books. They are an invitation to every believer involved in this conflict to see in forgiveness and reconciliation a way towards justice and the obtaining of all rights. When the believer demands justice for himself, he should demand it also for his neighbour. When he sees his own sees of forgiveness, he should be prepared to forgive his neighbour. God has taught us to ask him to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive all those who trespass against us (cf. Matt 6,12).

The religious values of the East, the traditions of welcome, hospitality and generosity can contribute to the humanising of this conflict, which day by day becomes increasingly brutal. All those involved, particularly those entrusted with authority, should allow themselves to be guided by this aspect of the Eastern spirit when consider the demands of justice and the restoration of rights. On the one hand, we are witnesses to signs of humanity which promise a future of good neighbourliness, in which everyone can enjoy all his rights and respect the rights of others. On the other hand, we observe a radicalisation in the course of which each side is reduced to bring out the worst in oneself and in the other, and is setting aside the values that have been the glory of one’s religion, civilisation and history.

Mystery and sign

45- In their history and in their destiny each human being and each people reveals a mystery and a sign of the divine will. Each must raise himself above the evil he bears within himself, above the “structures of sin” in his history, and acknowledge the mystery within himself and within the other and recognise the fact that God watches over him.

We appeal to both sides to acknowledge the presence of the other and its rights, and to respect God’s will for one another. In the consideration of his own rights and freedom, let each acknowledge the rights and freedom of the other, a participation in that of God, who has revealed himself as Creator and Father of all. Let each grant the other the same recognition he demands for himself: “Do to others whatever you would them do to you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7,12. Cf. Deut. 15,13; Tob 4,15).

Possible Solutions

Dialogue between the two adversaries

46-  As a first step towards a solution, there must be an end to violence on every side and the beginning of dialogue: direct negotiations between the two adversaries, each designating its own representatives. If a friend is a choice that one can make, an enemy is a fact with which one must come to terms. The two adversaries opposing each other are the State of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

The Arab, international and religious dimensions of the problem require the presence of the Arab and international communities in this face-to-face dialogue between the two adversaries.

The goal of this dialogue must be the establishment of a just and lasting peace; it cannot be used as a delaying tactic, a smokescreen for ulterior motives which would destroy peace.

Mutual recognition

47- a solution to the conflict presupposes the mutual recognition of the two adversaries, and of their human equality, both as individuals and as peoples, and consequently the recognition of their equal rights and duties individuals and peoples.

Integration in the Middle East

48- Any solution implies the full integration of these two peoples in the future of this part of the world, the Middle East, and must take into account and respect its peculiar character. First of all, it is the East with its own traditions and values. It is also a meeting place between East and West, a place of dialogue between cultures, peoples and religions, whilst remaining firmly part of the East.

The Status of Jerusalem

49- Jerusalem occupies a central place in this conflict by virtue of what it means for the three monotheistic religions, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, and its importance as a symbol for each of them. In satisfying the aspirations of the Palestinians and Israelis, the two peoples concerned, account must also be taken of the deep attachment ti this city and the surrounding land, of the believers of these three religions throughout the world.

A special status must be found for Jerusalem in view of its position as a Holy City, enabling it to become the city of justice and fraternity. Free, unhindered access must be guaranteed to all those who believe in its message. If all those concerned act in good faith, we are convinced that it is not impossible to draw up a practical, concrete formula that will satisfy the dual demands of the national and spiritual character of the city.

“I think of and long for the day on which we shall all be so ‘taught by God’ (Jn 6,45), that we shall listen to his message of peace and reconciliation. I think of the day on which Jews, Christian and Muslims will greet each other in the city of Jerusalem with the same greeting of peace with which Christ greeted the disciples after the Resurrection: ‘Peace be with you’ (Jn 20,19)”.

“Indeed, there should be found, with good will and farsightedness, a concrete and just solution by which different interests and aspirations can be provided for in a harmonious and stable form, and be safeguarded in an adequate and efficacious manner by a special Statute internationally guaranteed so that no party could jeopardise it” (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter “Redemptionis Anno”).

The urgency of the situation

50- This appeal for recognition and dialogue is particularly urgent at this time. An extremely dangerous situation has been created by the impasse in the peace process. The lack of any immediate hopes plays into the hands of the fanatics and extremists on both sides. At any time an uncontrollable explosion of violence could occur. There have been too many victims, too much suffering . the responsibilities of the political leaders at this time are therefore of particular importance. No one can be unaware of the vital need for a swift decision, for rapid action to be taken before it is too late.


A difficult and complicated situation

51- My brothers and sisters, the situation in which you find yourselves is difficult and complicated. It has repercussions on a local, regional and international level.

Your first duty is to be equal to the situation. However complicated of difficult it is you should try to understand it. Take all the facts into account. Consider them objectively, calmly but courageously, and resist any temptation to fear and despair. Listen to what St. Paul tells you: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition… make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4,6-7).

Your duty is to have a clear, precise idea of what you rights and duties are. Then, whatever the sacrifices required, you will be able to demand all of them and avoid neglect in carrying them out.

Contribute to finding the solution

52- You are an integral part of your society, a party to the conflict. You therefore should contribute to the solution. You cannot evade your responsibilities. You have no right to survive thanks to the sacrifices of others. Each must offer up one’s own sacrifice.

The rights of peoples

53- We are often asked, does the Church approve of the demonstrations, the protests of the young, the violence and the Intifada?

We have always replied that the question any sincere man or woman of good will must ask is the following: does a people have the right and duty to claim its rights? If it has, then it has the right and the duty to put forwards its claims and the right to make its request heard, with a view to obtaining its rights.

No one has any power, under any pretext, to require the oppressed to remain silent, to forego claiming their rights. At the same time, no one has the right to fill the hearts of the oppressed with hatred and sterile rancour. The goal is not hatred of the adversary. It is the obtaining of justice.

54- An occupied people has the right to claim its rights and to organise itself politically in the way it sees fit, in the way it has already expressed: that is, as an independent state. This is a right of natural law, and no one can take this right away. The Vatican Council document we have already quoted states: “It is therefore obvious that the political community and public authority are based on human nature and hence belong to an order of things divinely foreordained. At the same time, the choice of government and the method of selecting leaders is left to the free will of citizen” (The Church in the Modern World, 74).

No to violence

55- The choice of the Church, listening to the voice of the Gospel, is very clear: no to violence. The Church favours all those means that will bring the hearts of adversaries closer together and lead them to accept justice for them both. The choice of the Church is for a dialogue of peace, a dialogue between the two adversaries. The leaders of the Palestinian people and many Israelis continue to proclaim their readiness to accept this dialogue.

Violence will never be included in our instructions or advice. As we wait for the powerful of this world and the citizens of this land to build peace with the means available to them, our response to all oppression, to every display of violence, is to condemn all oppression, all violence and all terrorism wherever it comes from, from the State, from groups or from individuals.

But we must also make clear that violence is not limited to that which proceeds from the use of weapons of destruction. It can take on a multiplicity of forms, physical or moral. On occasion a greater, more destructive violence is wrought by the use of mass media to conceal or to falsify the truth.

The work of the Church will always be to uphold the truth, to support the poor, the weak, the victims of violence, whoever they may be.

We must also point out that the use of violence by the powerful encourages and even forces the weak to resort to the same means.

Furthermore, in any conflict between peoples, it is not simply a question of the body, but of the soul of the people. The violence that can destroy the body cannot destroy the soul. On the contrary, it will only be a source of greater vigour and moral strength.

For all these reasons we declare that the end to all violence and the recourse to dialogue is the only road to peace and guarantee of security.

Fidelity to the faith, fidelity to the homeland

56- My brothers and sisters, you are Christians. Remain faithful to your faith, to your Church. In the difficult situation you are undergoing, fidelity to your faith will better enable you to fulfil your duties to your homeland and to your society.

You live in this land which is holy for all believers throughout the world, and for all Christians. Together with all the inhabitants of the Holy Land you have a vocation on a world-scale. As Christians sharing in a real ecumenical spirit, you have a vocation that must live up to the demands of Christianity. A greatness of soul, a particular promptness to be equal to your mission is required of you. Reaffirm your local identity as citizen, and as Christians in the Church of Jerusalem. At the same time, develop an awareness of the universal mission of your Church and the mission of your land has to play in the life of the world.

Involvement in public life

57- Hence, you must be ever more firmly rooted in your Church and your homeland. You must be increasingly involved in all spheres of public life, in order to build the society of tomorrow and foster fraternity and freedom in co-operation with believers of other religions. Henceforth you must work together for a free society in which there is a place for every individual to live in dignity, respect and love. These are times that call for unity, reminding believers that love and union is the truth at the heart of their faith. Only in this love and union can Christian witness be genuine and strong, and bring its spiritual influence to bear on the conflict.

Your Muslim compatriots

58- The Muslim faithful are your fellow compatriots. You share the same future, the same country, the same patrimony. The friction that arises in the course of ordinary everyday life cannot be allowed to destroy your sense of fraternity, or make you forget that you share the same homeland, the same patrimony and culture.

The incidents of daily life require great efforts and constancy on the part of everyone if a true coexistence is to be establish in which there is mutual respect and co-operation in building a shared society.

In this respect we repeat we said in our message for Lent this year. Be on your guard against those who sow discord and fear among you. Resist fear and all incitement to discrimination between Christians and Muslims. Faith, lived sincerely and bravely, will eventually bring all God’s children together in the same love. That love will be the real builder of society. You will triumph through your patience and through your love. Much time and determination is required. It is important to persevere in the long journey along the road towards a true understanding of our Muslim brothers and sisters.

The Jewish People

59- It is true that in the present situation, the Palestinians perceive the Jewish people as having a different history and as carrying out policies unfavourable to them. Nonetheless many factors can favour and contribute to reconciliation. The Word of God addressed to the Jewish people is also the Word of God for us Christians, and we preserve it in our Scriptures.

We love the God who speaks to men and women, and we love his divine choice. We desire for the people of our Fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all the benefits which God wills to grant them. For we firmly believe that the love of God for one people cannot imply injustice for another people. Politics and the evil in man cannot be allowed to disfigure the love of God for all his children.

Abraham is the father of all believers. Faith in God should bring all peoples together, notwithstanding their political differences. The believers should be able to maintain a constructive dialogue with the believers of any other religion. The hearts of believers must be taught to accept that reconciliation and coexistence are essential if peace and justice are to be established.

Solidarity and love for our brothers

60- My brothers and sisters, you yourselves must maintain this solidarity, this unity. You must love one another. Together we must share our suffering and our hope. Whatever we have at this time we must share, be it much or little. The well-provided-for must take care of the brothers and sisters in need. Those in need will find time for those in greater need, with greater problems. This sharing inspired by God’s love for each of us, will enable us to strengthen and support one another.

Our love cannot be restricted to our own community. Our love should be as universal as God’s love, reaching out to every individual. It admits no exceptions, or shows no discrimination. It seeks no personal interest, but rather imitates our Saviour who said: “I came so that they might have the life and have it more abundantly”(Jn 10,10).such is Christ’s commandment and such must be our commandment: love God and love our neighbour as ourselves, as God loves him. Jesus tells us: “Love one another, as I have loved you”(Jn 15,12).

Solidarity among the Churches

61- We are pleased to share the sympathy and solidarity of our Christian brothers and sisters from abroad. They do not limit their love to Christians alone. They embrace, without exception all those oppressed by this conflict, all those in need.

We thank all the organisations involved in social or charitable aid. We thank all the Christian delegations, Catholic and others, who have visited our land during this conflict to learn the truth at first hand and to co-operate in the building of justice and peace. We thank all the pilgrims who, in spite of the difficulties, have by their presence and their prayers shown us their support and sympathy.

The witness of our small flock

62- Our flock is small, but this smallness does not lessen our mission or responsibilities, but it increases and deepens them. You bear within you the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, whom the Father sent to the believers in this very city, on this day of Pentecost.

This Spirit dwells in each of you. He dwells in the Church of his land and in the churches throughout the world. In the name of this Spirit through whom “you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba Father!” (Rm. 8,15), we also say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Ap. 22,20).

Our prayers will be heard

63- We are strong in the World of God and in his Spirit. We trust in the goodness within man, in spite of the evil we have endured for so long, and seems to have no end. We have no doubts that our prayers and our efforts will be heard. We believe in God and we invite you to persevere in the work for that peace which will come, the peace for which so many men and women around us have given their lives.


Blessed are the meek

64- Jesus says “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land..,. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5,9-10)

The Peacemakers

65- Throughout the ages and in all civilisations the history of mankind has been filled with wars and recourse to violence. Today there are signs that peace is being established between the great powers of the world. Nonetheless, no end is in sight to the wars in many parts of the Third World. These wars are all in some way related to the great powers and the arms dealers. The great powers have had a role in these wars and have a role in bringing them to an end. They cannot shrug off their responsibilities.

War is an evil from which mankind must be set free. Peace is a risk, a challenge that the two sides in the conflict, the arms dealers and the great power should accept.

At all times and in all civilisations there have been men and women of peace. Furthermore, sooner or later every conflict. We must continue to hope that here too peace will one day be established. The birth will be difficult, but will be born.

We must not lose hope. By favouring the birth of hope, we shall contribute to the birth of peace. This we can do by a steadfast appeal for justice, and a steadfast condemnation of injustice, from whatever side it comes.

Jerusalem, a sign of hope

66- Jerusalem is at present a sign of contradiction and conflict. Nonetheless, she continue to be a sign of hope, since she is the means by which the divine message have been transmitted to a believing mankind, believers of all peoples must meet together to hear the voice of God here. If they listen to his voice they will be able to restore to Jerusalem her sacred character and her power to bring peace, to humanise.

No one has the exclusive right to appropriate Jerusalem. Such an appropriation could only be the cause of dispute and hatred. Every believers has the right to make Jerusalem his spiritual homeland; the place where peace and love can be found, from where one can call all men and women to peace with God.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem… Since all are my brothers and friends,
I say ‘Peace be with you’
Since the Lord our God lives here,
I pray for your happiness” (Ps 112,6,8-9).


67- At the outset of human history the Tower of Babel was a symbol of the confusion of languages and minds. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit enabled the believers of Jesus who were gathered in Jerusalem, to overcome the language differences and to understand one another. We ask God to send his Spirit upon us and renew his Pentecost among us. We pray that every man and woman should begin to understand his brothers and sisters in love and justice. We ask that each and everyone of us be inspired by love, not hatred, by peace, not oppression or injustice.

Lord, on this day, in this land, you sent you Spirit to renew the face of the earth and reconcile man with you ant with one’s brothers and sisters. Today in this Holy Land we are in need of reconciliation. Send your Spirit upon us to renew us, to bring us reconciliation.

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch

Jerusalem – Pentecost, 3rd June 1990

Jerusalem, Tragedy and Hope for all peoples
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

(Address of Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem,

to the Interreligious meeting organized by the St, Egidlo Community in Brussels, September 14,1992).

The tragedy of Jerusalem is a tragedy of faith. Jerusalem is the holy city for all believers, the God’s city, where God revealed himself, where he fulfilled the salvation of all mankind and offered to all reconciliation with Him and among themselves. It is, nonetheless, a disputed city, a place where fraternal hatred, religious discord and violence exist.

This is so, because throughout history believers have not succeeded in seeing those of another religion as their brother and sister, and have been unable or unwilling to behave in accordance with the status of Jerusalem as God’s city, the city of all believers in God. Now as in the past, Jerusalem is in dispute.

The present tragedy is the scandal of believers who are in a state of war, in the course of which the cry of ‘death’ is heard as one encounters the brother of another faith. Every believer who is sincere -Jew, Christian or Muslim- must ask himself in anguish: how long will religion be the cause of war and disputes between believers? It was not for this that God revealed himself and spoke to mankind. It was rather for the salvation of all, out of love, the only constructive instrument, the only road which leads to justice.

It is a tragedy for Christianity, which was born there, and has been present and played an important role throughout the centuries, and continues to be present today. For the essence of Christianitv is love for one’s brother and sister, all of them, even for those who call themselves our enemy.

It is the tragedy of small Christian communities which have expericnced the many vicissitudes of history, as witnesses to the message of Jesus Christ in his own land, in difficult situations. Communities which have survived down to the present day, many of whose members have been forced to choose expatriation, to abandon their vocation, their mission and their “holy places” by the pressure of adverse circumstances. These communities today, in the present conflict,once again find themselves in the same situation they have to face on more than one occasion in the past. The tragedy of the present Christian community derives from the difficulties of the moment, caused by the instability resulting from the general political situation of conflict and physical and spiritual clashes and from an uncertain future. What place will be left to them? Will they be citizens in their own land, or foreigners in their own land?

The first tragedy of Jerusalem for the Christian continues to be that of the cross, i.e., the rejection of Jesus’ message by his land and society. The tragedy of salvation offered by God only to be rejected by man at the moment of the condemnation and crucifixion, a rejection which continues today in the place of his death.

Nevertheless, Jerusalem is also the city of hope, since she is the city of the Resurrection. Our hope is in God, Lord of the holy city. In spite of all the evil manifest at present, the Lord will reestablish Jerusalem, and restore peace to her. It is not inevitable that the mystery of evil maintain its dominion: good will triumph in the end, a good consisting in mutual love and acceptance for all the inhabitants of the holy city, for all believers who wish to adore in her the one God, Creator and Redeemer, the Almighty and Merciful.

In union with the Risen Christ, hope comes from all the “the poor of the Lord” who make their appearance throughout biblical revelation, and who continue to be present today in the prayer and adoration of numerous souls who offer themselves in silence in Jerusalem, and in all the corners of the world, for Jerusalem, for the peace of Jerusalem, and that of all her believers.

Hope also comes from all those of good will. For there are those who believe in a real, concrete policy, and at the same time in the need for the moral integrity of situations and human actions, even in conflicts between peoples. At the present time, it appears this good will finds acceptance among political leaders. It appears that the will to attain to peace and justice is serious, although Jerusalem is still officially excluded from any negotiation.

Jerusalem is the city of all believers. Her greatest teachers will be those who can make of Jerusalem the city of God and of mankind, those who can offer her to God and mankind as the place of meeting and reconciliation, and no longer as the coveted city, object of desires, quarrels and new wars. Up till now none of those who have conquered her in the past have been able to do this. Hence the succession of wars for her, around her, and within her. Will Israel, her new conqueror, have the courage and greatness to offer her as a gift to God and mankind? A holy city for all believers, one and undivided, in which all will be masters, and all be reconciled as brothers.

Jerusalem is God’s city; she is his shrine and the place where every believer, Jew, Muslim and Christian, has heard the word of God and as a result worships him there. This reli~ious need is an essential part of the faith of each believer, of his individual and collective human identity. For the Jew and Muslim, religious memory is also a national memory. For centuries the Christian, too, endeavoured to live the unity of religious and national memory, before they were separated. In the politico-religious context of the East, where religion and nation are inseparable, the Christian presence must also constitute a form of civil presence to support its religious presence, so that the three religions can together be an agent of dialogue and peaceful, unified administration of the holy city.

This demands a special status, – unique, since Jerusalem is unique which will deny noone his rights, be he Israeli, or Palestinian, or any of the believers, Jews, Christians and Muslims.

All the inhabitants of Jerusalem will then find their true vocation, and be able to fulfil it: to appeal for reconciliation and salvation, to make Jerusalem the city of the Spirit who renews all hearts and the face of the earth, and who teaches all those who wish to find God.

In her soul Jerusalem provides a vocation, and within the area she occupies has a place for all believers. It is in this vision of unity, of reconciliation and of forgiveness that the future of the holy city of Jerusalem must be prepared.

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch

Reading the Bible Today In the Land of the Bible
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Fourth Pastoral Letters of H.B. Msgr. MICHEL SABBAH Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

“For He is our peace; in His flesh He has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us … that He might create in Himse4f one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body” (Eph 2:14‑16).


To our diocesan priests,
to all men and women religious,
and to all our faithful.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

  1. “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (11 Tim 1:2).
    A new hope has just been born in the history of our country, opening new perspectives for peace and reconciliation between our two peoples, Jewish and Palestinian, and with all the Arab world. The pur­suit for justice will continue, but from now on it will be through collaboration and no longer through con­frontation. For that we give thanks to God and we invite you to share, through your prayers, your pre­sence and your action, in any initiative which aims to strengthen this peace and reconciliation, based on jus­tice and security for all.
    This new phase in the history of our country follows sad events which all of us have experienced, and which some of us are still experiencing. Anguish and fears as well as human suffering are still present, due to the long situation of conflict between two peoples. However the past must not consume the pre­sent and the future and make them immovable. We now have to struggle in order to maintain and to build peace with justice. The spiritual struggle will always be necessary for the Christian who wishes to remain loyal to his/her faith, to his/her Church and to society.

The purpose of our letter: the Bible

  1. In order to support your loyalty to Church and society, we address to you this letter, which is about the Bible, the way to read and understand it, in order to make it the object of meditation and prayer. Indeed “the Word of God is living and active ” (Heb 4:12). It is our spiritual food, our light and our guide in the ac­tion we have to take in the circumstances of our daily life in the Holy Land.
    In the recent past of confrontation, many among you were seized by anguish and assailed by doubts when confronted with the Bible, because it ap­pears to be directly linked to the difficult situation which we have experienced and the new period of peace which we have to build together.
    It is in the Bible and in our faith that we seek our comfort, according to what is said in the second letter to Timothy: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correc­tion, and training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (11 Tim 3:16‑17).
    Sharing in the building of peace and justice in the land of the Bible is certainly a “good work”. Therefore we must share in the building of a more fraternal society, founded on dignity and mutual re­cognition of rights and responsibilities for everyone and every people in the same country of the Bible. Throughout this process, the Word of God will be our best guide, even in the midst of doubts and denials. Therefore we are invited to read the Bible, to study it and to live it.

Humility before the Word of God

  1. It is not easy to read and understand the Bible. It is a task that requires a particular effort on our part and a special grace from God. It is, therefore, of prime importance to know how to read the Bible in order to discern the authentic Word of God in it. This cannot be done by one’s own strength alone. Only to­gether, in community, in the Church, in the light and strength of the Holy Spirit can such a task be under­taken.
    Before God’s Word, we must humbly ac­knowledge that this Word is not our own. We must confess that we are frequently unable to understand what God wishes to tell us with this Word. Therefore we have no right to set ourselves up as judges of this Word of God, according to our own views, as to our stand in a quarrel of the recent past which has not fully disappeared, or even according to the stand of the adversary regarding the Word of God. We have no right to reduce the Word of God to the demands of our own positions and human struggles.
    Reading the Bible, the Word of God, is a diffi­cult, sensitive and delicate task, since the matters to be tackled are related to our daily life. They even con­cern our very national and personal identity as be­lievers, because unilateral, partial interpretations run the risk for some people of bringing into question their presence and permanence in this land which is their homeland

To whom is this letter directed?

  1. The questions to be raised are many. We wish to deal with them in our capacity as pastor, thinking of our responsibility to our faithful, but also to all Christians living within the area of our Patriarchal diocese which includes Israel, the Occupied Territo­ries of Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. All of the faithful are directly affected by the past conflict (already described in our 1990 Pentecost letter), by the rec­onciliation which has just started and by the problems raised. The great majority of them are Palestinians or Jordanians who speak Arabic and whose cultural heri­tage is Arabic. A small community in our diocese is Hebrew speaking and is part of the Jewish people or lives in the midst of the Jewish people.
    In our reflection, we shall endeavor to be at­tentive to the different points of view. Dialogue and sharing, along with prayer and meditation are essential elements for a better mutual knowledge, in the hope that together, we may become sowers of peace.

Common witness and dialogue with all

  1. In the framework of the Middle East Council of Churches and with all the Churches of the region, we are committed to seeking complete unity and a common witness. We dare to hope that these reflec­tions might contribute in some way towards this end. We also believe that the Church of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, through her experience and reflection, has a unique contribution to make together with the Churches in the region and with the universal Church. The Church of Jerusalem will be pleased to have been listened to by the others and to receive their response.
    We also hope that our message might be heard beyond the Christian community by our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters as a contribution to co­existence and peace, respecting the beliefs of each person, while at the same time, we are open to dia­logue with all because the most difficult path still lies ahead.

Pastoral character

  1. This letter is first and foremost pastoral in na­ture. Hence, it will not be possible here to show ex­plicitly at every stage of thought, all the studies and theological approaches which have been taken into account and which form the basis of these statements. It should be realized that these pages have been pre­pared by prolonged reflection of a group of priests and theologians of the Church of Jerusalem, each of whom is a witness to the sufferings and expectations of the different communities. They have pooled their experiences of pastoral ministry, biblical studies, and ecumenical and interreligious reflections.


The Palestinian Christian confronted by the Bible

  1. For the Palestinian Christian, the Bible is an integral part of his faith and religious heritage. One reads it and meditates upon it individually or in com­munity (catechesis, liturgy, prayer groups). During the time of conflict, the questions raised by such reading and prayer have been numerous. These questions per­sist until now as we journey and build together.
    a.    How is the Old Testament to be under­stood? What is the relationship between the Old and the New Testament?
    b.    The Bible narrates stories of violence which have a striking resemblance to our present history, and which are attributed to God. How are these to be understood, when “peacemakers are to be called chil­dren of God”? (cf. Mt 5:9).
    c.    What is the relationship between ancient Biblical history and our contemporary history? Is Bib­lical Israel the same as the contemporary State of Is­rael? What is the meaning of the promises, the elec­tion, the Covenant and in particular the ‘~promise and the gift of the land” to Abraham and his descendants? Does the Bible justify the present political claims? Could we be victims of our own salvation history, which seems to favour the Jewish people and con­demn us? Is that truly the Will of God to which we must inexorably bow down, demanding that we deprive ourselves in favour of another people, with no possibility of appeal or discussion?
    Though many other Jews have different views, some of them, by what they say and sincerely believe, seem to confirm the fears and anguish of the Palesti­nians. They maintain that the land has been given to them by God. Such is their title to the exclusive ownership of the whole of the Promised Land.
    Some Christians, too, would say the same thing. Indeed, fundamentalist Christians would go so far as to directly link all of the present history with the fulfillment of specific biblical prophecies. They even accuse local Christians who do not agree with their views as being “unbiblical” and not true believers.
    It is understandable that such positions should lead to spiritual confusion and religious rebellion among those who have been driven away from their homes and their land, who have lost their loved ones in a succession of wars, or we have experienced prison and torture for having de‑sired to reclaim their rights.

Outline of the letter

8.The questions which we will try to answer can
be summarized under three categories:
a “at is the relationship between the Old and the New Testament?
b.How is violence that is attributed to God in the Bible to be understood?
c.What influence do the promises, the gift of the land, the election and the covenant have for rela­tions between Palestinians and Israelis? Is it possible for a just and merciful God to impose injustice oroppression on another people in order to favour the people He has chosen?
This last question in particular is addressed to the faith of every believer in this Land of the Bible: the Jew, the Christian and the Moslem. It is addressed to whomever would wish to justify all modern politi­cal facts by the Word of God revealed in the Bible. This question is a challenge to the local Church and to all Churches throughout the world, and to every per­son who is sincerely seeking peace and justice in this Holy Land.
It is in order to strengthen the journey towards peace that the answers to these questions of the past must be given. The journey towards peace must be at the same time a journey together to discover the “truth which sets use free ” (cf. in 8:32).

Before answering these questions, we have to explain what the Bible is for the Christian and how it can be understood by him/her. We will first say that the Bible is the Word of God. Second, it is a history of salvation. Third, it is our salvation history. Fourth, the Christian can understand the Bible only in the light of Jesus Christ.


The Christian Bible

  1. For the Christian the Bible, or Sacred Scrip­ture includes the Old and the New Testaments. The Hebrew Old Testament contains 39 books, divided into the books of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. The Old Testament, in the Christian Tradi­tion, (Catholic and Orthodox), contains these same 39 books, and the eight Deuterocanonical books, written in Aramaic or Greek. The Protestant Tradition has only the 39 books of the Hebrew Bible.
    The New Testament contains 27 books: the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the 14 Letters attributed to St Paul, the 7 Catholic Letters, and the Apocalypse of St John.
    For the Christian, the two Testaments form a single book, containing the whole of Revelation given by God for the salvation of humankind. No part of the Old or New Testament can be separated from it for any reason, whether political or otherwise. All of Sacred Scripture is the Word of God.
  1. I The Bible is the Word of God

How is the Bible to be understood?

  1. God has revealed Himself in the history of the world      and in the history of the people He wished to choose in view of the salvation of humankind. This is why the Bible is a collection of facts and words re­counting divine events which are to be discerned in human deeds. The latter have been lived and then handed on first of all orally, and then by the written word (cf. DV 2).
    The Bible is therefore not to be seen as a rigid, dead text, but as a history of salvation accompanying the history of the whole of humankind. It is a living, dynamic history, unfolding throughout the centuries within every event, and God makes use of it to reveal Himself and to make known His message.
    For this to be fully understood and accepted, it is necessary to have faith. And those who believe must be grateful for the faith they have received.

The sacred writers are inspired by the Holy Spirit

  1. At different periods of time, this salvation history was written down by writers inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that “with Him(God) acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching so­lidly, faithfully and without error, that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation” (DV 11). Therefore the author of the Bible is at the same time God and the sacred writers.

God has spoken through human beings in a hu­man way

  1. These writers did not receive God’s word by way of material dictation, word for word. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, they expressed themselves in their language, according to their intellectual ability, in ac­cordance with their customs, culture and the different literary genres and styles proper to each person.
    “However since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter Of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully inves­tigate what meaning the sacred writer really in­tended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words” (Dv 12).

Progressive Revelation

  1. Concerning Revelation, the Second Vatican Council said: “In His goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will” (cf. Eph 1:9) “by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature” (cf Eph 2:18; 11 Pt 1:4) (DV 2).
    Through Revelation, God wanted to reveal Himself to us, so that we may be able to know Him and to share His divine life. This is the salvation of humankind: to know God and share His divine life. The fullness of Revelation was reached in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became flesh for our sake.
    This revelation was progressive. This means that the truth concerning God and the message of sal­vation was not communicated only at one time, once and for all. God adapted Himself to the history of hu­mankind and its ability to understand His revealed Word (cf. DV 12). A level of knowledge and under­standing of God’s Word corresponds to each stage of the history of the people of God.

Understanding Revelation in the light of Tradition

  1. God’s people have never separated the sacred book from the oral tradition, i.e. from its living litur­gical, cultural or historical interpretation (~f. DV 8‑10). For us, too, the Word of God is inseparable from the life of the people which received it. We also must fol­low the same path as we try to understand this Word. Today, we can develop a true understanding of Scripture only in communion with the Church, in the light of Tradition, and through the living liturgy and progress in Biblical studies.
    “Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the Word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit, the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain al­ways steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers… ” (DV 10).
  1. 2 The Bible is a History of Salvation

Salvation is the fullness of life

  1. The Bible is our history of salvation. This history is that of God with the whole of humankind. It is in hat the historical facts recounted by the Bible must be read and understood. In the history of our salvation, all the events are a model and a guide for us: “Now these happenings were examples, for our benefit.. and they were described in writing to be a lesson for us” (I Cor 10:6,11).
    Pope Paul VI wrote: “The kernel and center of Christ’s Good News is salvation, this great gift of God which is liberation from everything that op­presses man, but which is, above all, liberation from sin and the evil one, in the joy of knowing God and being known by Him, of seeing Him, and of being turned over to Him ” (Ev. Nunt. 9).
    In fact, each and every one of us, as individuals and as communities, aspires to the total liberation of our being, from everything that prevents us from being truly free in all areas of our life, the economical, political, social, and cultural, and, above all, spiritual areas. We aspire to total liberation from everything that separates us from God and God’s children, in order to be with God and to enjoy he fullness of the divine blessings. This is the salvation history we must read and understand in the Bible, God’s Word, and the Good News of God to each of us and to each of our peoples.

Stages of salvation

  1. The history of salvation revealed in the Bible is situated between two visions which form the be­ginning and the end of the human drama: the vision of paradise lost and the vision of the new Jerusalem which descends from God. We come from God, and we return to Him. These two visions are the two beacons which shed their light on everything that comes between them concerning the history and fate of hu­mankind made up of human suffering and joy. Mes­sianic times, i.e. the journey towards the New Jerusa­lem have already begun. The Spirit dwells among us. From him we take our strength, in spite of the evil which is in us or around us. This vision affirms that history has a meaning and that the world is not ab­surd. The last word will be God’s victory over evil.
    The history of salvation passes through a number of vital moments which reveal the divine pedagogy dealing with humankind according to its ability to accept and understand His Word. They are marked by the succession of the different covenants deepening and comprising each other, yet not annul­ling one another. Every covenant goes beyond a stage deeply marked by the weakness and sin of humankind or of the chosen people, and begins a new stage of conversion to God and the process of reconciliation between human beings.

The Covenant with Noah

  1. Since creation, human beings live in communion with God (cf. Gen 2:15; 3:8) Adam and Eve already live in a state of salvation and blessedness. After the fall, a first promise of salvation was given to them. The first covenant was established with Noah, and through him, with humankind. It comes after a new rebellion against God, and shows God’s kindness and the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of salvation. With the image of the rainbow, Noah, representing humankind, is assured that God binds Himself “for all generations” to “every living creature of every kind that is found on the earth”, in particular to every human being, ‘for in the image of God man was made” (cf Gen 9:1‑17;1:27). In this covenant, God takes the whole creation, the work of His hands as witness, as St. Paul says in the Acts of the Apostles: God “has not left himself without a witness in doing good, gi­ving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with good and your hearts with joy “ (Acts 14:17).

The Covenant with Abraham

  1. In order to gather this dispersed humanity, God calls Abraham “from his country, his kindred and his house “ (Gen 12: 1). In him, He begins to prepare for Himself a people, the Hebrew people, to be His witness among the nations, the bearer of God’s promises and judgments and the herald of universal salvation for all. At the same time, God promises to make Abraham “the father of many nations” (Gen 17:5) and a “blessing for the nations of the earth” (cf. Gen 12:3). In stressing the relationship of the Ishmaelite in particular with Abraham, the biblical genealogies recall that the other peoples will benefit from the blessings given to Abraham. That is Why Jews and Muslims today venerate together Abraham as their common “father of faith” in the one God who blesses all peoples.

The Sinai Covenant

  1. After Abraham, God renews the same covenant with Isaac (cf Gen 26:1‑5) and Jacob (cf Gen 28:10‑22). Before the Exodus from Egypt, God “remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (cf.Ex 2.24). The Sinai covenant consecrates God’s choice. By submission to the Law, a community is formed around Moses, whom God orders to serve Him. This community includes persons like Caleb (cf. Jos 14:6‑14) or Rahab (cf Jos 6:22‑24), who are not de­scended from Jacob.
    Israel then finds its identity in being the people submitted to the Law of the covenant given on Sinai, and the people who bear the Name of the Lord (cf. Dt 28: 10). This election made by God is an act of gratuitous love, and not because of the merits of Israel (cf. Dt 4:37f; 7:7; 9:4f). It is an election to responsibility and obligation, not to privilege or favoritism .

The Covenant with David

  1. The establishment of Israel in the promised Land is the historical and figurative fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and Moses. The covenant is concentrated in the house of David (cf. 11 Sam 7:16). The culminating point in the life of Israel as a nation is the reign of David, followed by that of his son Solo­mon. The royal throne and the temple re the two signs of God’s presence in the midst of His people. Their disappearance will lead to the tragedy of the exile.

Messianic. expectations

  1. By their disobedience God’s people earned God’s judgment. The exile means exclusion from the land. Israel no longer has a king nor a Temple. But Israel has the Word of God and lives in God’s covenant, through changes of political regimes and among other peoples. Just as it was for them in the desert, so too now: salvation can come from God alone.
    The prophets look beyond the trial: they announce the restoration of David’s throne. They announce a king who will be anointed. But their visions transcend the framework of an earthly restoration; they become a sign of the messianic times, the day when God will establish His reign. They announce a new covenant, when God will put His law in human hearts: “Then I shall be their God and they will be my people” (Jer 31:33; cf Ez 36:26).
    After the trial of the exile, a remnant regains the promised land. The nation is reduced to a religious community for whom the Law is the centre. A new establishment without any political independence takes place in the land promised to the Fathers. It is accompanied by a spiritual renewal. The community passes through many crises which reveal the faithful and unfaithful Israel. The faithful or the remnant of Israel lives in expectation of the Messiah whose co­ming will inaugurate the Kingdom of God. They await the consolation of Israel.
    The sorrowful experience of the exile transformed the poverty that had been experience into a lived religious ideal. The “poor of Yahweh” place their trust in God alone. Apart from God there is no salvation. This renewed and purified Messianic hope awaits the coming of the Kingdom of God, not only as an era of political glory, but as a manifestation of justice, peace and goodness towards the poorest of the poor.
    We find among these small groups of the “poor of God” people like Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Anna and Simeon. They, too, awaited the Kingdom of God through lives of simplicity and trust.

Fulfillment of the promises and the new covenant

  1. With the coming of Jesus, the times are fulfilled (Mk 1: 15). The Kingdom of God has come. Jesus triumphs over the powers of evil and begins to fulfill the promise of the Old Testament. He is the Chosen One of God, the Messiah. He promises the earth to the meek. Before His death, Jesus institutes the Eucharist as a sign of the sacrifice which fulfills the covenant. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out for you” (Lk 22,20, cf Mt 28:26). By His resurrection from the dead, His ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls believers to a new birth, in the community of the New Covenant which is His Church and the new people of God. God does not belong exclusively to one people but He acquired for Himself a people from those who “were once no people “, and has made of them “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (I Pt 2 9,10, Catech. Cath.Ch. 782) .
    The Church. convoked by the word of God was indeed prepared in a marvelous way through the history of Israel and in the Old Covenant. Then it was founded in these times that are the final age and manifested by the gift of the Holy Spirit. At the end of times, it will be accomplished and achieved in glory.
    Meanwhile, the chaff still present in the Father’s field will not be burnt until the end of times, when Christ will come again to judge the world and submit all things to His Father. This time of waiting is the time of the Church, of God’s patience (cf 11 Pt 3:9), given to us to convert ourselves to God, to proclaim God’s salvation to all nations, and to witness to His love by our life, and, if it is God’s will, by our death.

II.3   The Bible is a History of our individual and communal salvation

Sin and conversion in our lives

  1. Biblical history is the history of our own salvation. In our lives as individuals and as a people, we encounter the same elements and the same processes: Revelation and the progressive discovery of God in the framework of our personal lives. We, too, follow the same stages of repeated sin and conversion or turning over to God. This is the same experience of different idolatries that we associate with our faith in our lives as persons and as peoples. It is the temptation to reduce God to our own point of view or desires, the need to purify these points of view or desires by listening to the prophets, and by meditative, attentive reading of the Word of God.
    The history of God with the Jewish people is the model of the history of God with each of us, as individuals and as peoples. Our personal history is also lived in response to God’s ever renewed call to holiness and forgiveness in the midst of our continuous sinfulness and repentance .

Biblical stages are the stages of our history

  1. The creation of Adam and Eve is our creation. Their fall is our fall. The way God points out to them is our way.
    The calling of Abraham and the choice of the Hebrew people implies both a particular dignity and a particular responsibility. But the choosing of a people is also the beginning of our own election. God also calls us, and Jesus opens this election to all, entrusting to each person and every people their own vocation dignity and responsibility.
    The other stages of biblical history throw light on ours: the promises to Isaac, Jacob and his sons; the difficulties of the Exodus; the schism between the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah; the deportations and the exile. All of these stages in the history of a people are real and spiritual stages which enlighten the history of every people and of each individual within the whole people. They help us to interpret our history, to better understand it and to correspond it better with our vocation.
    We are invited to read our own personal history a d that of our people in the Bible. But we are also invited to read the history of others, and above all, that of God in our own history and in the history of others.
    As readers of the Bible, and as readers who belong to our peoples, our cultures, and particular stages in our lives, it is our task to discern the ongoing action of God in human history. Biblical history and the reading of the sign5 of the times should help us to understand and interpret our present moment, in order to live our faith in the covenant with God, to choose good and to work for the blessing of all.
  1. 4 Christ is the key for a christian reading of the Bible

Jesus applies Scripture to His person and His mission

  1. When Jesus meets the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection, He explains the Scriptures to them by‑applying them to Himself “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted for them every passage of Scripture which referred to Him ” (Lk 24:27).
    In the synagogue at Nazareth, He directly applies the words of Isaiah to His own person and His mission. He clearly tells those listening to Him, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).
    To the disciples of St. John the Baptist who had come to ask Him who He was, He gives the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled in Him as proof of His identity: “The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mt 11:46; cf Is 26:19; 29 18; 3 5:5; 16: 1).
    In His discourse after the curing of the para­lytic at the Sheep Pool, He tells His Jewish listeners: “You search the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf’ (in 5:39). And He adds: “For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me” (in 5:46).

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Scriptures

  1. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). This fulfillment and non‑abolition on the one hand indicates the confirmation of the Old Testament, since God’s Word is one just as He is one. On the other hand it indicates the fullness of the New, in which God reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (cf Mt 28:19). In the New Testament Jesus pre­sents Himself not merely as the Continuation or the end of the Old Testament, but as something, com­pletely new, original and superior in the New Testament.
    Jesus does not help us only to gain a better understanding of the Bible, but He Himself is the perfect and comprehensive Word of God, because He “is the very reflection of His glory, the very imprint of His being, the one who sustains all things by His mighty word” (Heb 1:3). He is the Word who “became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (in 1: 14). He is “the true light, which enlightens everyone” (in 1:9). He is the First and the last, the one who lives” (Rev 1: 17,18). Everything in the Bible and history cannot be definitively understood except in the light of Christ.

In relation to the Law

  1. On the one hand, Jesus knows the Law per­fectly and observes it with devotion. On the other hand, however, He shows Himself perfectly free with regard to the Law (cf Mt 17:24‑27: the Temple tax). He wishes to give the authentic interpretation of the Law (the Sabbath, forbidden foods, legal purifications, fasting etc… cf. N4k 2:18‑20; 2:28; 7:1‑13), and to show its depth and interiority. He goes so far as to declare Himself the new lawgiver, with an authority equal to that of God. In fact, He says: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors.. But I say to you… ” (Mt 5:21‑22). He Himself is the fulfillment of the Law (cf. Rm 10:4).

In relation to the Prophets

  1. On the one hand, Jesus shows that He is the genuine continuation of the prophets in His message and His life. Like them, He proclaims faith in the “God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob” (cf. Mt 2 32). He defends the rights of God and of the poor (cf. Mt 11:20‑24).
    On the other hand, Jesus does not hesitate to declare Himself greater than all of them. He is superior to them, not only in the prophetic line, but He is the first, as the origin and source of all prophetic inspiration. He is greater than Jonah and Solomon (cf. Mt 12:41‑43; Lk 11:31‑32). He is greater than Moses (cf mt ig:8‑9). He is the first of all the prophets, before John (cf. in 1:15), Moses (cf in 6:46) and Abraham (cf. in 8:56‑58). And it is important to note that His primacy is not only temporal, but existential. His “before” is infinite, because it is eternal: “Abraham, your father, rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.. Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I Am” (in 8:56‑5 8).

In relation to the Writers

  1. Jesus also presents Himself as a fulfillment of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament. These books, under the form of psalms, proverbs and popular narratives, show an awareness that the people of God is governed on one side by the Law, which indi­cates the way, and on the other side, by the Prophets, who correct the people, the kings and even the priests when they go astray. Jesus fulfils the Law and the Prophets by embodying this awareness in Himself He embodies the way and reforms it by the witness He gives throughout His life, and even in His death.
    The wisdom literature also tends to develop the universal character of the tradition given to Abraham and his descendants. At a certain moment, the path of Wisdom passes through a paradoxal situation (cf. Job and Ps 22) in which the wise person is taken for a fool, the true prophet for a false one, the priest becomes victim, and the victim becomes priest. There is a radical change in values, as if a new crea­tion would emerge from a creation undergoing a ma­jor upheaval.
    By His death, Jesus explains the apparent contradiction of these values in the wisdom literature, and opens the path which had seemed to become as impasse for humankind. “Since in God’s wisdom the world did not come to know Him through “wisdom”, it pleased God to save those who believe through the absurdity of the preaching of the Gospel, Yes Jews demand ‘signs’ and Greeks look for ‘wisdom’. but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and an absurdity to Gentiles; but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s folly is wiser than men, and His weakness more powerful than men. ” (I Cor 1:21‑25).

A new creature and a new reading

  1. The whole message and behavior of Jesus, His person, His word and His deeds, although referring to the ancient traditions with which He shows Himself to be in continuity, are something new, and therefore a fulfillment, a confirmation and surpassing of the Old Law (cf LG 22). From now on, all realities are made new in Him: the commandment of love is New (cf. in 13:14)71 is teaching is new (cf Mt 9:17; Mk 1:17; in 2:9); the Covenant is new (cf.Lk 22:20; 1 Cor11:25).
    Thanks to His Spirit, the one who believes in Jesus is a new creature (cf 11 Cor 5:17; Eph 4:24). In him, all peoples, Jews and Gentiles, become one new being (cf Eph 2:15). This newness of being will reach its complete and total fulfillment in heaven. There, those who are saved by God will have a new name (cf. Rev 2: 17); they shall dwell in the new Jerusalem (cf Rev 3:12; 21:2), because “the one who 4ts on the throne has declared, ‘See, I make all things new ” (Rev 21:5).
    From now on, everything must be read, understood and lived in the light of this newness. The whole of Scripture, before Christ and after Him, can have but a single source: the risen Christ. After Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth (cf in 14:17), everything is seen in the light of Christ. In this manner, the Apostolic Tradition that has been handed on to us in an infallible way will be formed and developed, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
    It is in this way that the Church throughout the centuries has read and understood the Scriptures. In the same way, we must read and understand the ,Scriptures with the Church.

Continuity, Fulfillment and Newness

  1. The more faithfully one searches the Scripture and finds “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8), the more firmly one believes that Jesus embodies in Himself the continuity, fulfillment and newness of the history of salvation:
    Continuity, because it consists of the same Revelation from the One and Only God who has revealed it and who desires that “all people be saved” (cf Jn 3:17).
    Newness and fulfillment because there is a new covenant in the Redemption brought about by Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior.
    Continuity, because “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rm 11:29). “That is why the apostle Paul maintains that the Jews remain very dear to God, for the sake of the patriarchs, since God does not take the gifts bestowed or the choice he made ” (Nostra Aetate 4) .
    Fulfillment and newness, because in and through the Church of the New Covenant, Christ reveals that He Himself is the goal of God’s plan “to bring everything together under one single head the Christ” (Eph 1:10). In Him, the  unity of the human race has already begun to be realized, for the Church has begun to gather together in her womb the peoples of “every nation, race, tribe and tongue” (Rev 7:9) (cf. Catech.Cath.Ch. 772,775).

Accepting all of the Scripture in Jesus Christ

  1. To be Christian means to believe in Jesus Christ and to accept everything that has been revealed about Him in the New Testament, and the way in which He understood and lived the Revelation of the Old Testament. He is also the key and supreme criteria for understanding the truth of the Bible, not only for everything that was said and done in Israel before His coming, but also for everything that will be done after Him (cf in 16:7‑11).

To be Christian is to accept the whole of the Scriptures, with the consciousness of Jesus, fully aware that He will reveal to us the fullness of the truth.


The Word of God is the Word of truth

  1. To be faithful to one’s faith and to the Word of God, one must be set free from the conscious or un­conscious influences stemming from one’s cultural background, or from current political positions, whe­ther favorable or contrary to one or the other of the two peoples involved, Palestinian or Jewish. Either of these two positions can deprive faith of its objectivity, and therefore of its faithfulness to God. Faithfulness to God can only mean faithfulness for the good of every person and every people, for the Word of God must always be a light and a guide, never an instrument with which to struggle for one side or the other, or against one side or the other.
    The Word of God can be used only in the struggle for the truth. In such a case, this Word can only unite us. If, on the contrary, it fosters division or hatred among us, this would mean that we have de­formed the divine Word, making of it a weapon of death, not of truth. And that would mean accepting the principle that we should only read the Bible from a political perspective, thus forgetting its religious essence.
    In this spirit, and in light of what was said above, we can now try to answer the questions we raised at the beginning of this letter.

III. I The Old and New Testament

The first Christian community

  1. The first Christian community in the Acts of the Apostles was faithful to God’s Word revealed in the Psalms and in all the Books of the Old Testament. In view of the difficulties arising from contact with pagan philosophies, it was not long before some voices were heard which maintained that the Old Testament belonged to the past, or that it was in clear opposition to the New Testament.
    The Church always condemned and tried to rectify those schools of thought or heresies that tried to separate the two Testaments, the Old and the New.
    Today, under the pressure of events and the way that some manipulate the sacred text, there are still some people who claim that the Old Testament is simply the history of the Jewish people, and a book which does not belong to Christian Sacred Scripture.

The Teaching of the Church

  1. The teaching of the Church has always been consistent and can be summed up as follows: The whole of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, revealed for the salvation of hu­mankind. The two Testaments are Intimately connected with one another, and they cannot be separated under any pretext.
    The Gospel is very clear on this subject: “Do not imagine”, says Jesus, “that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill them. I fell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke shall disappear from the Law” (Mt 5:17‑18). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away ” (NU 13:3 1; cf Lk 16:17; 21:3 3).
    The Church’s teaching in this regard is summed up in the Second Vatican Council’s document on Revelation: “God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New. For, though Christ established the New Covenant in His blood, still the books of the Old Testament with all their parts, caught up into the proclamation of the Gospel, acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament and in turn shed light on it and explain it” (DV 16).
    The Old Testament, therefore, as defined by the Church, with all its canonical and deuterocanonial books containing the Law, the Prophets and the Writings, does not disappear. It does not lose any of its value. As revealed Word of God, it always continues to be God’s Word and Sacred Scripture, while receiving a new light through its fulfillment by Christ, the incarnate Word of God. When it is received as such it will be a light to guide us towards truth and justice in our present situation.

God’s Word is sacred

  1. Furthermore, God’s Word in the books of the Old Testament is addressed not only to Palestinian Christians and Jews, but also to every person and to every people, since God has spoken for all, for the salvation of all the peoples of the world, including Jews, Christians and Muslims, to gather them in fraternity and in the same economy of salvation.
    In all circumstances God’s Word remains sacred. No one can touch it. Hence, if it is rejected or misunderstood, it becomes one more weapon in our hostilities and an instrument of death for individuals, peoples and civilizations, instead of an instrument of salvation and fraternity for us.
    We have already said that If some manipulate the Sacred Scriptures, this is not a reason to abandon our faith in our Scriptures. On the contrary, it is not the Word of God but the manipulation that we must denounce and correct.

III. 2  Violence in the Bible

Examples of violence in the Old Testament

  1. On more than one occasion in the Old Testament, violence is attributed to God in order to affirm His holiness. This occurs above all in two areas: as a punishment for certain violations of the Law, and in the law of anathema (or total destruction) applied to defeated peoples.
    In the first case, those guilty of idolatry are stoned (cf Dt 17:2‑5). The person who profanes the Sabbath is put to death (cf Ex 31:14). Similarly, the foreigner who enters the sanctuary of the Temple is put to death (cf. Nm 3:38).
    The Book of Numbers tells how the earth opened up and swallowed all those who had rebelled against Moses (cf Nm 16:30). In the first Book of Kings (cf. I K 18:40), the prophet Elijah orders the slaughter of the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, in God’s name.
    Regarding the second case, after the conquest of Jericho, Ai and other cities, the law of anathema is pronounced in God’s name. All those who did not believe in God were to be killed. “They enforced the ban on everything in the town: men and women, young and old, even the oxen, sheep and donkeys, massacring them all” (Jos 6:2 1).
    In the so‑called “vengeance” Psalms, we see God ‘fighting” with the people, and supporting them in their battles against other peoples. In them, prayer is sometimes also seen to be used to curse and to seek revenge “Let his life be cut short, let someone else take his office; may his children be orphaned and his wife widowed” (Ps iog:8‑9). “May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward” (Ps 129 5). “Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers ” (Ps 10 ‑. 15).

Condemnation and correction of violence in the Old Testament

  1. Alongside these incidents in the Old Testament, we also find the condemnation and correction of violence.
    God reprimands King David and rejects him because he has shed so much blood. He does not allow him to build the Temple (cf. I Ch 22:9). The Book of Proverbs orders the avoidance of the wicked for whom “wickedness is the bread they eat, and violence the wine they drink” (Prov 4:17). It condemns the use of violence: “The oppression of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is right” (Prov 21:7). In Psalm 62 ‘Put no reliance on extortion, no empty hopes in robbery” (Ps 62:11).
    The Prophets fiercely condemned the acts of violence committed by Israel: “There is no fidelity, no tenderness, no knowledge of God in the country, only perjury and lies, slaughter, theft, adultery and violence, murder after murder” (Hos 4:1‑2).
    They also repeat Deuteronomy which demands that the rights of the stranger and the poor be respected. “A curse on him who displaces his neighbor’s boundary mark .. A curse on him who tampers with the rights of the stranger, the orphan and the widow… 11 (Dt 27:19; cf. Dt 24:17; EA 22:7; Jr 22:3).
    The Book of Exodus insists on one and the same law for the citizen and the stranger: “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you” (Ex 12:49). Concerning the rights of every person in general, Jeremiah says: “When all the prisoners in a country are crushed and trampled underfoot, when a man’s rights are overridden in defiance of the Most High, when a man is deprived of justice, does not the Lord see it?” (Lam 3:3 5).
    Physical strength is useless, says I Samuel, and Isaiah speaks of another source of strength: “For it is not by strength that man triumphs” (I Sam 2:9), but “Your strength is in tranquility and in complete trust” (Is 30:15).
    The “suffering servant” in Isaiah is an intro­duction to the New Testament and prefigures Christ, who suffered for the salvation of humankind. He is the “Just Man” who “has done no wrong”, who is “crushed for our sins” and who “offers his life in atonement” (cf Is 53).

How is all this to be understood?

  1. We must keep in mind that we are faced by deep and complex truths. Hasty, superficial judgments must therefore be avoided. We are before the Word of God, of which St. Paul says: “How impossible to penetrate His motives or understand His methods! no could ever know the mind of the Lord? Who could ever be His counselor?” (Rom 11:33‑34).
    Second, it is the progressive character of revelation and its fulfillment in the New Testament which can help us to understand these facts.
    We have already stated that Revelation is progressive (par. 13). God takes into account the sacred writers’ ability to understand, despite their deficiencies and failings. Revelation is measured out to them in a way suited to them, and in spite of their faults and failings they are appointed to proclaim the message of salvation to the whole of humankind in all times and all places. This is why we say that in Sacred Scripture and in Revelation God behaves as a good teacher of peoples. He speaks to them in a progressive manner through the ministry of the prophets and the sacred writers, in each stage according to the measure of their understanding.
    To be able to explain these facts, one must know the language, the literature, the culture and the customs in which the sacred writers have transmitted Revelation to us. Then we have to distinguish between the revealed message and the customs of the time that are often in apparent opposition to the message, but which are at the same time the literary form in which the message is transmitted.
    Then we must consider that Sacred Scripture is a single book. If we wish to understand any part of it whatsoever, or any incident related in it, this part or incident must be viewed in the context of Scripture as a whole, in all its stages, from the first book of the Old Testament to the last book of the New Testament.
    Only within this deep unity of the Bible, in the progression of Revelation and in the discernment of the truth that is transmitted by and through cultural elements of the past, can we find the answer to our questions.

The violence as related to the holiness of God

  1. In the mindset of the times of the sacred writers, the use of violence is related first of all to the concept of God’s holiness, and secondly to the concept of justice and the way to preserve it among humankind.
    Every transgression against God’s holiness or against a commandment of His law was subject to a physical punishment, even death. This explains the examples given above. In the case of the conquered towns, the law of the ban expressed the obligation to uproot idolatry and affirm the holiness and oneness of God.

Violence as related to Justice

  1. In this area we find the use of vengeance as a first stage in the establishment of justice between in­dividuals and peoples. Vengeance consisted in responding to an evil with a greater evil. In the book of Genesis we read concerning Cain: “If anyone kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be taken for him” (Gen 4:15), and in verse 24: “Sevenfold vengeance is taken for Cain, but seventy‑sevenfold for Lamech “.
    In a second stage, in spite of its harshness, the “lex talionis” is a sign of progress in relation to the first stage. The excessive use of revenge is limited to an equal demand: one for one, and no longer seven-fold or seventy-sevenfold: “Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot “(cf 19:2 1).
    The book of Tobit reveals more progress in the way of dealing with one another: “Do to no one what you would not want done to you ” Job 4:15).
    The perfection of Revelation in the’ New Testament will bring tangible, revolutionary progress. The golden rule in dealing with others commands not merely avoidance of wrong‑doing, but doing to others the good you would wish to be done to you: “So always treat others as you would like them to treat you” (Mt 7:12).
    The law of love replaces the “lex talionis” (eye for eye, tooth for tooth), and brings about a revolution which demands love even of our enemies: “You have heard how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked ones no resistance… You have learned how it was said: You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ” (Mt 5:38, 43‑44).

Violence in the New Testament

  1. The New Testament brings the Revelation of the commandment of love directed towards every person, including one’s enemy. There is no longer any room for violence: “Happy the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage” (Mt 5:4). But there is Still room for the law and spiritual strength.
    The “gentle” believer is the believer who is strong by reason of his love, a love which yields no rights nor abandons any brother or sister; a love which turns to the law to put right any wrong (cf. Mt 18:15‑17). The Kingdom of God is the kingdom of the “strong”: “The kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence and the violent are taking it by storm” (Mt 11:12) .
    In the mystery of Redemption the power and effectiveness of gentleness and love is revealed. Death itself is overcome by the Resurrection of the glorified Christ after His death: “He abolished death, and He has proclaimed life and immortality” (11 Tim 1:10). Violence, too, is overcome by Jesus’ forgiveness of his executioners. By the power of this forgiveness, He converts violence into redemption. Accepting it out of love for His adversaries, He shows that evil in itself is a lie, and thus invites His opponents to liberate them­selves from their lie and to engage in truth. The cross which is a manifestation of violence, becomes the strongest and the most defintive means of recon­ciliation between human beings and with God.

The power of the truth

  1. The one who is “gentle ” is also made strong by the word of truth. Yet all the violent of the world endeavour to justify their doings by claiming to possess the truth. We see this clearly in the media and in the need of the violent to seek their support.
    In the book of Revelation and the description of the battle between the powers of good and evil, the weapon used by Christ, King of kings, Lord of lords and Word of God, is the word of truth coming out of His mouth: “All the rest were killed by the sword of the rider, which came out of his mouth” (Rev 19:21).
    In the New Testament therefore, there is a transition from a battle with material weapons of destruction to the spiritual combat. Our weapons are “the weapons of light” (cf Rom 13:12), i.e., good deeds and the word of truth. It is in this sense that St Paul says: “Grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of His power. Put on God’s armour… For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle… That is why you must rely on God’s armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance when the worst happens, or have enough resources to hold your ground So stand your ground, with truth buck­led round your waist, and integrity for a breast­plate… receive the word of God from the Spirit to use as a sword” (Eph 6:10‑14,17)”.

The question of “religious wars”

  1. By “religious war”, the believer claims he is using force or violence to defend the rights of God. He maintains he is acting in God’s name, and he al­lows himself to destroy or to kill in God’s name. It is also true that religion is frequently used in support of other motives for war, both national and cultural. This phenomenon closely resembles certain manifestations of violence in the Old Testament, is a frequent occur­rence in the history of all religions, and is still present in people’s psychology in our day. It is not only in biblical times that violence is attributed to God; the same mentality continues in our times as well.
    In itself, a “holy war” is a contradiction in terms. In his closing address to the meeting of the Eastern Patriarchs and Western Bishops following the Gulf War, Pope John Paul II declared, “there can be no such thing as a holy war”. Religion must lead man to love God and God’s children, the whole of man­kind. “Anyone who says, 7 love God, and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen ” (I in 4:20).
    To declare a holy war is therefore to go against the very essence of religion, and shows a lack of understanding of one’s own religion. It is reducing God to our human level of jealousy, quarrels and criminal hatred.

Violence today

  1. The harshness of the measures commanded by God in the Old Testament narratives to safeguard God’s holiness and justice among humankind seems strange to us today. We maintain that today we have more appropriate ways of showing these same truths through writing, explanation, preaching, the use of the best means available. There is no need for us to pro­nounce anathema, or declare a war of extermination against those who do not believe in God in order to convince ourselves or others of God’s holiness, God’s uniqueness, and of the need for God’s law to be ob­served.
    And yet if we are sincere, we must confess that in the 20th century, many of us still have the mentality which we condemn in the Old Testament. Even today, examples can be found of this mentality which demands the imposition of corporal punishment for the religious, spiritual transgression of God’s law. Some still believe in wars of religion. Some still turn to violence or more insidious means to triumph or convince others in religious or other fields.

Our suffering in the conflict

  1. In the conflict which is now coming to an end, it would appear for some people in the Holy Land to­day that the same violence is being repeated in the name of the Bible. There are indeed some who wish to continue using the Bible to justify their struggle.
    To all we say that forgiveness and conversion of hearts are two elements needed in our land at this time. Forgiveness is the way of salvation for all. Be­cause God forgives those who forgive: “Pardon your neighbor any wrongs done to you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven” (Ecd 28:2). Forgiveness does not mean concession or loss of fights. On the contrary, it helps to reacquire rights, and at the same time, it purifies the soul, converts sufferings into a source of redemption, and gives birth to peace in hu­man hearts.
    God cannot and does not want to oppress anyone, individuals or peoples, nor can God command that. His love for one people cannot become oppres­sion for another people. Therefore, no one today has the right to invoke the name of this God who is just, kind and who loves humankind, to justify one’s own human violence, whatever may be the supposed inte­rest or good of religion or of the nation.

III. 3   Election, Covenant, Promises and the gift of the land

Faith and Concrete Realities

  1. As we have said, the Bible is the Word of God which gives life. It is a history of salvation for the whole of humanity, presented by Sacred Scripture within the framework of human history. Therefore it is first of all a question of our salvation history, that of all of us, individuals, communities, and peoples. This religious perspective must be kept in mind, if we are to understand the realities of faith mentioned in Sacred Scripture, and their application to our daily life. This is the only way to find an adequate response to the questions concerning the concrete realities lived today by the two peoples, the Palestinian and the Jewish.


  1. Scripture tells us that God chose a people to prepare the way for the coming of the Saviour “Therefore, say to the Israelites I am the LORD… I will take you as my own people and you shall have me as your God” (Ex 6:6‑7). In the Acts of the Apos­tles, St Peter addresses his Jewish audience: “You are the children of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors when He said to Abraham: In your offspring all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Acts 3:25).
    We find the same idea in the Koran: “We chose them (the children of Israel) deliberately out of all the peoples of the earth” (44:32); “0 Children of Israel Remember the benefits I have showered upon you. I preferred you above all the worlds” (2: 47).
    Every person is the object of God’s choice and Love: “He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him, in love” (Eph 1:4).
    Election is a free, gratuitous initiative on the part of God, by which He calls a person or a people to walk according to His law, and to make this same law known to others, individuals and peoples, as the way of salvation. In Scripture, God chose the Jewish peo­ple through whom He would call all the peoples of the earth to faith in God and in the Messiah whom He would send as the Saviour of the world. For us Chris­tians, this Messiah is the Eternal Word of God, sent to Mary, who conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and gave birth to Jesus, the promised Messiah and Saviour.
    Election is therefore a gratuitous act of love on God’s part, and on the part of the chosen people, a responsibility before God and humankind. Responsi­bility to God means the obedience of the people to God’s commandments and fidelity to its very identity based on this choice, since its salvation depends on obedience and fidelity. To be responsible to human­kind means bearing witness to others, and transmitting to them the message received.
    Everyone who is chosen and called to salva­tion, whether an individual or a people, bears this same responsibility before God and others. To be fai­thful to oneself, and to be included among those who will be saved, one must obey God’s commandments, and one must hand on to others what God has made known to him, and the grace granted to him by God.

Why the election of a people?

  1. Why did God choose a people? It is not be­cause of their excellence over others, nor because of their merits. Deuteronomy declares as words of God: “It is not because of your merits or the integrity of your heart that you are going in to occupy the land” (cf. Dt 9:5). The choice depends on the infinite wisdom of God and His love. “How inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable are His ways” (Rom 11:33).
    It could be said that God chooses a people, or persons, and grants each of them particular graces, in order to destroy the dynamic of jealousy and envy, and to liberate peoples and persons from such a dy­namic. Sacred Scripture describes the beginning of this dynamic, in the story of Cain and Abel. Cain kills his brother Abel, because God accepted the sacrifice of Abel, thus putting Cain’s love for Him to the test. This destructive tendency continues to be seen in conflicts and wars at different periods of Sacred His­tory, and in the history of peoples in general, down to our own times.
    In the New Testament, Jesus recalls this same truth i.e., the need to overcome jealousy and envy. This is brought out in the parable of the laborers who come to work at different times of the day, and receive the same salary at the end. Those who came at the first hour grumbled against the landowner. “He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you… Are you envious because I am gene­rous? ” (Mt 20:13‑15).
    This means that we must see God and accept Him, in our brother and sister just as God has wished them to be. For God to choose a person, granting him/her a particular grace, does not mean that He re­jects the other person nor deprives him/her of His grace. God’s graces are many, and each person re­ceives his or her grace. Jesus declares: “In my Fa­ther’s house there are many dwelling places” (in 14:2).
    God’s choice of a person or people should not be a cause of pride in those chosen, nor rejection of those not chosen. It is in the humility lived by both, and in their common vision of God’s action, that they will come together in love, justice and finally to re­conciliation.

The Convenant, the Promises and the Promise of the land

  1. The Covenant is a treaty between God and humankind. Nowadays we speak of two Testaments, the Old and the New. The Old Testament preceded the coming of Jesus Christ. It contains the first part of Sacred Scripture and includes the different covenants between God and the Jewish people and other peoples or individuals, The New Testament is the Covenant established by the blood of Jesus Christ which brings the Old Covenant to its fulfillment, and opens it to all the peoples of the earth.
    In the Old Covenant, God gave His law to the Jewish people and demanded observance of it. The Covenant is based on God’s free choice, but its reali­zation is dependant upon human free cooperation. The Old Covenant is the necessary foundation of the New Covenant, and therefore it remains as such. From its beginning, the Covenant with Noah, Abra­ham, Moses and David is lasting in all its aspects, until its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ, son of David and son of Abraham. “For Christ is the end of the Law, that everyone who has faith may be justi­fied” (Rom 10:4).
    The promises are part of the Covenant and the first promises dealt with temporal realities (land, kingdom etc … ). The concept of the land as a promise has evolved according to the different life experiences of the chosen people.
    From the time of Abraham, the land was closely bound to the laws of nomadic tribes who di­vided up the lands that they occupied during their wanderings (cf. Gen 12:4‑6). During this period, the land was understood to be a gift of God and a sign of blessing. “God spoke to Abram… all the land that you see I will give to you and to your descendants for­ever… I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen 13:14; 12 2).
    After the Exodus from Egypt, from the time of Joshua and the Kings, the promise of the land was un­derstood by the Jewish people and presented by the sacred writers in terms of an armed conquest. The land became then a tangible sign of God’s fidelity as well as a task to be accomplished by Israel.
    The careful administration of the land in ac­cordance with the Law of the Covenant (cf. Dt 12‑16) in a sincere love and devotion to God would sustain the claim of Israel to the possession of the land and the blessings to come through it (cf Dt 6:4‑5; 8:11‑20; 11:26‑32;28).
    The prophets declared that violation of the Covenant by idolatry (Ez 6:1‑7,13; 14: 1‑11; 16:15‑22) and the unjust distribution of the land and its fruits (cf. Amos 2:9; 9:7; Mt 6:4‑5) would bring about devastation and the loss of the land. The people would then be exiled to a foreign land. The Babylonian exile, like the exile in Egypt, is directly attributed to the people’s disobedience of the Covenant. “They will no longer live in the land of Yahweh” (Hos 9:3), “the whole land shall be laid waste ” (Jer 4:27).
    During the Babylonian exile, the prophets did not leave the people without hope. “God consoles His people and takes pity on those who are afflicted” (Is 49:13). He would liberate His people from Babylon and make them return to their land. But now God would intervene directly in history, creating a new people in the land, giving them a new heart to con­form to His teachings and to His commandments. God would forgive and forget their sins (cf. Jer 31:31‑34). “A redeemer shall come to Zion for those of Jacob who turn away tom their sin” (Is 59:20). He will restore the divine presence in the rebuilt Temple and throughout the whole earth (cf. Zech 8:3‑9). Through the Messiah‑king “the Lord, on that day will save His people, like a flock” (Zech 9:16).

Status of the land in the Bible

  1. Land has a particular status in the Bible. It belongs to God. “The land shall not be sold in perpe­tuity; for the land is mine, and you are but aliens who have become my tenants” (Lev 25:23; cf Joshua 9:3; 1 Chr 29:15; Ps 39:12). Israel, therefore could not become the absolute owner of the land: it was only God’s guest. The worst possible thing that could befall Israel would be to forget this truth, to settle this land, and to sub­stitute it for God in its worship and values system.
    The land belongs to those whom God has al­lowed to enter it as His guests, as long as they are not unworthy of dwelling in it. “Because of the wicked­ness of these nations, the Lord, your God, is driving them out before you… “(Dt 9:5). So, too, the chosen people were required to remain worthy of the land, by observing God’s law. They had to remain faithful to the grace they had received. Once they had occupied the land, they had to continue to merit it in order to preserve it, or else the land would “vomit out its inhabitants” (Lev 18:25).
    Furthermore, we find in the Bible a particular arrangement that limits the right of absolute ownership. Every fifty years, a Jubilee year is proclaimed, which, when fully understood, means the redistribution of the land and the setting free of slaves as an acknowledgement that God is both master of all people and the true owner of the land. The Jubilee year is a reminder that people are guests and foreigners in the land, and that their homeland is elsewhere. “You will declare this fiftieth year sacred, and you will proclaim the liberation of all the inhabitants of this land .. In this jubilee year, every one of you will return to your own property” (Lev 25:10,13).

The New Covenant and the new understanding of the land

  1. With each covenant and each new stage of the history of the Jewish people, the spiritual, universal meaning of the Covenant and promises became more apparent. The New Covenant fulfills the Old one by bringing it to the peak of perfection.
    A single Covenant exists between God and the Jewish people, and between God and humankind, expressed at different moments of salvation history in different ways: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our ancestors by the prophets; but in these last days, He has spoken to us by a Son” (Heb 1: 1‑2). We cannot view these various moments, or Covenants, Old and New, as separate entities, as though they were two entirely separate, parallel or autonomous Covenants. As Christians, we believe that “The Law was given by Moses”, and that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ “(in 1: 17) in order to fulfill the Law (cf Mt 5:17).
    Jesus inaugurates the New Covenant an­nounced by Jeremiah, a definitive, eternal Covenant (cf Is 553; 61:8; Jer 32:40; Ez 16:60, Bar 2:35). Ezekiel de­scribes this Covenant: 7 will give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the stoney heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them ” (Ez 11: 19‑20, and cf. 18:3 1; 3 6:26).
    Jesus is the Chosen one ‘gar excellence’. In Him and through Him, the ancient choice is hence-forth applied to all peoples, Jews or non‑Jews, who accept Jesus as the Saviour Risen from the dead. In Him, all barriers are destroyed between the chosen people and other peoples. The grace of Redemption is offered to all people: “For He is our peace; in His flesh He had made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us… that He might create in Himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body” (Eph 2; 14‑16).
    During Jesus’ time, the Jews still awaited a political Messiah who would restore the kingdom to Israel: “Lord are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? ” (Acts 1:6; Lk 24:2 1) .
    Jesus Christ, however, preached the kingdom of God that was present in each person, a spiritual kingdom of truth and holiness. Jesus said to Pilate: ‘My kingdom is not of this world.. I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth” (in 18:36‑37).
    Regarding the land, since it belongs to God, the just ones shall possess it: “The just shall possess the land and dwell in it forever ” (Ps 37:29). Jesus takes up this verse in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5). That the meek will inherit the earth without the use of violence is brought to completion by the image of the heavenly Jerusalem (cf Rev 3:12; 21:2). The earthly Jerusalem be­comes the image and symbol of the Promised Land which is our heavenly home with God. “But the Jeru­salem above is free, and she is our mother” (Gal 4:26). She is the “new heaven and new earth” (cf. Is 65:17 and 66:22; 11 Pt 3:12; Rev 2 1: 1). Jerusalem is no longer only a land and earthly heritage: it is in a special way the spiritual heritage of humankind in need of a salvation.
    In the Old Covenant, land is God’s sanctuary, and possession of it is the condition that makes it possible to worship God in Ms temple. Jesus brings the Covenant to its fulfillment by declaring: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth… God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth” (in 4:21,23‑24) be it in Jerusalem, on Mt. Gerizim or in any other place in the world.
    The concept of the land had then evolved throughout different stages of Revelation, beginning with the physical, geographical and political concept and ending up with the spiritual and symbolic meaning. The worship of God is no longer linked to a specific land.
    A specific land is not the prime and absolute value for worship. The sole and absolute value is God and the worship of God in any place in the world.

Facing a dilemma

  1. The essential question asked by the Palestinian Christian and by every believer in the Bible, is this: does the Bible, as the Word of God, give the right to the Jewish people today to appropriate the land for themselves and, in doing so, disposses the Palestinian people?
    The Jewish believer, the Jewish people and the State of Israel are faced with a dilemma. On one hand, this land is the holy land for them. God promised it to Abraham and to his descendants. In this land, they have found security from the nations that have perse­cuted them in the diaspora. For them, God, people and land, form the triangle of their security and peace.
    But on the other hand, for centuries this land has belonged to another people, the Palestinian peo­ple. Even in the biblical times, this land was also the land of another people who always coexisted with the Jewish people.
    Furthermore, this land is the cradle and the place of most important events of Christianity. It is Christianity’s holy land ‘par excellence”. It is also the holy land for Islam. It is then the holy land for all be­lievers: Jews, Christians and Muslims. For each reli­gion, the land is holy for many reasons. One reason, though interpreted differently according to the respective traditions of each religion is common to all of them: reference to the same ancestor, Abraham, and to the faith in the same God, who is one and unique.
    Two peoples, therefore, have political rights in the same land, and three religions also have religious rights there. The three religions are the “descen­dence”, physical or spiritual, of Abraham to whom God had promised the land. To whom then does it belong in the name of religion?
    Today, if one of the three religions were to claim, in the name of religion, a political right to the land, then the two other parties would have the right to lay the same claim, for the same reason.

Religious fact and political fact

  1. In the name of religion, each of the three reli­gious has an equal right to be present in the land and to have access to it in order to be able to practice its faith. But the political rights of one or other of the three religions, or of any of the faithful, depends on the political action taken by the political authorities. And this is governed by international law. If the reli­gious factor intervenes in political action ‑ and it must intervene since political action has an ethical dimen­sion which concerns religion, faith in God and human rights ‑ it is in order to recall the need to conform po­litical action of whatever party to the religious values proclaimed by this holy land. It says also to all of them that they are the sons of the same father Abraham, who calls them to reconciliation and justice as required by the faith in this same and one father.
    In certain periods of the history of salvation, political or military action was directly attributed to God. God was the God of armies. He fought with His faithful to defeat the pagans. God was immanent in history from an anthropomorphical and national pers­pective. Today humankind is better able to perceive God’s transcendence. The word of faith is able to raise God above human conflicts in order to see Him as He is: a God who has chosen a people, but who is at the same time, Father of all His human creatures, and no longer a God of war, a friend of one people, and fighting against another people.
    If the political authority wishes to relate to God and His revealed Word as a reference point regarding the gift of the land, this means that it must also be guided in the present conflict by the moral principles contained in this revealed Word. Such principles refer to God’s justice and His goodness towards all peoples. God cannot permit His love for one people to become an injustice for another people. In fact, it is no easy thing for any believer to reconcile the acts of violence to which political and military powers are forced to turn, with God’s commandments given on Sinai and with His love and justice as proclaimed by the Prophets of Israel.
    It is therefore necessary to distinguish between the religious fact represented by the Jewish people, with its duties, obligations and religious responsibili­ties, and the political fact of a modern sovereign state which this people can establish.
    For all religions in the Holy Land, the prime value is adoration and love of God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your might” (Dt 6:5), and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Lev 19:18). On those two inseparable commandments “the whole law is based and the prophets as well” (Mt 22: 40).
    The political fact concerning its necessary moral dimension is to be considered according to the rights revealed by God in Sacred Scripture. But the different political rules among peoples, and especially the right to the land, is to be submitted to interna­tional law. The role of every religion is that of a moderator and guide regarding the moral and human value of all political action.

Biblical history and present history

  1. Religious Jewish people today identify them­selves with the Bible revealed by God. For us too, this same Bible is the Word of God. We respect this rela­tionship by which the Jewish people identify with the religion revealed to them by God. But we do not be­lieve that this religious identification implies in itself a political right.
    Contemporary history is for the religious Jew a religious history related to his biblical past history. For the secular Jew, it does not implicate necessarily this religious dimension.
    For us, Christians, God is present in every moment in the history of peoples. In the contempo­rary history of the Jewish people, as well as of the Palestinian people, God is present by His mystery and His Providence which is common to all peoples of the earth. But His presence in biblical history has something specific, which differentiates it from our contemporary history and from any other history. God wanted to make the instrument of Revelation and the salvation history of humankind emerge from the bibli­cal history. That is the difference between the history of Biblical Israel and the history of contemporary Israel.

Freeing the Bible from political manipulation

  1. The Bible is the Word of God. If politicians or fundamentalist believers abuse it as a weapon in bat­tle, it does not mean that the Word of God has ceased to be God’s Word. The value and truth of Sacred Scripture depend on the authority of God Himself, and not on those who use it or abuse it, be they friends or enemies.
    We say this because some people, exasperated by the abuse of the Bible in the present conflict, have begun to declare that the Bible or the Old Testament is nothing more than a simple history put together by the ancestors of the Jewish people, and that this book has nothing to do with the revealed Books.
    First of all, this is a refusal to accept a part of the revealed Books and a denial of God’s Word.
    Second, this position merely confirms that one has fallen into the same error which one is accusing of the other party, i.e. taking the Bible as a book of his­tory or culture in favor of one people against an­other. Abandoning all the direct testimonies given by Jesus and the apostles in the Books of the New Testament, and those of the teaching of Tradition and the Church, we would accept the deformed idea im­posed on us precisely by those who abuse the Bible.
    By rejecting God’s Word, dear brothers and sisters, you would simply become accomplices and victims of the Opposing party whom you accuse. Al­ready deprived of the land, you would allow your­selves to be deprived of your Sacred Scriptures, and from the light shed by the Bible that helps you to come out of the darkness and to surpass all difficul­ties.

The witness of the three religions

  1. Furthermore, regarding the revealed Bible, the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are in agreement, even if each one has its own interpretation of the Revelation. For each of them, the Bible or the Torah is the book of God.
    Faced with abuses, the sound position is therefore to defend the Word of God, not to abandon it. The Word of God should be above every human conflict. It cannot foster a conflict between peoples or individuals. On the contrary, the message of salvation is to be found in it, even in our present situation of conflict. In it must be seen the one and only God, who commands all believers despite their different religions to practice justice, love, forgiveness and reconci­liation.
    To accept the Bible and believe in it does not mean that God is one’s adversary, supporting the op­posing side. On the contrary, to believe it is an invita­tion to both sides who believe it to see God inviting both of them to grant each other justice and recon­ciliation. In the present circumstances, the Bible is a word of God, a word of justice and forgiveness di­rected to the two peoples, the Palestinians and the Jews.
    The aim of the Bible was always the domina­tion of oneself, it was never the domination of others. To seek to dominate others in the name of God leads to one’s own condemnation. All empires that attempted to dominate others came to understand this at their own expense.

The courage to accept one’s faith

  1. Believers must have the courage to understand the Word of God and be faithful to it, in whatever political or human contingencies they find themselves. It is time to return to the depths of religious truth, and free the religion from the social confines that are sti­fling it. When religion is set free in this way, it will be a force for liberation; but subject to social or political constraints, it loses all its liberating power, and be­comes an instrument of struggle and hostility. Reli­gion should help us to correct ourselves, to free us in order to be able to dialogue with others, and to share with others in a common action of reconciliation and construction.
    The Christian must accept himself and accept his faith in its entirety. No part can be excluded. At­tachment to God’s Word as transmitted in Sacred Scripture, is a part of our deepest, most solid Chris­tian tradition.
    It is our strength and a sure reference point in the trying circumstances which concern us. Where are we to find light and strength, if not in God, who makes Himself present in His living and life‑giving Word?
    In the most dramatic moments of its history, every civil or religious community looks within itself, to its deepest identity, to its origin and goal. This is what is happening to our community. We turn to the Bible to understand ourselves better, and to under­stand better our situation and our path.

Read and meditate the Bible

  1. The Bible is an inseparable part of our faith, as it is of our cultural and religious heritage. The Fathers of the Church, the Greek, Latin and Arab Eastern writers, such as St. Jerome, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Sophronius, St. John Damascene, Abraham of Tiberius, Suleiman of Gaza, and many others give a central place to the Bible. As St. Athanasius admirably put it, we need “to breathe the Bible “.
    Our love for the Bible is expressed in an at­tentive, assiduous and regular reading and meditation of the Word of God. Such Vectio divina” has nou­rished the holiness of the saints, illuminated the inves­tigations of theologians, and strengthened the Church throughout its history. Many of our Christian commu­nities, frequently isolated from or even deprived of the hierarchy for long periods, have been able to maintain their faith because of the Bible.

Personal or community reading of the Scriptures

  1. Our Bible reading can be done individually or in community, in the celebration of the Eucharist, in the liturgy of the Sacraments, in the different paraliturgies or celebrations of the Word, in Cate­chetical centers or classes, in prayer groups or within the different apostolic movements. It is also necessary for each family to have their Bible, to read it, meditate on it, and find in it a reference point for all moments of family life.
    This ecclesial reading must retain all of its im­portance for the animation of our assemblies. It is one of the bases which make up every local Church. Born within the community, received in community, trans­mitted in community, the Bible gives us its true mea­ning in community. It is the Bible which makes God present in His Church.

Studying and understanding the Bible

  1. The Bible is a special book, and its specific message is understood only by careful and appropriate study.
    The Bible is a divine and human word, re­vealed to a community. Its message is divine, spiritual, and eternal. But it comes to us clothed in linguistic, literary, cultural, historical and geographical terms which are human. We cannot ask of the Bible what it is unable to give. We must seek from it what is truly particular to it: a divine message of life and salvation for humankind.
    The study and correct understanding of the Bible is done in the closest bond of union with the Church, in light of Tradition and scientific research, in order to reach an understanding of the revealed truths, in an overall and unified consideration of  Revelation in its entirety regarding the whole of Scripture from a Christological point of view.
    At this point, we would like to stress once again the unity of the Bible, of the Old and New Testaments. The whole of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is revealed and inspired. Not with‑standing the great diversity of literary genres and the number of inspired human authors, the entire Bible is one Revelation and forms a single book with God as its author and Christ as its final goal. To bring the unity of Scripture into question is to compromise the personality and message of Christ.

The Biblical Institutes in our diocese

  1. It is a cause of great joy for us to see the number of institutes dedicated to the study of the Bi­ble in this land, in the bosom of our Church of Jerusa­lem and our diocese. They are performing a most worthy task and their responsibility to the local Church and the Universal Church is very great. We are grateful to them for all the help they provide, with patience and competence, for a better understanding of the Word of God. We ask them to persevere in this task in a spirit of collaboration between the different Institutes themselves, and with the local Church. We invite our faithful to be aware and to profit from this science which is so near to them. All of these institutes are able to contribute to a deeper study of the urgent questions that concern us and affect the universal Church.

God has spoken in our land

  1. God has spoken in our land, and His Word has spread throughout the world from our land. “From Zion shall go forth instruction, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem ” (Is 2: 3).
    Jerusalem was and remains the Mother Church, the birthplace of the first Christian commu­nity. Jerusalem, as a symbol of the Land itself, is called holy (cf. Mt 4:5; 27:53), not only because specific sites confirm the Bible stories and inspire faith, but also because the city and the land have experienced the divine touching the human in the midst of sinful­ness. They call us to a revealed dialogue or conversa­tion between God and us. Jerusalem indeed is the out­come of the free choice of God and an act of grace (cf. Ps 78:68; 87: if). The city is a symbol of the assurance of the saving power of God: “Just as the mountains are around Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people” (Ps 125:2).
    This holy city and this holy land are also ours. This place is our home. We live upon it and bury our dead beneath it. And today we are suffering for the simple fact of being here. Here in the land of the Bible we are the subjects of our own history. God calls us to take our destiny into our minds, hearts, and hands. We drink from the local wells of our unique expe­rience, and are fed by the Word of God who calls us to be in Jerusalem, and throughout the world, authen­tic witnesses of the One and Only, who is “the faithful and true witness” (Rev 3:14) .

A grace and a challenge

  1. To read and to live the Bible today in the land of the Bible is a grace and a challenge. A grace, be­cause we journey daily with the same Jesus along the same roads, where He walked with His disciples, as companion and friend.
    A challenge, because what we experience to­day in this same land of conflict and sufferings enters our own conversation with the same Lord, in order to make our own “hearts bum within us” as He talks to us on our own pilgrim journey, “opens up the scriptures to us” (Lk 24:32), and helps us to discern the will of the Father in the unfolding of our history.

* * *

We are aware that this reflection on “Reading the Bible in the Land of the Bible” with all the ques­tions it raises, needs to be continued. Therefore, as we have said it in the introduction of this letter, we hope that some of our brothers and sisters will share with us their reflections on this subject. The Word of God should indeed be a factor of rapprochement among believers, and a source of grace which enables them to share in the building and the sanctification of the world .
We ask God to bestow upon us His grace in order that we may understand His word, so it will be “light on our path and guidance to our steps” (Ps 118:105). We ask Him, by the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, to enable us, by the strength of the Bible, to contribute to the new journey towards peace, justice and reconciliation which has started in our land. May Almighty God fill us all with His divine blessings. Amen.

Jerusalem 1. 11. 1993

Michel Sabbah, Patriarch

The Significance of Jerusalem for Christians and of Christians for Jerusalem
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

  1. As-Sabeel Center, animated by Pastor Naim Ateeq and a team of Christian thinkers, lay and clergy, has invited us this week to reflect upon “The Significance of Jerusalem for Christians”. Of course, we do know and we insist upon the fact that Jerusalem is holy for the three relgions all together: Judaism, Islam and Christianism.

But in this conference, during this week, we are invited to look upon one of Jerusalem’s three aspects, the Christian one.

I hope that the reflections and discussions of this week will lead us, as Christians, to formulate an objective and clear vision for Jerusalem, a vision compatible with the nature of Jerusalem, as a city of God and men. This vision will be the deepening of the memorandum of the Patriarchs and Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem, and in this quality, it will be a reference for Christians Moslems and Jews, when the question of Jerusalem will be discussed and its final status will be decided.

  1. The Memorandum of the Patriarchs and Christian Heads of Jerusalem was published in November 1994. The memorandum gives, first, basic characteristics, historical and religious, indicating the christian significance of Jerusalem. In the conclusion, it gives some necessary elements for any possible solution. The definitive and concrete solution remains the task of both political leaders and specialists, who are invited to take into consideration this document of Christian Leaders, in which they will find the Christian position on Jerusalem.
  2. Basic characteristics or Jerusalem, historical and religious:

3.1 Sucessive conquests and changes of peoples.

“Jerusalem has known numerous wars and conquests.. Religious motivations has always gone hand in hand with political and cultural aspirations, and has often played a preponderant role. This motivation has often led to exclusivism or at least to the supremacy of one people over the others. But every exclusivity or every human supremacy is against the prophetic character of Jerusalem. Its universal vocation and appeal is to be a city of peace and harmony among all who dwell therein” (Memo 5).

3.2 Jerusalem is a holy city for the three reilgions: Judaism, Islam and Christianism

3.3 Permanence of Christian presence sizice 2000 years

“For almost two thousand years, through so many hardships and the succession of so many powers, the local Church with its faithful has always been actively present in Jerusalem. Across the centuries, the local Church has been witnessing to the life and preaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus-Christ, upon the same Holy Places, and its faithful have been receiving other brothers and sisters in the faith, as pilgrims, residents or in transit, inviting them to be reimmersed into the refreshing, ever living ecclesiastical sources.That continuing presence of a living Christian community is inseparable from the hisotrical sites. Through the living stones the holy archeological sites take on life” (Memo 9).

Therefore to the question, often asked, “Who are the Christians today of Jerusalem and the Holy Land?“, the answer is the following: they are the heirs of the first Church of Jerusalem and the guarantee of its continuity along centuries and through the vicissitudes and changes of states, peoples and languages: biblical hebrew, syrian-aramaic, latin, greek, armenian, coptic and finally arabic which became the common language, since the seventh century, while other languages remained and survived until today as liturgical or ethnical and national languages.

3.4 The christian attachement to Jerusalem is based on the Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testament: “Through the Prayerful reading of the Bible, Christians recognize in faith that the long history of the people of God, with Jerusalem as its centre, is the history of salvation which fulfils God’s design in and through Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ” (Memo 6).

“In the Gospels, Jerusalem rejects the Sent-One, the Saviour; and he weeps over it, because this city of Prophets, that is also the city of the essential salvific events, has completely lost sight of the path to peace” (Lk 19:42) (Memo 6). In it was accomplished the mystery of Redemption, in it Jesus taught, died on the Cross, resurrected in glory from the dead and ascended to heaven. In it, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, and sent them to proclaim the good news of salvation to Jerusalem and to the whole world. So was born the first Church in Jerusalem. Until today, Jerusalem remains the Mother Church for all Churches in the world, and the Mother city for every Christian, wherever.

3.4 Jerusalem center of spirituality and piligrimage.

Jerusalem became soon a source of spiritual and deep significance: it is the image of the Church, the New Jerusalem (Rev 3:12 and 12:2) “This holy city is the image of the new creation and the aspirations of all peoples, where God will wipe away all tears and “there shall be no more death or mourning, crying or pain, for the former world has passed away” (Rev 21:4) (Memo 6).

The pilgrimage slowly developed an understanding of the need to unify the sanctification of space through celebrations at the Holy Places with the sanctification in time through the calendered celebrations of the holy events of salvation ” (Memo 8).

  1. Local Christians and their relation with the Universal Church.

As local Christians, we are aware that Jerusalem belongs to us for two reasons, religious and civil, while all Christians of the world have concern in Jerusalem on religious grounds only. We have the duty and the right to welcome in Jerusalem all Christians of the world and to serve them in their pilgrimage and in their faith relation to the same Mother city.

This relation between local Churches and the Universal Church is a normal and vital one, and it is conform to the nature of the Church. If it is well understood and well lived, it cannot lead to any contradiction between the double loyalty to the Church and to the nation. It is normal that from time to time these relations between local und Universal Curch are questioned. Confusion indeed can easily arise in this field, as it happened in these last years concerning relations of the Roman Catholic Church, represented by the Holy See, with the State of Israel.

In what concerns our subject, the position of the Catholic Universal Church regarding Jerusalem is the following:

First, the Universal Church expresses the universal concern of all Catholics regarding Jerusalem. This universal concern implies no political claims, but adresses itself to all responsible political authorities. It requires from them the guarantee of the free access for all believers and the freedom of worship with all its consequences. It leaves to the local Church the task to give more precisions and to take a clearer and more concrete position regarding a question which concerns it in its daily life as Church and as people, who has his rights and duties, and his claims concerning those rights and duties.

Second, as world moral authority, it supports the right of peoples and nations, in conflictual circumstances, but it does not take the place of any people or nation and cannot talk in their name, except if is formally called or invited to do so by one or by both parties, which is not the case for Jerusalem.

The position of the Holy See regarding Jerusalem is the following: the sovereignty over Jerusalem concerns two parties, Palestinians and Israelis. Both of them are responsible to define their own respective positions and to come to a mutual agreement. When such agreement is reached, the Holy See requires from both parties to respect the attachement of all Christians to the Holy City, and to respect the duties and rights of local Christians. But local Christians have first the responsibility to define by themselves their own rights and duties.

  1. Necessary elements mentioned by the Memorandum for any possible solution for the question of Jerusalem.

5.1 Jerusalem has two essential and inseparable dimensions. First it is a holy city. Second it is a city where local Christians live until today. It is “their native city where they live, whence their right to continue to live therefreely, with alt the rights which obtain from that” (Memo 10), similar in that and equal to all citizens, without any distinction or discrimination. These fights are general and concern their contribution in all institutions and public life of the state; they are also special and concern the Church as religious institution with all its requirements for its religious, and spiritual development and growth.This spiritual growth being the source of their force and contribution in the civil and public life.

Therefore, when we call our local Christians to live up to the requirements of their faith, we do not call them to a sterile and narrow-minded confessionnalism, but to enrich themselves with the spiritual riches which they have at hand in their biblical and in their respective religious traditions. To practice agnosticism or indifferentism in order to avoid confessionnalism means depriving one’s people and country from riches which our Moslem brothers and sisters are entitled to wait from loyal Christian citizens.

5.2 Christians recognize to all believers, Moslems and Jews, same rights and duties, and share with them in claiming these rights, in any status which the city will have, as decided by its own children.

5.3 Jerusalem is a holy city for all Christians, local and worldwide. Therefore freedom of access should be guaranteed as already mentioned. The local Church should be rendered able to welcome the universal Church in its needs, concerning pilgrimage, worship and studies. Political authority should guarantee the required freedom for that.

5.4 Historic rights of different local Churches as defined and stated by the Statu Quo should be respected by any political power.

5.5 Jerusalem requires a special status, given its pluralistic and religious importance. The memorandum says: “In order to satisfy the national aspirations of all its inhabitants, and in order that Jews, Christians and Muslims can be “at home” in Jerusalem and at peace with one another, representatives ftom the three monotheistic reflgions, in addition to local political powers, ought to be associated in the elaboration and application of such a special statute” (Memo 14/1)

The guiding principle in this elaboration is the following: to give Jerusalem a defintive stability, so that it will never remain a source of war between peoples and religions.

For that, as three religions are represented in Jerusalem, Judaism, Islam and Christianism, and two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, these five components should be taken into consideration in order to find the suitable final and defintive status for the holy city. If one of these five elements is neglected no stability would be reached, no peace and no reconciliation. For that, political leaders and religious leaders should make common efforts to find their way in this delicate and sensitive question.

Then the memorandum says: “Because of the universal significance of Jenesalem, the international community ought to be engaged in the stability and permanence of this statute. Jerusalem is too precious to be dependent soleley on municipal or national political authorhies, whoever they may be. Experience shows that an international guarantee is necessary” (Memo 14/2)

This clause of the memorandum was misunderstood by many. Some 5understood it as an invitation for a kind of internationalization. This is not the true meaning. The dignity and the destiny of Jerusalem remains in the hands of its children. Its sovereignty also and its government. It is up to the local political forces, Israelis and Palestinians, to come to an agreement and to define the definitive status of Jerusalem. Then, as any nation hastens to stabilize its own existence through recognition and guarantees by the international community, so it will be for Jerusalem, as soon as its new and definitive status will be born. It will require to be stabilized by guarantees given by the international community.

Moreover there is a special vision which derives from the nature of Jerusalem as holy city which should be always open in all circumstances of war or peace. According to this vision it should be above all hostilities and wars. Historic experience shows that it is impossible for any governernent to isolate any of its towns from general security circumstances. Therefore boarders are closed in time of war in face of all enemies and opened for friends only. This happened and happens until today regarding the holy city. Jerusalem is today opened to all friends all over the world but closed, for security reasons, in face if its children and the nearest to it in Palestinian towns and villages.

This fact requires its children, who are its governors and the guardians of its dignity and holy character, to give it a special status which will be conform to its dignity and holiness, in all circumstances of peace or war. In our hands God has put a city he has chosen and made unique among all cities in the world. Therefore it needs a unique status which wfll di Sn nguish it from all cities of the worid, and put it above all security circumstances. So it will remain a oasis, a city of stable and defintive peace, for the good and the peace of the region and the world. When Israelis and Palestinians will agree on this vision, when believers of the three religions will agree on this vision, they will have made a historical and decisive step, which will introduce the region and the world in a new historical phase.

  1. In past history, in all its periods, Jerusalem was in the hand of one political power corresponding to or supported by one religion. We have not to judge these periods. They are history. They are our common history. But we profit from the lessons of the past, negative or positive, to reconsider our present and prepare our future. From our past we take the spirit which suppons jus bce and love, in order to build the new society of the Holy Land. Exclusivism nourishes wars and hostility, today and tomorrow, as it was in the past. To reach a position of stable peace, the unique status for Jerusalem is the solution. Each one of its children, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Crhistians and Moslems, should feel at home and should enjoy same freedom and same duties and rights. No one should feel himself as guest or stranger in his own city. No one should be put in the situation of asking for protection from any one else, and no one in his own home and city is willing to be only the guest or submitted to another For a’] of us, chi]dren of Jerusalem, despite national and religious differences, our future is to be one family of the Holy Land. Many purifications and rectifications have to be done in order to reach that stage.
  2. Jerusalem today is a disputed city, because of its sanctity and religious character. All three concerned religions agree that this city is the city of God and of His Prophets. The way God wanted for believers is not mutual wars, although we find human history full of religious wars, although we find the spirit of war even in Holy Scripture, in its human and linguistic expression. Despite that, the commandment of God to humankind is: kown each other, love each other and collaborate for the good of all. Therefore human and linguistic expresion should be correctly understood and interpreted, in order to reach the authentic meaning of the Revelation of God. The criterium of this purification of mind and heart is to be found in the conformity between our understanding of Holy Scripture and the attributes of God who is love, who is merciful, and who is holy, and who invites all humankind to be liberated from all forms of evil, as persons and peoples. So Holy Scripture will help to understand the true nature of Jerusalem and with this true understanding we will be able to find the convenient solution for our common Jerusalem, city of God and of all his children, whom he wanted to live in it, two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, and three religions, Judaism, Christianism and Islam. We ask God to help us find the right solution for the Holy City, to help us walk in love and justice, so that we will be able to make out of Jerusalem the city of reconciliation for us, for the region and for all humankind.

+Michel Sabbah Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

Jerusalem, 21 January 1996 As-Sabeel Center

Press Release about Har Homa, Abu-Gneim
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

(Summery: Those land where the Israelis decided to build new stettlements are for the most Christian Community lands. “Have the Israeli Authorities the intention to reduce the Christian presence and invite Christians to emigrate by confiscating their lands? Asks the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem! The answer is that the Israeli continued their politic of confiscation and decided to build against the international laws.):

“The Confiscation of any land, in Palestian territories, can only provoke opposition to and endanger the peace process. We cannot understand such contradictory measures: from one side Palestinians are requested to make peace, on the other side, their lands are confiscated. These confiscations raise in all hearts frustration and despair and are one of the main factors which is exploiled by extremists, and which lead to more violence. Again, all, people and authorities, want violence to disappear once for all; but at the same time, measures are taken by responsabile authority to give more fuel to extremists and to violence… Therefore we ask Israeli Authorities to reconsider their decision and to stop these confiscatioins, in order to build a solid peace and security for all, Israelis and Palestians”.

Michel Sabbah

Jerusalem First and Foremost
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

1- Recently, violence broke out in the Holy city along with all the other Palestinian cities in reaction to the opening of the tunnel besideMasjed AlAksa. This incendent constituted a flagrant confrontation to the deepest Muslim religious feelings and fears provided the several and reapeted attempts for some Jewish parties which have been aiming to reach and control Haram El Sharif.

For Christians also, this opening has turned the Via Dolorosa into an area of constant tension, preventing beleivers and pilgrims from accessing this holy site, given that one of the entrances of the tunnel’s right across the Flagellation Church. During this wave of violence many victims were killed and wounded on both Palestinian and Israeli sides.We express our deep condoleances to the afflicted families on both sides and we pray for all wounded.

2- We are part of all what has been happening in Jerusalem. We are part of the Holy City, and of all happenings in it. The sufferings of all the residents of this city, Palestinians and Israelis alike, are our sufferings too. Our prayer is that, one day, peace,based upon justice, truth and trust, may become a reality in the heartsof all the components of the City.

3- We believe that the direct reasons beyond the outbreak of this violence wave triggered by the tunnel incident and spread throughout the Palestinian cities, are the jamming of the peace process along with all the accumulated injustice and sufferings of People in the Palestinian cities, the repeated closures of the Palestinian cities and especially of Jerusalem, the continuous land confiscation aiming to expand the Jewish settlements, the effort to reduce the Palestinian Christian and Muslim presence in Jerusalem through confiscating the ID’s of Jerusalem residents who live, forany reason out side the Holy City’s borders whether in the Palestinian regions or aboard, the demolishing of houses, the holding of Palestinian prisoners, and the continuous humiliation and harassment in the way of dealing with Palestinians, and finally the worsening of the situation of daily living to a miserable level.

4- Nevertheless, we also believe that violence cannot but generate violence. Only peace can produce peace. It is only through respecting and guaranteeing basic human rights and human dignity that peace will be maintained. We sincerely are calling upon the Israeli authorities, with the primary aim to reach the needed security for the Israeli people himself, and we say to them that security cannot become a reality without insuring the same security to the Palestinians in Jerusalem and in all their cities. We urge them to reactivate the Peace Process and without any more delays or hesitations. Time is not working for the peacemakers. Rather, time is costing immeasurable pain and suffering and is only benefitting extremism and violence. We do not want that violence be the only language that moves issues and alert authorities, but let wise determination and good intentions the motive for moving the Peace Process. It is also clear, at this stage, that the question of the Holy City is the main nerve in calming down the whole situation: Jerusalem first and foremost; The question of Jerusalm must be examined and negotiated, despite the difficulties and challenges

5- Since the first day, we visited along with the Patriarchs of the Holy Land the wounded at the Makased Hospital, then we proceeded to the High Islamic Council where we ensured our Muslim brothers about the unity of our one Palestinian people: Muslims and Christians, and the necessity of the Muslim Christian dialogue for the daily life requirements. At the same evening. we payed a visit to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Mr. Eihud Olmert and expressed our concerns about the events in the Holy City and the Palestinian Cities. We expressed our condolences for the deceased and injured from the Israeli side, and made clear that the security of the Israelis should be built on the Palestinian security and on easing the great sufferings of the people. At the meeting of the Patriarchs and the Heads of Christian Communities in Jerusalem we decided to have an ecumenical prayer at Saint Anne Basilica and then in the Flagellation on Sunday September 29, 1996at 4 P.M.

We ask all our sons and daughters to pray God that peace may return.With the Palestinian and Israeli authorities, we call to come back to tranquility, so that the peace process could be resumed with new determination.

Pray to God that He may grant us peace and tranquility, that he may put in the minds of Palestinian and Israeli leaders wisdom and prudence so as to go out the tunnel of fears and hesitation, to build a new civilization founded on peace, justice and love, in the Holy Land and throughout the whole region.

The Christian Significance of Jerusalem
Comments by Patriarch Michel Sabbah on the Memorandum of the Patriarchs

Christian Presence for 2000 years

1. Introduction

Jerusalem is holy for three religions, Judaism, Christianism and Islam. In holiness all three religions should meet and lead their believers towards the adoration of God in spirit and truth. So far, unfortunately, religious leaders of the three religions all together did not meet and did not talk. Political measuresand positions have the lead, based on a vision of security and fights which should be helped and completed by a common and authentic religious position.

2. The Memorandum of the Patriarchs

The Memorandum of the Patriarchs and Christian Heads of Jerusalem on the Christian Significance of Jerusalem was published in November 1994. The memorandum gives, first, basic characteristics, historical and religious, indicating the Christian significance of Jerusalem. Then it gives some necessary elements for any possible solution. The definitive and concrete solution remains the task of both political leaders and specialists. Main elements of this memorandum are:

2.1 It recognizes the importance and holiness of Jerusalem for The three religions

2.2 It insists upon its importance and holiness for Christians in particular and on the permanence of Christian presence since 2000 years: ‘For almost two thousand years, through so many hardships and the succession of so many powers, the local Church with its faithful has always been actively present in Jerusalem. The centuries, the local Church has been witnessing to the life and preaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus-Christ, upon the same Holy Places, and its faithful have been receiving other brothers and sisters in the faith, as pilgrims, residents or in transit, inviting them to be re-immersed into the refreshing, ever living ecclesiastical sources.That continuing presence of a living Christian community is inseparable from the historical sites. Through the living stones the holy archaeological sites take on life” (Memo 9).

2.3 The Christian attachment to Jerusalem is based on the Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testament: “Through the Prayerful reading of the Bible, Christians recognize in faith that the long history of the people of God, with Jerusalem as its centre, is the history of salvation which fulfils God’s design in and through Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ” (Mem 6).

“In the Gospels, Jerusalem rejects the Sent-One, the Saviour; and he weeps over it, because this city of Prophets, that is also the city of the essential salvific events, has completely lost sight of the path to peace” (Luc 19.42) (Memo 6).

In it was accomplished the mystery of Redemption, in it Jesus taught, died on the Cross, resurrected in glory from the dead and ascended to heaven. In it, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, and sent them to proclaim the good news of salvation to Jerusalem and to the whole world.

2.4 Jerusalem is a center of spirituality and pilgrimage. It became soon a source of spiritual and deep significance: it is the image of the Church, the New Jerusalem (rev. 3:12 and12:2) “This holy city is the image of the new creation and the aspirations of all peoples, where God will wipe away all tears and “there shall be no more death or mourning, crying or pain, for the former world has passed away” (Rev.21.4) (Memo 6).

‘The pilgrimage slowly developed an understanding of the need to unify the sanctification of space through celebrations at the Holy Places with the sanctification in time through the calendared celebrations of the holy events of salvation (Memo 8).

2.5 Consequently to what was previously said, we can affirm that Jerusalem is the heart and spiritual homeland of every Christian living until today in Jerusalem or around it, or anywhere in the world, It is the city where everything has started, where God has sent His Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, Messiah and Saviour of all. In Jerusalem Christianism was born. Every Christian, every Church is born in Jerusalem. The words of the Psalm apply exactly to that spiritual but real birth and belonging: “Everyone was born there” (Ps 86:5).

3. Local Church of Jerusalem and its relation with the Universal Church

3.1 The Church born in Jerusalem, and hence scattered all over the world, remained present in it through the local Church, composed of various local Churches, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. Alltogether, we are the mother Church and alltogether we are a small Church. As Jesus was, we are still today, small and a sign of contradiction. The mother Church is still a suffering Church, so that through the same way of cross, the resurrection will be achieved in it, resurrection to love those among whom we are small, resurrection to share in the building of the earthly new Jerusalem and in the preparation of the heavenly one.

3.2 The Church of Jerusalem, though small, remains an important element in any remodelling of the region. Her role does not consist only in her own survival, but to enliven with her message of universal salvation all new creation in the region. This Church indeed is a part of the land and the people; therefore her role is important in the search of reconciliation, of peace, justice and love.

3.3 As local Christians, we are aware that Jerusalem belongs to us for two reasons, religious and civil, while all Christians of the world have concern in Jerusalem on religious grounds only. We are aware as well that we have the duty and the right to welcome in Jerusalem all Christians of the world and to serve them in their pilgrimage and in their faith relation to the same Mother city.

This relation between local Churches and the Universal Church is a normal and vital one, and it is conform to the nature of the Church. If it is well understood and well lived, it cannot lead to any contradiction between the double loyalty to the Church and to the nation.

Therefore Christianism in Jerusalem has two dimensions: local and universal. Each one of these two components completes and supports the other. Through the local Church the presence of the universal Church is guaranteed. On the other side, the small local Church becomes big and efficient, not only through the incessant coming of pilgrims, but also through the regular and continuous support of the universal Church.

3.4 Local Christians are Palestinians. Few thousands are expatriate residing in Jerusalem and The Holy Land, most of them consecrated and Church people, men and women, belonging to the various Churches.

Local Christians, as everywhere in the world, belong to their own peopleto its history and culture, just as every people in the world. This fact is to be stressed because there is a tendency all over the world to consider Christians in the Holy Land as solely Christians, without any incarnation within a people, just a religious ethnic community, which survived along centuries and is now an erratic and strange body among modern political entities. Christian Palestinians are Palestinians; They belong to their people and are part of its hopes and sufferings.

4. Jerusalem holy city and place of living

4.1 The importance of Jerusalem for local Christians should be considered in that perspective: it is the holy city for them as Christians. It is also the mother city for them as people, and it is the place of living their daily practical concrete life with all its needs, difficulties and struggles, as persons and nation. These two aspects are essential and inseparable: holy city and place of living.

The memorandum says: It is their native city where they live, whence their right to continue to live there freely, with all the rights which obtain from that” (Memo 10), similar in that and equal to all citizens, without any distinction or discrimination. These rights are general and concern their contribution in all institutions and public life of the state; they are also special and concern the Church as religious institution with all its requirements for its religious, and spiritual development and growth.This spiritual growth being the source of their force and contribution in the civil and public life.

4.2 Christians recognize to all believers, Moslems and Jews, same rights and duties, and share with them in claiming these rights, in any status which the city will have, as decided by its own children.

4.3 Jerusalem is a holy city for all Christians, local and worldwide. Therefore freedom of access should be guaranteed as already mentioned. The local Church should be rendered able to welcome the universal Church in its needs, concerning pilgrimage, worship and studies. Political authority should guarantee the required freedom for that.

4.4 Historic rights of different local Churches as defined and stated by the Status Quo should be respected by any political power.

5. Future of Jerusalem

5.1 Two nationalities and three religions.

The future of Jerusalem depends from its two dimensions, religious and political. On the political level, two nationalities, Israeli and Palestinian,are present and have political rights in the city. On the religious level: three religions, Judaism,

Christianism and Islam have religious rights, and require from both political entities to guarantee religious freedom for all believers, local and universal,

Exclusivism from any side, political or religious, will harm the identity of the city and the harmony among all those who are concerned, all its sons and daughters. Jerusalem cannot be merely Israeli or merely Palestinian, neither merely Moslem norChristian or Jewish. It should be shared by all.

To say: Jerusalem is only Christian is a cry of war.

To say it is only Jewish Moslem is also a cry of war.

In past history, in all its periods, Jerusalem the hand of one political power corresponding to or supported by one religion. Therefore it was always a source of war. Exclusivism nourishes wars and today and tomorrow, as it was in the past.

To reach a position of stable peace, each one of its children, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Moslems, should feel at home and should enjoy same freedom and same duties and rights. No one should feel himself as guest or stranger in his own city. No one should be put in the situation of asking for protection from anyone else, and no one in his own home and city is willing to be only the guest or submitted to another. For all of us, children of Jerusalem, despite national and religious differences, our future is to be one family of the Holy Land. Many purifications and rectifications have to be done in order to reach that stage.

5.2 Jerusalem divided or unified?

Talking about the future of Jerusalem, two distinct questions are involved, political sovereignty and the free access to the holy city.

Five components are in Jerusalem, two nationalities and three religions. Does that mean that Jerusalem must be divided again?

Presently Jerusalem, despite its political unification, is divided in two populations, still deeply separated by the conflict, visible in the facts and in the hearts of both populations, Jewish and Palestinian. The question to be asked now is rather: How to reunify the city?

The answer: by dividing it politically it will be reunified. The Israeli part will be Israeli and capital for Israel, the Palestinian part will be Palestinian and capital for Palestine. The two parts of the city, Israeli, Palestinian, as a whole, could have a common and coordinated local administration. Divide Jerusalem in order to reunify it: this is what is needed now, in order to achieve peace and reconciliation its two peoples and three religions.

5.3 Special status

Therefore Jerusalem requires a special status, given its pluralistic and religious importance. The Memorandum of the Patriarchs says: “In order to satisfy the national aspirations of all its inhabitants, and in order that Jews, Christians and Muslims can be “at home” in Jerusalem and at peace with one another, representatives from the three monotheistic religions, in addition to local political powers, ought to be associated in the elaboration and application of such a special statute” (Memo 14/I)

The guiding principle in this elaboration is the following: to give Jerusalem a defintive stability, so that it will never remain a source of war between peoples and religions. For that, the five components of the city (three religions and two peoples) must be taken into consideration. If one of these five elements is neglected no stability would be reached, no peace and no reconciliation.

Then the memorandum says: “Because of the universal significance of Jerusalem, the international community ought to be engaged in the stability and permanence of this statute. Jerusalem is too precious to be dependent solely on municipal or national political authorities, whoever they may be. Experience shows that an international guarantee is necessary” (Memo 14/2)

This fact requires its children, who are its governors and the guardians of its dignity and holy character, to give it a special status which will be conform to its dignity and holiness, in all circumstances of peace or war. In our hands God has put a city he has chosen and made unique among all cities in the world. Therefore it needs a unique status which will distinguish it from all cities of the world, and put it above all security circumstances. This local special status given to Jerusalem should have the support and the guarantees of the international communty

When Israelis and Palestinians will agree on this vision, when believers of the three religions will agree on this vision, they will have made a historical and decisive step, which will introduce the region and the world in a new historical phase.

5.4 Free access to Jerusalem

Jerusalem is first of all the spiritual capital for both parties and for the three religions. Therefore the religious part of the city should remain always, in any circumstance of war or peace, accessible to all. Jerusalem should be above all hostilities and wars. Historic experience shows that it is impossible for any government to isolate any of its towns from general security circumstances. Therefore boarders are closed in time of war in face of all enemies and opened for friends only. This happened and happens until today regarding the holy city. Jerusalem is today opened to all friends all over the world but closed, for security reasons, in face if its children and the nearest to it in Palestinian towns and villages.

Ways should be found so that Jerusalem remain open to all without any exception. The system of security should adapt to that priority: Jerusalem is first of all a spiritual capital for the three religions, not only for believers coming from all over the world, but also for those believers who are Palestinians and live near Jerusalem

6. Position of the Holy See

As Patriarch of Jerusalem, and as one of the local Churches of Jerusalem, I have given my vision for the question of Jerusalem. You would be interested also to hear about the position of the Holy See and the Catholic universal Church. On the occasion of a Moslem Christian Conference upon Jerusalem, in Beyrouth on June 1996, organized by the MECC, and at the request of the MECC, the Holy See published a document in which it precised its position about the question. The following is largely quotations form the above mentioned document.

6.1 ‘There exists a territorial problem relative to Jerusalem. The Holy See has always insisted that this territorial question should be resolved equitably and by negotiations”. It is said in the Fundamental Agreement signed by Israel and the Holy See (par.2 art. 11): “The Holy See is solemnly committed to remaining a stranger to all merely temporal conflicts; which principle applies specifically to disputed territories and unsettled borders… but it maintains in every case the fight to exercise its moral and spiritual teaching-office”. According to that, “The Holy See, is not concerned with the question of how many square meters or kilometres constitute the disputed territory, but it does have the right – a right which it exercises- to express a moral judgment on the situation

“It is obvious that every territorial dispute involves considerations, such as the right of national communities to self-determination, the right of communities to preserve their own identity, the fight of all people to equality before the law and in the distribution of resources, the right not to be discriminated against by reason of ethnic or religious affiliation, etc”.

“The attitude of the Holy See with regard to the territorial situation of Jerusalem is necessarily the same as that of the international community. The latter could be summarized as follows: “the part of the City militarily occupied in 1967 and subsequently annexed and declared capital of The State of Israel, is occupied territory, and all Israeli measures which exceed the power of a belligerent occupant under international law are therefore null and void. In particular, this same position was expressed and is still expressed by resolution 478 of the United Nations security Council adopted on 20 August 1980 which declared the Israeli ‘basic law” concerning Jerusalem to be ‘hull and void” and which invited countries with Embassies in Jerusalem to move them elsewhere”

6.2 “1’here is however a further aspect of Jerusalem which in the Holy Seets view goes well beyond the simple territorial aspect: this is the religious dimension” of the City, the particular value which it has for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers who live there, and for Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers throughout the world. It is a question here of a value which must be considered as having a worldwide and universal character: Jerusalem is a “treasure of the whole of humanity”.

6.3 Internationalization and international guarantees.

With a view to safeguarding the universal character of a City already claimed by two peoples (Arab and Jewish) and held sacred by three religions, the Holy See supported the proposal for the internationalization of the territory, the ‘corpus separatum’ called for by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181(11) of 29 November 1947.

The Holy See at the time considered the “corpus separatum“as an adequate means, a useful juridical instrument, for preventing Jerusalem from becoming a cause and arena of conflict, with the resulting loss of an important aspect of its identity (as in fact subsequently happened and continues to happen).

In the years that followed, although the objective of internationalization was shown as unattainable, the Holy See continued to call for the protection of the Holy City’s Identity. It consistently drew the attention to the need for an international commitment in this regard. It called for “an internationally guaranteed special statute”. ‘It is my hope, says the Pope, that the international community will offer to the political partners most directly involved the juridical and diplomatic instruments capable of ensuring that Jerusalem, one and holy, may truly be a crossroads of peace.”

The document concludes with the following consideration: “In effect, the territorial and religious dimensions of the problem, although often separated in order to facilitate proper and thorough discussions of the situation, are interrelated. They are such that a political solution will not be valid unless it takes into account, in a profound and just manner, the religious needs present in the City”.

7. Conclusion

7.1 I would like to recall, first, that Jerusalem, in these days, is not merely a political or a merely theoretical question to be treated in local and world forums; it is a human problem, it is an open wound with human daily sufferings.The cry of the poor in Jerusalem must be heard.

7.2 Second, it is high time to say now: Jerusalem first. The question is so capital and so sensitive, That it should be discussed first and have its adequate, definitive and stable solution. Enough time has by now elapsed since the Madrid conference and the Oslo accord to prepare and to educate the public opinion, Israeli and Palestinian. In these moments we witness rather a go back to extremist irreconcilable positions on the part of the Israeli government. Extremism and exclusivism are seeds of war and non-reconciliation.The majority of the Israelis and the Palestinians want real peace and real coexistence. These two majorities should speak and act.

7.3 Third, Jerusalem is holy for three religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianism. This fact should educate every believer in Jerusalem to recognize, to accept and to live in the same holy city of Jerusalem with other believers. In order to do so, true believers should educate themselves to have a better knowledge of the essence of their own religion. Religion cannot be an agent of war. True religion is an invitation to reconciliation, mutual respect and love. This endeavour to recognize and accept the other should lead all believers of the three faiths to a common ideal of holiness. It is on that deep level of holiness that the unity of the city could only be built. This religious endeavour towards the essence of religion which is holiness in mens’ relation with God and with each other should direct all political measures taken by all political leaders in Jerusalem

+ Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch

Christmas Message 1996
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Christmas Statement by Jerusalem Patriarch

Archbishop Michel Sabbah

Brothers and sisters,

  1. I invite you, this year again, to meditate upon the message brought by the angel to the shepherds: “I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). I ask God almighty that this message be a source of joy and spiritual strength for you in your efforts, hopes, pains, and the continuous struggle of your daily life.
  2. To all our faithful, to our priests our religious, men and women, I address this message: A Savior has been born to us, capable of giving us salvation and purifying our hearts of all egoism, the cause of all evil and sin within and around us. We have started together the preparatory period to welcome the grace of the Jubilee, in the year 2000. Together we want to contemplate the glory of the Son, “the glory that he has from the Father as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14)…. And with our contemplation of the glory of the Son, we still hear the voice of the poor, of the oppressed and those sufferings in our society.
  3. This year was one of the most difficult for our faithful and for all the Palestinian people, in Bethlehem as well in all the Palestinian cities. To them we address our message. To the Jewish people too we address this message; the Jewish people too have suffered and still suffer in their security. Moreover, both peoples are the necessary partners to the same peace.

To all we say: a Savior has been born to us; a Savior who will liberate the peoples of the earth from their sins and who will liberate our land from its adversity. The sin that prevents the realization of peace is exclusivism and the negation of the other; it is the cause of all violations of rights and human dignity. From this sin, both peoples have to be liberated.

A Savior has been born to us. He tells us that every society must be built only on love. Love means the capacity for seeing the image and the dignity of God in every and each human being, be he friend or enemy. It means the capacity to forgive and at the same time to defend all rights. It means the capacity to collaborate in the construction of the new society which must be born in our land, and which cannot be born except with the joint efforts of both peoples who live in it and who believe in its sanctity and message.

  1. Jesus was born in Bethlehem; and this year, in this town, people offer their prayer their daily sufferings, in the hope that God will look upon all those who suffer in the earth and have pity. Like all other Palestinian towns, Bethlehem continues to suffer from political and economical instability which is continuing and worsening; indeed it is besieged by a system of permits, dependent upon the will of the Israeli military. Every Palestinian town is so transformed by this permits system into a large prison.
  2. In the sky of Bethlehem, the angel proclaimed the message of peace, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth” (Lk 2:14). We ask God to strengthen the people of good will in this holy land—Jews, Muslims, and Christians—so that they become able to build the equality justice and love.

We ask God to bestow upon us his salvation, to give us his light and wisdom, to fill our hearts, our homes and our societies with his love and peace.

Michel Sabbah, Patriarch Jerusalem, Christmas 1996