Easter Message 1997
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Christ is risen, Halleujah. He is risen indeed, Hallelujah

  1. Our message on the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord, is the message of the one who defeated death, Our Lord and God Jesus Christ, one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Word of God became man. As a man he died on the cross and as God he defeated death and has resurrected in glory. All this happened for our redemption and for the expiation of our sins, to liberate us from all the forces of evil and death, so that we may have life eternal within us.

St John said: “For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Our meditation, in these days, on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is an invitation to renew hope. Jesus died and has resurrected. From now on, it is possible for every believer to rise from all kinds of death and to liberate himself from all kinds of evil whether within himself or surrounding him. Christ is risen. Let us rejoice and renew our hope, so that we can attain all good, both for ourselves, for our society, our land , our region and for all the peoples of the earth.

  1. Many evils are surrounding us. The main one is the absence of peace. It is absent in the hearts and intentions, or it is susbstituted by egoistic views which exclude the other and do not take him into consideration. The peace process is stumbling. Talks should now be replaced by clear actions which give back freedom and dignity to every Palestinian and security to every Israeli. Only actions will constitute a solid base for peace, in the land as much as in the hearts. Then reconciliation and forgiveness can become possible; then love and resurrection will become part of our life.

Blood is still unfortunately being shed. Violence is still in the hearts and blindness concerning the rights of others are still in the minds of the leaders. The blood being shed is innocent blood. It is possible to stop this bloodshed, if the leaders open their eyes to see that every human being derives his dignity from God’s dignity, Israelis and Palestinians alike, and that dignity with dignity is saved; the Israeli dignity will only be confermed with the Palestinian dignity. There is no possibility to escape from this equality among peoples if peace is to be reached. Every effort to forget or to remain blind about that will keep the innocent blood being shed; and those responsible for violence are the ones who recourse to violence and those who provoke violence by unwise or unjust decisions..

The Holy City, the place of all the holy events which we recall to mind during this holy week, the city of resurrection and redemption, is still the main cause for the absence of peace. Everyone believes that it is the city of peace. Yet, it remains the source of disputes in the hearts. It is still, for security reasons, forbidden for our believers. This holy city should have a unique and special status which guarantees its holiness and its sovereignty alike. God wanted this city to be a holy heritage for the three monotheistic religions. On this base its peace could be built.: the principle of sharing the city is the only way to peace.

  1. The message of the glorious resurrection of Christ is a message of joy, hope and peace. We bring this message to all our faithful in all our dioceses in Jordan, Cyprus, Israel and Palestine, and to all believers in the world. We believe that peace is possible and can be reached: it is a grace of God to humankind, and God is higher and stronger; His peace will reign upon us; we will repent and revert to God our Creator, and reconcile with Him and with all our brothers and sisters. To you all, brothers and sisters, I ask the Risen Lord to fill your hearts with hope and joy based on justice, forgiveness and love. Christ is risen, Halleujah. He is risen indeed, Halleujah.



Jerusalem: A Holy City and a Place for Living
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem

Keynoter at the Awards Banquet of the ADC,

14th National Convention “Organizing is Power”

June 14th , 1997


I thank the ADC and the organbizers of this 14th national Convention, for the invitation entrusted to me to talk on Jerusalem.

I bring to you the greetings of Jerusalem, with all itsa hopes and sufferings.

I come from Jerusalem, I live in it with my own Roman Catholic Church, but also with all its churches, religious beleivers, Moslem, Christian and Jews. All of us, we are in search of peace, the ttre peace which includes everyone, the two people and the three religions livin today in Jerusalem.

I will talk about the Christian aspect of Jerusalem, without neglecting the other aspect refering to the document signed by all my brothers the Patriarchs and head of Christian Churches in Jerusalem.

I hope that my modest contribution will be a help, though small, in our common and hard search of peace, for our holy city.

I knew of course, these days, about the recent step taken by the Congress of the US concerning Jerusalem. The least we can say about it: it is unfortunate, because it does not lead to peace. It is not the true way to peace. The true way to peace in Jerusalem and in the region is therecognition of all its peopls’ rights and dignity. Ignoring one will not help the other. It is acting against both: because abscence of peace, due to extremism, will affect both, depriving them together (the Israelis and the Palestinians) of the wanted peace.

In November 1994, The Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem published a document on “The Christian Significance of Jerusalem.” In Jerusalem, we are three Patriarchs: the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Catholic. In addition, there are ten Archbishops or Patriarchal Vicars, for the Orthodox Churches (the Syrian, the Coptic, and the Ethiopian); for the Catholic Churches (the Melkite, the Syrian, the Armenian, the Maronite, and the Chaldean); and for the Protestant (the Anglican and the Lutheran).

We have together signed this document to express clearly our basic and common Christian position regarding Jerusalem. The main elements of the Memorandum can be summarized in three points:

  1. The importance of Jerusalem for Christians;
  2. Jesusalem as a holy city and a place for living;

and 3. The future of Jerusalem.

  1. The Importance of Jerusalem for Christians

1.1 The document begins by recognizing the importance and holiness of Jerusalem for the three religions. It then insists on its importance and holiness for Christians in particular and on the permanence of the Christian presence within it for two millennia:

“For almost two thousand years, through so many hardships and the succession of so many powers. the local Church with its faithffil has always been actively present in Jerusalem. Across the centuries. the local Church has been witnessing to the lift 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, whether as residents or in transit, inviting them to be re-immersed into the refreshing ever-living ecclesial sources. That continuing presence of a living Christian community is inseparable from the historical sites. Through the living stones, the holy archeological sites take on life.” (Mem. 9)

1.2 Through the centuries, historic rights have obtained for different local Churches. These are now defined and stated in the Status Quo, which is to be respected by all political powers.

1.3 The attachrnent to Jerusalem by Christians is based on the Holy Scriptures, both the Hebrew and the Christian.

1.4 Jerusalem is a center of spirituality and pilgrimage. It early became a source of deep spiritual significance; it is the image of the Church, the New Jerusalem atev. 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; Mem. 6).

1.5 Therefore, Jerusalem is the heart and spiritual homeland of every Christian living to this day whether in Jerusalem, or near it, or anywhere in the world. It is the city where everything began, where God sent His Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, Messiah and Savior of all. In Jerusalem, Christianity was born. Every Christian, every Church, is born in Jerusalem. The words of the Psalm apply precisely to that spiritual but real birth and belonging: “Everyone was born there” (Ps. 86:5).

  1. Jerusalem: A holy city and a living place

2.1 Jerusalem, a holy city for local Christians, is also the mother city for them as a people. It is the place where, as persons and as a people, they live their daily practical concrete life with all its needs and difficulties and struggles. These two aspects are essential and inseparable: a holy city, a place of living.

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

2.2 Again, as to the religious aspect, the Memorandum does not ignore the others. In civil terms as well, Christians recognize that all believers, Muslims and Jews, have the same rights and responsibilities, and share with them in claiming these rights in any status which the city will have, following on the decision of all its children.

  1. The Relation of the Local Church to the Universal Church

3.1 The whole Church, born in Jerusalem and thence scattered throughout the world, remained present in it through the local Church, today made up of various local Churches, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. All together, we are the mother Church, and all together we are a small Church. As was Jesus, so we today are still small and a sign of contradiction. The mother Church is still a suffering Church, and so, through the same Way of the Cross, the resurrection will be achieved in it, a resurrection to love those among whom we are small, a resurrection to share in the building of the earthly Jerusalem and in the preparation for the heavenly one.

3.2 The Church of Jerusalem, though small, remains an important element in any remodeling of the region. Her role does not consist only in her own survival, but in enlivening with her message of universal salvation all new creation in the region. This Church is the believers, the faithM, and as such is a part of the land and the people. Therefore her role in the search for reconciliation and peace, based on justice and equal dignity for all, is important. This importance of the role of the local Church derives also from its relation with the Universal Church.

3.3 As local Christians, we are aware that Jerusalem belongs to us for two reasons, religious and civil, whereas all Christians throughout the world are concerned for Jerusalem on religious grounds only. We are aware as well that we have both the duty and the right to welcome in Jerusalem all Christians of the world and to serve them in their pilgrimage and in their relation in faith with the same Mother city. We are aware that, through our communion with the Universal Church, we are also strong and large.

This relation between local Churches and the Universal Church is a normal and vital one, conformed to the very nature of the Church. If it is weU understood and well lived out, it cannot lead to any contradiction between our dual relationship with the Universal Church and with the nation, or with our own people.

Christianity in Jerusalem, therefore, has two dimensions: local and universal. Each of the two components supports and completes the other. Through the local Church, the presence of the Universal Church is guaranteed. The local Church is the host and the servant of the Universal Church. On the other side, the small local Church becomes large and effective, not only through the constant visits of pilgrims, but also through the continuous regular support of the Universal Church.

  1. Jerusalem: Two peoples, three religions

4.1 The two peoples are the Palestinians and the Israelis. Palentinians are Muslims and Christians. Local Christians are Palestinians. They are an integral part of the Palestinian society and belong to their own people, to its history and culture, just as all faithful,Chrisflans, Muslims, or Jews everywhere in the world belong to their own people, history and culture. This fact must be stressed because some have the tendency to consider Christians in the Holy Land as solely Christians, without any incarnation within a.people; merely a kind of religious ethnic community which has survived over centuries and is now an erratic and strange body among modern poilitical entities. But Christian Palestinians are Palestinians; they belong to their people and are part of its hopes and sufferings.

4.2 The three religions are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism on the local and international level is a part of Israeli society in Jerusalem. The two others, Christianity and Islam, are part of the same Palestinian society in Jerusalem. The position of Christians worldwide is dependent on the just and equitable relations between Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem. Hence, the great responsibility of both Muslims and Christians in the formulation of their vision and practical attitude toward Jerusalem, with a frank and courageous openness to one another as well as toward Judaism.

Absolutely speaking, the three religions must relate equally to the city in all that concerns the political, civil and religious rights and responsibilities of their be]ievers. “In the name of religion, each of the three religions 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 another of the three religions, or of any of the faithful” (LP 4, p 54), derive from international law, based on historic and legitimate rights. Today, they still depend on the force of military occupation.

  1. The Future of Jerusalem

5.1 Regarding the future of Jerusalem, two distinct questions are involved: political sovereignty, and free access to the Holy City.

5.2 Political sovereignty

A document published in June 1996 by the Holy See (Jerusalem – Considerations of the Secretariat of State) states: “The attitude of the Holy See with regard to the territorial siruadon of Jerusalem is necessarily the same as that of the international community. The latter could be summarized as follows: the pan of the City militarily occupied in 1967 and subsequently ann exed and declared capital of the State of Israelis 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 “null and void” and which invited countries with Embassies in Jerusalem to move them elsewhere.” (I,1).

Jerusalem through the centuries was always governed by one political power corresponding to or supported by one religion. Therefore it had remained for centuries a source of war. Exclusivism nourishes wars and hostflity, now and in the future, just as in the past. Exclusivism from any side, whether political or religious, will harm the identity of the City and threaten the harmony among all concerned, all its sons and daughters.

The political future of Jerusalem depends on its two dimensions, religious and political. With three religions and two peoples, Jerusalem should be shared by all of them.

To arrive at a position of stable peace, each of its chfldren, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Muslims, should enjoy the same freedom, the same dignity, the same duties and rights. No one should feel like a guest or a stranger in one’s own city. No one should be put in the situation of asking for protection from any one else. For all of us, children of Jerusalem, despite our national and religious differences, our future is to be one family of the Holy Land. Much purification, many rectifications will have to be done in order to reach this state.

5.2.1 Jerusalem: Divided or Unified

Despite its political and military unification, Jerusalem today is divided. The two peoples are deeply separated by the conflict, obvious in the faces and hearts of both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians- Therefore the question to be asked is: How to reunify Jerusalem today? As geography, as shrines, holy places and stones, Jerusalem is important, but the living people in it, Palestinians and Israelis, are just as important. Its geographical unity is important, but the human unity of its two peoples is just as important. Today, this human unity does not exist. Therefore the question is: How to realize this human unity? Every polifical formulation, if it is to last and take effect for a long future, must take the living people into consideration. How to reunify Jerusalem? By recognition of the rights of both peoples in it and through shared government of the city. The Israeli part will be Israeli; the Palestinian part will be Palestinian. The two parts can be geographically and politically separated if the hearts of the two peoples and the believers of the three religions are unified. The two parts can also be politically united through a formula of shared administration: one city, two flags and two capitals, as is already said by some. Mutual recognition and sharing, these are two main elements on the way to returning unity to Jerusalem, and so to achieve peace and reconciliation between its two peoples and three religions.

5.3 Free access to Jerusalem

Jerusalem is first of all the spiritual capital for the two peoples and for the three religions. Therefore the city should remain always, in any and all circumstances of war or peace, accessible to all. Jerusalem should be above all hostilities and wars. The experience of history shows that it is impossible for any government to isolate any of its towns from general security measures, and therefore in times of war borders are closed to all enemies and opened only to friends. This has happened and even today happens in the Ho ly City; Jerusalem was in the past and is today opened to all friends from the whole world, but closed, for security reasons, to its own children and those nearest to it in the Palestinian towns and villages.

Ways need to be found in order that ~Jerusalem remain open to all without exception. The security system should adapt to that priority: Jerusalem is first of all a spiritual capital for three religions: And not only for believers comig fiom all over the world but also to those believers who are Palestinians and live but a few miles from Jerusalem.

5.4 Special status

Therefore, given its pluralistic character and its religious importance, Jerusalem requires a special status. The Memorandum of the Patriarchs says: “In order to satisfi’ the national aspirations of all its inhabitants and in order that Jews, Christians, and Muslims can be at home in Jerusalem and in peace with each other, 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 14.1).

The guiding principle in this elaboration is to give Jerusalem a definitive stability, so that it will never again become a source of war between peoples and religions.

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” (Mem 14.2).

This fact requires its citizens who are its governors and the guardians of its holy places to give it a special status in conformity with 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 a]) cities of the world. Therefore it needs a unique status which will distinguish it from all cities of the world, and place it above all security circumstances. This local special status, once it is given to Jerusalem by its own citizens, should have the support and the guarantees of the international community.

When Israelis and Palestinians agree on this vision, when believers of the three religions agree on this vision, they will have taken a historic and decisive step, introducing the region and the world into a new historic phase.

The position of the Holy See is similar to what I have presented above. The same document, Jerusalem – Considerations, says on this point:

“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 internationalisation of the territory, the ‘corpus separatum’ called for by the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 (‘I) 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 internationalisation was shown unattainable, the Holy See continued to call for the protection of the Mojy City identity. ft consistently drew the attention to the need for an international commitment in this regard. called for ‘an internationally guaranteed special statute.’ To this end, the Holy See has consistently called for an international juridical instrument: which is what is meant by the phrase ‘an internationally guaranteed special statute’ lb. 1.1 a-b).


The question of Jerusalem is a political and a religious question. Neither aspect can be separated. Believers who live in Jerusalem are also citizens. Holy places and a place to live a daily life are two inseparable aspects of Jerusalem. Therefore the question of Jerusalem is also the question of the poor and the oppressed in Jerusalem, who have waited and still wait for peace and security.

The current changes undertaken in Jerusalem by the Israeli authorities: the Har Homa settlement and the withdrawal of the Identity Cards of the Palestinians of Jerusalem, have paralyzed the peace process and discouraged hopes for reconciliation. It is now high time that the question of Jerusalem be put as the top priority to be discussed first. Once the question of Jerusalem is settled, the peace process will go smoothly.

Religious leaders have a role to play, a reconciliatory rqle, not the role of exclusivist extremism. Jerusalem today is a disputed city, because of its sanctity and its religious character. All three concerned religions agree that this city is the City of God and of His Prophets. The way shown by God to believers is not war, although we find human history full of religious wars, and even find the spirit of war in Holy Scripture, in its human and linguistic expression. Despite that, the commandment of God to humankind is: Know each other, love each other, collaborate for the good of all.

So Holy Scripture will help us understand the true nature of Jerusalem and with this true understanding, we will be able to find the appropriate solution for our common Jerusalem, City of God, and all his chfldren whom he wanted to live in it: two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, and three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Preparations for the Jubilee Year 2000
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

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

Feast of the Assumption 1997

“In the beginning was the Word:
the Word was with God
and the Word was God..
And the Word became flesh
and He dwelt among us,
and we contemplated His glory,
the glory that is His as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth
”. (Jn I : I , 14)

To diocesan priests,
to members of religious orders and congregations, and all our lay people,
Brothers and sisters,

  1. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”.

On the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, I send you this pastoral Letter for the preparation of the Jubilee Year 2000 . On the threshold of the new millennium, we look to Mary, our Mother, full of grace, chosen by God to be the mother of the Word made flesh, Jesus the Messiah Saviour.  May she lead our preparation and accompany it, and help us to contemplate more deeply her Son, “the perfect copy of the Father’s nature, and the radiant light of His glory (Heb 1 :3)

General Preparations

  1. All the Churches of the world are preparing

Church of Jerusalem, with its four families: Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox (i.e. Armenian, Coptic and Syrian) and Protestant, is preparing for this great event. The municipalities of Bethlehem and Nazareth are taking public initiatives for the occasion. The governments of our various countries, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus, have also created committees to oversee preparations and to contribute to its success.

The Jubilee is primarily a religious event of the Church with a universal human significance. The faithful therefore have to live it in order to keep its true meaning: jubilee of the great Mystery of Incarnation and of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ

The Meaning of The Jubilee

  1. “When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman ” (Ga 4: 4).  With these words from the Scriptures, the Holy Father begins his Encyclical Letter for the Year 2000. The fullness of time means the moment of time, God thought fitting to fulfil in our land, and in the framework of our human history, his promise of salvation to the first Man (cf. Gn 3:15) and repeated to the Patriarchs and Prophets, the salvation perfectly achieved in Jesus Christ, the Word of God Incarnate. Time reaches its fullness by the fact that God enters into the Mystery of the Incarnation and takes part in it.

“The Jubilee of the Year 2000′, writes the Holy Father, “is intended to be a great prayer of praise and thanksgiving, for the gift of the Incarnation of God’s Son and of the Redemption he has accomplished” (T.M. Adv. 32). “In the Year 2000, the truth: “Ecce natus est vobis Salvator mundi: “Behold, the Saviour of the world is born for you”, must be proclaimed with renewed vigour” (T.M. Adv. 38).

For this reason, the Jubilee is compared to a new Advent extending over a three year period . The preparation focuses on the mystery of the Trinity which Jesus, as God and Man, has revealed to us.  “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known” (Jn 1:18). The first year, 1997, is dedicated to meditating on the Mystery of the Son; the second year, 1998, is consecrated to the Mystery of the Holy Spirit; and the third year, 1999, to the Mystery of the Father.  In this meditation, we renew our Christian faith, we work out our salvation and witness, by our lives, to the hope which dwells within us and to him “who, before the world was made, chose us in Christ to be holy and spotless and to live through love in his, presence” (Ep 1:4).

The Jubilee and The Church of Jerusalem

  1. As the Church of Jerusalem, we. are concerned in a special way with this Jubilee because it is in our land that God, in his boundless goodness, desired the events of the Mystery to take place: the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, in Nazareth, of the Mystery of Incarnation, the Birth of Jesus Saviour in Bethlehem; the accomplishment of the Mystery of Redemption in Jerusalem. These are the cities Where we live our daily lives, religious and social . Many of us were born in these cities and now spend our lives working there.  In these cities many of us have family and friends.  In these cities we have our parishes where we live out our spiritual lives from birth to death.

Our daily life is intimately linked with the sacred and the Mystery of the salvation God wills for all humanity. The Jubilee reminds us, who live in this Holy Land, of two simple and clear realities: first, the Holy Places which preserve the memory of the divine mysteries are also places of our daily life; second, these places of prayer and daily life have also a universal dimension. Our Holy Places, as well as our parishes, are holy for us and for the rest of the world . We are here for ourselves, for our Church of Jerusalem and for the Churches throughout the world.

This is why the Holy Father desires the Church of Jerusalem to be, with Rome, the centre of this Jubilee: “The celebration of the great Jubilee will take place, at the same time, in the Holy Land, in Rome and in local churches all over the world” (T.M. Adv. 55).

Our Preparations for The Year 2000

  1. The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, in its meeting held 14-16 March 1995, appointed an episcopal commission to prepare for the Jubilee: Bishops Maximos Salloum, Saleem Sayegh and Kamal Bathish, who, as president, was named by the Holy Father a member of the Vatican Central

Committee to link Rome and Jerusalem.

This commission created other working committees of clergy and lay people to be responsible for various sectors of activities in the Church.  The Commission for Pilgrimages has also become a commission for the Year 2000. A Christological Week was already held in May 1997. All of this has taken place in Jerusalem. It is now necessary to launch the same preparations throughout the Diocese in Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus. Each parish should enter into the Mystery and the grace of the Jubilee. It is true that the diocesan Synod of all the Catholic Churches of the Holy Land, still in the first stage of conversion and spiritual renewal, provides a basic preparation for the Jubilee. Nevertheless, each parish, each religious congregation and each lay person should be actively involved in this preparation.

Religious Congregations

  1. In the framework of the Diocese, the Franciscan Fathers in the Custody of the Holy Land have already begun intensive preparations in order to live this event and to allow the Diocese to welcome the Churches of the world coming on pilgrimage to the Holy Places.  Other religious congregations, according to their particular charism, have also begun their preparations for the same aims. The main preparation and contribution to the Jubilee consists of living this moment of grace, together in communion, and by an open co-ordinated sharing among the various sectors of the Diocese: parishes, Holy Places, monasteries and convents.  Before any technical preparation, prayer remains the best means for God to increase the presence of the Spirit and his love among us.  This is why the role of contemplative convents is always of primary importance. On this occasion, with the invitation to pray and deepen the spirit of communion among us, I would like to express to all the religious institutions in this diocese our esteem and gratitude for all they are doing for diocese in general and for the Jubilee in particular. Each of us is a member in the same Body of Christ and we accomplish our mission by unceasing communion with the Head of the Body, the Lord Jesus Christ, and with all the other members.  The celebration of the Jubilee is a moment of communion and grace which purifies us all and strengthens our union with the Holy Father, head of the universal Church, and with the Bishop, head on the diocese.

Many events are celebrated this year in the diocese: the Synod (already mentioned), the 150th anniversary of the restoration of our diocesan see (1847-1997), upon the arrival, in 1847, of the first Latin Patriarch in modem times, Patriarch Joseph Valerga who gave a new face to the Diocese, a face which has remained until today; the anniversaries of religious congregations: the 150th anniversary of the Sisters of St Joseph (of the Apparition), the 150th anniversary of the Franciscan Printing Press, the centenary of the Benedicitine Sisters on the Mount of Olives, the 50th anniversary of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Cyprus, the centenary of Charles De Foucauld’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land (founder of the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus … ). All this can only contribute to the spiritual renewal of the diocese, in its journey to meet the Spirit, in the grace of the Jubilee, the grace of individual spiritual renewal and of communion among all the local and universal sectors of this diocese.

Organizing Pilgrimages

  1. On this occasion, the entire Church sets out on pilgrimage, on a journey where she seeks God, in our various shrines, in order to meditate there the mystery of the plan of salvation, and to discover the true meaning of the Jubilee. Parish priests and school principals should organize pilgrimages to the Holy Sites, with prior preparation leading to true conversion. We have already noted that our Holy Places are also those familiar to us in our daily life, a life intimately linked to the sacred. Unfortunately, it seems that this familiarity with the Holy Places can distance us from the grace Godoffers us there. While pilgrims arrive from East and West, our own preoccupations and familiarity with the Holy Places can blind us to their value and holiness.

In catechesis, in all the apostolic movements, for young people or adults, we should insist on the importance of pilgrimage in order to better understand the reality of the Divine Mystery which entered our human history, in our land, in our villages and in our shrines.

It is true that some of our parishes are more fortunate than others. The parishes of Israel can freely visit the Holy Places . Yet because of the Israeli closure imposed on the Palestinian Territories (August 1997), they also are prevented from visiting the Holy Sites of Bethlehem and the other Palestinian Territories. From Cyprus, pilgrimages can easily be organized. The parishes of Palestine, however, are forbidden to visit the Holy Places except through military permits. The parishes of Jordan need a visa, hard to obtain. We hope that the closure does not become a “fait accompli”, preventing the faithful to visit their Holy Places. We hope the authorities involved in this issue understand this and will allow the faithful to fulfil their religious obligations.

Welcoming The Churches

  1. We have said that the various religious congregations in the diocese have begun their preparations to welcome the Churches to our Holy Places. The pilgrimages commission is trying to provide co-ordination, in co-operation with the commission of the Assembly of the Bishops and the Year 2000 Office.  A brochure for pilgrims for the Year 2000 will be published; it includes all the necessary information. A meeting of the main diocesan pilgrimage leaders is planned. They will in particular study what the dioceses expect from the Church of Jerusalem and what the Church of Jerusalem expects from those dioceses coming on pilgrimage.

In preparation for such a great event, the shrines and other pilgrimage sites are due to become, more than ever, places of silence and prayer. We hope to achieve this, especially in the two Basilicas of the Nativity and the Holy Sepulchre. This has been dealt with several times during meetings between the Patriarchs and heads of the other Churches in Jerusalem and deserves further consideration. In ecumenical relations, this subject is of prime importance. It is also on this matter that the Jerusalem Church is often judged, even to the point of raising the question of how authentic her witness is.

Call To Parishes and Youth

  1. The parishes have to prepare also for the welcoming the various pilgrim Churches, as a sign of ecclesial communion open to the world. The parish communities are the living stones with which pilgrims wish to get in touch: through this communion their spiritual journey in the Holy Land will reach its fullness.

As for the youth in the parishes, the general secretariats of the youth in the diocese should begin their action to this end. The young people themselves must take this opportunity in order to renew in a special way their faith and hope, even if the future seems difficult and perhaps dark. “God is light,- there is no darkness in Him at all” (I Jn 1 :5). Similarly, all young Christians should be light, without any darkness in them at all. Life is to be built in every situation of hardship, every risk of death or chance for survival. Trials that last long might at times affect drastically our faith and throw doubts on the efficiency of prayer. Nevertheless, our faith in God remains unshakeable. One has to die in order to rise to a new life. Thanks to the Spirit of God who “comes to the aid of our weakness” (Rm 8:26), the face of our earth will one day be renewed.

Parish priests and other persons carrying pastoral responsibility should keep this hope, in this time of preparation for the grace of the Jubilee. All apostolic movements are earnestly asked to focus their meditation and activities on the Jubilee.

Pilgrimage of The Holy Father

  1. We know how deeply the Holy Father loves the Church of Jerusalem and all her faithful and that he longs to come to the Holy Land for pilgrimage, to visit the Church of Jerusalem and the inhabitants of this land, and to bring them a message of love, peace, justice and reconciliation. We pray that this pilgrimage may take place as soon as possible, as the climax of the Year 2000 celebrations . We wish that with all our hearts. Once more today, we extend to the Holy Father the invitation of all the members of the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land. We consider this pilgrimage of his as the visit of the Pastor of the universal Church to the Mother Church and her faithful, and an occasion for an ecumenical encounter as well as an opportunity to say words of faith, truth and relief to all the inhabitants of this land.

Common Efforts of The Jerusalem Churches

  1. Since 1995, an inter-church committee representing the four families of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Eastern (Orthodox Coptic, Syriac and Armenian), and Protestant churches, has been created in Jerusalem, in order to study in common the preparation for the Jubilee. The inauguration of the preparatory period for the event was announced in a common message sent to the faithful at Christmas 1995.

The Middle East Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches are in touch with this committee in order to share in every possible preparation.

The Church of Jerusalem, the Mother Church, has a special duty, on the occasion of this great Jubilee, to work for the communion of all the Churches. To pray for the communion among the various Churches here in Jerusalem is a way of preparing for the Jubilee. If the formal unity still seems distant, the unity of hearts and unanimous prayer is possible: “May they all be one, as You, Father, are in me and I in You so that the world may believe it was You who sent me ” (Jn 17: 21).  Jerusalem, Mother of all Churches, must be in communion with all the Churches of the world.  In her should start the journey towards communion among the various families of Churches which are nowadays only associated, in the region, in the Middle East Council of Churches.

The Holy Father, in his Encyclical Letter, called in a special way for the unity of the Churches: “Among the sins which require a greater effort of penance and conversion, one should obviously mention those which undermined the unity that God desired for his people. In this last part of the millennium, the Church must invoke the Holy Spirit, with more fervour, for the unity of Christians. This is a crucial problem as far as evangelical witnessing in the world is concerned” (T.M. Adv. 34).

With The Other Religious, Islam and Judaism

  1. Our joy and conversion on the occasion of the great Jubilee are not intended to separate us from the human milieu of our life, societies and nations. On the contrary, every divine grace surpasses limits and draws people to each other, in the sincerity of hearts and goodwill. It fosters frank and objective dialogue, mutual knowledge and recognition.  It is the occasion to look at every person through eyes renewed by the Holy Spirit, in order to co-operate in the creation of anew earth and a new heaven, by seeking earnestly and constantly peace and justice in our land.

The Jubilee and Peace in The Holy Land

  1. Our land is called by God to rejoice, through the grace of the Jubilee and the celebration of the great mystery of salvation. It is the anniversary of the birth of the Prince of Peace, of the Messiah, Saviour of our land and of all humankind. It is in the contemplation of the Saviour, present in all the vicissitudes of history, that we look at our sufferings in this land of the revelation of God. Our situation here, around the Holy Places, and especially in the Palestinian Territories, remains quite hard. Difficulties and fear are part of our daily life: continuous controls, arrests, military peremptory sentences, closure of territories, increase of unemployment and difficulty in providing food supplies cause economic suffocation, frustration and despair due also to the present suspension of the peace process , the deadlock of the negotiations and the repetition and increase of violence and extremism. Jerusalem, centre of our prayers, is always subjected to “security” measures which prevent many of our faithful from entering the city.

In the face of these difficulties, we renew our prayer and hope. But we also remind the authorities of this world that peace can only be the fruit of respect for human dignity. As long as dignity is ignored and scoffed at, peace will be harder to achieve. We remind the great powers of this world and the leaders who are  nowadays ruling this land that its holy character is very demanding it is different from all other lands.

We see also that the civil authorities are preparing to welcome pilgrims who will come from all the countries of the world. We thank them for their endeavour but we remind them that it is of prime importance to welcome, on the occasion of the Jubilee as at any other time, the daughters and sons of this land, and to remove the military barriers which have become a permanent obstacle to their faith and prayer.

To our lay people we say: do not lose heart!  Even in hard times, the Spirit revives and achieves salvation. Fulfil your duties as believers and citizens.  Involve yourselves completely with your societies and churches. Take all risk for building peace and keeping hope.

On the occasion of the Jubilee, the Church prays for peace, for all the governments of our countries and all their inhabitants. We pray for a lasting and final peace in our region. We pray for the stability of the Middle East, so that Muslims, Jews and Christians acknowledge each other as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same homeland. Thus, by our sincere witnessing to the unicity of God, we may all become worthy of knowing the fullness of his mystery of love, cerebrated in the great Year 2000 Jubilee.

We pray that our land become, with its peoples and religions, one family, reconciled in justice and truth, in order to witness to its holiness .


  1. “The celebration of the Jubilee”, writes the Pope, “should revive our hope” (T.M. Adv. 46). The hard times in which we live need this grace of the Jubilee. Our land needs to discover anew the meaning of the divine mystery which has been revealed in it.

In the Bible, a jubilee is a recovery of freedom for people and land. This liberation, in our days and in our land, can only be the fruit of a divine intervention.  In spite of all difficulties, we renew our confidence in God : he will soon remember his land and have mercy on us.

The grace of this Jubilee means more communion in our church life, and more liberty, justice and peace in our civil life. We ask the Blessed all Pure Virgin Mary, our Mother and daughter of this land, to hello us to deserve this grace by her powerful intercession. And may God almighty bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch

Jerusalem, August 15, 1997

Statement by the Latin Patriarcate of Jerusalem
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Jerusalem, November 13, 1997




The Israeli media has recently reported allegations in which it said that Palestinian Christians are being subject to harassement and persecution under Palestinian Authority in Palestine. It reported that Palestinian Christians are being persecuted by their Muslim nationals.

The allegations made by the Israeli media and others are totally untrue aimed at covering up the real facts of current oppression and political instability in the area, aiming to provoke hostility and breaches within the Palestinian people.

The easiest way for that is to hammer on the religious feelings of both parties.

Nonetheless, it is ironic for the Israeli media to spread such unbased rumors when all Palestinian citizens, Chrsitians and Muslims alike, are subject to general instability due to the continuing Israeli occupation.

As a matter of fact, both Muslims and Christians are trying together to find their way out of the misery they both are enduring under occupation. While aware of the rumors that the Israeli unresponsible media is spreading, we reiterate our firm position that been repeatedly stated :

First, we deny and reject any allegation that we, Christians, are being subject to persecution at the hand of our Muslims nationals.

Secondly, we neither are pro nor con any political regime or governement. Our solidarity and defense go to the poor, oppressed regardless of their political idendity.

In this moment, we consider Palestianians to be the poor, oppressed under occupation and our solidarity goes to them as such.

Thirdly, we reaffirm that the Palestinian Authority is and has been doing its best to make sure that Christians are being fairly and equally treated as all other Palestinian citizens. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority chaired by Arafat is easily accessible by us, religious leaders, through many channels. It is useless to mention that many Christians are highly ranked within the Palestinian Authority structure.

Finally, we call upon the Israeli media as well as all others to be responsabile and truthful in what they report given that the destination of a people is as serious as life and death.

Visit http://www.al-bushra.org, and click on Latin Patriarchate to have more about the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem stands on the issues of the Middle East and especially of Jerusalem

Christmas Message 1997
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah


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

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

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

  1. A message of hope and courage for our leaders, Israelis, who have in hand war and peace. A message which says: you can make peace. The way to peace is justice. Justice which allows each one, individual and people, to enjoy his own freedom, to take his own decisions for his life and destiny. A message of hope for our Palestinian authority, not to lose hope before all kinds of difficulties, coming from the blockage of the peace process, or coming from its own interior administration; hope which gives strength and light to find the people who can build in this difficult but decisive moment of its history.
  2. A message of hope for all the region threatened by instability, and by extremism and violence, relating themselves to religions. Hope to those extremists themselves: Jews, Muslims, or Christians: they are not condemned to exclusion of the others, and hence to extremism and violence. They too can free themselves from self and others oppression. They are able to come back from their extremism and share in the building of the new order of the world, based on the respect of all brothers and sisters, all being children of God, loved by him, who calls us to the same destiny of loving each other, and to find our salvation in this same love.
  3. A message of hope for all Christians and Muslims in the Arab world. They are called to live together and to build together. No one can build the common home alone. A world campaign is being raised in these days about that matter: the relations between Christians and Muslims in the Arab countries. The campaign is striving to stress upon a “persecution” of Arab Christians by their countrymen Arab Muslims. Our comment on this campaign is the following:

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

  1. A message of hope to all our faithful in Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and Cyprus. Hope for the improvement of our own religious life, as we celebrate the anniversary of a limited period of the recent history of our Patriarcate: 150 years after the reestablishment of the Catholic Latin Patriarchal See in Jerusalem in 1847. A message of hope on the occasion of this particular jubilee, on the occasion of our synod which is a continuous effort, made by all, to analyze the various aspects of our life, individual and in society, and on the occasion of the great Jubilee of the year 2000, which concerns us in a particular way, as it has its center in our own diocese and country, in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Nazareth.
  2. A message of hope to all Christian Churches in this Holy Land: with the grace of God, with our good intentions and hearts, all of us, we can walk together, believe together, and build together our Churches and our society.
  3. A message of hope to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and especially to religious leaders: we are able to live together and to build together. We are able to love each other. We are not condemend to hate, to criticize, to be afraid. We are not condemned to make war. We can make peace. We can respect each other, we can make justice to each other. We can build together our Israeli and Palestinian society. We can help our political leaders and our people to free themselves from fear, mistrust and to reach the so long desired peace..
  4. This is the message of hope which stemms from the joy of Christmas. Our hope is founded on Godís word: “You can rely on God, who has called you to be partners with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Co 1: 9) The Prophet had also said: “For you who fear my name, the Sun of jusice will rise with healing in his rays.” (Mal 3:20).

+Michel Sabbah, Patriarch Jerusalem, December 22, 1997

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

Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem blames Prime Minister Netanyaho
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Patriarch Sabbah, Latin Patriarch (Roman Catholic Archbishop and Patriarch) of Jerusalem blames the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyaho for preventing an appropriate peace in the Holy Land

Responding to an invitation by Jerusalem Mayor Olmert to the Pope to visit Jerusalem, “Patriarch Sabbah told Olmert that he blames Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “hard-line” policies for preventing an appropriate peace agreement. “We need to find peace here in Jerusalem, and as a policy maker we know you have the ability to help us in that endeavor,” he said. (from Catholic World News Service, Daily News Briefs,JAN. 09, 1998).

How we have to read the comments of Patriarch Sabbah to Jerusalem Mayor Olmert? We have to read them in this context:

1- The Latin Patriarchate, Justice and Peace Commission, on October 10th 1996 had sent a letter worldwide about injustices committed by the Israelis in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. They named the message “The Palestinian Population in Danger”. The Palestinians are living more and more in danger than ever today in 1998 with the “hard-line policy of Mr. Netanyaho and his administration”, this policy had given no hopes, it created frustrations and despair and violence.(Find below/ document one). How would or could the Pope accept such invitation when the minimum of justice for Palestinains is not honored?

2- The stand of the Patriarch Sabbah reflects also the frustration of the Vatican and the Popes who spoke about very grave state(find below/document two) of affairs that was created against legality by the Israelis since the Occupation of the West Bank and their fear of the Judaization of Jerusalem(Find below /document three). How could the Pope accept an invitation when the Israelis are trying to change everything in Jerusalem and the Holy Land and refusing to return to Palestinians their houses, lands and Id’s or respect Palestinian Fundamental Human rights?

3- The Position of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem goes with the stands of the International Community and the *WHOLE WORLD* who know that Netanyaho has no right to confiscate Palestinian lands, build settlements for the Jews, demolish Jerusalimites houses, preventing Arab Christians and Muslims of their fundamental rights to go to Jerusalem, the center and Capital of their spiritual, educational, economical…home country Palestine.

4- The Patriarchal answer to Mr. Olmert goes with the stand of the whole world who insists that what is happening now in Jerusalem is realy unjust and do not serve *COPREHENSIVE JUSTICE, PEACE AND TRUTH* between the five components of the Holy Land society: Palestinians and Israleis, Jews, Christians and Muslims.

5- The answer of Patriarch Sabbah should be read in those contests: It is a appeal to all those who believe in *TRUTH*, Justice and peace so as to work hard to defend fundamental human rights and prevent violence. The only hope for the Security of Israel is the Security of the Palestinians. The Pope will never accept the oppression of one people against another. The Pope will visit the Holy Land, when the Israelis will accept that the Palestinians have the same rights, responsabilities and duties like any other Jew in Israel, and when the Palestinans will have their own State, independent and Sovereign. In some words: Mr. Olmert do not bother invite the Pope when Israel is unable to respect the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.

A- Document one “The Palestinian Population in Danger”

This letter was sent on October 10th, 1996 to the Catholic Bishops World Wide sent by fax from the Commission for Justice and Peace, in Jerusalem. Since then the situation is much worse than ever; United Nation Non-Profit organizarions and Human Rights Organizations world wide as well the Palestinian Human Rights activists ( Jewish, Muslims and Christians), assert that Israel is acceerating the confiscation of identity cards from Palestinian residents of Jerusalem (Muslims and Christians alike) stripping them of the right to live in their own homeland.


Following the recent tragic events in the Holy Land, the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza continues to deteriorate. Amid largely false reports to the world media that the closure of the territories and Gaza has been eased, the Israeli government has strictly enforced a policy that the West Bank and Gaza is a closed military zone. This means that Palestinians are being denied the freedom to travel.

Jerusalemites are not being allowed enter the West Bank to conduct business, to visit religious sites, go to hospitals or clinics; or attend schools or universities. Likewise, West Bank and Gaza Palestinians are not allowed to enter Jerusalem fro religious, educational, general medical or commercial reasons. Moreover, travel between West Banks towns is severely restricted or prohibited. Institutions in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, including schools and hospitals, are being strangled. The Palestinian economy continues to worsen, with already high unemployment rising further. The anxiety, distress and discouragement of the Palestinians population is growing daily. The closure of the West Bank and Gaza must be lifted immediately.


Please in form your congregations and commissions of serious threat to the institutions of the Holy Land, and to the very survival of the Palestinian population. Please contact your own government officials about the situation. Please contact the representatives of the Israeli government in your area to protest the worsening situation and the punitive closure.


1- The right to travel freely within the West Bank, and to and from Jerusalem must be restored. The closure must be lifted immediately.

2- The fundamental right to receive an education must be restored.

3- The fundamental right to religious worship must be restored.

4- The fundamental right to receive heath care must be restored.

5- The fundamental right to work must be restored.

6- Peace accords should be honored and implemented immediately

B- Document two


Osservatore Romano March 22, 1971“A very grave state of affairs is being created against legality, on the basis of the logic of “accomplished facts”. The measures of expropriation surfice to give an idea of radical manner in which a character not conforming to its historical and religious nature and its universal vocation is being imposed on the Jerusalem”


May, 1996 (Jerusalem-consideration of the secretariate of State) “…The part of the City (Jerusalem) militarily occupied in 1967 and subsequently annexed and declared the Capital of the State of Israel, is OCCUPIED TERRITORIES, and all Israeli mesures 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 “NULL AND VOID”…”

C- Document three

The Vatican and Head of Christian Churches in Jerusalem spoke in different occasions about the refusal of the “JUDAIZATION” of Jerusalem: “A very grave state of affairs is being created against legality, on the basis of the logic of “accomplished facts”. The measures of expropriation suffices to give an idea of the radical manner in which a character, not conforming to its historical and religious nature and to its universal vocation is being IMPOSED on the City (Jerusalem):

In January 1968, 300 acres of land were confiscated in the Mount Scopus area and are already largely built up with Jewish residential quarter.

In August 1970, another 1,200 acres have been conficated in the Arab Zone of Jerusalem and around the city, in order to implement the “Greater Jerusalem” plans.

Another project is under study for the Old City of Jerusalem, according to which about 6,000 Arabs will be displaced and several buildings confiscated. It is impossible to avoid experiencing a profound aprrehension towards such grave changes. Even in Israel itself these plans have provoked motivationed criticism and not just from an urbanistic point of veiw” Osservatore Roman, March 22, 1971

The document that I have quoted was written on 1971, we are in 1998, 27 years later. We cannot speak about Justice, Peace and *TRUTH* if we do not read history and facts on the ground.

Confiscation of Palestinian Lands continues, to-day hundred of thousands of acres were taken in the name of Israeli Security , Palestinian Arab Christians and Muslims were displaced, settlement were built,houses are demolished, Jerusalem is closed to the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories…The USA and the Whole world is calling for a time-out for settlements and confication of Lands, they insist on the Fudemental rights of Palestinians. Israel continues its ethnic cleansing despite of the World national and international human rights organisations appeals.

The Patriarchal comments about the visit of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II wants to put the whole international community and especially the USA administration infront of its responsability. Injustices will lead to violence, please stop all kind of violences starting by stopping the violence and suffering of the Palestinians since the creation of Israel and prepare the Great Jubilee of Jerusalem 2000.

For more information about the stand of the vatican, the Head of Christain Churches in the Middel East and the Holy Land, the US Catholic Church and the Stands of the latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, please visit Al-Bushra at http://www.al-bushra.org and support our position for Justice, Peace and *TRUTH*.

Fr. Labib Kobti

Al-Bushra http://www.al-bushra.org

Palm Sunday – Homily
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

(end of the procession at Saint-Anne)

We have listened this afternoon to the Gospel of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This morning we have also listened to the reading of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the defeat of Jesus on the human level. In the same city, Jesus was glorified and defeated. In it he taught and manifested himself to all. Some opened their eyes and saw, others did not. Some accepted Jesus and believed in him, others accused him as blasphemous and put him to death. Our salvation is rooted in this mystery of our human capacity of accepting and refusing the grace of God. The Word of God, God himself, humbled himself and became man similar to us in everything, except sin. It is not given to all to understand and to accept this mystery: though all salvation is achieved only through it. We begin our Holy Week in order to see better and to believe better. With the blind man we cry: “Lord, make me able to see”, and like him, we will hear the Lord saying to us: “Your faith has saved you”. Our faith will save us during our Holy Week. Our Holy Week will be a silent meditation before the Cross, an examination of conscience, to see how far we accept and how far we refuse the Cross in our life. Our Holy Week will be a way of the cross, a way of sharing in the penitence and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we come out of it as a new creature, renewed in the risen Lord. .

Prostrated in adoration before God, before the mystery of salvation accomplished by His Word, made man, we do not forget to look around us and see the human reality of the holy city: the conflict between two peoples, the extremisms, violences, the obstacles to peace, those who suffer in body and soul, the political prisoners, those who are tortured, those who are humiliated, those who live in fear, the political leaders still unable to find the ways which lead to peace, still unable to see what is good for this city, for this land and its two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian. This human reality, Palestinian and Israeli, in which is integrated our Holy Week, your Holy Week, dear pilgrims, invites you to meditate on the mystery of God in this holy city and on the mystery of men and women for whom it is still a place of dispute and fear, though it is holy and the source of peace and salvation. Let us pray, may God renew and strengthen our faith. Let us pray for peace and justice in the hearts of all. Let us pray for the whole Church of Jerusalem. The Easter of the Church of Jerusalem is prolonged this year over two weeks, according to two different calendars, and separate prayers, different on earth, but one before the Almighty, despite the divisions of men and women who believed in him. Easter in Jerusalem comprises also the Jewish Pesah and the Moslem Adha or feast of the sacrifice. It is in this general frame of the three religions that we live our Holy Week. This means that when we come to pray, all the graces and favours we ask for ourselves, we ask also for all believers in this city, Moslems, Jews and Christians. Go back to your homes, dear parishioners and pilgrims, who have participated in this procession and begin your Holy Week of penitence and the way of the cross which will lead you to the Resurrection. Amen.

+Michel Sabbah, Patriarch

Latin Patriarch says Palestinian State is Peace Solution
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

JERUSALEM (CWNews.com Catholic World News) April 6, 1998

– Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem said in his Easter message on Tuesday that prospects for Middle East peace are bleak, and that a real solution would be the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The patriarch, who is Palestinian, said Israel is the obstacle to peace. “If they wanted peace, as they are strong enough to make peace they could have peace. If peace isn’t realized it means the intentions are not right,” he said. He added that this week was a time for Christians, Jews, and Muslims to unite. “The alternative will only be disputes, violence, and bloodshed,” he said. Peace talks were put on hold 13 months ago over the construction of new neighborhoods near Jerusalem intended for Jewish settlers.

Patriarch Sabbah did thank Israel for loosening travel restrictions to allow thousands of Palestinian Christians to take part in the Palm Sunday procession in Jerusalem. “For that we say thanks to the Israeli authorities. They have taken a step but again we said that it is one step. It is the first step,” he said. The patriarch called on Christians, Jews, and Muslims to pray for reconciliation during the respective holidays which coincide this year. Easter Sunday occurs at the same time as Jewish Passover and Muslim Eid al-Adha this year.

Easter Message 1998
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

  1. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen. He defeated death with death and gave us the power to experience eternal life during our life on earth, through the trials and difficulties which surround us every moment. “Since you have been raised up to be with Christ, you must look for the things that are above, where Christ is” (Col 3:1). In this feast of the Lord’s Resurrection, I wish holiness and blessing, to you all, dear brothers and sisters, in all the parts of our diocese, in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus.
  2. In our joy and prayer, we cannot forget the suffering which is increasing for all, day after day, because of the absence of peace. We ask all our faithful in all parts of our diocese to remember in their prayers the difficult situation imposed upon their brothers and sisters in the Palestinian towns, where freedom remains limited and where the siege imposed upon them is reducing life and condemning it to a slow death. The promise of total freedom remains a pure promise. In the meanwhile, the fabric of society is beginning to disintegrate. .Suffering, death and emigration are going on and prisoners are waiting in their prisons to be given back their freedom and dignity. The picture is dark. This is the reality. It is true that there is a brighter side to our spiritual and pastoral life. But the absence of peace is making hard every aspect of our life. Despite that, and also because of that, we say there is no alternative to peace, a true peace based on justice and dignity for every person, every community and people.
  3. Total peace given to the Palestinian people is the only way which can pacify the hearts and bring a radical conversion in the minds of both peoples. It is difficult, if not impossible, to begin reconciliation as long as there are injustices imposed upon one party. It is this inequality which gives birth to violence. Total freedom to the Palestinian people is the only way which will put an end to all violence and which will produce security and make possible reconciliation among all..
  4. Our message to our faithful is the following: the Christian in this difficult time must strengthen his faith through his meditation upon the values proclaimed by the Resurrection, in particular the message of hope. The strength of the Christian lies in himself and in his faith. The reasons of his weakness are also in himself. Aggression coming from outside, whoever be the aggressor, is not the cause of his weakness. The Chrisitan is weak when he resigns, when he fills his heart with fear, and forgets the spiritual strength and power of spiritual resistance and the hope he was given. In the presence of God no aggression can shake us. “I shall delight in God, rejoice in him who saved me” (Ps35,9). Brothers and sisters, despite all the trial we are experiencing, we recommend you to be patient, to live up to your faith and to keep your hope strong in God. He will rescue “the poor from the oppressor, the needy from the exploiter” (Ps 35,10).
  5. In this week, Moslems celebrate the Adha or feast of the Sacrifice and the Jews celebrate the Pesach. Feasts are moments of prayer and faith which recall to our minds that our destiny is to be brothers and sisters, all of us, Jews, Moslems and Christians. The alternative will only be disputes, violence and bloodshed. Dear brothers and sisters, pray during this Holy Week that every human being may enjoy his full freedom and dignity in his house, on his land and before God. This should be our prayer, on Holy Friday before the mystery of the Cross, and on the day of the Resurrection as we are filled with spiritual joy. Before God we will stand all together, Jews Moslems and Christians. We will pray for all, for the good of all. May God bestow his favors and blessings upon us all.
  6. I ask God to fill you with his Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love and strength combined. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen. Happy and holy Easter. Amen.

+Michel Sabbah, Patriarch Jerusalem, Easter 12 April 1998

Fifth Pastoral Letters – Seek Peace and Pursue it
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

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

(Ps 34:14)

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”. (Mt 5:6,9)





Dear brothers and sisters, grace and peace to you. With Jesus Christ risen in glory, who has renewed in us hope and courage and called us to a new life, we say to you: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19,21).

  1. Already by our pastoral letter of 1990 “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem”, we wanted to help you live through the very difficult period we were passing through ( the Intifada) in the light of the Gospel of Christ. Today we are facing a new situation and a new phase in the search for justice and peace in our Holy Land. After the Intifada, the Madrid Conference ( in 1991) and the Oslo Agreement ( in 1993) took place. Following these events, there were different agreements signed that continue to have their impact on the reality which we are now living: the discussions between the Holy See and the State of Israel and the fundamental agreement resulting from them, the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, and the arrival of the Palestinian National Authority in July 1994. Despite all of these, the general situation today still remains very sad and tense. Justice and the peace process are blocked, and some even say the process is dead. Peace still seems quite a long way off.

In this situation, some are holding firm and saying “We must continue the search for justice and peace.” Others are discouraged. They say “We have no other option but to return to violence in order to regain the few rights we can still salvage.” Others say: “It’s all useless. We have to leave, so we can enjoy life or take advantage of every opportunity without having to think about our dignity or our rights. ” This is why many people, including leaders, give in to corruption, and profit as much as they can from every situation without concerning themselves either with the sufferings of others or with the uprightness without which our life cannot find stability.

Faced with this reality, the faithful have raised a number of questions which they ask of the pastors God has given to guide his flock. It is these questions we would like to try to answer in the light of the faith.

  1. We address this text to all our faithful, and we trust also to all the inhabitants of this Holy Land who for so many years have sought justice and peace with many different and even contradictory visions. By giving brief and as far as possible, clear answers to questions we all ask at every moment of our daily lives, we desire to help our faithful develop a Christian vision of justice and peace in face of the conflict continually occupying our hearts and minds.
  2. Our basic vision is this: God is the Creator of all persons and of all peoples. The dignity of each person is God-given. We are all equal in this dignity. From this we have the equality of persons and peoples in their rights and duties as well as the necessity for each of us to recognize and respect the rights of others and not to hinder the fulfillment of their duties nor the demand for their rights. Every person and every people have the right and the duty to defend their rights when violated and to enjoy complete freedom in exercising their duties and in defending their rights. Every person and every people must be aided in this pursuit of justice, because justice guarantees peace for all. Without justice, that is, whenever rights are being violated, the way of peace remains closed.

Another principle in our basic vision is: only the ways of peace can lead to peace. Through violence a war or a battle may be won. A state can be created by force and impose itself as a fait accompli. But peace will only be the fruit of peace. The reality we are now living proves it. With force and violence, Israel won its battles and created a state. But it still continues to search for peace or tries in vain to impose it by force. The same is true for Palestinians: conflicts between Arabs and Jews lasting now for more than a century, have only brought losses and not achieved peace. Dialogue between the parties involved is the way, provided the resulting agreements do not remain mere signatures on paper. Justice must be won for all. Only when justice is achieved can education for peace in human hearts begin.

  1. We hope these reflections will help enable our faithful to define their positions in the current phase of the search for justice and peace where conflict has not yet found a definitive solution. In order to revive our hope and to know how to act in these difficult times as believers, we must try to discover the mystery of God in events. Inspired by the Word of God and the teaching of the Church, we are called to assume our responsibilities in this moment of our history. The present moment in Palestinian society is one of the most difficult in terms of the worsening situation as well as the general political, economic, and social instability. It is in such difficult times that the Christian needs all the support of his or her faith and hope in order to persevere in daily trials.
  2. The heads of the Churches of Jerusalem have been criticized more than once by the authorities under the pretext of unduly interfering in politics and of taking sides. These pages answer that religious leaders have the right as well as the duty to intervene in political situations which produce general instability in daily life and are the cause of injustices which limit freedoms and provoke frustration leading to the violence none desire. At the same time, injustices only serve to perpetuate and deepen the violence in hearts. The Church does not speak in order to support or to incite one party against another, but rather to do her duty in denouncing injustice and defending the oppressed in demanding their rights. By the same token, she invites the oppressor to also free himself from the oppression he exercises over others. If oppression were to end, and every person and every people enjoyed all their rights, violence would disappear and security and peace reign.

To the political leaders who hold in their hands peoples‘ destinies and the solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and the Arab World, we offer our message as a humble contribution towards a true and lasting peace based on justice and dignity for all.

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch

Jerusalem, 15 September 1998

  2.     What is peace?

Peace is not the pure absence of war, nor is it limited only to assuring the balance of opposing forces, nor can it be created by despotic domination or a military occupation. Peace is the fruit of an order inscribed in human society by its Divine Founder (cf. Gaudium et Spes, n. 78). It is above all the work of justice; then the fruit of truth, of freedom and of love, going well beyond what justice can bring.

It presupposes the safeguarding of everyone’s goods, of peoples and persons, and mutually respecting freedom for all, for their rights, for their borders, and for their sovereignty.

  1.     Is peace related to faith in God?

Peace is directly related to God who in himself is the fullness of love and peace. He created everyone to participate in his life of happiness. He sent his Word and only Son to gather into the one family of God his children whom sin had dispersed and set against one another (cf. Jn 11:52). Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is himself our peace and our reconciliation, and in his flesh destroyed hate (cf. Ep 2:14).

This is what the Angels sang about on the day of his birth in Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14).

After having conquered evil and death, the resurrected Jesus can proclaim real peace to his disciples and give it to all who believe in him. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid”. (Jn 14:27).

Peace is first of all a gift which comes to us from God. True peace among men, based on justice and love, is the image and effect of God’s peace.

On the other hand, peace is also a task God has entrusted to us as a good to be continually sought and defended. Peace is never achieved once and for all; it must be worked for constantly. It is the fruit of a permanent struggle.

To work for peace is to fulfill God‘s will in the history we are making and living. To worship God, to love God means to love all his creatures and together to build peace.

Therefore peace is at the same time the gift of God and involves all men and women of good will. Pope John XXIII said in his encyclical Pacem in Terris (n. 168): “Peace is an undertaking too high and too sublime to be realized by the power of men left to their own resources even though they may be driven by the most praiseworthy intentions.”

  1.    What kind of peace do we desire for ourselves and for the peoples of the Holy Land and the region?

We desire true peace for all, a peace based on justice and love as Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount. We ask God for peace which insures the rights of all the parties to the conflict. We desire a peace capable of guaranteeing security for Palestinians, Israelis, and for all the countries of the region; a peace which respects the dignity, freedom, sovereignty and rights of each person and people in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and in all the countries of the region; a peace which allows no country to behave in such a way as to threaten any other, its territory or its rights.

  1.     Does peace ask us to give up our rights or to accept injustice?

No one has the power under any pretext to ask the oppressed to be silent or not defend their rights, because peace cannot be based on the violation or the relinquishing of rights, itself an injustice. Accepting injustice and giving up one’s legitimate rights does not insure peace. The imposition of an unjust peace would lead to a false peace more destructive than war, because injustice cannot last, and rights would again be demanded.

  2. What is the nature of the conflict between

Israelis and Palestinians?

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a political and economic one. Even though both peoples are semitic, it is also a conflict between two cultures. Religion has a great influence because all societies in the East are based on religion. It is a political conflict between two peoples belonging to three religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

  1.     What is the main source of conflict?

The main source of conflict is the dispute between two peoples, Jews and Palestinians, over the same land. The two peoples lived together in peace for centuries. When the demographic ratio between the two was reversed, following massive Jewish immigration from the beginning of this century, the Palestinian people began to feel themselves in danger of losing their land and freedom; peace ended and conflict began. The proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948 brought on the occupation of a large number of Palestinian towns and villages through force as well as the expropriation of a large part of their lands and properties. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees. Since 1948, the Jewish people have enjoyed their own state with its sovereignty and freedom. In contrast, the Palestinian people are still under Israeli military occupation on the little land which remains theirs, even though this is somewhat mitigated by the Palestinian National Authority recently established on part of the Palestinian territories. Nevertheless, they still demand their security, their freedom, the right to self-determination and complete independence in their own state.

  1.     What is the significance of Jerusalem in this conflict?

Jerusalem is at the center of the conflict because of its place in the religious and historical memories of two peoples, Palestinians and Jews, and of the three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Once the question of Jerusalem is resolved, the heart of the conflict will be resolved. As long as the question of Jerusalem remains unresolved, the conflict will stay heated, and every other agreement will be only partial and cannot bring the peace the region desires. Since Jerusalem is at the heart of the conflict, and since the majority of holy places, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim are found there, this adds a religious dimension to the conflict.

Therefore, believers have an important role to play. They have the obligation to work for justice and recon-ciliation. Jerusalem is a holy city. The permanence of the conflict with its continual injustices and inequalities is contradictory to this holiness and to all religious values. True believers are suffering from what is happening today in Jerusalem. However, sorrow is not enough. It is up to every sincere believer of whatever religion to assume his or her responsibilities and to work towards ending all oppression so that justice and reconciliation may be established.

  1. The sufferings of the Palestinians in Jerusalem are many: the near impossibility of obtaining building permits and the demolition of houses already built; the confiscation of identity cards from Jerusalem residents, denying them the right to live there because of absence from the city for employment, housing or other reasons; discrimination in municipal services; the imposition of a fiscal system applicable to the economic situation of Israeli society, but inappropriate in the Palestinian sector where the economic situation is insufficiently developed and where taxes become the cause of ruin for some, etc.

In regard to all these sufferings, the Church addresses responsible political, municipal, and national authorities to take the necessary measures to put an end to this situation. The demolition of houses is a violation of human rights; the same with denying someone the right to live in his own country. We say to those responsible that the peace of Jerusalem cannot come from silencing or ignoring the voices of the oppressed, but rather by listening to them and by effectively addressing their just demands. 

  2. What is justice?

Justice consists of recognizing and respecting the dignity and rights of every person and of every people, consequently giving them what is rightfully theirs. It is not easy to recognize which rights are ours and which belong to others. This is why to achieve justice requires more than diplomatic or military efforts; it is a spiritual battle.

  1. What does religion have to say regarding the struggle for justice?

Working for justice is not only permitted, it is required by faith in God.

1)    Because God is the source and giver of every person’s rights, it is the duty of all to protect their rights and to respect the rights of others.

2)    Secondly, every religion invites us to recognize and act upon the truth. Recognizing and acting upon the truth is to recognize and work for justice. It is the duty of everyone to acknowledge and accept the whole truth about oneself and others even if they are party to the conflict.

Therefore the struggle for justice is the duty of every believer. This means using various legitimate ways of seeing to it that justice alone is not enough. It must be completed by love and mercy which leads, once justice is achieved, to forgiveness and reconciliation.

  1. What are the legitimate means of fighting for justice and human rights?

To fight against injustice, we must use “intelligent” means which actually lead to ending injustice rather than to an even greater harm to the oppressed themselves.

Among legitimate means are: negotiations at the level of political leaders, dialogue between religious leaders, meetings and common action between peacemakers of both sides. Once again, violence cannot solve the present conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Other nonviolent means may be used such as demonstrations, objective information for local and international public opinion, diplomatic action, local and international lobbying, etc.

  1. What are the necessary conditions for justice?

To achieve justice it is necessary:

– That human hearts be purified of the spirit of pride and domination, and not imprisoned by selfish interests whether individual or national;

– That they be freed from the constraint of fear;

– That they have a reciprocal trust and know that the fear of God is the source of all justice.

Finally, the principle of dialogue rather than violence must be accepted as the way towards justice.

  1.   What does justice between Israelis and Palestinians mean?

Israelis at present strongly insist on “Security”. Palestinians demand security, the right of return, and the complete freedom to create their own independent state as well. Therefore, for Israelis as well as for Palestinians, justice means the mutual recognition of each other‘s human dignity and political, civil, and religious rights.

  2. What are the different forms of violence?

By violence we understand every action which causes serious bodily and moral harm to the human person or community. It can take many different forms: war, military occupation of another country, confiscation of lands, armed resistance, collective punishments, etc. The closures on the Palestinian territories which are so disruptive, making daily life difficult for people (work, food, education, hospitalization, family relations, freedom of movement) is also a form of violence. Other forms of violence exercised in the present conflict are: humiliating gestures or words – for example, at checkpoints, forcing men to their knees or to stand facing a wall or beating them; demolishing houses for the most diverse reasons; inciting or educating for violence by government directives to its soldiers or citizens, or by members of extremist groups; bombing the civilian population in order to hit or demoralize the military or its fighters; organizing assassinations; lying, slander, giving false information to demonize the other side. All this is violence.

  1.   What is terrorism?

Terrorism is:

– Violence against a third party in order to apply pressure on them, for example, taking hostage persons who bear no direct responsibility in the conflict:

– Violence exercised by the state or by groups against persons not engaged in the conflict, even though belonging to a people at war, such as children, civilians, collective punishment, blind retaliation, torture, kidnapping, punishment against parents and relatives in place of the accused, assassinations within the ranks of the opposing party, assassinations on the streets and in public places, etc.

Terrorism is illogical, irrational and unacceptable as a means of resolving conflict. In the case of terrorism, there are two guilty parties: first, those who carry out such action, those who plan and support them, and secondly, those who create situations of injustice which provoke terrorism.

  1. Is violence ever justified?

Violence must be the last resort after all other means have been tried to no avail. According to the teaching of the Church, the resorting to armed struggle is an extreme case of the ultimate remedy to end a “clear and prolonged tyranny” which otherwise seriously harms the common good.

  1. What is the principle of legitimate defense?

Love for oneself remains a principle of morality. God is the foundation of human dignity and human rights. Therefore it is legitimate and necessary to enforce respect for these rights. The same goes for defending the weak and the poor, victims of oppression and of violence.

When life is endangered, whoever defends his life is not guilty of murder if he is forced to take the life of his aggressor. The criteria of resorting to violence is measured by the gravity of the life-threatening danger. On the other hand, it is not legitimate to exercise violence greater than necessary, even in the case of legitimate defense.

  1. Can violence be adopted as a principle of action?

Aside from the case of legitimate defense, violence can by no means be adopted as a normal principle of action. “For peace to reign in your hearts, you must especially renounce every form of hatred and violence. Violence only breeds violence. Whenever violence continues to answer violence, no one can stop the explosion” (John Paul II in Lesotho, Africa, 15/9/88).

  1. What is the red line which even a legitimate armed uprising must never cross?

The red line is everything we have defined as terrorism, (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2297).

“We can never accept, neither in the case of a constituted authority nor for insurgent groups, resorting to criminal means such as retaliation against populations, torture, the methods of terrorism” (Instructions on Christian Freedom and Liberation, n. 79). As stated above, resorting to violence can only be permitted in extreme cases in order to remove a clear and permanent injustice which seriously harms the common good.

  2. What role does religion play  in the conflict and in peace?

Religion is first of all faith in one God, Creator of the universe, and secondly, love of all God’s creatures. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Lk 10:27; Lv 18:19). It is true that this love must be harmonized with the right of self-defense and the defense of the dignity of every human being’s dignity by refusing every form of oppression and injustice.

Religion is the memory of the past for people and for believers. It is also prophecy as a light for the present and the future. The true believer overcomes the difficulties of the present and faces them through the strength of his or her relationship with God. Prophecy enlightens the believer’s heart, rendering him capable of sensing the mystery and will of God beyond present events and filling him with the hope that he can overcome the difficulties of the moment, its injustices, its frustrations, and everything that appears impossible. In the case of conflict, religion is a source of hope based on the light of God.

  1. How does religion manifest itself in the conflict?

In the East, religion penetrates and influences all actions both private and public. Everything is placed under the name of God. Everything begins and ends in the name of God. War begins in the name of God, and peace agreements as well. That is why the voice and directives of religious leaders can have a decisive influence on the faithful of one side as well as the other. They can incite the people to war and to violence, or invite them to peace.

Religion is sometimes turned into religious extremism and a call to violence, even terrorism, in the defense of culture or national identity. It sometimes happens that politicians exploit one particular aspect of religion for their own ends. Thus in the name of the most merciful God and Lover of humankind, acts of violence are committed which sometimes cause death in the name of God, the source of life.

  1. Why are we witnessing the radicalization of religious positions?

Religion is an appeal above human positions and limitations. Many find in it an instrument and means of facing an illegitimate domination and an unjustly imposed force which causes humiliation and frustration. Religion is seen as the unique means of gaining freedom or at least of taking revenge against the oppressor.

The causes, as seen from one side, are the on-going injustice against peoples or persons, the relationship which the use of force establishes between the strong and the weak, the materialism of technology, and the real or apparent subjection of spiritual values to the “interests” of the state.

Religious extremism is seen in all of this as an ultimate recourse when other means such as armed or peaceful struggle, negotiations, etc. have been exhausted or proven ineffective.

Other contributing factors are: a faulty understanding or interpretation of religion and sometimes even the explicit manipulation of it. It is relatively easy to captivate and excite the masses through religious feelings.

Religious extremism changes religion into a particular and exclusive absolute; it is replacing God by one’s self as an individual or people. Basically, under the pretext of religion, it is seeking, consciously or unconsciously, to impose one’s own interests, whether as an individual or as a people. It is to refuse the sense of history, reducing it to the present moment.

  1. Is it true that religions separate human beings and cause wars?

This seems to be true if we look at the behavior of certain believers today or in the course of past history. In reality, religions help unite people among themselves and before God. It is not religion that is at the root of discrimination, disputes and wars. It is rather people themselves who have a poor understanding of their religion or who make improper use of it.

  1. Can the clergy take part in “legitimate”  armed struggle?

Absolutely not. The clergy have chosen for themselves a vocation of praying for men and women, guiding them towards good, and inspiring mercy in human hearts. Their duty is to proclaim true values and to serve as guides along the way leading to these values.

Politicians choose the duty to govern the affairs of state, and the military that of defending security and its dignity by fighting. The duties of human society are numerous and diversified; each citizen fulfills his or her duty according to one‘s vocation and capacity.

With regard to political or military realities, the clergy must defend the truth. They have the responsibility to help people become conscious of their rights and duties, to do what their duty to their country demands, and to obey their legitimate leaders in what concerns the common good. It is also the obligation of religious leaders as clergy to speak out whenever there is oppression and to be the voice of those who have no voice, to defend the weak and the oppressed.

  1. What is the role of the Church in case of conflict?

Wherever a political power, whether national or foreign, violates the rights of a people or of a category of persons, the Church must raise her voice and take every initiative she can to defend the weak and the oppressed. Even where her members belong to one or other groups or parties in conflict, she nevertheless must care for the good of both parties. For she is at the service of humankind as such; therefore, at the service of all. She raises her voice to remind us what is right and to defend the oppressed whoever they may be.

She also has the mission to propose ways of dialogue and reconciliation and to invite all concerned parties to participate.

  1. What is the role of religious leaders  in the Holy Land?

Religion invites religious leaders to:

  1. defend the weak and the oppressed.
  2. call persons and peoples to have the courage to recognize what is just and to accept it for oneself as well as others;
  3. educate people in the ways of peace;
  4. hold a dialogue between diverse religions in order as far as possible to arrive at a common vision of justice and to establish peace.
  5. Can the dialogue between religious leaders  of the Holy Land have an influence on peace?

Given the considerable impact of their word and example on the great majority, religious leaders have a determining role in shaping public opinion which in turn can have repercussions on the election of political leaders and on their choices and programs of action. This is why a dialogue between religious leaders of the three monotheistic religions which ends in a common vision of justice and peace and a common message addressed in this spirit to believers would have an important impact on the peace process.

Among other things, religious leaders, as stated above, bear the great responsibility of educating people for peace and leading the way with the courage to see how justice for one side is inseparable from justice for the other and recognizing their rights and dignity. Only in this way can the call to peace and reconciliation become possible.

  2. What is our place in this situation?

The conflict has been imposed on us. We are involved in it both as citizens and as Christians. Our reactions as citizens and as Christians must not be contradictory. On the contrary, they ought to complete one another. As citizens, we belong to a people fighting for their rights. As Christians, we still belong to this people in the struggle for their rights. Furthermore, we have a particular vision: it is God who gives us our place and our vocation in the history we share with all those around us every day. God is our Creator. He has spoken to us through revelation in order to save us and to be instruments of salvation for all. Our role as Christians faced with sometimes cruel and hard to accept realities is to witness to this grace and salvation offered to us and to all who desire it, and to act with all, even with our adversaries, on the basis of this vision of God’s grace and salvation offered to everyone.

  1. What does God expect of us in this situation?

He expects us to see his image and his dignity in all human beings. For all are his creatures and his children. He watches over us and “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45). We need to know we are never alone in a conflict situation. God is always with us. He is Emmanuel. He is always there and invites us to imitate him and adopt his way of caring for all his children.

  1. What does it mean to love your enemy?

The enemy is whoever offends, violates, or destroys another person’s dignity, rights, honor, body and goods. For God, not even the greatest sinner or evildoer is an enemy. Every person is a creature, created in his image, the object of his love, called to conversion and salvation. For the Christian too, no one is an enemy in the absolute sense of the term. This means that in spite of the evil a human being is capable of, he still remains God’s creature, his image, loved by him and the object of his providence.

  1. Does loving your enemy mean  leaving him alone and submitting to injustice?

Not at all. On one hand the enemy, despite all the evil he has done, still keeps his God-given dignity. On the other, while fully conscious of this dignity, we require from him that he repair all the evil he has done, and that he stop all his evil intentions. Furthermore, to open the eyes of our adversary and to lead him on the right path is a work of setting him free so he can really be God’s creature and a true brother of every human being.

  1. How can we forgive an enemy who has seriously harmed us or continues to do so?

To forgive does not mean resigning ourselves to accepting the offense or the cause of the evil done to us. This would be an injustice both to us and to the enemy himself. To forgive does not change evil into good: murder remains an evil and a crime, and the violation of rights is still a violation as well as an evil that must be rejected.

To forgive means first of all seeing the image of God in our adversary and the permanence of God’s love for him. Secondly, it requires of him that he remove the offense, that he repair the evil and restore all our rights. Thirdly, it is the purification of the soul from bitterness and hatred. In this way, we are imitating Christ who forgave those who crucified him and who bid us to forgive and love our enemies. To forgive, in the deepest sense, is to enter into the great interior combat of purifying the soul, imitating God, and seeing all creatures as he sees them. This combat is one with the mystery of the combat of Christ himself by entering into the mystery of the cross. It is not given to everyone to understand this. Jesus said: whoever can understand let him understand.

  1. Is it really possible to forgive?

To forgive is difficult. Whenever we forgive our enemy, it is the same power of the cross acting in us, and we work with Christ for our own salvation and that of our brothers, even if they are our enemies. This is just what God asks of us: to work together to open the way of salvation for my “enemy” by my forgiving attitude.

Bitterness and hatred in the soul are a curse which destroys us from within and becomes an obstacle to the conversion of others. What God wants is to free us from evil, both me and my adversary. It was to overcome evil and to save us and set us free that the Word of God became incarnate. Furthermore, loving and forgiving purifies the soul and renews in it the energy to continue to seek justice.

According to this vision, we want to stress that forgiveness is possible. It is difficult; it demands a great spiritual combat. But it remains possible, because it is above all a gift and grace from God.

  1. So should we give up defending ourselves  and leave the situation as is?

No, we must continue to fight in order to defend ourselves by every legitimate means. To claim our rights from our “enemy” means wanting him also to be in the right, freed from his injustice to us. To claim our rights is to defend our dignity, but it is also to defend the dignity of the adversary and to help him enter into the way of reconciliation and salvation.

  1. Can we refuse to forgive? What would this mean?

The refusal to forgive can come from the seriousness of the injury or from the despair of the person wronged who sees the impossibility of justice. This results in the blindness of such a person incapable of seeing beyond his humanity to contemplate the good, merciful and all-powerful God in his mystery. To knowingly refuse to forgive is spiritual suicide. In the plan of God, suffering is a source of purification and spiritual growth. To refuse to forgive is to render sterile the suffering experienced. Forgiveness turns suffering into a source of redemption, puts an end to discouragement and despair, and renews  our strength to continue the search for justice.

  1. What does reconciliation mean and what are the conditions for it?

Reconciliation begins whenever oppression ends, and justice is achieved. Therefore reconciliation is a relationship of peace no longer marked by past conflict. Among the basic conditions, we note especially:

– to find out the truth about the conflict;

– to dare to name reciprocal wrongs and responsibilities, to analyze their origins and contexts, and to rank them according to hierarchy;

– to agree on a reciprocal recognition of our respective identities, existence and rights;

– to repair what can be repaired;

If this path is completed together, a new life is offered us in mutual respect.

  1. Can we speak of a spirituality of peace?

The Christian life is a continual effort to stay on the right path and to walk with God and towards God with others in truth. Peace is the work of God the Creator who made the universe in its harmonious beauty and unity. It is also the great promise of God in salvation history each time his people turn from him and fall. Peace is still the great gift of the new creation which finds its source in Christ’s resurrection.

For believers, peace is the spiritual effort of the heart and soul exerted in every moment of daily life in order to live continually in harmony with God and with others, while at the same time continuing the search for justice and peace with all men and women of good will.

A spirituality of peace is thus based on one hand on the interior peace of the whole human person, body and soul, and on the other, by accepting the daily involvement towards realizing peace as justice and mercy leading to forgiveness and reconciliation.

  2. What is our vision of real peace?

Any vision of the future in the Holy Land, given the importance of religion in our hearts and in our lives, must rest first of all on the spiritual renewal of all religions – the purification of hearts and minds on the personal and institutional level showing the true significance of religion as the love of God and respect and love for all his creatures with all their differences. On the basis of this vision, everyone’s rights can be recognized and restored. Once these rights are recognized for all and become a reality, real and lasting peace will be possible.

  1. What political solution would be envisioned?

The solution would be to permit Palestinians to enjoy their full freedom of self-determination to choose the form of political life they desire, including establishing their own independent state. In this way, trust could be built and developed, thus putting an end to all forms of violence and all recourse to force by the state and by resistance groups. Once Palestinians can enjoy security for themselves, Israelis will also have the security they long for so much.

  1. What is Jerusalem’s role in any future peace?

Jerusalem has a central and symbolic value for religion and for the world. God has given it the mission of being the city where God and humanity meet, where reconciliation takes place between them, between persons and between peoples. Jerusalem is a universal symbol of fraternity and peace between people. Moved by a genuine spirituality, all believers of the three monotheistic religious could work together to make this city really become what God wants it to be: a place of encounter with God, and consequently a place to inspire peace and reconciliation in hearts and minds.

  1. How can the question of Jerusalem be resolved?

The basis of any solution is equality for its citizens with their rights and duties so that no one is superior to anyone else, and no one subject to another or in need of protection from others. All are equal and all are equally protected by the laws.

In Jerusalem, there are two peoples: Palestinians and Israelis, and three religious: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Jerusalem is a holy city. By this holiness, it has a unique character which distinguishes it from every other city in the world. This is why its status is like no other city or world capitol. It requires a particular status guaranteeing the rights of all its inhabitants and its three religions, preserving its sacred as well as its cultural character, placing it above wars and hostilities, and guaranteeing free access for all, friend or foe, in times of peace or war.

It is up to the two peoples concerned, Israelis and Palestinians, with the collaboration of the religions involved, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to define this special status and to govern the city accordingly. Both the international community and all humanity have the duty to assist the two peoples to achieve this particular status. The recognition of this status by the international community will guarantee its stability.

Within the framework of this special status, Jerusalem can be the “capitol” for both peoples concerned and for two states, thus becoming the cradle and symbol of mutual recognition and fraternal coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. It can also be a symbol and source of peace for all the peoples of the region and of the land.

  1. What is the position of the Holy See on Jerusalem?

The Holy See distinguishes, without separating, two aspects of the question of Jerusalem: the conflict over sovereignty, and the safeguarding of its religious and cultural significance. With regard to conflict over sovereignty, it is up to both parties concerned, Israelis and Palestinians, to find a solution to this problem. The Holy See considers it a question of justice which must be settled by the two parties involved. But it also reserves the right because of its moral authority to express its opinion by saying whether or not justice is respected in solutions suggested. It recognizes the position of the international community and the resolutions of the United Nations on this subject as well.

As for its religious and cultural significance, the Holy See asks that the main part of the city with its Holy Places and the human and religious communities living there be respected for what they are, and that the rights of religious freedom and freedom of conscience be insured as much for its residents as for pilgrims from the entire world. It also asks that there be equal rights and treatment for members of the communities of the three monotheistic religions found in the city, in their spiritual, civic, and economic activities. Finally it asks for freedom of access to the holy city for local Christians as well as for pilgrims from around the world.

For this purpose, as stated above (Q 41), a special status is necessary. It should be administered by both peoples, and then recognized and guaranteed by the international community.

  1. What is the position of the local Church on Jerusalem?

The position of the local Church of Jerusalem is practically the same as that of the Holy See. Concerning the conflict over sovereignty, since our faithful form part of Jerusalem’s inhabitants, as citizens they are involved in the conflict, and as the faithful, they are the Church. Therefore, we hold that both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, must be equal in all rights and duties, including sovereignty over the city. All the churches of Jerusalem have together affirmed their position on Jerusalem in the common memorandum of 23 November 1994 on the significance of Jerusalem for Christians.

  2.   Peace – who really benefits from it?

The answer seems evident for those guided by human, moral and spiritual values. It is not so evident to those dominated by political ambitions and by the spirit of domination and vengeance.

Today, neither Palestinians nor Israelis can look at their children without feeling a great fear for their future.

One can take refuge in a substitute for peace in the obsession with security. The system of security can become tyrannical and very costly. Moreover, enemies are needed to justify ones very existence with its consequent costs. Security thus becomes an obstacle to peace.

To demand security before creating conditions of justice is to think and act without considering the human reality. Each will have the security it gives the other.

Violence and the spirit of vengeance also blocks peace because they in turn provoke further violence and further vengeance.

In a narrow political vision, it is impossible to break the spiral of domination, injustice and violence. We must seriously ask ourselves what our region will be like in 25 or 30 years. Looking objectively at the question of peace today, one does not have to be a pessimist to foresee a desert full of cemeteries and the ruins of everything being constructed now. On the other hand, there could be the opposite possibility of a burgeoning of development, well-being and a better life for all, if today’s politicians, freed from fear and selfish interests, had the courage to realize peace through justice.

Only a just peace, realized through dialogue and mutual trust, will be able to free Israelis and Palestinians from fear of the future. Peace is beneficial not only to the powers of this world who have a protected life even though threatened, but to the weak, to families, to the young, to the Palestinian and Israeli communities whose lives are exposed every moment. For these, peace is beneficial, and it is they who must claim it.

  1. We present this text as the fruit of a common reflection by a group of theologians of the Church of Jerusalem, as a contribution to education for peace, in a spirit of collaboration with all people of good will so that this 20th century may end with the resolution of conflicts in a plan of peaceful coexistence for all peoples of the Holy Land in the spirit of the great Jubilee.

One of the commentaries on the plan of this reflection states: “The reflection is too idealistic and inapplicable to our reality of the Holy Land where two parties are in confrontation, the one strong, Israel, having at its disposal military power and world opinion, and the other, weak and unarmed, the Palestinian people…”.

It is precisely in order to break this human impasse that a vision is necessary – a vision which would have all the parties face their real strength which is the God-given dignity that all have received equally from him. Let us emphasize that countries can be conquered by arms and people oppressed by force, but the soul of a people cannot be killed nor peace vanquished. To the weak we say: you must not lose hope, the divine dignity in you is greater and more powerful than any human power. Furthermore, the key to peace rests in your hands as much as in the hands of the mightiest…

To enter into this vision, and for it to become part of our real lives, we need God and the gifts of his Holy Spirit, but we must also cooperate with God to build with him real peace. The work for peace and the prayer for peace go hand in hand as it is so well expressed in this beautiful prayer attributed to Saint Francis which every believer in one God and every community can make their own:

make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love:
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is division, unity;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is error, truth;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it
is in giving that we receive,
in forgiving that we are forgiven,
in dying that we are born to
eternal life.