Easter Homily 2008
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Brothers and Sisters,

Christ is risen.  Yes, right here, this tomb which we venerate witnessed the events that have been transmitted to us by our faith.  Here, the empty tomb, in front of which we celebrate Easter this morning, testifies to our faith. It testifies to God’s love for all of humanity.  With the entire Church, we renew our faith and we proclaim that Christ rose here.  Yes, He is truly risen.  We pray in this Eucharist for Christians, for Muslims, and for Jews, for all religions and for our two peoples, Palestinian and Israeli.  We pray so that the hope of the Resurrection might revive and renew the hearts of all, and fill them with the mystery of God and of his love.

Here, Christ gave his life to redeem humanity.  In order to form his apostles and prepare them to understand and enter into the mystery of God over and above all purely earthly aspirations – for they believed that he was going to give Israel an earthly kingdom – Jesus had predicted his death to them.  One day, recounts the evangelist, “When Jesus and the disciples met in Galilee, he said to them: the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men who will put him to death, and he will be raised up on the third day.”  And the evangelist adds: “At these words, they were overwhelmed with grief” (Mt 17, 22) because they were still unable to see, locked as they were into a temporal vision of his mission.

He had also told them: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.  I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (Jn 10, 17-18).

Christ is risen.  We pray this morning, and our prayer is universal just like Christ’s own prayer.  It embraces all of humanity so that everyone might come to understand that, in this land of death, the orders given to others to go out and kill are not the appropriate way to regain life, or legitimate rights, or security. Only Christ laid down his life.  He is the Eternal Word of God.  He alone can say: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.  I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (Jn 10, 17-18).  And the meaning of this laying down of his life becomes even more understandable in light of another passage by the same evangelist: “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.  He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn 13, 1).  Love alone can transform death into something that leads to life.

That is what Easter means for us: death that leads to life, to the Resurrection.  Death, which becomes through the power of love and forgiveness a redemptive power, creates a new man, a new person.  To pass from death to life, that is the meaning of Easter, that is the meaning of Christian hope: all death, all difficulties lead to renewed life.  Death will not remain a death, and difficulties will not remain the occasion for sterile suffering.  No one has the right to turn personal suffering, even great and incomprehensible, into a prison for oneself or for generations to come.  The sufferings of Christ, his Passion, were great and incomprehensible.  He was counted among criminals, as foretold by the Prophets.  But he loved and forgave: “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn 13, 1).  On the cross, as he was suffering, he said: “Father, forgive them” (Lk 23, 33).

His disciples also ran the risk of turning their sufferings into a prison for themselves: “We were hoping that he was the one who would set Israel free” (Lk 24, 21), said the disciples of Emmaus.  Jesus, walking again with them after the Resurrection, freed them from their frustration and from the failure they thought they had had because they had followed him.  After Jesus had instructed them once again, their discouragement was transformed into their walking anew toward Jerusalem, “they returned to Jerusalem,” and into their announcing the Resurrection.  We have seen the Lord.  He is alive.  He has given us life again.

To believe that Jesus has risen from the dead, says Saint Paul in this morning’s second reading from his Letter to the Colossians, is to look up to heaven with our heart and soul: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3, 1).  Look heavenward to better understand who we are – in the world but not of the world – in the world, but with our mind in union with God the Creator and Redeemer who transforms death into life.  Look at the things that are above in order to better look at what is on earth and to better conduct ourselves with regard to all earthly matters, including the numerous difficulties encountered in the personal lives of each one of us as well as in the difficult history of peoples, and especially of the two peoples of this land.

It is a land whose daily routine, whose daily environment has become for years a permanent cross, a place of blood, of hate, of prisoners, of people killed, of houses demolished, and of ongoing occupation and insecurity.  For the people and for all our political leaders, the situation has become deadlocked, or still worse, a routine of death which the latter think they must only govern without ever giving it life.  The recent events of these past few weeks, Gaza, the murder at the yeshiva in Jerusalem, the young people killed in Bethlehem, and many others, are no more than sterile repetitions of the events of all the past years.  And we will not stop repeating that security cannot be achieved by inflicting insecurity on others.  New means must be found.

To believe in Jesus who died and rose from the dead is to believe and hope that this land, subjected to death by leaders and by public opinions that are held captive and in chains, is to believe and hope that this land and all its inhabitants can also resurrect, provided that minds and hearts are purified of the evil of war, of the hostility, and of the distrust that are deeply ingrained in it.

Look up to heaven, contemplate Christ who died and resurrected, in order to learn how to die and resurrect each day and each moment and in order to give new hope to this land.  Chosen people, your vocation is the same one that Jesus had: to give new life to the world, but first of all to yourselves.  Military personnel, planners of war, thinkers in Israel, you must rethink your vocation and that of this land, of your election, of the permanent covenant, so that it can become a covenant of God with all of humanity and a source of new life, here and everywhere.

We are witnesses of the Resurrection, said Saint Peter to the crowd after Pentecost. Like him, here, in this very place, we are witnesses of the Resurrection, in order to give new hope and to maintain this hope in everyone, despite all the evil of the people who destroy this land.  Let us pray, my brothers and sisters, so that the Resurrection of the Lord will enable all of us to give new life to our land and to all those with whom we are called to live.  With the Psalmist we proclaim our hope: “God will deliver my soul” (Ps 49, 16) and deliver our land.  Amen.

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch

Jerusalem, Easter Sunday  23 March 2008

A Palestinian Christian Call to End The Occupation
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

WCC
A group of Palestinian Christians representing a variety of churches and church-related organizations have issued an animated and prayerful call for an end to occupation of Palestine by Israel.

The call, issued at a 11 December meeting in Bethlehem, comes at a time when many Palestinians believe they have reached a dead end. It raises questions to the international community, political leaders in the region, and the churches worldwide about their contribution to the Palestinian people’s pursuit of freedom. Even in the midst of “our catastrophe” the call is described as a word of faith, hope and love.

Referred to as “The Kairos Palestine Document” the call echoes a similar summons issued by South African churches in the mid-1980s at the height of repression under the apartheid regime. That call served to galvanize churches and the wider public in a concerted effort that eventually brought the end of apartheid.

The authors of the Kairos Palestine Document, among them Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan, and Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of Sebastia from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, have raised the challenge of the urgency for peace with justice to religious and political leaders in Palestinian and the Israeli society, international community, and to “our Christian brothers and sisters in the churches” around the world. They believe that current efforts in the Middle East are confined to managing the crisis rather than finding pertinent and long term solutions to the crisis.

Decrying empty promises

Expressing their pain, the signatories of the call decry the emptiness of the promises and pronouncements about peace in the region. They remind the world about the separation wall erected on Palestinian territory, the blockade of Gaza, how Israeli settlements ravage their land, the humiliation at military checkpoints, the restrictions of religious liberty and controlled access to holy places, the plight of refugees awaiting their right of return, prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons and Israel’s blatant disregard of international law, as well as the paralysis of the international community in the face of this tragedy.

Rejecting Israeli justifications for their actions as being in self-defence, they unambiguously state that if there were no occupation, “there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.”

They argue: “God created us not to engage in strife and conflict but together build up the land in love and mutual respect. Our land has a universal mission, and the promise of the land has never been a political programme, but rather the prelude to complete universal salvation. Our connectedness to this land is a natural right. It is not an ideological or a theological question only.” They reject any use of the Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice.

Declaring the occupation of Palestinian land as a sin against God and humanity, they steadfastly adhere to the signs of hope such as “local centres of theology” and “numerous meetings for inter-religious dialogue”, recognizing that these signs provide hope to the resistance of the occupation. Through the logic of peaceful resistance, resistance is as much a right as it is a duty as it has the potential to hasten the time of reconciliation.

Asserting that this is a moment demanding repentance for past actions, either for using hatred as an instrument of resistance or the willingness to be indifferent and absorbed by faulty theological positions, the group calls on the international community and Palestinians for steadfastness in this time of trial. “Come and see [so we can make known to you] the truth of our reality”, they appeal.

Poignantly, they conclude, “in the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope. We believe in God, good and just. We believe that God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persist in our land. We will see here ‘a new land’ and ‘a new human being’, capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters.”

The authors are:

  • Patriarch Michel Sabbah
  • Bishop Dr Munib Younan
  • Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna
  • Rev. Dr Jamal Khader
  • Rev. Dr Rafiq Khoury
  • Rev. Dr Mitri Raheb
  • Rev. Dr Naim Ateek
  • Rev. Dr Yohana Katanacho
  • Rev. Fr Fadi Diab
  • Dr Jiries Khoury
  • Ms Sider Daibes
  • Ms Nora Kort
  • Ms Lucy Thaljieh
  • Mr Nidal Abu Zulof
  • Mr Yusef Daher
  • Mr Rifat Kassis – coordinator of the initiative

Statement from Palestinian Christian Leaders: Europe Must Recognize the State of Palestine
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

In a Middle East region that continues to suffer from the consequences of violence, the people of Palestine continue to live under occupation and in exile. Palestinian Christians, the descendants of the first Christians, are an integral part of the Palestinian people, continue to suffer, just like our Palestinian Muslim and Samaritan brothers and sisters, we have been denied of our national and human rights for almost a century. From Jerusalem, our occupied capital, we send our urgent message to the whole world and particularly to Europe: We are yearning for justice and peace. Recognizing Palestine and defining Israel’s borders is a first step towards that goal.

We have endured dispossession and forced exile since 1948, when the majority of Palestine’s Christians were forcibly expelled from their homes in the Holy Land. We have persevered through 66 years of exile and 47 years of occupation, holding on to the message of peace of Our Lord. We are tired of calls for resumptions of negotiations while we can’t reach our churches due to a foreign power and our people continue to be humiliated by an undesirable occupation. We are waiting for the day that our churches will ring celebrating freedom and justice.

Christians have a duty to resist oppression. We believe the international community and particularly Europe has not done enough in order to achieve a just and lasting peace. You cannot continue holding our right to freedom and self-determination as an Israeli prerogative. We have a natural right to be free and Europe has a moral, legal and political duty to hold Israel accountable and support Palestinian non-violent initiatives to end the Israeli occupation, including the recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Until when will you continue accepting Israel’s violations of your own resolutions? Until when will you allow that the prospects of peace will continue to be destroyed by Israeli colonization? Until when should we be allowed to be treated as foreigners in our own homeland? Ending Israeli occupation is the only way for Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, to enjoy a life of prosperity and progress. It is also the surest way to secure continued Christian presence in this, our Holy Land, and to grant Israel the security that it continues to demand. Without Justice there can be no peace nor security.

It is time for Europe to understand that the only way to defeat extremism and terrorism in our region is to bring justice for all, starting by ending the historic injustice inflicted against the Palestinian people, an open wound that continues to bleed as the hopes for an independent Palestinian state are more elusive due to the expansion of Israeli settlements and the many restrictions imposed on our own people, including forced displacement.

In our Kairos document, we Palestinian Christians declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.

We believe that recognizing the State of Palestine on the 1967 border is the first step towards changing the current status quo. Banning settlement products and divesting from companies and organizations linked directly or indirectly to the Israeli occupation is also a must. 66 years after the beginning of the Palestinian Nakba and 47 years after the occupation, it is time for the State of Palestine to be free and become a full member of the United Nations. That is why we call upon European governments to fully endorse the just Palestinian quest for freedom and independence.

The international community, and particularly Europe, have a historic responsibility towards the rights of the Palestinian People. Europe has long championed the values of peace and human rights. Now, Europe can reflect this principled position by helping Palestine.

From the Holy Land, we call on you to take this principled position to recognize the State of Palestine and to abide by your legal responsibilities towards a nation under occupation, in order to be able to celebrate justice and peace in the land of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

The document is signed by over a hundred Palestinian Church leaders, diplomats, and civil society leaders and organizations, including:

·        Patriarch Emeritus Michael Sabbah – Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
·        Archbishop Atallah Hanna – Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Christians in Israel and in the Middle East, our present and future
Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Michel Sabbah, Patriarch emeritus

  1.  Who we are?

We are Christians here in Israel and at the same time we are Christians in the Middle East. We are four families of Churches, all, except one, the Assyrian Church of the East, gathered in the Middle East Council of Churches, with its seat in Beirut, Lebanon. The four families are the Orthodox family (Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Cyprus), the Eastern family (Copts of Alexandria, Syrians of Antioch, and Armenians of Cilicia with their see in Antelias in Lebanon; the Armenians of Jerusalem, refer to Etchmiadzin in Armenia), the Catholic family, with seven patriarchates (Alexandria, the Copts; Antioch, the Greek Catholics, the Syro-Catholics and the Maronites; Baghdad, the Chaldeans; Lebanon (Bzummar), the Armenians; and Jerusalem, the Roman Catholics or Latins). In 1990, the Council of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East was established, with its seat in Beirut. The World Council of Churches (WCC), was created in the first half of the 20thcentury and it gathers together almost all the world Churches, including the three families of Churches in the Middle East: Orthodox, Eastern and Protestant or Evangelical. The Catholic Church is not a member, but cooperates in many fields with the Council.

Church and ethnicity: one notes in the names of the Churches of the Middle East, the ethnic/linguistic root of each one of them: Greek, Copt, Syrian, Chaldean, Assyrian, Armenian, Latin or Roman. The name can denote the use of the language of prayer, like Latin (or Roman), while an ethnic sense has remained for some and disappeared for many others: thus the Roman Catholic (Latin) faithful, here and in the region, see themselves as Arabs. The Greek Orthodox are not necessarily ethnically Greek: the hierarchy has remained so in Jerusalem and Alexandria but the faithful underline their Arab belonging, and in Antioch the hierarchy is Arab since the end of the 19thcentury. This sense of belonging to the Arab world characterizes the Greek Catholic Church too. The Copts in Egypt kept the language only in liturgy, strongly reintroduced by Popes Kirill VI and Shenouda III to promote a sense of separate identity because the Church was almost completely Arabized for centuries. They feel that they belong to the Arab world, but they also have a sense of being different. The Syriac tradition Churches (Syrian, Maronite, Chaldean and Assyrian), have preserved the Syriac language in varying degrees in the liturgy and, in some areas, at home too, but alongside Arabic. Some according to time and place, have promoted the sense of being a non-Arab people, belonging to the Arab world.

What needs to be remembered is the Christian contribution to Muslim Arab society. During the period of the Caliphate, Christians played an active and constructive role: they translated Greek culture into Arabic and were a main motor of cultural development. Within the Arab awakening in the 19thcentury and even now, Christians have had an important role, even before being joined by Muslims. In this awakening, Christians, often influenced by the French Revolution, tried to define relations between state and religion. Many of the founders of modern political parties were Christians and their aim was to establish a kind of secular society, in which all citizens were equal and not discriminated against because of their religion. The secularist Baath party succeeded in taking power in Syria and Iraq, creating a degree of security for Christians and other minorities, instituting a separation between religion and state, even if it could not totally disregard Islam. However, neither could it implement democracy; it established rather dictatorial regimes.

  1.  Christians in Israel and Palestine: The leaders of the Churches.

Here in Israel and Palestine, the four families of Churches are present: the Orthodox (Greek, Russian and Rumanian), the Eastern (Armenian, Coptic, Syrian and Ethiopian), the Catholic (Greek, Roman Catholic or Latin, Maronite, Syrian, Armenian and Chaldean) and the Protestants (Lutherans and Anglicans, and other denominations). We are diverse, that means we have different liturgies rooted in different languages. We are hierarchically divided, autonomous from one another. Altogether we are a small community, about 2% of the population in Israel and Palestine. To this enumeration, we must add the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, Custodians of the Holy Places for the universal Catholic Church.

Although we are diverse and hierarchically divided, most of the time we enjoy good relations. We have common meetings in order to deal with questions concerning the religious, social and political life of our people. Our main feasts, Christmas and Easter, follow two different calendars nevertheless we have a long tradition of exchanging wishes and visiting each other on these occasions.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which we are living, the faithful expect the Church to speak out for justice and the advocacy of rights, and our duty is to raise our voice. Sometimes, it is difficult to reach a consensus in this field, because of the concept of the relationship between Church and politics, and because of various pressures from the political authorities. It is easier to send a strong clear message about what is happening in Syria and Iraq than about what is happening in Jerusalem.

Some of us would insist: intervening in the political situation in order to say clearly who is the oppressed, who is the oppressor, to raise our voice to give a strong message to both parties is simply a human right and religious obligation, even when it enrages the political establishment. Others might say: what is related to the conflict is politics and we, as Church, should stay out of it.  Hence the statements of the Church, when they are published, are often very mild and say little if anything at all. The political authorities, for their part, tell us: the conflict, the occupation, all that, is politics, and you, religious leaders, keep away from it, speak about peace, pray for peace, and remain distant and quiet, busy with your prayers and incense.

Therefore the question for all of us is: What kind of approach should we adopt as religious leaders regarding the conflict between Israel and Palestine? A second question is: what should be the relationship between the Church and the state? Should we take a stand regarding the oppressed and the oppressor or should we keep silent? A Christian religious leader has to be on the side of the poor, the oppressed. Doing so, he is not forcibly antagonistic to the other party. He should not be against anyone. He is pro-human and pro-life and cares about the good of both parties. But when one is oppressed he has to say this one is oppressed, and this oppression must end. As the Second Vatican Council states:

The Council wishes passionately to summon Christians to cooperate, under the help of Christ the author of peace, with all men in securing among themselves a peace based on justice and love and in setting up the instruments of peace (Gaudium et Spes, 77).

  1.  Christians in Israel, the people

First, a basic Christian principal is the universality of vision: if I am suffering, I am not suffering alone. All those with whom I live are in the same situation of conflict and war, Israelis and Palestinians alike. Therefore, in looking for an end to my sufferings, I have to care for all those who suffer around me, whatever their nationality or religion might be.

A second principle is loyalty to oneself and one’s people. Hence, for the indigenous Christians in Israel, what is at stake is not simply a question of Christian-Israeli relations, but rather the general relation between Israelis and Palestinians. Indigenous Christians are Palestinians and Arabs (except for a small group that is Hebrew speaking). So we are both part of the conflict and part of the efforts to make peace. We are a part of those under occupation and a part of those suffering discrimination. Hence, the Christian Palestinian’s attitude is both Palestinian and Christian (demanding freedom, an end to the occupation, equality…,) characterized by the Christian spirit and way.

Two different situations are to be distinguished, concerning Christian Palestinians in Israel. The first is in the Occupied Territories, the second, inside Israel. In the Occupied Territories, Christians are under military occupation, dominated by a regime of checkpoints and other difficulties of daily life. The Christian’s contribution is that of any citizen who finds himself in a similar situation: to take all legitimate measures to put an end to this occupation and to attain independence and freedom. The legitimate measures, of course, must be in harmony with the principles of Christian faith and Church teaching, the basic commandment being of love.

Inside Israel, Christian Palestinians are citizens. They have the duties and should have the rights of citizens. They should be loyal to the state but also loyal to themselves: demanding equality and an end to all discrimination. One aspect of their loyalty to Israel can be expressed as a determination to help Israel rid itself of its “problem” with the Palestinians, by ending the occupation.

Inside Israel, Christians are faced with another issue, that of personal security. Christians inside Israel feel insecure. Inter-Palestinian crimes are rarely followed up, though the guilty parties are often well known. In many cases, the police do not respond to complaints. And when tensions arise between Christians and Muslims, between Druze and Muslims or between Druze and Christians, the police often do not act. We might raise the question: do the police have their own agenda? Are the authorities, in fact, promoting a “divide and rule” policy, even sometimes actively promoting these tensions? Inside Palestinian society in Israel, whether Muslim, Christian or Druze, those who feel protected are those who have their own guns. Those who are armed are usually agents of the government, whether Muslims, Christians or Druze.

A new Christian issue has been raised inside Israel: there are voices among Christians, encouraged by the authorities, who have begun to say “we are not Arabs, we are Arameans”. Where does this imaginative discourse come from? Perhaps it has its roots in an imagined past: it is true that some of us, Christians, spoke Aramaic, centuries ago, like the Jews. However, history has been ongoing and has transformed situations and peoples. Today, we are what we are: Palestinians, Arabs and Christians. Resurrecting some distant past does not automatically separate one from his or her people. When one is faced by a difficult present, it is not always healthy to escape into a “mythical” past and bury oneself in it. It is usually best to face the present challenges and to help others to face these challenges. On the other hand, I would say to a Christian Palestinian who now claims to be Aramean and not Arab: If you want to express a special loyalty to Israel, start being loyal to yourself. If you are not loyal to yourself you will be loyal to no one. I do not think, this “flight of imagination” will be of any help to Israel. Loyalty does not mean providing Israel with more soldiers in the army or more collaborators in society. It is no help to the Christians, even if some of them will profit as individuals, getting jobs, admissions to universities and so on. This “flight of imagination” is rather an added element of confusion and internal dissention, inside Israel and among the Christian Palestinian Israeli citizens.

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land in a statement published on September 18, 2014, said: “The vocation of the Christian is not to suddenly become an Aramean nor to go to war. Rather the vocation of the Christian is to point the way to peace and to walk in its path. This peace must be built on the dignity of each human being, Palestinian and Jewish. Blessed are the peace makers for they truly serve God and humanity, all humanity, Palestinians and Israelis and the whole region”.

  1.  Christians in the Middle-East

If I now widen the perspective, I will apply the same principles to my vision of Christians throughout the Middle East. In the region, there are so many suffering: we are not alone in our suffering. Many more are suffering with us.

The Catholic Patriarchs of the East had already perceived this communion with the human person in the region. In their second Pastoral Letter, published in 1992, echoed again in their tenth Pastoral Letter in 2009, they said: “The whole society is affected by the Arab socio-political failure. Christians too, because they do not live separated from their societies. Like the others, perhaps more than the others, they are affected by the conflicts that exist in the region. They are even the first victims, as it appears from the present situation in Israel and Iraq (Revolutions in 2011 had not still expanded to all the Arab countries). Therefore, all the society, Muslims and Christians, are living in perplexity…” (n. 8).

The Christian presence in the Middle East is first an internal question: How Christians understand themselves and their role in their societies, and their relations with Muslims, and here, with Jews. Second, it is an external question that depends on the West’s global political view and planning for the region.

How do we understand ourselves, what is the reality of ethnic differences that have survived up until today in some countries? A Christian belongs to his people, to his country and to his society, just as every human being in each one’s country and society. We constitute a small number, but we are not minorities in the sense of being a foreign element in our countries. And we say: we are not numbers, neither are we proportions, we are human beings one hundred per cent. Each one is a creature of God, just like everyone else in the country, Muslim, Jew, Druze or Christian. We belong to our people, whatever the behavior of our people might be, welcoming or persecuting as it happens to be now in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, as Christians, we are sent to our people: we are bearers of a mission, we have a message to our people, to adhere to its identity, and to contribute to the building up and defense of our society, in all circumstances, easy or difficult, as it is at present. Jesus told us: you are the salt, the light in your societies. That means we have to bring to our public life a taste of living, our Christian values and ways.

Christians do not necessarily agree on any one particular ideal position. This is a reality. But we have to educate our Christians in this vision and spirit. Whatever be the behavior of our society, our behavior as Christians will be involvement in all its events and evolutions. Central to us as Christians is to be always insistent on our commandment: love each other, your neighbors and even your enemies.

How do our societies deal with us?

The issue is twofold. Firstly, within each country, it is an issue of achieving total equality, difficult to attain, as long as the population is perceived as being made up of Muslims and Christians. The state is obligated to take religion into consideration. Secondly, today, with ongoing revolution, a process that began in January 2011, we are facing the threatening progress of Islamic militias (like ISIS) and their like who have already had an effect on the Christians in Syria and Iraq: massacres and forced emigration.

Second, the Christian presence in the Middle East is an external question that depends on the West’s global political view and planning for the region. This means that Christian presence ultimately will depend on the Western powers and their planning for the region. Christians do not seem to exist within this planning by Western powers. Their criteria seem to be only political and economic interests, and we, Christians, are of no interest to them, neither in politics nor in economy, not when declaring wars nor when provoking violent changes of regime, as was the case in the invasion of Iraq. In these cases, if we, Christians, survive, it is OK. If we are massacred, there are voices of compassion. If we become refugees, the Western powers might send us humanitarian help, they maintain refugee camps, or even give us entry visas for emigration. But their “realpolitik” does not change. This is a main danger for our future as Christians in the region.

As for the relations between Muslims and Christians, they are not only a challenge for us, they are our mission, and we will continue to engage in this mission, as our ancestors always have, ever since the times of the first Caliphates and right until the modern Arab awakening.

  1.  Our future

Our future here, as Christians in Israel and Palestine, depends upon the future of Israel and Palestine. If stability can be achieved, it will be stability and prosperity for all, Christians included. If war continues, it will be instability, social and economic for Christians as well as for all. It will remain a period of confusion due to war, politic interests, poverty, need for jobs, for equality of opportunities, education etc… it will be a period of insecurity, physical and moral, the human person will be used and abused for “security reasons”. For those of us who want just to live, without any ideal, it will be a time of desperation and slow death, whether we are called “Christians” or “Arameans”.

Keeping in mind all those external factors, local and international, we have mentioned and the socio-political evolution of the region, our future as Christians depends ultimately on ourselves, on our own faith. The 10thPastoral Letter of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East states: “The future of the Christians of the East is in the hands of God and in their own hands. It is in their hands in the measure in which their faith becomes a spiritual strength within themselves, with which they face challenges, take necessary steps and contribute to the common effort of building”.

Our future is a question of our role in our societies, it is a question of our relations with Muslims. It is a question of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It is a question of the Western powers’ planning for the region… However, it is mainly a question of faith. Without faith we will be a question of simply another minority, and a struggle between small numbers and large numbers, while we remain at the mercy of savage egoistical forces swirling around us.

If it is a question of faith this means that we have a mission, we are a mission, wherever we are, in all circumstances, easy and less easy, peace and war. With faith, with our sense of being a people with a mission, we are strong, strong not to kill or to be aggressive against anyone, but to better love and contribute to the general human building of a fraternal society, in which everyone finds himself as a brother or sister. If we are faced by death and massacres, we have to educate ourselves to live the sense of being a martyr: giving our life for the life of our societies, even for those who kill us, so that even these may also reach the true sense of life. This might seem to be too idealistic, but, it has to be so, facing the hard realities of our days which might become worse day to day. In a normal situation, where we are not faced directly by death and persecution, our choice is our vocation: to share in the building of our society. In exceptional situation, where we are faced directly by death, we have two choices: to become soldiers and form armies to kill some of our enemies and to be killed for politics, on the one hand, or to give our life as martyrs for our faith and for the life of our own enemy, on the other hand. The second alone is the Christian choice. It was the choice of the first Christians here in Jerusalem, in the Middle East and in the entire Roman Empire. They died for their faith and for the life of their persecutors, and finally they won.

Michel Sabbah, Patriarch emeritus

Jerusalem, 20.1.2015

Bethlehem Celebrates Another Occupied Christmas
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

At this holy time of the year, Bethlehem, the city of the Nativity, stands at the center of attention of the whole world. What the world might overlook as it watches is that the very city where Jesus was born celebrates yet another occupied Christmas. This year, Israel, a self-proclaimed “safe haven” for Christians, has presented to Bethlehem a few unwelcome Christmas gifts.

Israel’s Christmas gifts to Bethlehem this year serve towards consolidating the separation between Bethlehem and its twin city, Jerusalem; the city where Jesus was born and the city where he was resurrected – the essence of the Christian faith. Aside from the daily violations that the besieged Bethlehem suffers as a result of the occupation, Israel issued a military order last week announcing that it has confiscated 101 dunams of Bethlehem’s northern lands. In the same week, the Israeli government approved the expansion of the illegal settlement of Gilo – built on privately owned lands of Bethlehem – by 891 new housing units.

Right to the west of the Gilo settlement lies the Cremisan valley in Beit Jala with its two Salesian monasteries and privately owned agricultural lands. Despite a nine-year legal battle, tremendous diplomatic lobby efforts and civil resistance, Israel continues to build the annexation wall in Cremisan, leaving 58 Palestinian Christian families robbed of their lands. Where do these families go now and to whom do they have recourse?

Despite Israel’s claim that it is the only country in the Middle East where Christians prosper, the unspoken message it sends on the ground is that it has no respect whatsoever for their rights as Palestinians and for their existence in their homeland. It is claimed that Islamic extremism is the reason behind the massive emigration of Palestinian Christians. In reality, the problems of Palestinian Christians stem essentially from the fact that they are Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation. What drives a Palestinian Christian out of his homeland to seek a better future elsewhere is the daily harassment of the occupation, and Israel’s land confiscation policies fall at the heart of the matter.

The Israeli government is quick to cite “security” justifications for its oppressive policies – while in reality, land grab and settlement expansion motives – under the pretext of security – cannot be concealed.

Nevertheless, I will not call on anyone. I will not make yet another failed call on the international community. This time, I only call on the Israeli leaders in search of “security”. I call on them to finally see the inevitable result of walls, stolen lands and illegal settlements: it will only bring more isolation, rejection and hatred, hence, more insecurity. I call on them to see that justice, education for mutual respect and acceptance will bring security and peace.

Bethlehem is now either a symbol for peace, or war. I invite the Israeli leaders to make it a symbol for peace, and for a new just approach for Palestinians. Palestinians deserve the full achievement of their inalienable rights, and neither, Israeli leaders, your ability, nor your legal responsibility and moral obligation to do that should be questionable or optional.

Patriarch Emeritus Michael Sabbah was the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem between 1987 and 2008.
Michael Sabbah

Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah

Prays for Christian Unity 2016
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah

Priority in the hearts of Christians is the unification of feasts. It is true that the unification of feasts is important, but prayer and love are as important.

January 31, 2016 – Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah has daily inspirational thoughts on issues relevant to Christian faith and life.Following are some of his inspirational thoughts:

Last week, we prayed for the unity of Christians. Our Lord Jesus Christ has called us, and is still calling us to be one church. History, human deviations, and our unfortunate capacity to distort the goodness of God in ourselves, caused all our divisions.

Despite this, we also have to know that the approach of Christians towards unity started long time ago in response to Christ’s call. In all churches all over the world, there have been encounters, dialogue and friendly relations among churches. Here also in the Holy Land, Heads of Churches meet and enjoy friendly relations. Nevertheless, the way for genuine unity is still too long.

Our unity needs prayer, and then love for each other. If every one of us had prayed and loved his brother or sister in every church, unity would have been nearer. Unfortunately, we must recognize that this effort to pray and to love each other is not a priority in the hearts of Christians.

Priority in the hearts of Christians is the unification of feasts. It is true that the unification of feasts is important, but prayer and love are as important. It is true that the unification of feasts is a positive testimony before our societies, and a unification of our families, parishes and believers. Nevertheless, the testimony of prayer and love is of a greater importance.

In any case, unification of feasts is a priority for the churches. We know about the initiative of Pope Francis who offered a proposal to all the Churches that could be a solution for the question. Now, all the churches are waiting for the answer of the Orthodox churches, which will meet in the beginning of the coming summer.

Let us pray for the pan-orthodox meeting to take place on time, and that the answer will bring the suitable solution for the question, so Christians in the world will rejoice celebrating the feasts on the same day.

We say again that our unity depends on an effort of prayer and love. A prayer as Jesus prayed, in the gospel of St John: “Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us…May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us” (Jn 17: 11.21).

Prayer is essential in all domains of Christians’ lives. When we stand to pray before God, we remind ourselves that we are not alone in our difficulties but that God is with us. Hence a man who walks, knowing that God is his companion and his support, becomes a man united with his brothers, united with all humanity. His fraternity within the church makes him a brother to all humankind.

Prayer is linked with love, because it puts us before God, and God is love. What will we discover when we stand before God? We will discover that we too must be filled with love as God our Creator is love. If achieving unity, at the administrative level, is difficult and complicated, unity based on love has no obstacle at all, except our own weakness or rejection.

This means that the unity of Christians is in the hand of all Christians, not only of the heads of churches, because it depends on the capacity of every Christian to love. It is the kind of love that unites churches and Christians. It even goes beyond our churches, to make us able to see God and His love for all His creation. Hence, we love all our society and all believers in all religions in our society.

In the human soul, there must be some degree of asceticism. The human being puts limits to himself in order to remain within the space of goodness that God has put in him. Religious men and women and hermits, transform all their life into asceticism and into a spiritual fight in order to see God. People and believers, in general, serve the earth with its various functions. In order to keep their service as perfect as possible, even, in order to make out of the service of earth itself a way to see what is above the earth, that means to see God, they practice some asceticism, and help the spirit triumph over deviated inclinations or evil in themselves.

In every good human being, there is a permanent effort towards asceticism, in order to maintain himself good as he implements any service for the benefit of his society. Doing so, he will remain in every service a servant to society; he will avoid egoism and corruption, and he will keep looking above; the earth itself will become for him a way that leads to the Creator.

Our societies need spaces for the spirit that enlighten and guide hearts and minds, and makes them lenient, particularly in facing the politics of death and forced migration that dominate our countries. We need more spirit, more love, more of God’s presence, to stop the evil of dictators and tyrants, and those who nurture discrimination. Those people of death need more humanity for themselves, and more respect for those whom God himself had granted their dignity.

This is the mission of any good believer, of any true believer in any religion: to provide humankind with more spirit and love. This is the sign of a sincere and true believer, to provide humankind with more spirit and love. If, on the contrary, a believer calls for racial discrimination, if he calls for death in the name of discrimination or in the name of God, he is himself rather a dead person who needs someone to give him back life. In this case, he is not a believer at all; he needs someone to have pity on him, to pray for him, to plead for him, may God have mercy on him. However, to obtain God’s mercy, he has to ask sincerely for mercy; he has to pray as a true believer, not as a murderer of his brother, and hence putting himself among the dead.

Every believer is called to live with and for every human being. God did not create man, as an individual alone, nor as individuals isolated from each other. He created man as a family, Adam and Eve, responsible for each other. Therefore, God asked Cain about his brother: where is your brother? Cain, who violated the law of God and killed his brother said: am I the guardian of my brother? God told him: yes, you are responsible for your brother, and I will ask you for his blood that you have shed, pushed by the spirit of evil in you, that resists the spirit of good that I have put in you. The soil from which you were created has attracted you down, therefore, the life I have given to you, you made it death to you and to your brother.

Every believer is called to live with and for every human being. This is the message of God our Creator from the day He created us. This is the message we bear from the first day we came to life, from the day we believed in any religion. God created us and created every human being like us. Therefore, whatever evil a believer does to any human being, he does it to God. As Jesus said: “In truth I tell you, insofar as you did this to the least of these brothers of mine, to me you did it” (Mt 25: 40).

Every believer is called to live with and for every human being.
This means that every human being achieves his own perfection, not in his ego, nor in developing all his capacities only, but through a true encounter with every human being who enters his life. The other is my perfection. The other is the image of God for me. The other is my way to God.

Perfection here on earth is achieved each time someone helps his brother or sister achieve his or her perfection. So humankind becomes one united, cooperating family that helps each member achieve his or her perfection. In fact, human societies have many who live this way and cooperate. But there are also many who combat, fight and kill, out of passion, interests or egoism that suffocate the killer, so he kills himself while he kills his brother, and the voice of God remains echoing in the depth of his conscience: “Cain where is your brother?”

A human being reaches his perfection with his brother. God created people family, and one family, whatever big and whatever the languages are dispersed and different the cultures and religions. God is one.

The proof that we are in the truth is when we find our perfection in our brother or sister. The blind who does not see his brother or sister, who is suffocated in his personal or familial or tribal or denominational ego, is outside the law of Creation.

Unfortunately individualistic or tribal positions, are so many in our life, and made under various headings, the tribe, the nation, culture, civilization, religion, sects that separate people of the same religion, and so on … This means that we all need to purify our eyes on this earth, in order to remain in the right path in which we see ourselves responsible for every brother or sister, overcoming all individual or of communal egoism.

Ecumenical Prayer for Peace in Jerusalem
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Patriarch emerit. Michel Sabbah

March 22nd 2016 in St. Etienne Church, Jerusalem:

We read in the gospel of Luke and in Prophet Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me, to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim good news to the captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord” (Lk 4: 18-19).

This prophecy is in harmony with the spirit of the Jubilee, referred to in the Law of Moses, to be celebrated every 50th year. In the jubilee year everything has to be returned to his legitimate owner. This year of Jubilee is the acceptable time in which man comes back to God and to his brothers and sisters. It is the time people remove themselves from all oppression.

Kairos Palestine has wanted to see the passing of 49 years of occupation, as a year of jubilee. Next year is the 50th year of occupation. It should be the year in which the return to God and conversion must happen. Return and conversion means for the Israelis to end their occupation of the Palestinian land. It must be a year of liberation for them, the occupier, from the sin of the occupation. It should be a year of freedom for us, freedom based not on wars or weapons, but on the law of God, the same law that governs all human beings, Israelis as well as Palestinians. The law of God for us all is the law of love.

We have come to pray together for peace, to send a message of peace and love to all Palestinians, to the Israelis, and to the Churches of the world, who celebrate Easter and the triumph of Jesus Resurrection over  evil and sin.

We pray for peace so that each one of us learns how to make peace in himself first. In the soul of each one of us, there is a war, with ourselves, with our own deviations, with people whom we love, or we do not love. We pray for peace, for learning to make peace in ourselves, and with all people with whom we live together; those who are near and those who are far. Peace is a power that imposes itself. War, instead, needs fighters and death makers to make it. Peace is a power that God gives and with it he changes hearts and people. We believe in what Jesus said, “Blessed are the peace makers, they will be called sons of God” (Mt 5: 9). We also believe in what he told us, that we are strong with his power. He said, “Whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, and will perform even greater works” (Jn 14: 12).

We have to make peace instead of wars. We can. We must remain steadfast. We pray. We act. and we resist occupation with love. We act with the logic of love so that the occupation will be transformed into a liberation of the soul of the occupier. It will then be freedom for us, the occupied.

We ask God almighty to give us peace and to put an end to occupation. We pray. God, look from your heaven, and have mercy upon us.

We also pray for peace in all Arab countries, and throughout the world. Many people indeed have died; many people are still killed. Their only guilt is to be weak.

For thm also we pray. God, in your justice, in your mercy, look from above and have mercy upon us.

We came this evening to pray with the Kairos Movement. The word Kairos means the moment in which we see the grace of God. God accompanies us with his grace, individuals and peoples, in every moment of our life, in difficulties and death, and in joy and peace. We are now in a moment of difficulty and death, in a moment of occupation, in a moment of despair.

In this moment of despair and death, we are called to discover the grace of God. The grace of God is love and life. It is not a confrontation with an enemy. It is not a war against an enemy. It is a moment of life and love that God gives us all, and those who occupy us. As God loves them, so we love them. This is a difficult task, almost impossible. But we say also that we resist the evil of the occupation, with the logic of love. Because of this we do not despair. To those, among the Palestinians, who despair, to the young people who go to death in these days, we say, “You must live not die. Believe in God, and in his Providence. Do not despair. Know that you have the power to give life. You are called to live and love. Peace and justice will be the fruit of your love and life.

This is the message of Kairos Palestine for the Holy Week.

In the Holy Week, we meditate on the sufferings of Our Lord Jesus Christ and on his death and resurrection. He passed through death to life and to the glory of resurrection. This is our faith. Just like Jesus, we also can pass from death to resurrection, from slavery to freedom, from occupation to liberation..

Our message is a prayer: God let us not live to kill, in your name, neither in vengeance. Give us to grow in making peace in ourselves and with every human being, even when we have to deal with those who deny our will and our capacity for making peace.

Jesus told us, “In the world you will have hardship; but be courageous. I have conquered the world” (Jn16: 33). In these words we believe, we resist every evil, e resist occupation, and we love all people.

We pray for all those who suffer under the occupation, those Palestinians who go to die in these days, for all prisoners who are being tortured, for all those who have had their houses demolished.

Israel may tell us: all these people are terrorists; you cannot be in solidarity with them. We say: all these prisoners, all those who go to die, all those exiled or have their houses demolished, are people whom you oppress, who ask for their freedom and human dignity. Moreover, they are human beings created in the image and resemblance of God.. Furthermore, in you also, our occupiers and our oppressors, we see the image of God. You too you are created by God in His image and resemblance. You too are called to see the image of God in yourself so that you become able to see him in others. With this vision only, the vision of God in every human being, a just peace can be achieved for everyone.

Brothers and sisters, you may say, how can we pray for those who kill us? Who occupy our land? And demolish our houses? We say: we pray for human beings created by God. Whatever evil they do they remain created at the image of God. Therefore, we pray for them. We pray and we have the duty to rectify all evil in them, and stop all their aggression. God will extend his hand to all those who love and who, with love, rectify evils around them.

We are in the Holy Week. The day after tomorrow is Good Friday where we meditate on the mystery of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. We pray in silence. We meditate on the words of Jesus, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23: 34).

We should begin by liberating ourselves from evil that is inside us, from all sin, for we are all sinners. Then we move on to liberate the land and all the hearts that are full of evil. Only after this, will the triumph of the Resurrection be ours and for all those who live in this Holy Land.

This is the prayer of Kairos Palestine. This is our call for all Christian Palestinians and all Palestinians who are believers in God. Our message is love, believe in God, and with your love resist all evil and aggression. With your love, with all your activity, open your hearts and the hearts of the aggressors. Open them, make them able to stay human and to love. Amen.

Palestinians from the Westbank are banned from entering Jerusalem during the Holy Week, including Good Friday. We are very sorry for all who could not come to our Prayer for Peace, the launching event for this years Easter Alert. We were thinking of you and want to share some pictures! Patriarch emerit. Michel Sabbah during his homily: Jesus told us, “In the world you will have hardship; but be courageous. I have conquered the world” (Jn16: 33). We pray and we believe that God will hear us, and He will triumph upon evil.

Source: http://www.kairospalestine.ps/index.php/resources/publication/147-ecumenical-prayer-for-peace-in-jerusalem

Welcome by Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Patr em., June 20, 2017
Patriarch Michel Sabbah

Churches of the Holy Land
Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Patr em.
June 20, 2017 – Beth Sahour

On behalf of the Churches of the Holy Land, I welcome you in this city of the shepherds, where, centuries ago, the angels sung, and where we are still hearing them: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to people of good will” (Lk 2: 14). At the same time, many are not hearing, and we are still experiencing war instead of peace.

I thank you, I thank the WCC, for your continual solidarity, for your words and action for justice and peace in this Holy Land.

In the Holy Land, whatever the appearances, whatever the local or world media say, we are always in a situation of war, which began and has never ended. We are always under military occupation.

The land of redemption of the world, itself needs redemption. It needs healing. The peoples who live here, the oppressed Palestinians, need healing, which means an end of the occupation. The occupiers, the Israelis, need healing from being oppressors and occupiers. The Israelis need not remain occupiers, or in a situation in which their life and security require the death or lack of freedom of Palestinians.

All Israelis and all Palestinians, all believers in the holiness of this land, ask: will this land remain a land of death for ever, instead of being what it is, what God called it for, to be a land of promises, of “milk and honey,” a land of the resurrection?

The healing, the political and human healing of Jerusalem, will also be the healing of the region, and the healing of so many consciences here and in the world.

Who can heal Jerusalem? Israelis authorities say: no need for healing. They alone know what is right and they are doing it. Which means: all doors for any way of healing are closed.

The world powers have abdicated their responsibility. They are showing  their impotence; they are unable to impose peace and justice. They know what is wrong in this country. But they are unable to take any action. They try to compensate for their impotence in what regards justice by offering financial or humanitarian help to Palestinians. But financial and humanitarian help does not replace justice, it does not end the occupation, and it does not bring healing to both peoples in the land, Israelis and Palestinians.

The world leaders have abdicated their duty.

Will the world churches also abdicate, and silence their prophetical voice and action?

The only remaining hope is in the churches’ prophetic voice and action. Today, gathered here in Palestine, in the city of the Prince of Peace, we tell you: Do not be afraid. Do not fall in the “fear” of the world political powers. Do not abdicate. Do not silence in yourselves the voice of God, who is a God of love, not a God of war.

Educate your peoples and your political leaders. Educate your peoples to elect rulers who are not silent and impotent. Leaders who can see that this holy land is still in need of healing and who have the courage to assume their responsibilities and to heal.

You are also aware, through your own experience, that any true peace maker in this land will be accused with all kinds of accusations; he or she may be exposed to all kinds of opposition. Our action and yours as churches is not easy, it can become a martyr’s action. Nevertheless, remain churches, do what a church must do, what a believer in God’s love for all must do, even if you will suffer.

Jesus said: “In all truth I tell you, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, and will perform even greater works” (Jn 14: 12). We are, you are as powerful as Jesus. Jesus said it. In all domains, in the domain of the spirit for the salvation of the world. Peace making is “salvation of the world.”

This is what Jesus says even today. He said that we and you, we can perform even greater works than he. A greater work today is peace and justice here in this land from where you received faith in Jesus Christ. It will be peace for Jerusalem, it will be peace for the region, it will be peace for the world.

According to the word of Jesus: You can, we can, you can heal this land and the whole world.