Delivering his Christmas message on Wednesday, Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem urged local and international actors to work for peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East.
“In a few days we will celebrate … Christmas, the feast of the Light, that shines in the night, a celebration of joy, hope and peace,” Patriarch Twal said Dec. 16. “However, and I repeat the same words of Pope Francis, everything is distorted 'because the world continues to make war'.”
“What a suffering it is, to once again see our beloved Holy Land caught in the vicious cycle of bloody violence! What a pain to see anew, hatred prevail over reason and dialogue! The anguish of the people of this land is ours, which we cannot ignore or disregard.”
He began by addressing the leaders of Israel and Palestine, telling them, “it is time to show courage, and work for the establishment of a just peace. Enough of stalling, reluctance and false pretenses! Respect international resolutions! Listen to the voice of your people who aspire for peace, act in their best interests! Each of the two peoples of the Holy Land, Israelis and Palestinians, have the right to dignity, to an independent state and sustainable security.”
Armed violence between Israelis and Palestinians has been on the rise since September, when tensions at the Temple Mount were heightened. According to AFP, the recent violence has killed 119 Palestinians, 17 Israelis, and two foreign nationals.
The patriarch then turned to the situation in the wider world, saying, “our situation in the Holy Land resonates that of the world facing an unprecedented terrorist threat. A deadly ideology based on religious fanaticism and obstinacy is spreading terror and barbarism amidst innocent people.”
He noted recent terrorist attacks affecting Lebanon, France, Russia, and the United States, while adding that “war has been raging for years in Iraq and Syria. The situation in Syria is also at the center of this crisis; and the future of the Middle East depends on the resolution of this conflict.”
“These terrible wars are driven by arms trade, involving several international powers,” Patriarch Twal stated. “We are facing a situation of total absurdity and duplicity. On one side, some speak of dialogue, justice, and peace, while on the other hand promote the sale of arms to the belligerents! We call to conversion, these unscrupulous arms dealers who may be without conscience, to make amends.”
Force and military response “cannot solve the problems of humanity,” he stated. “We need to find the root and cause of this scourge, and to tackle them. We must combat poverty and injustice, which may constitute a breeding ground for terrorism. Similarly, we must promote education on tolerance and acceptance of the other.”
The Church's response to the situation is the Jubilee of Mercy, the patriarch said. “Mercy is the remedy for the ills of our time. It is through mercy that we make visible to the world the tenderness and closeness of God.”
“Mercy is not limited to individual relationships but embraces public life in all its sectors (political, economic, cultural, social), at all levels (international, regional and local) and in all directions (between states, peoples, cultures and religions). When mercy becomes a basic component of public action, the world can be transformed from the sphere of selfish interests to that of human values.”
Patriarch Twal encouraged pilgrimage to the Holy Land during the jubilee year, noting that the patriarchate has Holy Doors in Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem. “Pilgrims should not be afraid to come. Despite the tense situation in this land, the pilgrim route is safe and they are respected and appreciated by all sectors in the Holy Land.”
He urged the importance and value of education, asking, “How can we ever forget the bitter struggle to uphold our Christian schools in Israel?” He noted the political leaders and officials who had worked for this cause, naming President Reuven Rivlin “and several members of the Knesset.” He said they “have shown a commitment to education offered by the Christian schools that is open to all citizens without distinction, and based on fraternal principles, dialogue and peace.”
The patriarch also noted how crucial is dialogue among Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Holy Land.
Saying that “the current political situation suggests for moderate celebrations and deepening our spiritual sense of this remembrance,” he invited parishes of the patriarchate “to switch off Christmas tree lights for five minutes in solidarity with all victims of violence and terrorism. Similarly, our Christmas Mass will be offered for the victims and their families, that they take to heart, the participation in the joy and peace of Christmas.”
Patriarch Twal concluded: “Dear friends, the birth of Christ is a sign of the Mercy of the Father and a promise of joy to us all. This message shines upon our wounded world, to console the afflicted, the oppressed, and to bring about conversion to violent hearts.”
“A blessed and joyous Christmas to all!”