"It Is Time to Commit Ourselves Together for a Genuine, True and Long-lasting Peace"
Christmas message delivered by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal.
Christmas Message 2010
I welcome all of you journalists present here and thank you for your role in providing information and conscience formation, and for your commitment to the truth. The message of the recent Synod recognized your role: "We appreciate the role of the means of social communication, both printed and audio-visual. We thank you journalists for your collaboration with the Church in broadcasting her teachings and activities." (Nuntius 4.4)
To all of you and all the people of Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year full of surprises at the global, local, and personal levels, and a year of peace and prosperity.
I greet the Bishops here present: Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, our Patriarchal Vicar in Israel, and our new Auxiliary Bishop and Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, Bishop William Shomali, who was ordained last May and comes with a new energy to help us in our mission. I also welcome Rev. Fr. David Neuhaus, SJ, our Patriarchal Vicar in Israel for the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community.
Like last year, I would like to present the important events that have happened this year, here in our Patriarchate. I would like to emphasize above all the positive events without, however, excluding the suffering and the concerns that remain.
1 -We thank our Holy Father for having convened the Synod for the Middle East, held in Rome from the 10th to 24th of October 2010. During that time, we were able to put our fingers on our wounds and our fears, and at the same time express our expectations and our hopes. The Synod called on Christians in the Middle East to live as true believers and good citizens, not distancing from public life, but involved in the development of our communities, whether in Arab countries or in Israel. The Synod also stressed the importance of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. We hope that this dialogue will advance not only within intellectual circles, among scholars and theologians, but be a dialogue of life, for all segments of society. The Synod condemned violence, religious fundamentalism, anti-Semitism, anti-Judaism, anti-Christianity and Islamophobia, and called on religions “to assume their responsibilities in promoting dialogue among cultures and civilizations in our region and in the entire world.” (Nuntius 11)
2 – Religious tourism and pilgrimages in the Holy Land are experiencing record numbers. In November 2010, three million people have visited the Holy Places. This number could still increase to arrive at nearly 3.4 million visitors, a figure never reached before, even in 2000, the Jubilee Year, which recorded very significant results. This reflects the universal dimension of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, the welcoming reception extended to pilgrims by our people and our Churches, and the good work of the Ministries of Tourism in Israel and Palestine.
3 – I wish to highlight the improvement in the process of obtaining visas for religious, seminarians and volunteers. I thank all those who worked to achieve this result. We still have a long way to go.
4 – On December 7th, talks resumed between the Holy See and the Palestinian Authority for the application of the basic agreement signed in 2000. The deliberations focus on religious freedom and fiscal legislation. We pray for the success of these negotiations and those already under way with Israel.
5 – Last November, I had the joy of visiting several countries in Latin America: Chile, Argentina, Colombia, and Honduras. I met with the bishops of these countries, top government and civilian authorities, and especially our faithful living in the ‘diaspora.’ In Chile alone, there are over 400,000 who emigrated between 1900 and 1950, because of poverty and security problems. Now they are all well integrated into the local society, and many have expressed their willingness to support our projects in the Holy Land and come on pilgrimage.
Among the major projects that the Latin Patriarchate is trying to accomplish, I would like to mention: the new pediatric hospital in Bethlehem which will be named after Pope Benedict, the University of Madaba, which will open in October next year, and the new Pilgrims’ Center in Jordan, on the site of the Baptism of Christ.
6 – We were very concerned about the fire that destroyed entire forests in the Haifa area. We offer our condolences to the families of victims, and our admiration for the courage of those who died in the line of duty. This sad event made us experience international solidarity. The fact that the Palestinian Authority made available their team of firefighters was a very significant gesture and may be a beginning of a fruitful collaboration in the future, when peace will be established in this troubled land.
7 – We suffer from the failure of direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This should not lead us to despair. We continue to believe that on both sides, and in the international community, there are men of good will who will work and put their energies together in their commitment for peace. We believe that nothing is impossible with God and we want to carry out the wishes sang by the angels on Christmas night: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”(Lk.2 :14) We also wish Europe to play a more significant role in this process.
8 – We were shocked and troubled by the massacre of Christians in Baghdad in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. These innocent victims are added to the thousands of victims of fundamentalism and violence afflicting our world. Readily, I echo the words of Pope Benedict: "Given the violence that continue to tear the peoples of the Middle East, I would like to renew my urgent appeal for peace. Peace is a gift of God. It is also the result of efforts by men of good will, of national and international institutions, all working together to put an end to all violence! "
Dear friends, let me conclude this message with my good wishes for a reconciliation between our peoples, the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is time to commit ourselves together for a genuine, true and long-lasting peace.
May the joy of Christmas be in our hearts and peace upon all of you. Merry Christmas!
+Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch