image of jerusalem 2013

Christmas Plea for2003?
What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light! - (Jn1 :4)

27 December   |   2002   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

25December2002 ! The majority of the Christian world celebrated this week the birth of Jesus some two thousand years ago in a lowly manger in Bethlehem. Mind you, Christmas is meant primarily to rejoice over the Mystery of the Incarnation of His Eternal Word, but it has become in many parts of the world a much more popular season for mulled wine and mince pies, turkeys and gifts. In the midst of an inflation of worldly joys, there is also a noticeable recession in spiritual values.

As I attended mass this year at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, my own mind also drifted away to Bethlehem some seven kilometres south of Jerusalem. It drifted away to the little town that did not welcome Mary and Joseph as they sought an inn so that Mary could deliver a child - Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. Sad really! This is the town that proclaimed a message of justice, love and peace to the whole world over two millennia ago. Yet, it is the same town that now experiences hatred, bloodshed and humiliation! Is this the message of Christmas, and do most of us celebrating the event in our own homes even realise the extent of the pain that the local Christians of this town are experiencing today?

Just over a week ago, a delegation of leaders of the Religious Conferences of the United States visited Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories. This delegation consisted of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the Leadership of Women Religious. Those two movements comprise around 1500 men and women religious leaders who are responsible for more than 700 Catholic institutes in the USA and whose membership represents well over100 , 000Catholic sisters, brothers and priests. Joining them on the trip was a delegation of the Conference of the Religious of England and Wales.

The delegation released its Message on 17 December 2002. It was both poignant and painful! It spoke of the despair and frustration that have taken root in the Holy Land. It articulated the fears of many Palestinian Christians who are being challenged day in day out by the systemic violence of curfews, settlements, incarceration, water deprivation and land confiscation. It spoke about the checkpoints that gaol Palestinians in their disjointed territories and forbid them any freedom of movement on their own land. Witnessing the pain of the ordinary people, the delegation drew a biblical parallel. ‘Like Jesus, who experienced humiliation at his crucifixion, the Palestinian people experience humiliation daily during the closures and curfews. [] In the Palestinian people, Jesus still suffers at the checkpoints.’

By the same token, the leaders of this joint delegation also spoke out about the gruesome instances of fear, death, destruction and mourning faced by Israeli Jews who are targeted by suicidal attacks. In the midst of all this violent mayhem, cruelty and intransigence, the delegation asked itself, ‘Where is the hope? Surrounded by death and destruction, how do we as women and men Religious find new life and resurrection?’ However, the Catholic leaders affirmed their belief that ‘peace will come only when the injustice occupation ends and the Palestinian people can live securely in their own nation.’ They added ‘that Israel will not know peace and security until a Palestinian homeland is realised.’

Whilst commending the difficult and oft-unnoticed work of many Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers who labour in the midst of pain and hopelessness, the delegation also voiced the profound and bitter disappointment of the Palestinian Christian community that ‘the international voice is virtually silent in the face of occupation, oppression and violence.’ The local Christians spoke stridently of ‘the roaring silence’ from the West in relation to their plight in the Holy Land.

HB Michel Sabbah, Latin-rite Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, echoed with equal force the observations of the international Catholic delegation. He appealed in his own Christmas Message 2002 to ‘all persons of good will, to the international community, and to all our Churches over the world, to wake up and to come and help both peoples of this land to make peace, based on justice, equality and dignity.’ He also threw down the gauntlet to the Palestinian as well as Israeli leaders of this vengeful and unjust land of ancient prophets. Expressing understandable impatience with the current political leadership on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides, he appealed to the parties to make peace by stopping injustice. He also asked for an end to Israeli occupation, which he described as the source of all evils and all obstacles.

The prophecy of Isaiah (Is9 :6) was fulfilled this week with the birth of the Prince of Peace in Bethlehem. Will his birth introduce peace into the hearts and minds of the men and women of the Holy Land? Will it stop some of the injustices and indignities, or will his human birth be another divine plea that goes unnoticed by the arrogance of the mighty and powerful?

Blessed and Happy Christmas! And Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will!!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2002   |   27 December


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