1. We celebrate Christmas this year, with its message of peace, which we live in times of suffering and lack of peace. The authentic meaning of Christmas is expressed by the Gospel, as we read: “I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people: Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Christ Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). The Prophet had also said: “For a son has been born for us, a son has been given to us, and dominion has been laid on his shoulders; and this is the name he has been given, “Wonder-Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace” (Is 9:5). A child has been born for us, a Savior has been given to us, to put peace and love in our hearts.
2. This message of peace and love is addressed to the whole reality which we live within the whole region. On the one side, the Palestinian people asks for their freedom. On the other side, there is a fear from this freedom and it is therefore resisted. And because of this fear, death and demolition are replacing righteousness, and hatred and rancor are replacing love and peace. Yes, we have all experienced these last months death and demolitions: our houses and churches were shelled.
Bethlehem itself, the center of our celebrations, is under siege and experiencing famine. Its residents cannot leave it, nor can the visitors enter it. We ask whether the conditions today necessitate this kind of siege on Bethlehem and the other Palestinian towns and villages. We appeal to the political leaders to lift this siege on the occasion of the feasts of Ramadan and Christmas, as they occur in the same period of time.
Our feasts remain however a time for prayer and a source of comfort for us all, because we are all in the same trial. We ask God to give his grace to every bereaved family, to every demolished house, to pour his grace in every heart demolished by fear and rancor.
3. In this feast, we have one main wish: that the Palestinian freedom be born. Indeed, when it will be born, it will be an agent of tranquility, stability and salvation for us, for the region and for the world. We urge the leaders to give the true picture of what we are living in these days: It does not consist only of throwing stones and using guns. The essential element of the situation is the following: the Palestinian people are asking for their freedom. This is the core of the problem. Palestinians have been under Israeli military occupation since thirty three years, and they say: give us back our freedom. If we want peace to come back to this Holy Land and to the whole region, this appeal must be listened to.
4. Before God, we reflect on our sufferings. We look upon every human being in our land, whatever be his religion, for every human being is equally loved by God his Creator. Therefore, he is the object of our love and solicitude. We look to the Palestinians, and we wish them to recover their freedom and to have the military occupation imposed upon them to come to an end. We look to the Israelis, since the Palestinian freedom means their own security and tranquility. We look to the political prisoners, passing their days in deprivation, torture and hunger strikes. We look on those who receive orders to kill and who execute the orders, as to those who give orders to kill. To the soldiers we say: let your priority be human dignity and what is right, more than orders received; because there should be no more orders to kill. And wars should no more exist. This means the recognition and restitution of the rights of the peoples. So there will be no more reasons for wars. Leaders too must prefer righteousness and dignity over their political considerations and their desire to govern. Then the oppressor and the oppressed will meet in peace, and enjoy together and equally human dignity and they will be equally filled with the grace of God. The prophecy will be then realized: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the panther lie down with the kid, calf, lion and fat-stock beast together, with a little boy to lead them…No hurt, no harm will be done on all my holy mountain, for the country will be full of knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea.” (Is 11:6.9).
5. Brothers and sisters
With this spirit we celebrate Christmas. Feast is a time of prayer and sanctification. It is an occasion for renewing joy and hope in our hearts and in our houses, so that we may triumph with this renewed hope over death and demolitions. Fill the churches with your prayers. Pilgrims this year will not share with us the midnight mass. Come yourselves to pray. The Churches of the world have expressed their sympathy and solidarity with us and with you all, and will accompany us with their prayers. Ask God Almighty to bestow his grace upon all who love him, in every religion, race, and people of the world. In Bethlehem, the Savior has been born. From Bethlehem, from amidst our sufferings and prayers, we ask God Almighty for the salvation of the whole world.
Holy Christmas and happy New Year full of the goodness and peace of God.
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
Bethlehem, Christmas 2000