4th November 1999
To all Ambassadors, Local Christians, Christian Pilgrims
And Travel Agents in the Holy Land
For two thousand years now, the City of Nazareth has been sacred to
Christian world as the site where the biblical event of the Annunciation took
place. Ever since the period of Ottoman rule some five hundred years ago,
this city has also lived in an
atmosphere of peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims where the
freedoms, rights and obligations of both parties were studiously observed by
all parties. The common bonds that link Christianity and Islam in this city
are firm and have made the City of the Annunciation an example of traditional
harmony and peace.
These bonds range from a religious belief in the Virgin Mary as
found in our
Holy Books to a fulfilment of our civic responsibilities.
This sense of peaceful co-existence and confident harmony has recently
shaken by a series of sad events that have been painful and
counter-productive for the majority of both faith communities. The violent
incidents last Easter when the Israeli police force did not initially
intervene to control the riots, as well as the insults and injuries directed
against many Christians, have unfortunately raised the levels of intolerance
and tension further.
Now, and despite the ruling of the court of law in Israel that the land
adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation is state land, the government
has supported a small group of fundamentalists who are intent on building a
mosque only a few meters away from the historical church of the Annunciatio
n in Nazareth.
We, the representatives of the Christian Communities in the Holy Land,
this decision with grave concern. Not only is it a clear discrimination
against the Christian community in Galilee, it is equally an abandonment of
the rule of law by the government and an attempt to promote electoral
interests at the expense of the national unity of the Palestinian people
across the land.
Consequently, and to express the disapprobation of all the Churches
way that their rights have been summarily violated, we wish to inform our
faithful masses as well as pilgrims that all the Sanctuaries off the Holy
Land will be closed on 22and 23
November 1999. We trust that we do not need to take any further steps in the
near future, and that the government will rise to the challenge by applying
law and order for all.
We sign this statement today with a heavy heart. We also call
Muslim brothers to support us in this action so that what befalls us today
will not also befall them tomorrow. We also pray to the Almighty that the
wounds of Nazareth will soon be healed, and that it can re-discover its
special role as a symbol of the traditional and centuries-long peaceful
co-existence between Christians and Muslims, and as stimulus for the peace
which the Holy Land needs so much.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Latin Patriarch
Armenian Patriarch Custos of the Holy Land