Jerusalem, Tragedy and Hope for all peoples

(Address of Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem,
to the Interreligious meeting organized by the St, Egidlo Community in Brussels, September 14,1992).

The tragedy of Jerusalem is a tragedy of faith. Jerusalem is the holy city for all believers, the God's city, where God revealed himself, where he fulfilled the salvation of all mankind and offered to all reconciliation with Him and among themselves. It is, nonetheless, a disputed city, a place where fraternal hatred, religious discord and violence exist.

This is so, because throughout history believers have not succeeded in seeing those of another religion as their brother and sister, and have been unable or unwilling to behave in accordance with the status of Jerusalem as God's city, the city of all believers in God. Now as in the past, Jerusalem is in dispute.

The present tragedy is the scandal of believers who are in a state of war, in the course of which the cry of 'death' is heard as one encounters the brother of another faith. Every believer who is sincere -Jew, Christian or Muslim- must ask himself in anguish: how long will religion be the cause of war and disputes between believers? It was not for this that God revealed himself and spoke to mankind. It was rather for the salvation of all, out of love, the only constructive instrument, the only road which leads to justice.

It is a tragedy for Christianity, which was born there, and has been present and played an important role throughout the centuries, and continues to be present today. For the essence of Christianitv is love for one's brother and sister, all of them, even for those who call themselves our enemy.

It is the tragedy of small Christian communities which have expericnced the many vicissitudes of history, as witnesses to the message of Jesus Christ in his own land, in difficult situations. Communities which have survived down to the present day, many of whose members have been forced to choose expatriation, to abandon their vocation, their mission and their “holy places" by the pressure of adverse circumstances. These communities today, in the present conflict,once again find themselves in the same situation they have to face on more than one occasion in the past. The tragedy of the present Christian community derives from the difficulties of the moment, caused by the instability resulting from the general political situation of conflict and physical and spiritual clashes and from an uncertain future. What place will be left to them? Will they be citizens in their own land, or foreigners in their own land?

The first tragedy of Jerusalem for the Christian continues to be that of the cross, i.e., the rejection of Jesus' message by his land and society. The tragedy of salvation offered by God only to be rejected by man at the moment of the condemnation and crucifixion, a rejection which continues today in the place of his death.

Nevertheless, Jerusalem is also the city of hope, since she is the city of the Resurrection. Our hope is in God, Lord of the holy city. In spite of all the evil manifest at present, the Lord will reestablish Jerusalem, and restore peace to her. It is not inevitable that the mystery of evil maintain its dominion: good will triumph in the end, a good consisting in mutual love and acceptance for all the inhabitants of the holy city, for all believers who wish to adore in her the one God, Creator and Redeemer, the Almighty and Merciful.

In union with the Risen Christ, hope comes from all the "the poor of the Lord" who make their appearance throughout biblical revelation, and who continue to be present today in the prayer and adoration of numerous souls who offer themselves in silence in Jerusalem, and in all the corners of the world, for Jerusalem, for the peace of Jerusalem, and that of all her believers.

Hope also comes from all those of good will. For there are those who believe in a real, concrete policy, and at the same time in the need for the moral integrity of situations and human actions, even in conflicts between peoples. At the present time, it appears this good will finds acceptance among political leaders. It appears that the will to attain to peace and justice is serious, although Jerusalem is still officially excluded from any negotiation.

Jerusalem is the city of all believers. Her greatest teachers will be those who can make of Jerusalem the city of God and of mankind, those who can offer her to God and mankind as the place of meeting and reconciliation, and no longer as the coveted city, object of desires, quarrels and new wars. Up till now none of those who have conquered her in the past have been able to do this. Hence the succession of wars for her, around her, and within her. Will Israel, her new conqueror, have the courage and greatness to offer her as a gift to God and mankind? A holy city for all believers, one and undivided, in which all will be masters, and all be reconciled as brothers.

Jerusalem is God's city; she is his shrine and the place where every believer, Jew, Muslim and Christian, has heard the word of God and as a result worships him there. This reli~ious need is an essential part of the faith of each believer, of his individual and collective human identity. For the Jew and Muslim, religious memory is also a national memory. For centuries the Christian, too, endeavoured to live the unity of religious and national memory, before they were separated. In the politico-religious context of the East, where religion and nation are inseparable, the Christian presence must also constitute a form of civil presence to support its religious presence, so that the three religions can together be an agent of dialogue and peaceful, unified administration of the holy city.

This demands a special status, - unique, since Jerusalem is unique which will deny noone his rights, be he Israeli, or Palestinian, or any of the believers, Jews, Christians and Muslims.

All the inhabitants of Jerusalem will then find their true vocation, and be able to fulfil it: to appeal for reconciliation and salvation, to make Jerusalem the city of the Spirit who renews all hearts and the face of the earth, and who teaches all those who wish to find God.

In her soul Jerusalem provides a vocation, and within the area she occupies has a place for all believers. It is in this vision of unity, of reconciliation and of forgiveness that the future of the holy city of Jerusalem must be prepared.

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch