"Stand your ground with truth buckled round your waist and integrity for a breastplate, wearing on your feet the eagerness to spread the gospel of peace and always carrying the shield of faith so that you can use it to put out the burning arrows of the evil one." (Eph 6: 14-16)
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Once more we turn our thoughts and prayers to the gift that God gave us His Eternal Word in the Person of His Only Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem. Christmas comes again amidst difficulties and sufferings: military occupation, curfew, painful daily life together with growing hatred in the hearts. Hope for a better future seems to be lost. However, the message of Christmas remains one of hope, love, and peace as well as of justice, freedom and security. This message must be announced and proclaimed to everyone everywhere; in our churches, in our homes - especially to our children and young people - in our streets and even in the souls of the soldiers and the fighters.
Christmas comes again in painful days. Yet in spite of everything, sisters and brothers, we proclaim that the feast is an opportunity to renew our courage and our patience in this time of trial. It is an occasion for spiritual and external joy which must influence all aspects of your life. Therefore resist all feelings of death and discouragement; fill your hearts and homes with the joy of Christmas. Indeed, joy and courage are the best ways to challenge and resist the death and oppression which are imposed upon you. So with the Apostle Paul we tell you: "Always be joyful; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks Stand your ground with truth buckled round your waist and integrity for a breastplate, always carrying the shield of faith so that you can use it to put out the burning arrows of the evil one." (1Thes 5,16; Eph 6: 14-16)
Bethlehem has often been under siege during the past two years and for several weeks the curfew has prevented any normal life there. Bethlehem is a holy city, the city of the nativity of the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ. More than this it is holy for the entire Christian world. Therefore it should be declared a sacred place, in which war will not be allowed, and all fighting and military action absolutely forbidden.
So then We appeal to the Palestinian and Israeli Leaders, as well as to the International Community to put an end to the tragedy of the Holy Land. Let all fighting cease. Let due respect be restored for the life and dignity of all human beings in this Land. Give back to Bethlehem its character of holiness and let every one accept responsibility to build justice and peace.
Furthermore, We appeal to our Churches all over the world. Whilst We remain grateful to you for your fraternal solidarity already manifested to us in many ways; still there is more to be done. The evil of injustice and war must be uprooted. We are counting on you to do more for this Holy Land and all its inhabitants, Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Christians and Moslems so that there will be an end to all forms of violence and bloodshed.. Do not abandon the Holy Land. Do not be afraid of involvement in our complicated situation. Help us to be reconciled as we recover justice and peace.
The conflict around us must come to an end so that human lives can be re-built and all of us directed towards love rather than hatred. As we commemorate the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ we are reminded that He came to give the supreme gift of life together with light to illuminate an otherwise darkened world. We are conscious of the pain and suffering of people around us which we share together and seek forgiveness for all involved. We ask God's guidance and strength for everyone to build together a better world - the world He intended when He gave us his Son that very first Christmas in Bethlehem. With this in mind we pray you may know God's joy and peace in your hearts and homes as Christmas dawns. God bless you all!
The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem
Jerusalem, 20 December 2002