From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Patriarch Begs: Destroy Churches Not Homes

Date 28 Feb 2001 11:20:20

Contact: Fr. Raed Abusahlia
Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
P.O. Box 14152  Jerusalem  91141
Tel.  (972 2) 628.2323 or 627.2280
Fax  (972 2) 627.1652

JERUSALEM, Feb. 26, 2001-- Latin-Rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem 
has appealed to Israel's army, "Destroy our churches if you must, but leave 
the people their homes." 

The statement was published as part of the Patriarch's annual Lenten letter.

The prelate added, "If you need at all some sort of collective 
punishment or ransom, to restore tranquility to innocent 
children and families we offer you our churches to destroy." 

The Patriarch's Lenten Letter is an anguished call for 
peace in the Holy Land, at a time when tension is high. 

Before writing it, the 67-year-old Patriarch visited 
Palestinian parishes, communities, and civil authorities. 
Although the letter is addressed to Christians in view of 
Lent, in many parts it openly speaks to Muslims and Jews. 

Its main concern is for the political situation: "Roads 
closed, towns and villages in a state of siege, no work, 
constant bombing...."  

This desperate situation is causing many Christians to abandon the area.  
"Brothers and Sisters," the Patriarch says, "do not leave your land. Have 
patience.  God wants you to be believers in Him and witnesses of his Son, 
Jesus Christ here in this land.  Remain here in these Holy Places... why let 
others build your future?" 

Referring to the conflict as a "war imposed on us," the 
Patriarch calls Christians to make acts of friendship and 
charity in view of the spreading poverty in the Palestinian 
territories: "We invite you all... to share your bread with 
those who have none, either by inviting them to sit at your 
table or by giving to Caritas or some other similar 
organization, the same amount you would spend on food for a 

The Patriarch goes on to beg Israeli soldiers to destroy 
Christian churches rather than Christian homes, and he asks 
Palestinian militants to "spare the homes of innocent 
civilians," not to turn "tranquil homes, into gun-fire 

The Patriarch was referring to fighting in Gilo and Beit Jala, two villages 
respectively Jewish and Palestinian (mostly Christians) used by both army and 
militants as a shield for attacking the opposite side.  Gilo is a Jewish 
settlement created on land confiscated from Beit Jala after the 1967 war.

Again addressing the Israelis, Bishop Sabbah writes: "Look 
at the Palestinian, Christian or Muslim, not as a 
terrorist, not as someone who wants to hate and kill....
Remember you too [in the past] called out for freedom, with 
the same cry of the oppressed.... What you term security 
measures are only a call for more violence. Restore the 
land to its rightful owners, restore their freedom...." 

He urges Palestinians to remember the "difficult 
commandment, love your enemy...  Love is not weakness or 
running away.  It is seeing the face of God in every man, 
whether Jew or Arab.  The Jew who keeps us prisoners, still 
bears the image and likeness of God." 

The letter closes with a call to make Lenten prayer and 
fasting a constant plea to God to grant the power and the 
spirit of love, as well as justice and peace. 


Previous messages of Patriarech Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem are archivwed at under Latin Patriarchate.

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