From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Patriarch appeals for peace

Date 20 Dec 2002 07:52:14 -0500

Note #7549 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Patriarch appeals for peace
December 19, 2002

Patriarch appeals for peace

Sabbah says hapless Israeli, Palestinian leaders should step aside

by Alexa Smith

EAST JERUSALEM -- The patriarch of the Latin Catholic Church has called for
leaders on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to step down if
they cannot make peace. 

In a statement read in Arabic, English and French, Patriarch Michel Sabbah
told journalists at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem's Old City that new
leaders may succeed where "the present ones have failed." 

"Our appeal is to make peace, to stop injustice, to reach the so-much-invoked
security for the Israelis (and) to put an end to occupation of Palestinian
land," he said during a Dec. 18 press conference.

He called the Israeli occupation "the source of all evils and all obstacles
accumulated in the hearts of the leaders and the people."

In response to a question, Sabbah said his indictment applies to "all" who
are unable to find a way to peace - including both Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat.  

The patriarch spoke in an ornate reception room in the Latin Patriarchate
whose walls are covered with mosaics and tapestries of the saints. 

Sabbah, the first Arab to head the Jerusalem Patriarchate, is the
highest-ranking Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land. He will preside over
the Dec. 24-25 Christmas worship in Bethlehem and will celebrate an
internationally televised midnight Mass in the Catholic sanctuary inside the
Church of the Nativity compound. 

He said the Israelis will open Bethlehem so that residents and visitors can
participate in Christmas services there, despite a curfew reimposed nearly a
month ago that in effect holds all its residents under house arrest. 

All Palestinian cities on the West Bank, with the single exception of
Jericho, are now under curfew. Some, such as Nablus, have been so for many

"As for the siege and the humiliation imposed on the Palestinians of
Bethlehem itself and on all the Palestinian towns and villages, the
demolition of houses and the killing of people, all these measures push us
rather to renew our courage, our hope and our love, even to those who make
hard our life," Sabbah told reporters.

"Therefore we have to pray, may God put an end to all that, and give us
instead justice, dignity and love. The present difficulties will not compel
us to cancel our feasts. Besides the sufferings already imposed upon us, it
is not necessary to dispossess ourselves from the joy of the feast and from
our duty to worship God."

The patriarch appealed to the Israeli government to remove the military
checkpoints that seal off Palestinian towns. If the request is denied, he
said, Christians and others should turn the checkpoints into sites of prayer.

"From places of humiliation, hatred and death, as they are now, transform
them into places for worship," he said. "Call for prayer gatherings there."

Soldiers who see Christians and other faithful people praying at the
checkpoints will see that they need not be afraid, he said. "They will see
people who worship, who pray for them  that they be good soldiers, that they
go back (home) and be good fathers to their families." 

Sabbah said the Israeli government's refusal to permit Arafat to attend
Christmas Eve Mass in Bethlehem is "a useless measure" that would not have
been taken by people on "the real path to peace."

"The message of Christmas is one of justice, peace and love," Sabbah said,
arguing that "the Holy Places" in the Holy Land should not be places of
conflict but "rather a meeting point where together we encounter God."

He added: "Our message is also an appeal to all persons of good will, to the
international community and to all our Churches over the world, to wake up
and to come and help both peoples of this land to make peace.  To all, we
say: 'Do not forget this land and do not abandon us to our fate.'" 
He said he attributes the continued violence to the continued occupation.
"Take away the occupation," he said, "and you will finish all the violence."

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