“The Earthly Motherland of Jesus Needs You and You Need Her”
JERUSALEM, DEC. 22, 2011
Dear friends present here, dear faithful of the Holy Land (in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus); I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a New Year full of hope and peace in your hearts, in your families and your countries. I welcome our Bishops here present: Bishop Giacinto Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar in Israel; and Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem. I also welcome Father David Neuhaus, Patriarchal Vicar in Israel for the Hebrew-speaking Christian community, and I thank them for all their work.
Dear journalist friends, welcome! Thank you for regularly covering the news of our Diocese and for your work of disseminating information to the world with dedication and professional competence, taking to heart the truth. We recognize the media’s influence in the changes presently happening in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
I would like to review with you the year that is about to end, to look at successes and shortcomings, and to share my concerns, hopes and expectations at the dawn of the New Year.
1. Interreligious Dialogue
I gladly remember the following events that we need to encourage, to continue and to support:
1. I want to thank the Holy Father for welcoming and meeting the Council of Religious Leaders in Israel at the Vatican on November 10th with the purpose of promoting mutual understanding and respect. The different Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druze communities still believe in the power of prayer to foster reconciliation and improve co-existence and relations with our neighbors. Interreligious dialogue is an indispensable condition in the creation of a climate of trust, friendship and collaboration.
2. The meeting directly complemented the significant gathering in Assisi, where Pope Benedict convened nearly 300 representatives of different faiths and non-believers for a time of prayer and dialogue, seeking peace and justice for all peoples.
For the second time in history, all religions of the world gathered in one place to pray to God, in each one’s own way for peace in the world. What I remember of Assisi is that religions have a special responsibility to help people build peace. Religions are a factor for peace. We condemn all violence against places of worship and contempt for religious symbols.
3. The London Conference held in July brought together Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, Muslims and Jews around the same table. This is already a positive signal.
4. Just recently, the second Muslim-Catholic Forum in Amman brought together senior representatives of Catholics and Muslims. What we expect from these meetings is a dissipation of prejudices, foster mutual respect, learn about our common values, and build bridges of common sense and goodwill without forgetting the importance of dialogue in everyday life, in our schools and various institutions.
Along the same lines, I would like to recall the commitment among Christians to dialogue. The 10th meeting of the Council of Churches of the Middle East recently held in Cyprus stressed the willingness of four Christian groups: Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox and Orthodox for more collaboration and commitment to unity. At the invitation of the Synod for the Middle East last year, we intend to unify the date of Passover. We do so, driven by the desire of our Lord and the unanimous will of the Christian people of the Holy Land.
I also want to emphasize a happy moment following the meeting of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East held in Lebanon from November 14 to 17. We welcomed Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow who invited us to visit him in Russia to strengthen our relations. I am very delighted.
3. Arab Spring and situation of Christians
I would like to go back to current events, to situations that we continue to follow closely, to what happened and is happening in the Arab countries. I have always defended the changes taking place in favor of freedom and democracy. I have repeatedly emphasized that Christians are not excluded from these movements. That said, I fervently hope that human rights and the dignity of each individual are respected. I also hope and pray that the competent authorities make every effort to calm the spirits without violence, and to protect the minorities who are an integral part of the population in the region. We must grasp this moment of opportunity to build a new society based on equal citizenship for all. The Catholic Patriarchs of the East together have asked our faithful to set a day of prayer for reconciliation and peace in the Middle East.
4. Application to the UN for membership of a State of Palestine
We want a just and comprehensive peace to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We adhere to the position taken by the Holy See, clearly acknowledging the two-state solution with security and internationally recognized borders. I often say that to be with one of the parties does not mean to be against the other. We are for the welfare and interests of the whole world: peace, security, mutual respect and dignity. The journey has begun but the process is long and tedious. I firmly believe and even more today, that negotiation is the best way to resolve the conflict.
5. Visits to the Diaspora
Among the events of this year, I want to mention my two visits to the United States in June and September. They were opportunities to meet with our faithful of the Diaspora. The purpose was to encourage them to remember and to love their homeland, and help their brothers, “the little flock” that has remained in the Holy Land.
One of our major undertakings in the field of education is the American University of Madaba, which opened on October 17th, and aims to prepare our youth to be enlightened, open and to become responsible leaders of our future generations.
6. Pastoral Care of Migrants
Today, we face a new reality in the Church, the presence of migrant workers and refugees. In Israel alone, there are around 230,000 foreign workers and approximately 30,000 asylum seekers, the vast majority are Christian. They live mostly in Hebrew-speaking Jewish society. In fact, the Hebrew-speaking Vicariate is facing a great challenge to meet the pastoral needs of Catholic immigrants. We must redouble our pastoral efforts to provide religious services and to ensure their integration into the local church.
7. Religious communities and Year of the Bible
Before concluding, I thank all the religious communities in the Holy Land for their prayers and apostolic service. I also wish to thank all our good people who have dedicated themselves to the realization of the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini. The year 2011 has been dedicated as the Year of the Bible in the Holy Land, for our faithful to become more familiar with the Word of God, “our daily bread.”
I look forward to some major upcoming events in the Church in which we will participate with joy:
1. The World Congress for Pastoral Care of Tourism (Mexico – April 2012).
2. The Congress for the Pastoral Care of the Media to be convened by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. (Lebanon – April 17-19, 2012)
3. The World Meeting of Families (Milan – June 2012) with the participation of eight families from the Holy Land.
4. The 50th International Eucharistic Congress (Dublin – June 2012)
5. The Synod for the New Evangelization (Rome – October 2012)
I would like to conclude with an invitation to all Christians to come on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Do not be afraid. Our warm welcome awaits you. Come as pilgrims. It is one of the most beautiful ways to love the Holy Land, and to pray for it and its children. The earthly motherland of Jesus needs you and you need her.
Dear friends, I renew my sincere wishes for peace. Let us pray that Mary, Mother of Christ, the Prince of Peace intercede for our Holy Land. May Christmas fill you with joy.
+ Fouad Twal
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem