The Holy Land: Christmas 2006 in Bethlehem

Source: FSSPX News


Mgr. Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, paid a visit to the Holy Land from December 13 to 18, in order to “bear witness to the spiritual kinship of the pope to the Christians and his encouragement” to sustain their presence in these places and to “build a civilization of love” there.

Mgr. Cordes handed over one million Euros, a gift from the faithful of the dioceses of Munich, Regensburg and Passau, made during the visit to Bavaria of Benedict XVI, in order to help the Christians of the land where Jesus was born, said the communiqué from the Holy See Press Office. This sum will be used for the construction of a pastoral center at Nazareth, over an area of 30,000 square meters near the Basilica of the Annunciation, where the faithful and pilgrims will be able to meet, receive the catechism, practice sports and find accommodation.

In his Christmas message, Victor Batarseh, mayor of the city of Bethlehem, said that the entry of tourists and pilgrims had appreciably diminished and had become much more difficult because of the security measures imposed by Israel – in place of the blockade – in order to reach our city. Usually, as Christmas draws near, Bethlehem fills up with visitors. Today the city appears calm, in the shadow of this wall.” “Many Palestinian farmers,” he said, “do not have access to the markets to sell their produce. Unemployment in Bethlehem has risen to the intolerable figure of 65%. And the financial crisis has not allowed the municipality of Bethlehem to pay the salaries of its own employees for the past three months.” The population of Bethlehem, Christian in the past (65% of the population in 1965), has today become predominantly Islamic (less than 12% Christian). “But it is the entire population who suffer”, regardless of their religion, said the Mayor. “Let us pray that the Star of the Shepherds may shine once again over Bethlehem.”

Mgr. Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, addressed the faithful of Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus: “Christmas has come to Bethlehem, once again this year in the same circumstances of death and frustration, with the wall and the roadblocks both on the ground and in men’s hearts.” “On one side, the occupation and the loss of freedom, on the other side, continuing fear and the insecurity. Gaza remains a huge prison, a place of death and internal Palestinian conflict. Even children have been killed.” “What is more, global terrorism finds rich nourishment in all of the open wounds.” “We are grateful for all the messages of kinship we receive from all over the world. But our fundamental need is peace, justice, freedom and an end to the occupation.” “In the face of this, the world seems powerless. However, we say: everyone, even soldiers and political leaders, has the potential for love, salvation and life. But there is a conversion to be made, from death to life, from the vision of the other as an enemy and murderer, to see him as a brother and giver of life.” Bethlehem, the city of peace, “finds itself, unfortunately, the antithesis, a city of dispute and of death.” “However, life and peace would be easy and possible, if leaders had a sincere and resolute will. Salvation lies in the reconciliation of the two peoples, not in their separation. This is where salvation for the Palestinians and the Israelis is to be found, as for the whole region. The two peoples are capable of living together in peace and tranquility. Then death, murder, vengeance, rejection and extremism will disappear as they will no longer be nourished by oppression, occupation, poverty and humiliation.”

On December 21, Benedict XVI sent a message to the Catholics of the Middle East, published by the Holy See Press Office on Christmas Day: “I sincerely hope that Providence allows me to make a pilgrimage to the land made holy by the events of the history of Salvation and to be able to pray in Jerusalem.” “While awaiting the fulfillment of this desire, I encourage you to continue along the way, with confidence, making gestures of friendship and good will.” “Peace is such a great and urgent good, that it demands enormous sacrifices from everyone.” “In the present circumstances marked by so little light and many shadows, to know that the Christian communities in the Middle East (…) continue to be lively and active communities, determined to bear witness to their faith with the specific identity which characterizes them, is a reason for consolation and hope for me.” “These communities, although in the minority and numerically “insignificant”, constitute “an element which can greatly favor ecumenism.”

“For some time now it has become clear that many Christians are leaving the Middle East, to such an extent that the Holy Places are at risk of being reduced to archaeological sites, void of any ecclesial life,” lamented the pope. “Undoubtedly, minorities find it difficult to survive in the midst of dangerous geopolitical situations, cultural conflicts, economic and strategic interests, and forms of aggression which claim justification from a social or religious basis.  In fact, many Christians eventually give in to the temptation to emigrate.”