ENGLISH VERSION: Christian Leaders of Jerusalem See Reason for Hope. But Lament That Bethlehem Seems a "Big Prison"
The patriarchs and heads of the Christian churches in Jerusalem believe that there are "small signs of hope" despite the violence in the Holy Land.
"We go to Bethlehem to adore the mystery of Christmas, despite the grave difficulties our people are still experiencing, together with the recent death of the President Yasser Arafat," affirmed the Christian leaders in their Christmas message.
"Our lived reality is still indeed a feeling of despair and hopelessness together with a dramatic rise in unemployment and poverty," they added. "Justice and peace are still away.
"Blood is shed and political prisoners are detained in their prisons. The two peoples of this Holy Land are still in quest of peace and justice, searching how to put an end to hostility, bloodshed and killings in Palestine and Israel, not least in Bethlehem itself, the city of peace toward which all Christians in the world turn their eyes in these days."
"Nevertheless, there are in these days small signs of hope: promises that soon some political prisoners will be released by the Israelis and hopes of renewed efforts by all sides to resume the peace talks," the Christian leaders stated.
The patriarchs and the heads of the churches of Jerusalem suggested that the Christians of the Holy Land should ask themselves if "especially in these days and in this Holy Land, amid oppressions and humiliations imposed on so many, if we truly welcome Christ into our lives and if we are true witnesses to him and if the others see through our witnessing in our daily life Jesus the Savior and the Prince of Peace and the dignity he gave to all men and women."
And the religious leaders wrote to all "Christian brothers and sisters," to "offer our sincere thanks for all your prayers, solidarity, and for your love to this Holy Land and to all its inhabitants."
"We express our thanks and joy for the coming back of the pilgrims and look for very many more. The churches in the world are called to remember that the Holy Land is the land of the roots of all Christians," they said.
"The future of Bethlehem itself needs a special attention," the letter affirmed. "Doubtless you will sing time-honored carols about 'The Little Town of Bethlehem.' This little town today needs a special support in order to remain the town of peace, where faithful believing in Jesus the Savior and the Prince of Peace can remain.
"In these days, just before Christmas, it is being transformed into a big prison with the continuation of the 'Wall' around it.
"Many Christian families have already left the Bethlehem area because of the hardships they have experienced not least from the building of the 'separation wall,' and the incredible structure at the entrance to the city. All these works have also meant many Christian families have had their land confiscated from them."
The message continued: "As heads of churches we continue to endeavor to build bridges of peace and hope as we raise our voices for justice amongst all peoples. But still, dear brothers and sisters, we need you to play your part in your respective countries.
"We pray and hope that the days will come when people in Bethlehem and in all the Holy Land will live freely without the need of the separation wall for security."
The message was signed by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ireneos I of Jerusalem, Latin-rite Catholic Patriarch Michel Sabbah; Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Torkom I Manooghian; Father Pierbattista Pizziballa, Custodian of the Holy Land; Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Anba Abraham; Syro-Orthodox Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad; Ethiopian Orthodox Archbishop Aba Cuostos; Maronite Archbishop Paul Sayyah; Anglican Bishop Riah Abu el-Assal; Lutheran Bishop Mounib Younan; Syro-Catholic Bishop Pierre Malki; Armenian Catholic Bishop George Khazoum; Greek Catholic Archimandrite Mtanios Haddad.
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