Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Twal: “The Pope’s visit to the Holy Land has been planned for next May”

JerusalemAt the centre of the Latin Patriarch’s traditional Christmas message is an appeal for peace in Syria: “A 'sustainable' ceasefire in Syria should be immediately established and prevent any entry of outside weapons,” he said.

In his annual Christmas message released today, the Latin Patriarch, Fouad Twal, confirmed what is more than just a rumour in Jerusalem by now: “The Pope’s visit to the Holy Land planned for next May, first in Jordan then in Israel/Palestine.” 

The Patriarch issued the message during the customary Christmas press conference. In it, as always, he suggests some possible solutions to the challenges the Church in the Holy Land is facing. He could not therefore fail to mention the papal visit, which Christians in the Holy Land are already excited about.

But the message announcing the Pope’s historic visit to the crossroads of wounds that is the Middle East is nothing but a couple of sentences long. The region’s lesions are at the heart of this year’s Christmas message. The Yuletide wishes sent from Jerusalem are accompanied by an appeal for Syria’s inhabitants, many of whom have taken shelter in refugee centres in Jordan, which receive the Patriarchate’s support. 

“To prevent the conflict from spreading in the whole region, a 'sustainable' ceasefire in Syria should be immediately established and prevent any entry of outside weapons. As the Syrian problem cannot be resolved by the force of arms, we call on all political leaders to assume the responsibility for finding a mutually acceptable political solution that will end the senseless violence, and uphold respect for the dignity of people,” Fouad Twal writes.
  
In the text, the Patriarch naturally talks about the situation in Israel and Palestine and comments on the resumption of peace negotiations. He expresses a very clear view about the difficult climate in which the talks are taking place: “The Israeli-Palestinian talks resumed in late July, after three years of interruption. But the efforts are hampered by the continuous building of Israeli settlements. As long as this problem is not resolved, the people of our region will suffer.”
 
The Patriarch also writes about the negotiations between the Holy See and the State of Israel and confirms that the two are about to reach an Economic Agreement. 

But Patriarch Twal points out that the question of East Jerusalem’s status remains unresolved. The Arab Christian community is concerned that an agreement between the Holy See and Israel may be seen as implicit recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem. Now Israel wants to introduce changes. Paying a little more or a little less is not the core of the issue. 

“What is the important thing is not to ‘touch’ East Jerusalem, as it is still on the negotiating table. We do not want these agreements to have a political implication that changes the status of East Jerusalem, which was occupied in 1967,” Fouad Twal stresses.
 
The Patriarch concludes his message by sparing a thought for the religious communities living in the Holy Land: “I raise my prayers to God, that Christians, Jews and Muslims may find in their common spiritual heritage, their shared values in order to end injustice, oppression, ignorance and all evil acts that destroy God’s gift to us - the dignity of the human being.”

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