Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In Christmas Homily, Holy Land Latin Patriarch appeals for Palestinian independence

The Roman Catholic Church's highest official in the Holy Land early Tuesday delivered a politically charged appeal for peace and love in the Holy Land and independence for the Palestinian people.

In his Christmas Homily at midnight Mass in the birthplace of Jesus, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah spoke out against religious extremism and said Jews, Christians and Muslims must learn to share the Holy Land.

«Any exclusivism that pushes the other party aside or imposes occupation or any other type of submission on it is not in keeping with the vocation of this land,» he said in comments directed at Israel.

«This land of God cannot be for some a land of life and for others a land of death, exclusion, occupation, or political imprisonment.

«Each one knows what it takes to make peace,» added Sabbah, the first Palestinian to hold his position. «It is not up to the weakest to submit themselves and continue to live a life of deprivation. It is up to the strongest, to those who have everything in hand, to detach themselves and to give to the weakest what is due to them.

Sabbah delivered his homily at St. Catherine's Church, next to the smaller Church of the Nativity, built above the grotto where Jesus was born.

Sabbah criticized extremists who turn to violence in the name of God. «Violence cannot claim to be part of any religion,» he said. «Extremism, in all religions, is the desire to appropriate to oneself, to exclude, and to subject others, not to a faith in God, but to human behaviors that are hostile to the others.

Sabbah also lamented the dwindling Christian presence in the Holy Land. Thousands of Christians have left in recent years to escape Israeli-Palestinian violence, Palestinian infighting and economic hardship.

«To all of you Christians in this land, you who are tempted to emigrate, you who are the object of everyone's preoccupation, I say to you what Jesus told us: Do not be afraid,» he said. «To those who are tempted or pressed by difficulties to leave the country, we say: 'You have a place here, and more than a place, you have a vocation: to be Christians here, in the land of Jesus, and not elsewhere in the world.

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