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Israeli police officers carry the flag-draped coffin of Officer Zidan Nahad Seif in the northern village of Yanuh-Jat Nov. 19. Seif, a Druze, was wounded Nov. 18 while trying to stop a synagogue attack by two Palestinians armed with a meat cleaver and a gun. Four Israeli Jews with dual citizenship were killed in the attack. Latin Patriarch denounces violence in his Christmas message. CNS photo/Baz Ratner, Reuters

In Christmas message, Jerusalem patriarch criticizes all violence

By  Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service
  • December 19, 2014

JERUSALEM - Ending a year that saw the papal visit, a war in Gaza and a resumption of violence in Jerusalem, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal's Christmas message condemned all instances of violence.

The patriarch was called to Amman unexpectedly Dec. 18, so his message was read by Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali.

"We condemn the Gaza war and deplore its dramatic consequences, killing and destruction, but at the same time, we condemn any category of violence and retaliation against innocent people such as the killing of people praying in a synagogue and attacks against mosques," the statement said.

"Unfortunately, our beloved holy city of Jerusalem has been flowing with blood and tears. We do not want any religious antagonism in the holy city, whose vocation is to be the city of peace and interreligious coexistence," it said.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders must "find and facilitate a solution," the patriarch said in his message. The international community also must take on its responsibility to help the two parties help themselves, he added.

Reading from the prepared statement, Bishop Shomali said although the much-anticipated meeting between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has not yet obtained any concrete results, "every prayer is valid, and the fruits may come much later."

Bishop Shomali said Israel had confirmed that some 700 travel permits would be issued to Christians from the Gaza Strip to travel to the West Bank, including Jerusalem and Bethlehem, during the monthlong Christmas season, which also includes the Greek Orthodox Christmas in January.

In addition, Israel has issued some 25,000 travel permits for West Bank Palestinian Christians. He noted that many of those who come will also take the opportunity to visit family in different cities as well as do some shopping in Jerusalem.

"It is not just for religious or family purposes but also human and social purposes," he said.

In response to a journalist's question, the bishop said Palestinian Christians are an integral part of Palestinian society and are affected by the political situation in the same ways as Muslims, specifically in Jerusalem. He concurred with a journalist's assessment that the problems were caused by the "Israeli occupation of Jerusalem."

He said that although there is emigration from the Holy Land, the church reminds Christians that they are "called to stay" there. He added that Christians are positive contributors to coexistence.

In visits to parishes in Jordan, representatives of the Latin Patriarchate have seen the tragedy suffered by refugees from Iraq and Syria, the patriarch said in his message.

"Alongside the inhuman tragedy that is covering the Middle East with blood, and tearing it apart, we are all surprised that young people from Europe embrace radical ideologies and join the fight in Syria and Iraq," he said in the message.

Responding to a question, Bishop Shomali noted that the radical Islamic State group is not only a threat to Christians of the region but to all minorities, including other Muslims.

"It is not a religious war between East and West," Bishop Shomali said, "but a war between terrorists and a radical ideology and people who would like to live a normal life."

The message urged Palestinians to remember with gratitude the solidarity of many people and institutions who are helping them, despite their difficulties.

"The celebration of the birth of Jesus promises mercy, love and peace to countless people in their suffering and tribulations; to the people who see their lives shattered and their efforts broken in the tumultuous strife and hatred of our stormy days," the patriarch said in his message.

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