Jerusalem's Latin patriarch criticizes creation of religious state in Middle East

By  Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service
  • December 21, 2007

{mosimage}JERUSALEM - Jerusalem's Latin patriarch criticized the creation of a religious state of any kind in the Holy Land, saying that a Jewish or Islamic state would not be suitable for Christians.

"In this land which is holy for three religions and for two peoples, religious states cannot be established because they would exclude or place in an inferior position the believers of the other religion," Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem said in his Christmas message, given to journalists Dec. 19. "A state that would exclude or discriminate against the other religions is not suitable in this land made holy by God for all humanity."

Any state "cannot be for just one religion," he told journalists in response to a question. "It is the vocation of this land to be for all."

Political leaders "must know that the holiness of this land does not consist in the exclusion of one or the other of the religions, but in the ability of each religion, with all of their differences, to welcome, respect and love all who inhabit this land," he said.

Making his first public statement against the deteriorating situation regarding Israeli entry visas for clergy, Sabbah said the issue is an example of the necessity of the land's universal vocation.

"Entry visas mean the exclusion of some people from entering the land ... to serve and minister to our religion," he told the journalists.

In his message, he said that, although the celebration of Christmas this year comes again at a time when peace seems impossible, he believes "peace is possible."

"Palestinians and Israelis are capable of living together in peace, each in their own territory, each enjoying their security, their dignity and their rights," he said. "But to attain that peace, it is necessary to believe that Israelis and Palestinians are equal in all things, that they have the same rights and the same duties."

He spoke against violence "carried out by the state or by extremists" and said Israelis and Palestinians "must adopt the ways of God."

He said the entire region was in turmoil because of the conflict in the Holy Land, and "the forces of evil seem to have been unleashed."

"Despite all of this we believe that God has not abandoned us to all these forces of evil," he said. "The situation beckons every man and woman of good will to enter into the ways of God in order to establish the reign of good among peoples as well as a sense of and a respect for every human being."

Because God is still with them, he said, people can "remain hopeful in the midst of all the daily difficulties."

"God is with us, reminding us that the commandment of love, which was given to us by Jesus, born in Bethlehem, still remains valid for the difficult times in which we are living today," said the patriarch. "This love consists in seeing the image of God in every human being, of every religion and nationality."

This love, he said, knows how to forgive while still demanding rights.

Sabbah said that in order for the peace initiative developed in Annapolis, Md., to succeed there needs to be "a firm willingness to make peace," placing the brunt of the responsibility on Israel as "the strong party with everything in hand."

Israel, he said "has the obligation to see what is just for everyone and to carry it out courageously."

In response to a question, the patriarch said he was worried about the rate of Christian emigration from the Holy Land but noted it was a general trend among Jews and Muslims as well.

"The difference is we have very few (Christians)," he said.

"I am worried but hope Christians understand better and better that they have a special vocation in this land and will remain," he added.

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