We seek to keep you literally "updated" on movement in terms of truth and justice in the Middle East in general with a particular eye on Palestine. The links below will take you to various articles and websites that offer the perspective of leaders in the religious, NGO, and human rights communities. Additionally, Al-Bushra, ever vigilant, provides links to regular reporting as well as opinion pieces by journalists. The dates given here indicate when the link was posted; the most recent posting is at the top. Check the article itself for the date the information was released by the source.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Benedict XVI's Christmas Eve Homily

"What would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door"

VATICAN CITY, December 24, 2012 (Zenit.org).
Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave at tonight's Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer’s almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them? And then it occurs to us that Saint John takes up this seemingly chance comment about the lack of room at the inn, which drove the Holy Family into the stable; he explores it more deeply and arrives at the heart of the matter when he writes: "he came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1:11). The great moral question of our attitude towards the homeless, towards refugees and migrants, takes on a deeper dimension: do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for him. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. But matters go deeper still. Does God actually have a place in our thinking? Our process of thinking is structured in such a way that he simply ought not to exist. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the "God hypothesis" becomes superfluous. There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so "full" of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger. By reflecting on that one simple saying about the lack of room at the inn, we have come to see how much we need to listen to Saint Paul’s exhortation: "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). Paul speaks of renewal, the opening up of our intellect (nous), of the whole way we view the world and ourselves. The conversion that we need must truly reach into the depths of our relationship with reality. Let us ask the Lord that we may become vigilant for his presence, that we may hear how softly yet insistently he knocks at the door of our being and willing. Let us ask that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognize him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world.

There is another verse from the Christmas story on which I should like to reflect with you – the angels’ hymn of praise, which they sing out following the announcement of the new-born Saviour: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." God is glorious. God is pure light, the radiance of truth and love. He is good. He is true goodness, goodness par excellence. The angels surrounding him begin by simply proclaiming the joy of seeing God’s glory. Their song radiates the joy that fills them. In their words, it is as if we were hearing the sounds of heaven. There is no question of attempting to understand the meaning of it all, but simply the overflowing happiness of seeing the pure splendour of God’s truth and love. We want to let this joy reach out and touch us: truth exists, pure goodness exists, pure light exists. God is good, and he is the supreme power above all powers. All this should simply make us joyful tonight, together with the angels and the shepherds.

Linked to God’s glory on high is peace on earth among men. Where God is not glorified, where he is forgotten or even denied, there is no peace either. Nowadays, though, widespread currents of thought assert the exact opposite: they say that religions, especially monotheism, are the cause of the violence and the wars in the world. If there is to be peace, humanity must first be liberated from them. Monotheism, belief in one God, is said to be arrogance, a cause of intolerance, because by its nature, with its claim to possess the sole truth, it seeks to impose itself on everyone. Now it is true that in the course of history, monotheism has served as a pretext for intolerance and violence. It is true that religion can become corrupted and hence opposed to its deepest essence, when people think they have to take God’s cause into their own hands, making God into their private property. We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred. While there is no denying a certain misuse of religion in history, yet it is not true that denial of God would lead to peace. If God’s light is extinguished, man’s divine dignity is also extinguished. Then the human creature would cease to be God’s image, to which we must pay honour in every person, in the weak, in the stranger, in the poor. Then we would no longer all be brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, who belong to one another on account of that one Father. The kind of arrogant violence that then arises, the way man then despises and tramples upon man: we saw this in all its cruelty in the last century. Only if God’s light shines over man and within him, only if every single person is desired, known and loved by God is his dignity inviolable, however wretched his situation may be. On this Holy Night, God himself became man; as Isaiah prophesied, the child born here is "Emmanuel", God with us (Is 7:14). And down the centuries, while there has been misuse of religion, it is also true that forces of reconciliation and goodness have constantly sprung up from faith in the God who became man. Into the darkness of sin and violence, this faith has shone a bright ray of peace and goodness, which continues to shine.

So Christ is our peace, and he proclaimed peace to those far away and to those near at hand (cf. Eph 2:14, 17). How could we now do other than pray to him: Yes, Lord, proclaim peace today to us too, whether we are far away or near at hand. Grant also to us today that swords may be turned into ploughshares (Is 2:4), that instead of weapons for warfare, practical aid may be given to the suffering. Enlighten those who think they have to practise violence in your name, so that they may see the senselessness of violence and learn to recognize your true face. Help us to become people "with whom you are pleased" – people according to your image and thus people of peace.

Once the angels departed, the shepherds said to one another: Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened for us (cf. Lk 2:15). The shepherds went with haste to Bethlehem, the Evangelist tells us (cf. 2:16). A holy curiosity impelled them to see this child in a manger, who the angel had said was the Saviour, Christ the Lord. The great joy of which the angel spoke had touched their hearts and given them wings.

Let us go over to Bethlehem, says the Church’s liturgy to us today. Trans-eamus is what the Latin Bible says: let us go "across", daring to step beyond, to make the "transition" by which we step outside our habits of thought and habits of life, across the purely material world into the real one, across to the God who in his turn has come across to us. Let us ask the Lord to grant that we may overcome our limits, our world, to help us to encounter him, especially at the moment when he places himself into our hands and into our heart in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us go over to Bethlehem: as we say these words to one another, along with the shepherds, we should not only think of the great "crossing over" to the living God, but also of the actual town of Bethlehem and all those places where the Lord lived, ministered and suffered. Let us pray at this time for the people who live and suffer there today. Let us pray that there may be peace in that land. Let us pray that Israelis and Palestinians may be able to live their lives in the peace of the one God and in freedom. Let us also pray for the countries of the region, for Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and their neighbours: that there may be peace there, that Christians in those lands where our faith was born may be able to continue living there, that Christians and Muslims may build up their countries side by side in God’s peace.

The shepherds made haste. Holy curiosity and holy joy impelled them. In our case, it is probably not very often that we make haste for the things of God. God does not feature among the things that require haste. The things of God can wait, we think and we say. And yet he is the most important thing, ultimately the one truly important thing. Why should we not also be moved by curiosity to see more closely and to know what God has said to us? At this hour, let us ask him to touch our hearts with the holy curiosity and the holy joy of the shepherds, and thus let us go over joyfully to Bethlehem, to the Lord who today once more comes to meet us. Amen.

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bethlehem Then and Now

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb's Sermon

December 9, 2012

"O little town of Bethlehem" is one of the most famous Christmas Hymns. Bethlehem has become almost a mythological place: Children imagine it with a few "huts," a few camels and the holy family. At the time of Jesus, Bethlehem was a little town of 300-1,000 inhabitants. What people might not know is that the city of Bethlehem today is not in Israel but in Palestine, and that it is a bustling city with 28,000 people. One third of them are Palestinian Christians.

When Christians today sing "O little town of Bethlehem" they seldom think of the real city with the real people. When it comes to Bethlehem and to Christmas, Christianity has become so spiritualized and so commercialized.

It's all about Santa, the Tree, the gifts, and the food. But what happened in Bethlehem 2000 years ago was something real. Jesus was born as a refugee. His family was forced to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem. Later his family had to flee the brutality of King Herod and go into hiding in Egypt for two years. Today Bethlehem has almost 20,000 Palestinian refugees who lost in 1948, when the State of Israel was established, their land, homes and belongings and came to Bethlehem seeking refugee. They are still living in three refugee camps waiting for a just solution.

The Christmas story of the Bible has nothing to do with what we know today as Christmas. Take the story of the Magi or the kings from the East. That story is read in a nostalgic way and is being performed over and over again. But a closer look at the story will show that it talks about the Roman Empire and their occupation of Palestine. Empires do not control only the native people they rule; they also work to ensure that visitors coming in contact with the land and its native people are controlled. In 2010 a well-known evangelical preacher came to attend a theological conference in Bethlehem. Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israeli officials told him that they would like to invite him for a cup of coffee in their offices and have a chat. For almost four hours he was questioned about his decision to attend a conference in Bethlehem, what he thought of the Palestinian Kairos Document, and how he knew some of these "radical" Palestinian theologians. This was supposed to be VIP treatment. Others who are part of solidarity movements with Palestine are often detained at the Israeli airport and sent back to their home countries.

When this highly reputed American evangelical preacher told us his story I told him, "Welcome to Palestine. As someone who knows his Bible well you should not have been surprised by such treatment. The same VIP treatment was also extended to the Magi from the east that came to see Jesus in Bethlehem. Herod too invited them 'for a cup of coffee' to ascertain why they wanted to travel to Bethlehem, and how they knew about the newborn child. So now you have experienced something biblical. Welcome to the Holy Land!"

I still recall how everyone in the group laughed. Then an American woman attending the conference asked me, "So what should we tell the Israelis at the airport when they question us about where we have been? What should we say?" I replied "I wish I could tell you what the angel told the Magi, after visiting Jesus; basically showing them another route not controlled by the Empire. Unfortunately, all roads, airports and borders are controlled by Israel. By the way, an invitation to drink a cup of coffee by Israeli or Arab intelligence authorities is known in political jargon as interrogation." We seldom read the story of the Magi as them being interrogated by the occupation that holds the power. But this is what it was.

Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus was a besieged city. Today Bethlehem is again a besieged city surrounded from three sides by a 25 foot high concrete wall. So what if Jesus were to be born today in Bethlehem? If Jesus were to be born this year, he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would not be allowed to enter from the Israeli checkpoint, and so too the Magi. The shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. Jesus might have been born at the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while having the Magi and shepherds on both sides of the wall.

So where is the Gospel in all of this? The good news is this: God came into no other than this troubled, wounded and real world. He is real and wants to enter into our real world with all its complexities and fears. Christmas is real. It is not a myth or a wonder world. The Gospel is that God became one of us, one like us. He came as a child, vulnerable, and weak. And yet through his vulnerability was able to overcome the empire. Christmas is God's promise to us that we will have life, peace, and future. For us Palestinian Christians and citizens of Bethlehem the Christmas story of then is our story today. Praise God that Jesus is the same: yesterday, today and forever.

Roman Catholic cleric celebrates Palestinian state

By DALIA NAMMARI | Associated Press
Christian worshippers from Nigeria

 A Catholic pilgrim prays at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 24, 2012. Thousands of Christian worshippers and tourists arrived in Bethlehem on Monday to mark Christmas at the site where many believe Jesus Christ was born. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) 

A Christian worshipper prays at the Church of the Nativity

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land celebrated the United Nations' recent recognition of a Palestinian state in his annual pre-Christmas homily on Monday, saying that while the road to actual freedom from Israeli occupation remains long, the Palestinian homeland has been born.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal told followers at the patriarchate's headquarters in Jerusalem's Old City that this year's festivities were doubly joyful, celebrating "the birth of Christ our Lord and the birth of the state of Palestine."

"The path (to statehood) remains long, and will require a united effort," added Twal, a Palestinian citizen of Jordan.

From Jerusalem, he set off in a procession for the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Jesus' traditional birthplace. There, he was reminded that life on the ground for Palestinians has not really changed since the U.N. recognized their state last month in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Twal had to enter the biblical city through a massive metal gate in the barrier of towering concrete slabs Israel built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem during a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in the last decade.
Israel, backed by the United States, opposed the statehood bid, saying it was a Palestinian ploy to bypass negotiations. Talks stalled four years ago, primarily over Israel's construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel has rejected the Palestinians' demand that it freeze all construction before they will renew talks, and launched a major settlement building push in retaliation for the successful statehood bid.

Hundreds of people were on hand to greet Twal in Manger Square, outside the Church of Nativity. The mood was festive under sunny skies, with children dressed in holiday finery or in Santa costumes, and marching bands playing in the streets.

A lavishly decorated 55-foot (25-meter) fir tree with a nativity scene at its foot dominated the plaza. Festivities were to culminate with Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.

Devout Christians said it was a moving experience to be so close to the origins of their faith.
"It's a special feeling to be here, it's an encounter with my soul and God," said Joanne Kurczewska, a professor at Warsaw University in Poland, who was visiting Bethlehem for a second time at Christmas.
Christmas is the high point of the year in Bethlehem, which, like the rest of the West Bank, is struggling to recover from the economic hard times that followed the violent Palestinian uprising against Israel that broke out in late 2000.

Tourists and pilgrims who had been scared away by the fighting have been returning in larger numbers. Last year's Christmas Eve celebration produced the highest turnout in more than a decade, with some 100,000 visitors, including foreign workers and Arab Christians from Israel.

The Israeli Tourism Ministry predicts a 25 percent drop from that level this year, following last month's clash between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, which put a chill on tourist arrivals. Foreign tourists heading to Bethlehem must pass through Israel or the Israel-controlled border crossing into the West Bank from Jordan.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas in Bethlehem: Image and Reality, 2012

Philip Farah

If you have a miniature manger in your home today, or if you've heard a piece of music in the mall with "Bethlehem" in it, I -- as a Palestinian Christian in whose life Bethlehem has played a big role -- have a favor to ask you: Please go to your computer and do a search using these words: "Bethlehem Christmas wall." Check out some of the articles and the images. If your curiosity is piqued, go a bit further and check out the images for "al Masara village," or "al Walaja village," two tiny villages near Bethlehem. I think this is an important exercise for anyone who has formed a mental image of the Little Town of Bethlehem during this holiday season.

Today, Bethlehem and the surrounding areas still have some of the holiest churches of Christianity, and they still vibrate with the prayers and celebrations of Palestinian Christians. But the Palestinians of Bethlehem, Christians and Muslims alike, are a people besieged. For Bethlehem today is surrounded by a host of physical barriers, including several miles of a concrete wall that is over 20 feet high, built by the Israeli occupation authorities.

This wall -- deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004 -- separates the Palestinians of the Bethlehem area from huge swaths of their land. Much of that land has been taken from them to build Jewish-only settlements that are also illegal under international law. These Jewish settlements surround the Palestinian communities of the Bethlehem area, hemming them into a limited geographic area, like a tiny Bantustan, isolating them from occupied East Jerusalem, the economic, cultural, and spiritual heart of Palestinian life. Just this week, the Israeli government announced that it had approved plans for new construction in the nascent settlement of Givat Hamatos, which lies between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, a move swiftly condemned by European diplomats as a "game changer" that could end the possibility of creating a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

I was born and raised in East Jerusalem. For many years before I emigrated to the U.S., I accompanied my father, a devout Christian, on his annual walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Back in the late 1930s, he made a vow to make the five-mile journey by foot every New Year's Eve. If I were to do the same thing today, I would be confronted by a wall that's higher than, and as ugly as, the Berlin Wall, just a few minutes after departing. For the people of Bethlehem, the wall is far worse, because few of them are allowed beyond it to visit their holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem.

The images that you'll see from my suggested web search are the reality of Bethlehem today. In your search, you might also see images of Palestinians involved in a non-violent struggle against the demeaning and pauperizing conditions of Israel's 45-year-old military occupation and colonization of their land. The leaders of the non-violent Palestinian resistance against the wall in the villages of Masara and Walaja will often mention Gandhi and Martin Luther King in their discourse. These two leaders practiced very confrontational resistance, not the passive resistance that is associated with Jesus. But Gandhi and MLK never preached hatred against their oppressors, and today, the people of Bethlehem, Masara and Walaja welcome Israeli Jews who stand shoulder to shoulder with them in opposing the injustices of the occupation.

The reality of Bethlehem today has a great deal more to do with the message of the man that Christians refer to as the "Prince of Peace" than the Disney-like images of Bethlehem we see in our shopping malls. Jesus actually lived under an oppressive Roman occupation of his country. He identified the most with the poor and oppressed, and he preached equality between Jews -- his own people, Samaritans and Gentiles. During this Christmas season, spare a thought and a prayer for Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians, who continue to struggle against injustice and oppression in the name of freedom, equality, and peace.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/philip-farah/christmas-in-bethlehem-im_b_2339384.html

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires talks, pope says

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just weeks after the Vatican praised Palestine's boosted status as a non-member observer state at the United Nations, Pope Benedict XVI met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a private audience at the Vatican.

During the "cordial" talks in the papal library Dec. 17, the two men discussed the need to restart talks between Israelis and Palestinians in a way that respects the rights of all parties involved, said a statement from the Vatican press office.

In discussions about the U.N. vote last month, the Vatican said it was hoped Palestine's new U.N. status "will encourage the commitment of the international community to finding a fair and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which may be reached only by resuming negotiations between the parties, in good faith and according due respect to the rights of both," the statement said.

The two leaders also talked about the broader situation in the Middle East, which is "troubled by numerous conflicts," and expressed hopes that "the courage for reconciliation and peace will be found," the Vatican statement said.

The contribution Christian communities can offer in promoting the common good for the territories and the whole region was also discussed, it said.

As Abbas arrived, the pope greeted him in English, saying, "Welcome, it's good to see you." The president replied, "I'm very glad to see you here again." Abbas had met with the pope at the Vatican in June 2011.

The pope and Abbas spoke privately for 25 minutes before the president introduced his eight-man delegation. The pope gave Abbas a painting of the fountains in the Vatican gardens.

Abbas, who is president of the Palestinian National Authority, gave the pope a picture of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally believed to be the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

The pope said, in Italian, "It's very beautiful. Thank you."

The artwork, made up of large painted tiles, had an inscription -- in English and Arabic -- that said, "Presented by President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) President of the State of Palestine," reporters said.

Reporters traveling with the Palestinian delegation said that "it was not the first time" Abbas referred to the Palestinian territories as a Palestinian state since the U.N. General Assembly voted last month to grant Palestinians observer status.

Abbas' visit to the Vatican was part of a larger "tour of thanks," reporters said, expressing gratitude to world leaders for their support of Palestine's increased status at the United Nations.

Last month, 138 member states voted to boost Palestine's status from "entity" to "non-member state" -- the same status held by the Holy See -- in an implicit recognition of Palestinian sovereignty. Israel, the United States and Canada were among the nine states that voted against the motion. Forty-one countries abstained.

The Vatican had praised the United Nations vote, but called for full recognition of Palestinian sovereignty as necessary for peace in the region. Pope Benedict has repeatedly called for a two-state solution to "become a reality, not remain a dream."

After meeting the pope, Abbas met with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Vatican secretary for relations with states.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bethlehem Awaiting a Uniquely Joyful Christmas

Palestinians Rejoicing at UN Recognition as Non-Member State

JERUSALEM, DEC. 19, 2012 (Zenit.org).- An auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem says this Christmas in the town where Jesus was born will be particularly joyful.

Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem told the charity Aid to the Church in Need that Bethlehem will enjoy a uniquely festive Christmas because Palestinians welcomed as a "victory" the recent UN recognition of Palestine as a non-member state.

Bishop Shomali suggested that the morale of Palestinians – both Christians and Muslims – was boosted by last month’s "status upgrade."

"For Christians in and around Bethlehem," the bishop told ACN, "Christmas this year will be joyful because of the UN recognition of the Palestinian state.

"This has given people a lot of morale and indeed is seen by many as a victory."

But Bishop Shomali said the festive spirit was tempered by many overseas tourists scrapping Christmas pilgrimages to the Holy Land in response to last month's Israel-Gaza conflict.

"There will certainly be fewer pilgrims and other visitors from overseas," he said. "Many have cancelled their trips here but we will still have many people coming from Galilee and elsewhere as well as many Christians from Bethlehem."

Bishop Shomali also told ACN that the conflict in Syria is of grave concern to Christians in the Holy Land.
"What is happening in Syria casts a dark shadow. It impacts on us very greatly. We are not happy with what is happening in Syria. We are anxious and sad about the situation there."

"There are good and bad feelings this Christmas," he concluded, "but if we consider that Christmas is above all a spiritual feast, I believe it will be a very good celebration."


Please note: Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Jordan including Petra April 15-25, 2012; see www.HolyLandInstitute.org

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bishop: Lasting Peace Is Only Way to Keep Christians in Jesus' Homeland

Jerusalem Prelate Says God Can Work Miracles Even in 'Incurable' Conflict

JERUSALEM, DEC. 10, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Being a Christian in the Holy Land is not a simple coincidence -- it's a vocation, says Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem. And for Christians to stop their exodus from the land of Jesus' birth, there must be lasting peace, the prelate affirms.

To stop the Christian population from dwindling, Bishop Shomali told the charity Aid to the Church in Need, prayer is the only solution, because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "incurable" and requires God's help.
Describing how Palestinian Christians suffer from the same problems affecting all those living in the Palestinian territories, such as lack of work and restrictions on movement, the 62-year-old bishop said the situation in the town of Christ’s birth is particularly dire: "In Bethlehem, people suffer on welfare. Thirty percent of young people have no work."

"However," he added, "the more pilgrimages there are, the more the tourist industry functions, and then the more work there is to be had.

“Last month for example, there were several thousand pilgrims."

"Peace creates a very positive atmosphere," Bishop Shomali reflected. "Without it, there is insecurity and the economic situation becomes precarious. Then, work must be created."

Called to witness
Echoing Benedict XVI's exhortation "Ecclesia in Medio Oriente," the bishop declared that Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories are called to be witnesses to their faith.
"Spiritual encouragement and holding on to faith are of the greatest importance because being Christian in the Holy Land is not issuing from a simple coincidence -- it is a vocation," he said. "If the Christians consider it a privilege to be born in the Holy Land and have a testimony of faith to share, they will be motivated and this spiritual motivation is worth more than all material motivations."

God's work
Bishop Shomali also stressed that only God can provide the lasting peace the region needs.

"I continue to say to my pilgrims that in human terms there is no solution for the Israeli-Palestinian problem, for the nature of the problem is ideological," he explained. "And so, in this Year of Faith, we must know that nothing is impossible for God. No, nothing is impossible for God.

“In general terms we pray when we cannot do for ourselves the things we want to do.
“For example, if I am suffering from an incurable illness, I ask God to help me, and I know that God can perform miracles.

“And so, this conflict is incurable and that is why we must believe that prayer can attain peace, despite all appearances, for God can surprise us as he often has in the history of the Church and in the history of humanity."


Al-Bushra Note: Please see information about our next pilgrimage to the Holy Land, April 15-25, 2013. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Vatican hails U.N. Palestine vote, wants guarantees for Jerusalem

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican hailed the United Nations' implicit recognition of a Palestinian state on Thursday and called for an internationally guaranteed special status for Jerusalem, something bound to irritate Israel.

The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution to upgrade the Palestinian Authority's observer status at the United Nations from "entity" to "non-member state," the same status as the Vatican.

"The Holy See welcomes with favor the decision of the General Assembly by which Palestine has become a Non-member Observer State of the United Nations," a statement said.

But it also said it was a "propitious occasion" to recall a "common position" on Jerusalem expressed by the Vatican and the Palestine Liberation Organisation when the two sides signed a basic agreement on their bilateral relations in 2000.

Thursday's statement called for "an internationally guaranteed special statute" for Jerusalem, aimed at "safeguarding the freedom of religion and of conscience, the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem as a Holy City, (and) respect for, and freedom of, access to its holy places."

The Vatican's re-stating of its position on Jerusalem, which has remained mostly dormant for years, was bound to irk Israel, which says there is no need for an international status for Jerusalem because those guarantees already exist.

Israel declared Jerusalem its "united and eternal" capital in 1980 after annexing East Jerusalem in the Six Day War in 1967. World powers have not recognized the annexation.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of an eventual state.

Israel has always resisted the concept of any form of international mandate over Jerusalem.

It has been some time since the Vatican re-stated its position on the city so forcefully, and Thursday's statement was bound to be received negatively by Israel, a diplomat with direct knowledge of their relations said.

Israel has always maintained that it already guarantees the city's special nature as sacred to the three great monotheistic religions - Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Thursday's statement called on both sides to seek an "effective commitment to building peace and stability, in justice and in the respect for legitimate aspirations, both of the Israelis and of the Palestinians."

The Vatican and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1994. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict visited the Jewish state and Palestinian territories.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella, Editing by Stacey Joyce)

Friday, November 30, 2012

America Magazine: Syria's Late Spring

the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

According to the Syrian novelist Dima Wannous, the seed of Syria’s Arab Spring revolt was planted in Damascus in February 2011. A policeman insulted a shop owner, and a crowd of young workers and traders formed chanting, “The Syrian people cannot be humiliated.” The interior minister arrived to scold the crowd: “Shame on you. This is a demonstration!” He had no idea, says Wannous, that “demonstration would become revolution.” As a result, Syria, once ruled by a clique, is faced with a demand for a free society.

In the 21 months of conflict, Syria has not followed the pattern of the Arab Spring, replacing a dictator with incipient structures of democracy. President Bashar al-Assad has repeated the policy of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who in 1982 crushed a Sunni insurgency by destroying the city of Hama.

The statistics shock. An estimated 40,000 people have died. At least 2.5 million Syrians are displaced and a half million have fled into neighboring countries. The shelling of cities has rendered 1.5 million homeless. The government imagines this will make the people submit.

Proposed solutions extend from greater use of force—arm the opposition, assist it with air support or create no-fly zones—to more intensive diplomacy. The justification for outside intervention has several sources: the United Nations itself; Catholic just war theory shared by secular governments; the emerging principle of the responsibility to protect.

The opposition has been divided. The Syrian National Council, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, is headquartered in Istanbul. Disparate rebel groups receive help from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Salafis, extreme Sunni Muslims, belong to several rebel groups. Western powers, especially the United States, remain hesitant to better equip the resistance, aware that advanced weapons might ultimately fall into the hands of extremists. The Italian Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio, which has a history of peacemaking, met in July in Rome with opposition Islamists, leftists, secular democrats and Kurds. They have called upon the Free Syrian Army to rethink its strategy and return to the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict.

A military intervention, even one embraced multilaterally, seems hard to rationalize according to just war principles: noncombatants will surely be endangered; even greater disorder threatens; and a successful outcome is hard to perceive. Though the death toll now seems horrific, President Assad has promised to deploy chemical weapons should an international coalition appear to join sides with the Free Syrian Army.

This does not mean, however, that the international community can reside on the sidelines of the horror. Not intervening similarly offers a litany of potential noxious outcomes. Under the doctrine of responsibililty to protect, in fact, the international community has a moral obligation to respond when sovereign entities exhibit such a complete disregard for the lives and well-being of their own people. How then to proceed?

In a statement in July, the Syrians who convened with Sant’Egidio in Rome declared: “We cannot accept Syria being transformed into a theatre of regional and international conflict. We believe the international community has the strength and the necessary ability to find a consensus that would be the basis of a political solution... a real global negotiation that excludes no one and a process that would be completed with real national reconciliation based on justice.” These are nonviolent words worth hearing as the Syrian civil war hangs in bloody irresolution, seemingly on the verge, as winter approaches, of spiraling into something even worse.

In the gloom of this war, even with the option of direct military intervention properly off the table, there remain opportunities for active interventions by the United States and other global powers, particularly Syria’s patron, Russia, that can even at this late moment snatch a diplomatic victory from the jaws of this ongoing defeat for humanity. With the right pressure, creative proposals and determined, persistent diplomacy, President Assad may still be made to see reason and assent to a cease-fire that can reboot a process toward a political settlement that could establish the foundation of a long-term regional peace.
All options should remain open, including allowing Assad to remain, albeit in an altered capacity, and even proposals that consider redrawing the colonial boundaries of Syria to better represent the Alawite and Sunni, Christian and Kurd populations. The peacemakers must use every means to convince President Assad and the members of the international community, who are now ready to throw up their hands in frustration, that the whole world loses if Syria dies.

Source: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13730

Holy See Statement Regarding UN Vote on Palestinian Authority

"This result does not constitute, per se, a sufficient solution to the existing problems in the Region"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 29, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a statement from the Holy See regarding the United Nations vote today, by which the Palestinian Authority was given the status of non-member state. The vote was 138 in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions.

* * *

Communiqué of the Holy See
Today the General Assembly has given majority approval to the Resolution by which Palestine has become a Non-member Observer State of the United Nations.

1. The Holy See has followed actively the steps which have led to this important decision, while striving to remain neutral between the Parties, and to act in accordance with its particular religious nature and universal mission, and in consideration also of its specific attention to the ethical dimension of international problems.

2. The Holy See considers, moreover, that today's vote should be placed within the context of the efforts of giving a definitive solution, with the support of the international community, to the question already dealt with by Resolution 181 of the General Assembly of the United Nations of 29 November 1947. That document is the juridical basis for the existence of two States, one of which has not been constituted in the successive sixty-five years, while the other has already seen the light.

3. On 15 May 2009, while departing from "Ben Gurion" International Airport, Tel Aviv, at the conclusion of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Pope Benedict XVI expressed the following: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice, let there be genuine reconciliation and healing. Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream.

4. In the wake of that appeal, the Holy See's Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, speaking before the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2011, expressed the hope that the competent Bodies of the United Nations would adopt a decision which would help give concrete implementation to that goal.

5. Today's vote manifests the sentiment of the majority of the international community and recognises a more significant presence to Palestinians within the United Nations.  At the same time, it is the conviction of the Holy See that this result does not constitute, per se, a sufficient solution to the existing problems in the Region: which, in fact, can only find an adequate response through the effective commitment to building peace and stability, in justice and in the respect for legitimate aspirations, both of the Israelis and of the Palestinians.

6. Therefore, the Holy See, at various times, has invited the leaders of the two Peoples to restart the negotiations in good faith and to avoid actions, or the placing of conditions, which would contradict the declarations of goodwill and the sincere search for solutions which could become secure foundations for a lasting peace. Moreover, the Holy See has made a pressing appeal to the International Community to increase its commitment and to encourage its creativity, through the adoption of suitable initiatives which may help to achieve a lasting peace, that respects the rights of Israelis and of Palestinians. Peace needs courageous decisions!

7. Considering the outcome of today's vote of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and to encourage the International Community, and in particular the Parties directly concerned, towards concrete action in view of the aforementioned objectives – the Holy See welcomes with favour the decision of the General Assembly by which Palestine has become a Non-member Observer State of the United Nations. It is a propitious occasion to recall also the common position that the Holy See and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation expressed in the Basic Agreement of 15 February 2000, intended to support the recognition of a internationally guaranteed special statute for the City of Jerusalem, and aimed, in particular, to safeguarding the freedom of religion and of conscience, the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem as a Holy City, respect for and freedom of access to its Holy Places.

Gaza Strip Praying for Peace on Both Sides of the Border

When we pray for peace, we pray for peace for everyone,” said the Rev. Yoel Salvaterra, who serves the Catholic community in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, after a morning in which more than 20 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the city. “Our prayers have no borders. We know we are suffering here and they are suffering there. It is just suffering.”

The parish celebrated Mass on Nov. 18 in the church bomb shelter, Father Salvaterra said, and only 15 people came to pray, about half the normal number. The community has about 150 members. “People live in fear,” he said. “Everybody is staying home.”

In Gaza, George Antone, 31, project manager for the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and father of a 6-month-old daughter, said that residents remained inside their homes because it was too risky to leave. No one knew where Israeli bombs might land next, he said.

“It can be anywhere, between houses, in government institutions, schools, universities, a football field,” he said. “The situation here is terrible. Last night it was as if we were living in hell. Every 15 minutes you could hear an explosion.”

On Nov. 19 Sami El-Yousef, regional director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s office in Jerusalem, reported widespread destruction in Gaza and said almost all Christian institutions had sustained some damage. He said children and the elderly were paying the heaviest price.

Pope Benedict XVI condemned the escalating hostilities on Nov. 21 and called for greater efforts to promote a truce and peace negotiations. “Hatred and violence are not the solution to problems,” he said. That morning a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas was finally reached. The pope called on leaders on both sides to make “courageous decisions in favor of peace and put an end to a conflict that has negative repercussions throughout the entire Middle East region, which is already troubled by too many conflicts and is in need of peace and reconciliation.” During Israel’s aerial offensive over the Gaza Strip to neutralize rocket attacks, 169 Palestinians and at least six Israelis were killed.

One member of Antone’s Holy Family Parish in Gaza died of a heart attack during a bombing. “I don’t like the killing on either side,” he said. “I respect life.

“This is not the way in which we can find a solution. Peace never comes with blood. That is what we say to the people in church. This will lead to nothing—only a very bad scenario on both sides—and the people will pay the price.”

“Unless both sides are willing to take difficult decisions,” the stand-off will continue like this, El-Yousef said. “The cycle [of violence] gets worse and worse. This is going nowhere and just creating more hatred.” He said he hopes that new leaders in the Middle East will play a positive role in calming things down so that a lasting solution can be found. “What we have now is conflict management rather than resolution,” he said.
Antone sees the conflict between Hamas and the Israelis as not only political but also stemming from religious fanaticism on the part of both Muslims and Jews. “We Christians are not political; we call for peace and to save lives,” Antone said. After the truce, “they have to start negotiating for peace. That is the only way to solve the problem. They have to sit and speak and find a way where there will be no war for our children and the coming generations.”

Another Catholic Gazan, who asked not to be identified, said he and his family had not left their home for almost a week. “The explosions are terrible for us,” he said.

Though some people may disagree with Hamas’s tactics, “nobody can say anything against Hamas,” he said. “They are in control.”

From CNS, staff and other sources   See http://www.americamagazine.org/content/signs.cfm?signid=1165

"First Christmas Adoration" for Middle Eastern Christians

New Creation Group Sponsors Eucharistic Adoration in Parishes in Lebanon

LEBANON, NOV. 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- In a world tormented by pain, in the East that is bringing together the autumn’s falling leaves so to flourish in spring, in a country which land became holy thanks to the faithful community that believes in the Resurrection, and lives out the Christian hope with a thirst for peace in the “cradle of Christianity”, it is necessary to come to a halt in silence, piety and adoration far from the noisy world, when no voice other than Jesus is heard in the heart of each one of us. The act of bowing reveals blessed glory in the Lord Jesus, the source of consolation and light, especially for those who are suffering.

"One Adoration…United Parishes" is the motto chosen by “New Creation” Group to be the theme of a project that calls, during the Christmas novena, to prayer unity in time and not in space, through the 'Quarantore',that is 40- hour permanent adoration of the Holy Eucharist, in the different parishes of Lebanon, unifying all intentions into one: the well-being of the Middle Eastern Christians and their renewal in Jesus Christ.

The 1stChristmas Adoration, which will continue as an annual tradition, begins during the 2012 Christmas novena, on Friday December 21stand ends on Sunday December 22nd, at midnight. The Adoration gathers the faithful community around Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, and then the human person is engaged in the most sincere dialogue where he removes all the fake masks to meet, transparently, kneeling and repenting, His Creator Who got humble and was incarnated to save him, asking peace in the name of the Middle Eastern Christians and for them. Let’s unify prayer and intentions in our parishes, so that, through the Nativity of the King of Glory, a miracle of faith will see the light in our churches. The miracle becomes clear through renewal in our East, so that we advance with the Holy Spirit, through our encounter with the source of all graces, on the sole way of prayer: Jesus Christ, and thus through our silence we begin listening to Him, we are united with Him and He makes miracles in our lives.

As St. Peter of Alcantra says “In the Holy Eucharist, the hands of our Lord are full of graces, and He is ready to give them for whoever asks them.” We call you to gather in large numbers and participate in the 1stChristmas Adoration "One Adoration…United Parishes", and to be one as individuals and parishes during 40 hours of adoration and prayer in front of the Holy Eucharist at the same time and for one intention.
It is important to note that the 'Quarantore' is an Italian word that means 40- hour permanent adoration. It is an ancient practice in the Catholic Church. It began in the early 16th century and was launched in Lebanon since October 2011, with the group “New Creation” which seeks to revive this practice in Lebanon and make activities in the parishes in order to build a personal relationship with the Risen Christ. The "New Creation" Group members believe that there is no solution to our personal problems and those of the modern world without Jesus Christ. The group has organized 10 'Quarantore' so far in different areas and is making efforts so that this devotion becomes widespread and constant all over Lebanon.
--- --- ---
On the NET:
For more information or if you would like your parish to participate in the "First Christmas Adoration, please contact:
New Creation Group
Tel: 03257817
Email: newcreationlb@gmail.com
Tele Lumiere
Tel: 01255500

Holy See Responds to Palestinian Authority Vote: Calls for 'Effective Commitment' to Peace

'Welcomes With Favour' UN Decision; Renews Appeal for Special Status for Jerusalem

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 29, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A communiqué from the Holy See says that today's United Nations vote recognizing the Palestinian Authority as a non-member state is not a "sufficient solution" to the problems of the region, since there must be an "effective commitment to building peace and stability, in justice and in the respect for legitimate aspirations, both of the Israelis and of the Palestinians."

Still, the Holy See "welcomes with favour the decision of the General Assembly by which Palestine has become a Non-member Observer State of the United Nations," the statement affirmed.

The vote was 138 in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions, with the United States and Canada among the nations to oppose the move; the UK abstained.

The Holy See statement affirmed its neutrality between the parties. It also called for placing the vote "within the context of the efforts of giving a definitive solution, with the support of the international community," to the 1947 UN Resolution 181, the "juridical basis for the existence of two States, one of which has not been constituted in the successive 65 years, while the other has already seen the light."

A dream
The Holy See recalled the Pope's appeal for peace and for the two-state solution from a 2009 speech at the end of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

"Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream," the Holy Father said on that occasion.

Increased commitment
The Holy See statement recalled its various appeals inviting "the leaders of the two Peoples to restart the negotiations in good faith and to avoid actions, or the placing of conditions, which would contradict the declarations of goodwill and the sincere search for solutions which could become secure foundations for a lasting peace."

It further noted appeals to the international community, to increase its commitment to peace and to encourage creativity. "Peace needs courageous decisions," the statement declared.

The Holy See concluded by saying today's vote is a good occasion to recall its 2000 Basic Agreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, "intended to support the recognition of a internationally guaranteed special statute for the City of Jerusalem, and aimed, in particular, to safeguarding the freedom of religion and of conscience, the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem as a Holy City, respect for and freedom of access to its Holy Places."

Patriarch Twal: United Nations Decision Will Restore Credibility to Palestinian Government

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Expresses Joy Regarding Vote in UN

JERUSALEM, NOV. 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem expressed his joy upon hearing the news of the United Nations General Assembly approving the recognition of Palestine as a non-member State observer.

"For once the international community and the leaders of the nations had the courage not to be influenced by the pressures and to decide in conscience, without calculation. I am grateful and happy for this freedom," Patriarch Twal said in an interview with Fides Agency.

"It is a joy that I share with all Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, and that soon I will express on behalf of our Christian communities to President [Mahmoud Abbas], as soon as he gets back."

Patriarch Twal emphasized the overwhelming support of nations who voted in favor of the Palestinian request (138 Countries in favor, 9 against, 41 abstentions), while positively evaluating the abstention of the German government. "The fact that Germany did not say no means a lot," observed the Patriarch.

The Latin Patriarch also expressed his hope that with time, the international community will see that the step taken at the UN has advantages for Israel. "It opens the possibility of returning to deal with a moderate and legitimized government. I know these people: there is no person more reasonable than [Mahmoud Abbas] to return to the path of a final settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict," he said.

In recent years, he continued, "with a reckless choice, a lot was done to undermine his authority. Now he will come back from New York with the moral relieved: can talk like a real President, the President of a State."
Highlighting the Holy See's position on the matter, Patriarch Twal recalled Pope Benedict's support for a two-state solution. "I remember the many speeches of the Pope that repeated the formula of the two peoples and two States. The Church desires peace for all, justice for all, a quiet and peaceable life for everyone," he said.

"This is why one must also have the courage to say things when they are not right. Now I am thinking of the tragic situation in Syria, that the international community seems to want to remove."
Patriarch Twal told Fides that while the path to peace is still long, it is necessary to deal with problems with a certain detachment without getting involved with animosity and vindictiveness. The decision of the UN Assembly could also encourage reconciliation within the Palestinian government, "since even Hamas in the end supported President Abbas' request."

With regard to the negative vote of the United States, Patriarch Twal recalled President Obama's speech delivered in Cairo, which touched upon the relations with the Islamic world. "I hope that President Barack Obama has a good memory to remember his first speech in Cairo. That speech gave us a lot of hope," Patriarch Twal said.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gaza – A Reflection by Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa


We have received various requests to express our views on what is happening in Gaza. Honestly, we have not said anything until now, because one does not know what to state any more.

The ecclesiastical Institutions already update and express their views regarding the matter and therefore it does not seem necessary to repeat what others have already published, in the context of the usual rite of balanced and correct declarations.

In certain occasions, then, the usual exhortations inviting to the cessation of hostilities and calling for dialogue, even though they are very true and necessary, seem so cut off from reality as to seem hypocritical messages.
On this useless bloodbath that is taking place for the umpteenth time, we must however make some considerations.

1. Once again, violence, death and destruction are the common language in which we are finding ourselves. There is no sense in beginning to discuss on who has initiated the conflict, or to count the dead or to attribute the responsibility. We only know that no solution has been found and that it will only be a matter of time until everything will start all over again, in a kind of useless and vicious circle. Unfortunately a comprehensive solution seems still to be very far away.

2. We hope that such violence will not degenerate in new attacks and other forms of retaliation, which will take us back in time. It is necessary that all those who are responsible will work hard to return to moderation and to control every form of dangerous deterioration of the situation.

3. In front of so much violence and of the helplessness of all, for us believers, prayer remains the only resource. Prayer is as necessary as the air we breathe, because it permits us to look at what is happening around us with the eyes of faith. The believer should look at the world with the eyes of God who is a just and merciful Father. It is the only way not to fall into the logic of violence and refusal of the other, of which this umpteenth conflict is witness. In spite of all that which is occurring, we need to believe once again in the Other. Without God, everything becomes impossible.

4. Our religious Communities should strive, once more, to play their part in the many small initiatives of dialogue and peace. They will not change the world in the Holy Land, but they will provide the oxygen which will make people realise that, in spite of everything, there are still many persons who refuse this logic and are ready to play their part in a serious and concrete way. It is, above all, the duty of the Institutions that work with young people, to whom our future is entrusted, to take initiatives in favour of dialogue.

5. While in the Middle East historic transformations are taking place, it seems that, in the Holy Land, everything has remained unchanged. In the Holy Land, as well as in the rest of the Middle East, however, the Christian Communities are called to give witness, to transmit trust, and not to give space to helplessness.

Jews, Muslims and Christians have been called, here, in this Land, by Providence, to live together. We want to show, with our life, that this vocation is possible and can be realised. And we are ready to start all over again with this certainty.

Solemn Entrance of the Custos in Bethlehem by Custodia

Each year, the week before the beginning of Advent is lived in a particular way, with the solemn entrance of the Custos of the Holy Land in Bethelehem for the feast of St. Catherine, Patron saint of the Franciscan Parish.

The traditional feast started on Saturday morning at the Divan in Saint Savior Convent in Jerusalem. Each year this is an awaited event for a convivial moment with the Mukhtar, Mr. Yacob Amer, accompanied by other parishioners and the Custos of the Holy Land, f. Piebattista Pizzaballa, the Custodial Vicar, f. Artemio Vitores,and the St. Savior parish priest, f. Feras Hejazin.

At the end of the meeting the car procession, escorted by Israeli police, followed the long way that leads to Bethlehem starting from New Gate.

The first stop was at the Convent of Saint Elijah, “Mar Elias”. In the antique byzantine monastery one remembers the place where the prophet Elijah rested during his journey to Mount Oreb, which started from Mount Carmel to escape queen Jezebel's wrath (1Re 19,4-8).

Here is where the Jerusalem parish jurisdiction finishes and the Beit Jala parish (Palestine) starts.

The entrance of the Custos was welcomed with joy by the parish priest, father Ibrahim Shomali, by the Israeli Civil Authority and the whole Christian community in Beit Jala.

After the exchange of greetings a new convoy of cars joined the procession. Only three times a year the vehicles coming from the territories under the Palestinian Authority control, can pass the border with the State of Israel, crossing the separation wall.

As soon as the tomb of Rachel was passed, the Israeli military escorts left their work to the Palestinian police, which escorted the Custos to Manger Square in Bethlehem.

In the square there were many students from Terra Santa schools, Saint Joseph Institute, and Scouts, dressed in their colorful uniforms, together with local authorities, and Bethlehem's new mayor, Mrs. Vera Baboun; they were all waiting for the Custos' arrival. At the opposite entrance of the Basilica , Fr Artemio Vitores, Custodial vicar, Fr Stéphane Milovitch, Saint Catherine convent guardian and the custody's seminarists and parishioners, all welcomed the Custos.

When the Franciscan greetings concluded, the representatives of the Orthodox church and the civil authorities solemnly entered St. Catherine church, through the Basilica of the Nativity, crowded with local pilgrims.

The rite started with the kiss of cross,which is at the entrance of the church, accompanied by the Te Deum notes, the Custos reached the high altar. After the Parish priest ,Fr Marwan De'ides greetings, the Custos thanked the present and handed to the new mayor a bible, a rosary, and a cross.

Mrs. Baboun thanked the Custos underlining that her mission, even though it is a hard one, will be lightened by the Words light.

At the celebration conclusion , the Custos solemnly blessed all those present.

A cordial greeting exchange , in the church's cluster, concluded the ceremony that was slightly simpler in solidarity with the families of the victims in Gaza.

In the afternoon the father Custos presided the celebration of the first vespers and the procession to the Nativity Grotto.

Sunday the 25th of November, Feast of Christ the King. The celebration of the holy mass at St. Catherine's church was solemnly presided by the Custos.

The Franciscans have been in Bethlehem since 1347 in the convent right next to the Basilica of the Nativity. The church, dedicated to St. Catherine, martyr, was built in the XII century and was then expanded and modified.

Archbishop Laham of Palestine Supports Request to UN for Palestine Observer Status

Formal Request to Be Submitted By President Mahmoud Abbas

PALESTINE, NOV. 29, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Maroun Laham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem,  expressed the support of Palestinian Christians of the request to recognize Palestine as a UN non-member State Observer. The request will be formally submitted to the United Nations by President Mahmoud Abbas tomorrow.

"The Churches of the Holy Land in a unanimous manner support the step taken by the Palestinian National Authority. The soul and the prayers of the Christians of Holy Land ask that this step is accomplished," Archbishop Laham said in an interview with Fides Agency.

The Palestinian prelate also stated that "every step towards the recognition of a Palestinian state is a good thing. And despite all the obstacles, it is undeniable that certain steps have been carried out since the time when the Palestinians were only refugees without a country. "

The recognition of Palestine as an Observer at the United Nations, according to Archbishop Laham, would also allow reconciliation at an internal level between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

"For example, Palestine may appeal to the International Tribunal in The Hague, to denounce the attacks against human rights suffered by the Palestinians. And at an internal level, as President [Mahmoud Abbas] said, the granting of the request may favor Palestinian reconciliation and the strengthening of the National Authority. As is known, the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, telephoned President Abbas to express his support for the initiative," Archbishop Lahoun said.

Palestinian Christians have expressed their optimism on the success of the UN vote. France, Russia and China also support the request.

"If things go as they should, on Sunday I will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving, inviting representatives of the Palestinian Authority," said Fr. Raed Abusahliah, a pastor in Ramallah to Fides Agency.

KAIROS PALESTINE A moment of truth - 1st Sunday in Advent

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:1-20, NIV)

“Israeli settlements ravage our land in the name of God and in the name of force, controlling our natural resources, including water and agricultural land, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and constituting an obstacle to any political solution".
Kairos Palestine Document, Chapter 1.1.2

Israeli Settlements and Israeli outposts in and around Bethlehem

Bethlehem, 2nd of December 2012 – Currently there are 179 settlements with more than 628,000 settlers (civilians) in the total area occupied by Israel, including 257,000 in occupied East Jerusalem. In addition, Israeli settlers have established 232 illegal Israeli settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank.

Today, there are 20 Israeli settlements accommodating more than 107,000 Israeli settlers infringing on Palestinians’ lands in Bethlehem Governorate. These settlements are built on a total area of 19.1 km2, which constitutes around 3.1% of the Governorate’s area. Furthermore, in the years between 1996 and 2007, the Israeli settlers established in the Bethlehem area 14 locations, which came to be known as settlements’ outposts.

Moreover, the Israeli occupation enforced 114 km of bypass roads in Bethlehem Governorate, both constructed and planned, to comply with the Israeli settlements program and to facilitate movement of the settlers with Israel. The inhabitants of Bethlehem today are denied access to certain sections of the bypass roads network and are blocked from them with cement blocks, trenches, earth-mounds, barbwires and iron gates – all under the pretext of military and/or security purposes.

To give you a concrete example: Ush Ghurab is the name of a high hill which lies in the eastern part of Beit Sahour city in the Bethlehem Governorate. For many years, it has been coveted and targeted by army and settlers. Now, an Israeli extreme right-wing settler’s organization called “Women in Green” is planning to build a settlement called “Shdema” in this area.

This will have a deep impact on the Palestinian population from Beit Sahour, one of the last Christian majority towns in Palestine.

1) Richard, Matthew; Issac Jad: The Water Regime in the West Bank, in: This week in Palestine, Issue No. 174, October 2012, p. 4-10.

2) For further information please go to http://www.poica.org/editor/case_studies/view.php?recordID=2397 (New Israeli Attempt to resettle in Ush Ghurab area in Beit Sahour)

The Son Is Coming (Matt 21: 37)!

Written by Rev. Yohanna Katanacho

The parable of the vineyard and the tenants (Matt 21:33–45) is fascinating to Palestinian readers. Its components are very familiar to us. It mentions the owner of the land, a wall, watch towers, violence, bloodshed, land disputes, injustices, and getting rid of the true owner of the vineyard. It is like a Palestinian contemporary movie videotaped in the West Bank. The owner of the land provided all the needed tools. He built a fence and a tower to protect his land, and a winepress to enjoy its fruits (v. 33). He trusted others and wanted to share the goodness of the land by providing jobs and allowing others to work together for the common good. He wanted the fruit of his own land.

However, a group of farmers stole the land and transformed the fence of protection into a wall of an illegal empire. The watchtowers became the place in which the farmers saw the servants of the owner of the land and decided to get rid of them (vv. 34-36). These illegal settlers of the vineyard used every possible means to keep the land in their hands. They were willing to use escalating violent measures starting from beating, to stoning, to killing the messengers of justice who wanted to return the land to its true owner. Eventually, the owner of the land sent his son but when they saw the heir of the land, they conspired to kill the son of the owner and seize the inheritance (vv. 37-38). In other words, the text brings together Christmas and Easter. The coming of the son and the killing of the son are succinctly juxtaposed to each other. Both are intimately related to bringing about the Kingdom of God.

The time of the fruit or better the Kairos, using the Greek text, has come. The appointed time in which we are expected to give an account to a just God has come. This appointed time reaches its climax in the coming of the son who is the legal owner of the vineyard. He is coming to restore the vineyard to his father, its legal owner. He is a messenger of justice and judgment. He will bring justice for the owner and judgment upon the wicked farmers. However, Christmas is transformed into Easter. The good news about the coming of the son is transformed into an ugly scene. The wicked farmers killed the son (v. 39) yet they are not able to escape the appointed divine moment. For in their persistent unjust actions they have rejected the will of God.

No one can twist the arm of God. Killing the son transformed him into a crushing stone. This stone is the true owner of the land who has been rejected. He is going to be the foundation of a new reality (v. 42). God will restore the stolen vineyard. The death of the son outside the vineyard (or Jerusalem if you wish) and his resurrection created a new people. The unjust settlers will lose the land. The land will be given to a new group of people who are willing to serve God and give the fruits back to Him (v. 43).
This biblical parable has a lot to say to Palestinians. First, we are like the servants of the owner of the land. We obediently march towards the illegal settlers with a prophetic divine message. Palestinian Christians in particular can be divine messengers who proclaim that God owns the land. God, not the Jews or the Palestinians own the land. We can also proclaim that the land of God cannot be seized by oppression or violence or illegal actions.

Second, Palestinian Christians should be willing to suffer in order to proclaim the prophetic divine message. It is a salvific message full of justice and love, a message that is rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the world. When we suffer as a result of proclaiming the prophetic divine message then our suffering is similar to the servants or prophets who insisted on justice and righteousness. It is also similar to the suffering of the son or Jesus Christ who was drawn outside his land (v. 39) and killed. We will be a blessed people. The Bible says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11-12).

Third, Palestinian Christians should remember that the owner of the land is the winning party. His plan will be accomplished and His Kingdom will continue to grow. God will accomplish his just will through our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to put our faith in the power of Jesus Christ and his message. He was fully committed to loving the wicked farmers and was equally committed to bring about justice. He was born the first time in Bethlehem to bring about the Kingdom of God and was born the second time in Jerusalem (cf. Ps 2:7) to establish this eternal impeccable Kingdom. His Kingdom is not only the antidote of every evil but is also the incarnation of God’s love, Justice, and Grace. It can be fully seen in the face of Jesus Christ. The vineyard will always belong to the Son. Its farmers, however, will stay in it as long as they honor the principles advocated by the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and righteousness. It is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

In this Christmas, we celebrate that Christ is coming. He comes to bring about the Kingdom. May we all follow him, be faithful citizens of His Kingdom, and proclaim his message with a heart full of faith, love, hope, righteousness, and justice.

Rev. Dr. Yohanna Katanacho is a Palestinian Evangelical. He has earned his M.A. from Wheaton College and his Master of Divinity as well as his Ph.D. in the Old Testament from Trinity International University. He is now serving as the Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College and Galilee Bible College. He is a co-author of the Kairos Palestine Document.

Kairos Palestine –
A moment of truth
Bethlehem, Palestine
c/o Dar Annadwa
P.O.Box 162
Tel.: +972 2 277 0047
Fax: +972 2 277 0048
Website: www.kairospalestine.ps www.facebook.com/kairospalestine

Kairos Palestine is a group of Palestinian Christians who authored “A moment of Truth” – Christian Palestinian’s word to the world about the occupation of Palestine, an expression “of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”, and a call for solidarity in ending over six decades of oppression. The document was published in December 2009.

Applied Research Institute –
Jerusalem Society (ARIJ)
Bethlehem, Palestine
P.O. Box 860, Karkafeh St,
Tel: 970-274-1889
Fax: 970-277-6966
E-mail: pmaster@arij.org
Website: www.ARIJ.org

ARIJ represents 20 years of combined organizational experience in the Palestinian Territory in the fields of economic, social, management of natural resources, water management, sustainable agriculture and political dynamics of development in the area. ARIJ plays an active role in the local community as an advocate for greater cooperation among local institutions as well as international and non-governmental organizations.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

'We Are Dying Here': An eyewitness account of the Syrian refugee crisis

the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

In the last chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses ascends to the top of Mount Nebo; from the east side of the Jordan, God shows him the land promised to Abraham and all his descendants. The view of this territory is one of the last things Moses sees in this life, but he never sets foot there. It is left to his descendants to cross over the river and enter the land of promise.

I had a chance recently to look at the world from atop Mount Nebo. I went there as part of a delegation, led by Bishop Anthony Taylor, with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services. We were sent to the Middle East to examine the situation of refugees in the countries around Mount Nebo, particularly Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Our mission was to better understand the Syrian refugee crisis, strengthen networks of support between the bishops and other relief organizations, stand in solidarity with the people who suffer and recommend possible durable solutions to policy makers.

The surrounding land shows that little has changed since biblical times. Brothers here are still selling brothers (Gn 37:27-28); families are still enslaved (Ex 1:1-22); people are still in captivity (2 Kgs 25); Rachel is still weeping (Mt 2:18); nations are still living in exile (Ps 137); refugees are still wandering in the deserts (Dt 2:1-37); and refugee cities are still being created (Dt 4:41-43). Only now these narratives are echoed by contemporary stories: of trafficked victims in Egypt, tortured Eritreans in the Sinai, persecuted Christians in Iraq and Iran, unaccompanied minors throughout the region and displaced Syrians in the crossfire of a civil war. Throughout my time there, I kept wondering: Is it still possible to see the land of promise amid this desert of human suffering?

The situation is critical. The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that the number of Syrians fleeing their country’s violent conflict could reach 700,000 by year’s end and 1.5 million by June 2013. Some refugees are twice displaced: first from Iraq to Syria, then from Syria to anywhere they can find protection.

At a makeshift camp on the Lebanon-Syrian border, inside a precarious, plastic-covered shelter, we visited a number of families displaced by the fighting. Three sisters-in-law, each in her early 20s, had just lost their husbands in the Syrian war. One widow showed us a cellphone video taken just after their husbands had been brutally killed. Then the mother of those men came in, weeping and sobbing uncontrollably, holding in her hands the heart-breaking report that her grandson had been killed the day before. Until that moment I had only seen pietàs carved out of stone. There I saw one carved out of the suffering of Syrian refugees.

A Mission of Refuge

As Syria plunges deeper into chaos, many churches, mosques, nongovernmental organizations and governments of some Middle East countries are doing their best to respond. But the scope, severity and urgency of this crisis require much broader international collaboration because the pressing human needs far outstrip the available resources. The official camps set up by the governments of Turkey and Jordan offer a thin line of protection for these refugees, providing some basic shelter, security, food and medical assistance. But the camps are inadequate to rebuild shattered lives. They are, at best, a stopgap solution for what is likely a long-term issue. In these camps we met people recovering from blasts, bombardment and battles. In a tent a baby had just been born and wrapped in a blanket, a sign that the persistent power of life still bursts forth even amid this deadly reality.

The mission of the church in this part of the world extends not only to other Christians but to any human being in need. As one organization put it, “Being Syrian does not make you our client; being extremely vulnerable does.” As the church drills down beneath the complex historical factions, religious differences, social crises and economic problems of this situation, its missiological foundation rests on the bedrock of the gratuitous love of God and the human face of the refugee. When viewed from the perspective of those who are most vulnerable, the issues are indeed very basic. The refugees wanted us to bring back the message that they are hungry, needy, homeless and moving into the winter months, with little protection from the elements.
“We are human beings,” said one woman, and “the hardest part is not knowing when this conflict will end.”

“We are not living here,” said another refugee. “We are dying here.”

Crossing the Jordan

Even though refugees are not a new phenomenon in this part of the world, each generation defines itself in relation to how it responds to them. According to stipulations of the covenant, inheritance of the Promised Land is inextricably linked to care for those who are most vulnerable (Dt 10:12). Our spiritual ancestors were once refugees in these parts, and God heard their cries (Ex 3:7). Others are living that reality right now. Memory plays an important role in biblical spirituality precisely because it helps us see something of our own lives in those who suffer. When the plight of such suffering fails to move us, then something inside us has become alien, for we have become disconnected from the fundamental bonds that join us not only to God but to one another.

Biblical faith also reminds us that the true greatness of a nation is measured not by its military might or economic assets but by the wealth of its character, expressed particularly in its responsiveness to human need (Mt 25:31-46). Movement toward the Promised Land is not simply movement toward a physical location but also toward a place of human solidarity. We cross the Jordan River, a symbol of our baptismal commitment, every time we create a safe space, foster human dignity, fight for human rights, provide basic needs, advocate for just systems, create opportunities, build networks for resettlement and integration, join people in a shared human vulnerability, denounce injustices like human trafficking, challenge attitudes of xenophobia and create an oasis of hope.

The work of the U.S. Catholic bishops, which resettles about 20,000 refugees each year (more than any other organization in the world), is a step in the right direction. But it is only a small step in relation to the overall need. The humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis requires not only faith-based actors but also governments and nongovernmental organizations, indeed the whole human community. In the face of the world’s many needs, this suffering can overwhelm us and make us numb, at times. Yet even if we cannot do everything, we can do something.

A View of the Promised Land

Before leaving the United States, I anticipated that our delegation would help me understand the refugee situation in the Middle East. After speaking with political leaders I attempted to analyze it. In talking with U.N. officials I tried to evaluate it. In conversations with faith-based organizations I faced the scope of it. But conversations with refugees and seeing their plight made me progressively more silent as time went on. The more I heard, the more speechless I became, recognizing that no thought or words could touch the pain of the people we encountered. By the end I was weeping. For a moment I could feel God’s heart breaking over what is happening there.

God continues to offer his life not only for those who are trying to help but also for those who are struggling to hope. As people’s lives are torn asunder, faith is all many have left when everything else has been taken from them. God remains a refuge for all who place their trust in him (Ps 16:1), even as these refugees do from the exile of their shattered lives.

Christ himself not only migrated to this territory but also became a refugee in these parts. And Christ still migrates into these broken territories of human existence, especially through those who reach out to the refugees in their need. But whether there is room for these refugees in the “inn” of our human community (Lk 2:7) remains an open question. Perhaps, like Moses, some future generation will see a territory of human solidarity on the horizon, where each person’s basic needs are met for protection, food and shelter. But the view of the Promised Land from Mount Nebo today—and the situation of refugees surrounding it—suggest that we still have a vast desert in front of us and a long road ahead.

Syria in Brief

General: Arab republic under authoritarian regime; Independence, 1946; Approx. pop. 22 million; majority Muslim, 10% Christian; Basher al-Assad president since 2000.
The Conflict: Commenced with pro-democracy protests in March 2011; expanded to all-out civil war. Government crackdown denounced by many in the international community.
The Costs: Nearly 40,000, mostly civilians, have died; 1.2 million displaced internally; 2,000 refugees flee to Jordan nightly; number of refugees could reach 1.5 million by June 2013. Most refugees are women and children.

Daniel G. Groody, C.S.C., is associate professor of theology and director of the Center for Latino Spirituality and Culture at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

Source: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13715