In their annual Christmas messages, two Catholic leaders in the cradle of Christianity urged prayer and action to bring about lasting peace in the troubled region of the Holy Land.
Catholic Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem of the Latins and Custodian of the Holy Land Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa released their Christmas messages in recent days.
Both messages made an appeal for increased efforts towards peace in the land where Jesus was born.
In his Dec. 21 message, Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem of the Latins offered a look at positive events and "the sufferings and the concerns" for the region in 2010.
He especially praised the forum offered by the Vatican's Synod for the Middle East last October. The two-week meeting, he said, gave Church leaders the ability to "put our fingers on our wounds and our fears, and at the same time express our expectations and our hopes."
One of the major concerns to emerge during the Synod was the protection of religious freedom in the Middle East and the importance of pursuing open dialogue and not resorting to violence. The message of the Synod served to call Christians to be active in public life and to build up their communities, said Patriarch Twal.
This call is especially powerful in Jerusalem, where many Christians are emigrating because of the violence between Palestine and Israel, he added.
He highlighted the Synod's emphasis on improving relations with other Christian denominations and religions in the Middle East and hoped that all segments of society would take part in efforts to improve relations.
Despite the failure of the most recent talks between Israel and Palestine, the patriarch remained hopeful about negotiations for peace and religious freedom in the Holy Land.
"We believe that nothing is impossible with God," Patriarch Twal said. The Church seeks "to carry out the wishes sang by the angels on Christmas night : 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests'."
He appealed for peace everywhere in the Middle East. "Peace is a gift of God," he said, repeating the words of Pope Benedict. "It is also the result of efforts by men of good will, of national and international institutions, all working together to put an end to all violence!"
In his Christmas message, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Franciscan custodian (guardian) of the Holy Land, turned to the words of St. Francis of Assisi.
He reminded people that the 13th-century saint and founder of the Franciscan order would greet others with the words "peace and good."
This greeting, he said, promotes the "eternal novelty of Christmas," bringing attention back to the truth of the message of Christ's birth.
The meaning of Christmas is not limited to the actual event of Jesus' birth 2,000 years ago, he said, but it is a yearly reminder that Jesus "waits for us to make room for him, waits to be born in our hearts," Fr. Pizzaballa said.
Fr. Pizzaballa called everyone to consider the Holy Land the "cradle" of God's design of love for all people and to feel a responsibility for it.
He hoped that, "welcomed by God's waiting" and transformed in him "we will then be able to listen – amid the noise of our confused reality – to the announcement of the Angels: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
"Christmas is an effort of conversion; it is accepting, answering God’s waiting." The Gospel calls humanity to hope until Christ's return, united in carrying his message forward, he said.
"Here is the need to look at creation, to look at the world, to look at the Middle East, and this Holy Land of 'ours' — the Land of God and the Land of Men — 'from above', through the eyes of God."