Patriarchs and other heads of churches in Jerusalem have published a joint Easter message announcing their “joy” over the holy day. At the same time, they remembered those suffering from violence in the Holy Land and called for prayers for peace.
“We urge all Christians to pray for reconciliation among people in the Holy Land, where the deteriorating situation makes peace and justice seem further away than ever before,” they said. “We find sadness competes with the joy of Easter as we witness the violence which has erupted in the face of peaceful demonstrations by people throughout the Arab world these past months.”
Violence reminds Christians that the cross of Christ is “ever present for the faithful followers of the Prince of Peace.” The crucifixion is “an ongoing reality” for many Christians who “continue to seek to live with mutual understanding and co-operation with their neighbors.”
“Christians find their joy is secure in the hope of the promise of eternal life which our Lord has won for all who believe,” the churchmen explained. “However, when we in Jerusalem, the city of redemption, see the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere in our region our joy becomes more solemn.”
Anti-Christian violence and a lack of government protection in Iraq have driven hundreds of thousands of Christians to leave the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. In Egypt, the Christian community has also faced attacks.
A month-long uprising in Syria has challenged the rule of President Bashar Assad and recent demonstrations by tens of thousands of protesters in Damascus resulted in clashes with police. At least 200 people have been killed.
“We Christians are watching in prayer the developments in the Middle East,” the church leaders said. They prayed that reforms lead to a “modern civil society” that respects freedom of expression, freedom of religion and human rights.
“Our Lord died for the sins of the whole world that all people will see in his example how violence only leads to death and destruction. In his resurrection we experience his victory over violence and death and we embrace a vision of the future in which all people live together in harmony.”
The church leaders also emphasized the hope of Easter.
“The cross is ever before us day by day and the cross is empty,” they commented. “New life has come. Christ is risen. We are risen. Alleluia. Thanks be to God.”
Signatories to the statement included Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarch Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Maronite Patriarchal Exarch Archbishop Paul Sayyah, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch Bishop Pierre Malki, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch Fr. Rafael Minassian and Holy Land Custodian Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM.
Patriarchs and archbishops from the Orthodox Churches and Episcopal and Lutheran bishops also signed the statement.