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Holy Land leaders: It wasn’t so different in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago

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SAID KHATIB | AFP

John Burger - published on 12/22/23

Annual Christmas message of the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem clings to hope. 2,000 years ago: There was the killing of children. There was military occupation. And there was the Holy Family becoming displaced as refugees.

The Christian leaders of the Holy Land have sent out Christmas greetings at a “time of great calamity in the land of our Lord’s birth.”

“Over the past two-and-a-half months, the violence of warfare has led to unimaginable suffering for literally millions in our beloved Holy Land,” said a statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem. “Its ongoing horrors have brought misery and inconsolable sorrow to countless families throughout our region, evoking empathetic cries of anguish from all quarters of the earth. For those caught in the midst of such dire circumstances, hope seems distant and beyond reach. Yet it was into such a world that our Lord himself was born in order to give us hope.”

The group consists of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land and others.

When Christ was born in Bethlehem, the situation was not much different from what it is in 2023, they said.

“The Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph had difficulty finding a place for their son’s birth. There was the killing of children. There was military occupation. And there was the Holy Family becoming displaced as refugees. Outwardly, there was no reason for celebration other than the birth of the Lord Jesus.”

Christ our hope

But there was still hope.

“In Christ’s Incarnation, the Almighty came to us as Immanuel, ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23), in order to save, redeem, and transform us,” the spiritual leaders said. “This was to fulfill the words of the Prophet Isaiah: ‘The LORD has anointed me . . . to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor’ (Isaiah 61:1–2a; Luke 4:18–19).

“This is the divine message of hope and peace that Christ’s Nativity inspires within us, even in the midst of suffering,” they continued. “For Christ himself was born and lived amid great suffering. Indeed, he suffered for our sake, even unto death upon a cross, in order that the light of hope would shine into the world, overcoming the darkness (John 1:5).”

It is in that spirit that the patriarchs and heads of Churches denounce all violent actions and call for their end, they said. “We likewise call upon the people of this land and around the globe to seek the graces of God so that we might learn to walk with each other in the paths of justice, mercy, and peace. Finally, we bid the faithful and all those of goodwill to work tirelessly for the relief of the afflicted and towards a just and lasting peace in this land that is equally sacred to the three Monotheistic Faiths.”

In these ways, the hope of Christmas will be born again, beginning in Bethlehem — “thus realizing the comforting words of Zechariah, that ‘the dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, guiding our feet into the way of peace’ (Luke 1:78–79).”

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