“The Almighty makes himself small in the child of Bethlehem. This message calls everyone towards the mystery of God’s closeness to humanity. Welcoming this mystery means welcoming the experience of feeling loved by Him, receiving the peace and redemption He bestows upon us.” These words encompass the meaning of Christmas that world Christians will be celebrating in the coming days. From Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the Custos of the Holy Land Father Francesco Patton, sends out a message in the form of an appeal for peace and redemption of mankind.
Father Patton, what is the value of “redemption” in a region shattered by conflicts and tensions like the Holy Land? It has the same value it had when Jesus was born over 2000 years ago. Even then, this Land was going through difficulties and tensions. Jesus’ message of salvation requires us to give deep meaning to our lives, to change our mindset and see each other as brothers and sisters. It’s the foundation of all avenues of peace.
Christian salvation is not of a political nature. The Kingdom of God “is not down here.”
It’s a leaven and a yeast that prompts a change in attitude, in political systems, introducing a different understanding of life in which God is near us. He became poor for us, to make us rich; He died and rose again to give us life. Salvation occurs on a transcendent plane but its impact is concrete.
Christmas is also a historical event that challenges non-believers. What is the best approach to live the birth of Christ in full? To welcome Christ, as believers, means welcoming the Son of God who decided to share our life in order to change it from the inside. We call that change Salvation.
For a non-believer Christmas is the mystery of life. A newborn child stirs us by asking to be welcomed, to receive gestures of love, he needs his mother’s milk and human warmth.
Christmas encompasses the mystery of life as a gift, the mystery of human fragility and of our responsibility towards all those who are “small”.
It’s the time of the year when we look back: 2017 has been a year full of events for the Holy Land and the entire Middle East. The walls remained and grew higher than before, regional tensions, some of which diminished, as those in Syria and Iraq, are ready to re-explode and trigger new conflicts and tragedies… In 2017 we registered the last ditch effort of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. But there are areas where heavy fighting is ongoing, as Yemen. We need to learn that all peace processes are fragile and require the involvement of an international community that lives up to its responsibilities.
All stakeholders with a determining role in the peace processes must act on it by pursuing the path of negotiations.
The alternative is a resurgence of tensions. The international community and its most powerful leaders have the responsibility to work in this direction. Also Christians must feel more involved…
In what way? We must have greater faith in the power of prayer. Many times we pray for peace without believing it to be possible. Many times prayers are said with insufficient faith. If all Christians prayed with greater faith I am sure that the peace process would be resumed.
Everyone must do his share. Those with political responsibilities should intervene with agreements and diplomatic talks; men and women of faith should pray and foster a culture of peace; those with responsibilities in the area of communication should make greater efforts to highlight the positive – and not only the negative – steps; those with economic responsibilities should help Countries overcome conflicts and contribute to their reconstruction.
2017 was also the year of the historic restoration of the Holy Sepulchre, with great ecumenical value, and of the 800th anniversary of the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land…
These are positive steps that are rightfully remembered.
The progress of ecumenism in the Holy Land is extremely encouraging, marked by frequent meetings and by the efforts made by all the Churches to speak with one voice, as in the recent issue on Jerusalem.
The 800th anniversary of Franciscan presence in the Holy Land is important in view of the meaning of that presence based on Gospel witness, which led us to retrace many Holy Places visited by pilgrims today.
This year that is coming to an end experienced a resumption of pilgrimages. Is it a trend reversal after the decline of the past years? In the past few days the pilgrims have been a source of concern: after having seen a few images of clashes on television, many of them got scared and cancelled their trip. But it’s fundamental that they visit the Holy Land. Pilgrimages are an experience of faith and trust, the journey is motivated by faith in God. The Holy Places are safe, pilgrims incur no risk and they are the object of utmost attention and respect by everyone. They represent an encouragement to the local Christian community also in economic terms.
My message to the pilgrims is: don’t be afraid and show your closeness to the Christian community of the Holy Land.
What is your prayer for the coming Christmas? What will you ask God for the world and for the Holy Land? To resonate the chants of praise of the Angels “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests!”