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"We Need Leaders Ready to Offer Their Lives for the Sake of Peace"

JERUSALEM, MARCH 22, 2008 (Zenit) - Here is the 2008 Easter message from the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michel Sabbah. The message was released Monday.

Archbishop Sabbah is retiring, after having turned 75 on Wednesday.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Christ is risen. Indeed He is risen!

I wish you all a Happy Easter full of God's grace. This will be my last Easter with you as I reach the age of 75 and retire. Yet, and as I have said in my last pastoral letter, I shall remain with you in my prayers and shall continue to accompany you in your happy moments and grievances. I shall work with every seeker of justice and peace until all the inhabitants of this land will live in security and tranquility, in the presence of God Almighty, merciful and full of love to all his creatures. For the sake of all our faithful in our Churches of Jerusalem, and all believers from all religions in this land, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Baha'is, I shall pray, and extend my love to all.

Christ is risen. Indeed he is risen! I pray and ask God to fill your hearts with the joy and hope of the Resurrection. We all live in a holy Land, the land of Revelation, Redemption and reconciliation between the peoples and reconciliation with God, the compassionate and forgiving. Unfortunately, this land remains a land of bloodshed, ignoring its own vocation and incapable of accepting it.

We have witnessed in the past few weeks the tragedy of over one million people in Gaza Strip and over one hundred martyrs who fell there; we also witnessed the victims of the Jewish religious school in Jerusalem; and we still witness every day Israeli incursions in the Palestinian cities and the killing of many Palestinians despite agreements with the Palestinian Authority. We can still hear the voices of anger following the killing of the four young men in their homes in Bethlehem a few days ago. All of these incidents form a chain of inhumane and futile violence, regardless of the party behind it. Facts on the ground prove that violence has failed to achieve the desired security. It remains an inhumane violence and an aggression against the human dignity of the one who is killed and the one who kills.

Of course, this is not the new life that we celebrate with every Easter. The states, the individuals, Israelis and Palestinians, after more than one century of conflict must understand that armies don't protect their peoples anymore, but expose them to more violence, fear and insecurity, because the weak and the oppressed have also their power that challenges the strong of this world. It is high time to learn the lessons of history and engage in the path of God; it is high time for every people and individual to accept the vocation entrusted by God to them, which is to build societies and not demolish them. Violence destroys and never builds. We are all capable of building because God granted us part of his goodness and power so we can uphold human societies that respect individuals and in which they must vi3ew each other as brothers and as God's creatures, equal in dignity, rights and duties. Violence can never be a way towards this. God created us and urged us to be perfect and holy as He is perfect and Holy. (cf Mt 5:48).

Despite this, there are hundreds of thousands in both the Palestinian and Israeli societies who send an outcry: peace... peace. And they are ready to make 'peace now'. But we see also extremists on both sides who are prisoners of their own ideologies and call in the name of God to kill their brothers, while God tells them all: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. We are in need of leaders who can make peace because this is the sole path to put an end to extremism and to start the true way towards security and tranquility. To say that peace is a risk that we cannot take means to keep all of us in the cycle of death and violence. The leaders have to choose between two paths: either peace or increasing extremism and insecurity. We need leaders who are ready to offer their lives for the sake of peace not leaders who issue orders to kill and assassinate and send others to kill or to get killed.

Christ is risen. Indeed he is risen! Amidst the difficult conditions which are worsening every day in our land and in the region, - we remember the death of the Archbishop of Mosul in Iraq and the lives of all Iraqis who have been living a daily tragedy since the declaration of war on Iraq. Amidst these difficult times, we celebrate Easter in Jerusalem and we tell you, brothers and sisters and all of you, men and women of good will: don't feel weak in front of the death forces working within our ranks. Saint Paul said: "You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear" (Romans 15:8), but you received the spirit of God to be strong, with the same strength of God and His love.

We celebrate the feast of the glorious Resurrection, which is the triumph of Jesus Christ over death and sin. God grants this power to every human being so that he can prevail over evil within his soul and the evil surrounding him. He grants us all the power to transform hatred and death into trust and love and life that was gifted to us through the Resurrection.

We believe in God and we believe that God is good and His goodness will one day defeat the evil of people who claim that they want to build and maintain security, while their actions transform security into a mirage. It is high time to take new security measures that respect the human being and bring him closer to peace rather than death.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is my last Easter Message as a Patriarch of the Holy Land. I have said earlier and I repeat: I shall continue to pray and walk with you on the difficult path of peace and justice, and on the path of sanctity that God requires from anyone who wants to live and rule this land. I wish everyone a Happy and Holy Easter and a new life full of the spirit and grace of God.

Christ is risen. Indeed He is risen!

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch

Jerusalem - March 17, 2008

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