JERUSALEM (Catholic Online) – Lent is a time for Holy Land Christians to gather strength to be the leaven to “a true resistance” that will end the evil of occupation in Palestine, said Jerusalem’s Catholic Latin-rite patriarch.
In an Lenten message, dated Feb. 21, Ash Wednesday, to the faithful of Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus, Patriarch Michel Sabbah said that Lent reminds Holy Land Christians that the circumstances in which they live in “can be one of death or of new life” and that they are called to “transform it into a situation of new life.”
Lent provides the Christian the opportunity, through fasting and other Lenten practices, to “search for the will of God and his providence in the midst of the trials we are undergoing” as well as to “renew out love for one another,” he said.
Christians are called to “go to the desert of Jericho” as Jesus did to fast and pray before bringing his message of peace to the world, Patriarch Sabbah said.
Yet today, he stressed, “Jericho is a small prison city, like all the other Palestinian cities.”
He pointed to the Israeli occupation and its restrictions on Palestinian freedoms, the conflict between Palestinian factions within the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and the “non-response or the inability” of the international community to respond to the voices of the region begging for peace.
“We are called to a difficult life in the midst of a conflict that still continues in Palestine and that has repercussions in the other countries of our diocese, Israel and Jordan: the occupation and all that it implies, the restrictions on our freedom, the wall, the military checkpoints, the deprivations, the Israeli soldiers who, at any time, enter our Palestinian cities, kill people, take prisoners, uproot trees, and destroy houses,” the patriarch said.
“Add to that,” he said, “the lack of vision within Palestinian society, and the lack of security which is exploited by some who permit themselves to disobey the laws and to oppress their brothers, especially those who bear arms and who use them to oppress and to steal the money of others.
“The internal struggles,” he added, “are not going away.”
Holy Land Christians should draw on Lent to “encounter God in solitude,” to come to see “the face of God in everyone” and to begin the work of meeting with others to “overcome the conflict,” Patriarch Sabbah said.
“With the presence of God in our midst,” he said, “we will see how to transform trials and oppressions into love for each other, which will give us more strength, a strength that will unite us more and that will allow us to carry out a true resistance whose purpose will not be to destroy the adversary or to fill our hearts with rancor against him, but to put an end to the evil of occupation, with all of its oppression.”
Only through such an effort, he stressed, can there begin “a new life for everyone, the occupied as well as the occupiers.”
Drawing on the image of the desert, Patriarch Sabbah said that Lenten practices of fasting and prayer enable reconciliation with God, but stressed that “reconciliation with God cannot take place without reconciliation with all of God’s children, our brothers and sisters, friends and enemies.”
“We fast in order to renew our acceptance of the faith with all of its liberating force and its demands because the vocation to be leaven, salt and light is a vocation to a difficult life,” he said.
He called on the region’s Catholics to not abandon the Holy Land in its time of trial, but to be present to work to “transform life into the sharing of goods and sacrifices” between Jews, Druze, Muslims and Christians.
“The vocation to be leaven in the dough of Jesus’ own land requires that we stay in this land, even though life in other lands might be easier,” he said.
“The vocation to be leaven is a vocation to live the commandment of love in order to forgive, while at the same time demanding all the rights that have been lost,” the Jerusalem prelate said.
Hoping that Lent would be “a source of renewal,” the patriarch asked that God grant Holy Land Christians “the gift of loving life despite the difficult circumstances in which he sent you to build a new life and a new society for all.”
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