Lament over Israeli occupation at Easter Mass in Jerusalem

Copyright © 1998
Copyright © 1998 Agence France-Presse

JERUSALEM (April 12, 1998 09:31 a.m. EDT - The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, lamented the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli occupation in his Easter sermon Sunday as Israel reinforced security around the Old City on the Christian holy day.

Addressing several hundred faithful at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where tradition says Jesus was resurrected following his crucifixion and burial, Monsignor Sabbah decried the "siege and the limitation of freedom" imposed on the Palestinians.

"The land is tired from the absence of peace," said Sabbah, himself a Palestinian.

"You suffer body and soul from the general instability in your daily life. Many of you are bearing death or emigration in your hearts because of the siege and the limitation of freedom imposed on you," he said.

"With you, we say enough violence, enough blood and enough discrimination between the two peoples. But we ask you at the same time to be patient and to revive your hope.

"Our country, brothers and sisters, will have peace and justice when resurrection will live in the hearts of each one of us," he said.

Sabbah's theme was echoed by Pope John Paul II in his traditional Easter Sunday address to 50,000 Roman Catholic faithful in St Peter's Square in the Vatican City.

The Catholic pontiff issued a veiled denunciation of Israel's settlements policy in Jerusalem by calling for peace throughout the world but praying "particularly" for the holy city.

Pope John Paul said he prayed that the Easter message of peace would "be an inspiration to the leaders of the nations and to every person of good will, especially in the Middle East and particularly in Jerusalem, where peace is put at risk by dangerous political decisions."

Diplomats based in Rome said the call was a clear reference to the Israeli government's controversial policy of allowing new Israeli settlements around Jerusalem.

The settlements policy has angered Palestinians and come close to scuppering the peace process in the Middle East.

Outside the Jerusalem church which is Christianity's holiest site, thousands of pilgrims mixed with tourists and the local population in the narrow alleyways of the walled Old City.

Israeli police were on high alert over the weekend after the radical Islamic group Hamas threatened to attack Israel in revenge for the slaying two weeks ago of the movement's main bomb-maker, Mohieddin Sharif.

Police and army reinforcements were posted at entrances to the Old City and in other public places around Jerusalem, although the extra security presence was not felt in the immediate vicinity of the Holy Sepulchre.

Israel has denied any role in the slaying, a claim supported by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority which insists the killing was the work of rival Hamas militants as part of an internal power struggle.

But despite moves by Palestinian police to silence them, Hamas and its smaller rival Islamic Jihad both still insist the killing was carried out by Israeli agents with assistance from Palestinian security officials.

"The Jews are responsible for Sharif's death," Hamas official Maher Kharaz told a demonstration in the West Bank town of Nablus Saturday as almost 3,000 Palestinian students called for revenge against Israel.

Demonstrators burnt Israeli flags and set fire to a replica of an Israeli bus in a gesture recalling several deadly bus bombings by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) against Israeli targets.

By JOHAN BODIN, Agence France-Presse

Easter Message from the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

1. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is risen. He defeated death with death and gave us the power to experience eternal life during our life on earth, through the trials and difficulties which surround us every moment. "Since you have been raised up to be with Christ, you must look for the things that are above, where Christ is" (Col 3:1).

In this feast of the Lord's Resurrection, I wish holiness and blessing, to you all, dear brothers and sisters, in all the parts of our diocese, in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus.

2. In our joy and prayer, we cannot forget the suffering which is increasing for all, day after day, because of the absence of peace. We ask all our faithful in all parts of our diocese to remember in their prayers the difficult situation imposed upon their brothers and sisters in the Palestinian towns, where freedom remains limited and where the siege imposed upon them is reducing life and condemning it to a slow death. The promise of total freedom remains a pure promise. In the meanwhile, the fabric of society is beginning to disintegrate. Suffering, death, and emigration are going on and prisoners are waiting in their prisons to be given back their freedom and dignity.

The picture is dark. This is the reality. It is true that there is a brighter side to our spiritual and pastoral life. But the absence of peace is making every aspect of our life hard. Despite that, and also because of that, we say there is no alternative to peace, a true peace based on justice and dignity for every person, every community and people.

3. Total peace given to the Palestinian people is the only way which can pacify the hearts and bring a radical conversion in the minds of both peoples. It is difficult, if not impossible, to begin reconciliation as long as there are injustices imposed upon one party. It is this inequality which gives birth to violence. Total freedom to the Palestinian people is the only way which will put an end to all violence and which will produce security and make possible reconciliation among all..

4. Our message to our faithful is the following: the Christian in this difficult time must strengthen his faith through his meditation upon the values proclaimed by the Resurrection, in particular the message of hope. The strength of the Christian lies in himself and in his faith. The reasons of his weakness are also in himself. Aggression coming from outside, whoever be the aggressor, is not the cause of his weakness. The Christian is weak when he resigns, when he fills his heart with fear, and forgets the spiritual strength and power of spiritual resistance and the hope he was given. In the presence of God no aggression can shake us. "I shall delight in God, rejoice in him who saved me" (Ps 35,9). Brothers and sisters, despite all the trials we are experiencing, we urge you to be patient, to live up to your faith and to keep your hope strong in God. He will rescue "the poor from the oppressor, the needy from the exploiter" (Ps 35,10).

5. In this week, Muslims celebrate the Adha or feast of the Sacrifice and the Jews celebrate the Pasch. Feasts are moments of prayer and faith which recall to our minds that our destiny is to be brothers and sisters, all of us, Jews, Muslims. and Christians. The alternative will only be disputes, violence and bloodshed.

Dear brothers and sisters, pray during this Holy Week that every human being may enjoy his full freedom and dignity in his house, on his land and before God. This should be our prayer, on Holy Friday before the mystery of the Cross, and on the day of the Resurrection as we are filled with spiritual joy. Before God we will stand all together, Jews, Muslims, and Christians. We will pray for all, for the good of all. May God bestow his favors and blessings upon us all.

6. I ask God to fill you with his Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love and strength combined. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen. Happy and holy Easter. Amen.

+Michel Sabbah, Patriarch Jerusalem, Easter 12 April 1998