ROME – Christian leaders in the Holy Land have called for an end to the current war in Gaza in their annual Christmas message, saying that the commemoration of Jesus’s birth, which itself occurred under a military occupation, is a sign that hope is present even amid darkness.
In a Dec. 21 Christmas message, the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem conveyed their Christmas greetings to believers around the world “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, born here in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago.”
“In extending these greetings, we are well aware that we do so during a time of great calamity in the land of our Lord’s birth,” they said, nothing that for the past two and a half months “the violence of warfare has led to unimaginable suffering for literally millions in our beloved Holy Land.”
The “ongoing horrors” of the war, they said, have brought “misery and inconsolable sorrow” to families throughout the 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,” they said.
War in the Holy Land erupted following an Oct. 7 sneak attack by Hamas against Israel that claimed 1,400 lives and during which around 250 others were taken hostage. Israeli military launched a counter-offensive in Gaza with the aim of destroying Hamas’s military capacity and removing them from power.
So far, an estimated 20,000 Palestinians in Gaza have reportedly been killed since Israel began its ground and air offensive, though exact numbers are difficult to verify due to the difficulty of accessing areas under fire.
Several religious sites have also been hit by rockets, including the 12th century Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church and Gaza’s small Catholic parish, Holy Family, as well as a convent belonging to the Missionaries of Charity attached to the parish.
At least 18 people died in the bombing of Saint Porphyrius church, including an employee of the Caritas charitable organization and her husband and young daughter.
On Saturday, two women, a mother and daughter, were shot and killed on the grounds of Holy Family church, with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, led by Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, saying the women had been killed by Israeli forces “in cold blood.”
The Missionaries of Charity convent was hit by a rocket that destroyed the generator used to power medical equipment for the 57 disabled people assisted there.
In a recent interview with Crux, Israeli Ambassador Raphael Schutz said that even if Israeli forces were responsible for the deaths of the two women, “this has not been done by malice, or intentionally, it was a mistake like others during the war,” and he also voiced “annoyance” at the patriarchate for accusing Israel of intentionally targeting civilians.
In their Christmas message, the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem lamented the death and destruction of the war, but said “it was into such a world that our Lord himself was born in order to give us hope.”
“Here, we must remember that during the first Christmas, the situation was not far removed from that of today,” they said, noting that Mary and Joseph had a difficult time finding a place for Jesus’s birth, and King Herod had ordered the slaying of infants in his attempt to kill the Messiah and cling to power.
There was a military occupation at the time, and the Holy Family itself, in fleeing to Egypt, was displaced and lived “as refugees.”
“Outwardly, there was no reason for celebration other than the birth of the Lord Jesus. Nevertheless, in the midst of such sin and sorrow, the Angel appeared to the shepherds announcing a message of hope and joy for all the world,” the church leaders said.
This message of hope was the announcement of the birth of the savior, they said, saying God came to earth “in order to save, redeem, and transform us.”
Jesus’s birth, they said, fulfills the prophecy that God would send an anointed one “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”
“This is the divine message of hope and peace that Christ’s Nativity inspires within us, even in the midst of suffering,” the message said.
Jesus himself, it said, “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.”
As Christmas approaches, the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem condemned “all violent actions” and appealed for an end to the war and for believers everywhere to seek God’s grace “so that we might learn to walk with each other in the paths of justice, mercy, and peace.”
They also offered a special work of thanks for all those assisting in relief efforts and those who are working for “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 indeed be born once again, beginning in Bethlehem and extending from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth – 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,’” they said.
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