Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I most often address local issues in my pastor’s letter because it is not my place to pontificate about politics or international affairs. However, the current conflict in the Middle East is an issue of interest for all people of the three Abrahamic faiths.
The three Abrahamic faiths are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jews look to Abraham as their Father of Faith through their descent from Abraham’s son Isaac. Muslims look to Abraham as their Father of Faith through Ishmael, Abraham’s son by his concubine Hagar. Christians regard Abraham as our Father of Faith by being grafted into Judaism through the New Covenant established by Christ’s redemptive work in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
Consequently, what happens in the Holy Land—where these three faiths share common ground—is important to everyone who adheres to these three faiths. This was impressed upon me especially during my recent sabbatical in Jerusalem. Every day I would walk through the old city to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher—the site of Our Lord’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. To do so I made my way through the Muslim quarter guarded by uniformed and armed Israeli soldiers. We were regularly warned of violence within various parts of Jerusalem as tempers flared between Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
What should be our response to the troubles in Israel? Firstly, we are called to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Ironically, the name “Jerusalem” actually means “foundation of peace”. While we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we are aware that, from a human point of view, peace seems impossible. The deep roots of resentment, rivalry and revenge are too deep for quick or easy solutions. While we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we should also do what we can to assist the victims of violence and war.
While we may have compassion on all who suffer it is impossible to assist everyone. During my visits to Bethlehem, I became aware of one group of people who suffer in the present conflicts who are neglected. These are the Palestinian Christians. It is important to distinguish these Palestinians from Muslim Palestinians—and certainly from the Islamic terrorists.
The Palestinian Christians are descendants of the first Christians in the Middle East. Our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters (the majority of them either Catholics or in communion with the Latin Church) are marginalized and persecuted by the Muslim Palestinians because they are Christian and restricted and distrusted by the Israeli authorities because they are Palestinian.
The friends I made during my time actually live in Bethlehem. Last Christmas we took a special collection for them. I would like to do so at the Christmas masses again this year—knowing that in this small, personal way, while we may not be able to solve the complex problems, we can at least help to ease the suffering of those afflicted by the repercussions of war.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,