JERUSALEM — Likening the worsening situation in the Middle East to the long night of Christmas Eve when the Holy Family could find no place to rest, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal urged the faithful not to succumb to despair but rather to maintain their faith and hopes for peace, justice and reconciliation.
"That historic night reminds us of the long night into which our world and the Middle East are plunged," Patriarch Twal said in his homily at the midnight Mass celebrated at St. Catherine Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity. "We must never give in to despair, because Jesus, our Savior, has told us that peace is possible, that the flame of hope remains alive, that justice and reconciliation will come. It is from Bethlehem that the message of salvation came; and we turn our gaze toward Bethlehem. For on this night is renewed the divine promise, sung by the angels: 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'"
The patriarch said Christians were "invited to be optimistic and to renew our faith that this land, home of the three monotheistic religions, will one day become a haven of peace for all people."
Faith illuminates and guides one's vision and decisions in the right direction, he added.
"The light of the faith can illuminate every aspect of our life, our present and our future. Faith intensifies our vision, more deeply, sees. Consequently, faith is a kind of wisdom that enables us to make the right decisions at the right time," he said.
Though the difficult reality in the Holy Land raises many questions about the future, he said, the answer should not be emigration or isolation.
"We need the answer of faith," he said. "It consists in staying here and in living and dying here. Our land is holy and deserves our attachment to it, for our presence in this land is a divine vocation, a blessing and a privilege. The flame of faith burns strongly here, like the star of the Magi, to guide us. We need the comfort that comes from our absolute faith in the providence of God."
With this faith in God, knowing that he "is all-powerful, all-knowing, faithful (and) he loves us," faith is strengthened, he said.
"That is why nothing should frighten us, neither the present, nor the future, nor the troubles that affect our Middle East," Patriarch Twal said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also attended the Mass.
Patriarch Twal prayed for the world's children and for the safe return of the Syrian religious and bishops who have been kidnapped and for a better future for the suffering Syrian refugees.
Noting the bloodshed and civil wars throughout the world, the patriarch quoted Pope Francis' message for the 47th World Day of Peace and said: "No one has the right to kill in the name of God."
"The peace of Christ is universal and founded in justice. It leads us to recognize each person as a creature of God. It is a peace that is life-giving," Patriarch Twal said, quoting the pope.