Patriarch Fouad Twal
Homily - January 1, 2013
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
World Day of Peace
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
dear Fathers, dear Sisters, dear Friends,
Thank you for coming together to start the year 2013. I greet all of you with my best wishes for peace within us and peace around us. The greetings we mutually exchange commit us to work together, so that together, in the joys and struggles, in successes and failures, we can live this new year in the service of Mother Church, sharing with each other, our gifts, charism, and prayers. For this reason, I promptly express and reaffirm my appreciation and gratitude, because you have done so much. Nor can we forget those who have left us over the last year. May prayer unite us on earth and in heaven.
As you know, in the Catholic Church, January 1st is World Day of Peace. This day is dedicated to the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Mother. She will know better than anyone to intercede for her sons and daughters who live in the Holy Land and who desire peace in the Middle East. For today’s special celebration, Pope Benedict XVI sent a message full of wisdom and petition, the theme of which is taken from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Mt 5:9) The Holy Father invites all men and women of good will to work together to build a society with a more human and sympathetic expression. In this perspective, the Pope has devoted much of his message to “true” workers of peace, namely, “those who love, defend and promote life in its entirety.” His annual Message encourages each of us to feel responsible for building peace.
What I want to share with you is a small and practical vademecum (handbook) offered to us by Pope Benedict XVI for a commitment by Catholics to social, economic and political life, based on the Beatitudes. He provides a tool for reflection to overcome “violent conflicts” and “the hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.”
The Pope does not fail to reference the “varied forms of terrorism and international crime, fundamentalism and fanaticism, which distort the true nature of religion.” Our Middle East and our beloved Holy Land suffer from the escalation of religious fundamentalism, which endangers the prospects of dialogue and coexistence among religions.
For the Holy Father, the answer to these challenges relating to peace is found precisely in the Beatitudes, from which, it is possible to build a society “based on truth, freedom, love and justice.” But, he adds, true peace is “the gift of God and the work of man.” In his book “Jesus of Nazareth”, Pope Benedict also comments on the Sermon on the Mount. With regard to the seventh Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God,” he points out that “this brings to the fore a connection between divine Sonship and the kingship of peace.” He continues: “Jesus is the Son, and he is truly the Son… Establishing peace is part of the very essence of Sonship.. The seventh Beatitude thus invites us to be and to do what the Son does, so that we ourselves may become ‘sons of God.’ This applies, the Pope continues, first of all in the context of each person’s life … Only the man who is reconciled with God can also be reconciled and in harmony with himself, and only man who is reconciled with God and with himself can establish peace around him and throughout the world … That there be peace on earth (Lk 2:14), is the will of God and, for that reason, it is a task given to man as well.”
The shepherds were the first to believe in the words of the angels: “Peace to men.” Peace among peoples can only be born and develop if it is first in every person, every family, every religious community, in every nation. Beyond the manger of Bethlehem, we must take a comprehensive look at the Holy Land. The successful outcome of the UN vote of Palestine as non-member State should promote peace throughout the land of Christ. With you, I am of the opinion that all means to achieve peace must come through justice and dialogue, and never through violence. The path itself is full of obstacles, but hope guides us and the song of the angels reassures us.
Two weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI received in audience, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and invited the various Middle Eastern concerned parties present to have the “courage of reconciliation and peace.” Commenting on his visit to the Vatican, President Abbas told me of his amazement at seeing the joy of the Holy Father over the vote in favor of the State of Palestine.
How fervently we long for peace in Syria and an end to the blockade of Gaza! Let us pray without ceasing to encourage benevolent people to persevere to the end in their efforts of saying ‘NO’ to hatred and respecting legitimate religious, cultural and historical differences.
We Christians in the Middle East must be peacemakers, instruments of reconciliation. Here we have our place. Our history teaches us the important and essential role often played by the Christian communities in interreligious and intercultural dialogue. For this, we joyfully welcome the initiatives that unite us as Christians and that give us more strength. We have decided this year to celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar. Anglicans and Lutherans have joined this initiative. I hope that one day the Orthodox will make a courageous step to celebrate Christmas according to our Gregorian calendar.
The shepherds were the first worshipers and the first heralds of the Good News of salvation. The Gospel tells us: “And when they saw this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child” (Luke 2:17). God had chosen them as the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus. Filled with the love and peace of God, they returned to their fields, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.
In the wake of the Synod on the New Evangelization, it is up to us today to be these shepherds starting again from the beginning, from the manger of Bethlehem. During this Year of Faith that the Church gives us to live, may we be faithful to the Child of the manger as were the shepherds. In this Year of Faith, we may ask ourselves: “Lord, increase our faith” (Lk 17:5).
Lord, increase our understanding and cooperation.
Lord, increase in us unity and communion. Amen.
A Happy New Year of peace to all!
+ Fouad Twal
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
Source: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem