Monday, January 05, 2009

Amid Gaza's Suffering, a Cry for Peace

As the Israeli ground operations in Gaza enter their fourth day, a plea for prayers from inside the combat-zone:
In a message to participants in a special Mass for peace at St. Stephen Church in Jerusalem Jan. 4, Msgr. Manuel Musallam, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Gaza City, wrote: "What you see on television cannot be compared to what is happening. The word love is choking in my throat. ... We are living like animals in Gaza. We cry and nobody hears us. I am asking God for mercy and pray that the light of Christianity continues to shine in Gaza."

Church leaders from the Holy Land attended the Mass at St. Stephen's while local and international Christians gathered elsewhere in Israel and the West Bank to pray for a halt to the violence in Gaza. When Israel began its military operation in Gaza in late December, the heads of Christian churches in the Holy Land called for Jan. 4 to be a day of prayer for peace.

At St. Stephen's, retired Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem said the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip means death for both sides.

"What is happening now is death for Palestinians as well as Israelis," Patriarch Sabbah said at the Mass. "What is happening in Gaza has made us all come to pray and join in a prayer that says stop the massacre. We are calling to God to look at Gaza and see what is happening there and to all of us."

Peace only can come through justice, not war, he said.

"We are looking at ourselves and we are not doing our best. Israel should stop this and will stop, but then after this destruction there will be more destruction," he said.

He called on Palestinians to realize that the only way to regain their freedom and independence is through nonviolent means....

In a center pew of St. Catherine's [in Bethlehem], Victor Zoughbi knelt in prayer.

He told Catholic News Service after Mass he was praying "not just for the people in Gaza but also for those in Tel Aviv. Every (Israeli) soldier going into Gaza now has a mother who is sitting glued to the television with her heart in her throat. He who truly has God in his heart loves everybody."
And as he prepares to celebrate the 12th day of Christmas come morning, a relevant passage from B16's Midnight Mass homily:
The medieval theologian William of Saint Thierry once said that God – from the time of Adam – saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man, that we felt limited in our own being and threatened in our freedom. Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child. He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now – this God who has become a child says to us – you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.

With these thoughts, we draw near this night to the child of Bethlehem – to the God who for our sake chose to become a child. In every child we see something of the Child of Bethlehem. Every child asks for our love.... The Child of Bethlehem summons us once again to do everything in our power... to do everything possible to make the light of Bethlehem touch the heart of every man and woman. Only through the conversion of hearts, only through a change in the depths of our hearts can the cause of all this evil be overcome, only thus can the power of the evil one be defeated. Only if people change will the world change; and in order to change, people need the light that comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly entered into our night.

And speaking of the Child of Bethlehem, let us think also of the place named Bethlehem, of the land in which Jesus lived, and which he loved so deeply. And let us pray that peace will be established there, that hatred and violence will cease. Let us pray for mutual understanding, that hearts will be opened, so that borders can be opened. Let us pray that peace will descend there, the peace of which the angels sang that night.
PHOTO: AP/Khalil Hambra