Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we celebrate Christmas this year, I must admit my profound sadness and concern for the people in the land of Jesus, the Holy Land, who remain at war. From the vile and horrific slaughter on October 7th of Israeli civilians by members of Hamas in southern Israel, to the relentless bombings and strikes in Gaza, the entire situation has been a tragic loss of human life.
Tradition holds that when the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph escaped the wrath of King Herod, making their way to Egypt as refugees, they passed through what is now Gaza City. Hence, the parish in Gaza City is named Holy Family Catholic Church.
In my many visits to the Holy Land, I was often part of a delegation of bishops from various countries. Our group was commissioned by the Vatican to promote dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis, and to promote the two-state solution – with Palestinians having their own state living side by side in security and peace with the Israelis. While the two-state solution may seem a remote possibility these days, the prophets encourage us to envision even a most unlikely peace with the coming of the Lord: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.” (Is 11:6). We must never cease to pray for this peace!
In dialoguing with a variety of persons in both Israel and Palestine in recent years, I came to realize how dynamic democracy is in Israel and that a variety of Israeli voices recognize the need to dialogue and build peace with Palestinians. There were valiant efforts at doing this. Yet, there were other Israeli efforts that systematically thwarted the dignity of Palestinians, among them Palestinian Christians (Orthodox and Catholic). I witnessed these daily indignities firsthand.
In one of my many visits to Gaza with a small delegation of bishops, we had the opportunity to visit students in the three Catholic schools in Gaza City. As we dialogued with the teens at the high school, they recounted to us their experience of the then-recent war (2014). They spoke to us of their daily fears as they heard explosions from rocket fire, of their fear of running out of food or water as they hunkered down in their modest homes. Before we left, one young teen stood and shared with the bishops that he had been recounting his daily experiences of the war on social media. Someone from Europe asked him if his family was safe, if they had food and water to survive. The teen responded, “Thanks be to God, we are okay. We have food and water. But what we need is dignity.”
Palestinians need safety and dignity. Israelis need safety and dignity. Let us pray to the Prince of Peace this Christmas for peace in the land that he once inhabited and made holy.
Bishop Oscar Cantú