The compassionate actions of human beings, not their claims against each other, reflect the will of God and the transforming power of Jesus the Prince of Peace, say the heads of the churches in Jerusalem this Christmastide.
The thirteen most senior Christian leaders in the region - representing the panoply of Eastern, Catholic, Anglican and Protestant traditions - highlight the division brought about by violence, injustice and communal separation - including the Wall dividing Plaestinians from Jews and from each other.
"If peace is to come to this Land it needs even greater effort from all concerned - ordinary citizens as well as political leaders", they write. "Christmas reminds us that God gave us the Prince of Peace to be born in Bethlehem so we must all seek that peace for everyone in this Holy Land, be they Palestinian or Israeli, Christian, Muslim, Jew or Druze."
Many Christians in the area say that talk of a Holy Land must give way to the quest for a Land of the Holy One, where the focus is on behaviour among the religions that truly reflects the life-giving of God, rather than the mystification of territory and its exclusive association with one kind of people.
They say it is vital to recognise biblical promises about land as a call for responsibility towards growing liberation not selfish expropriation.
The full text of the letter from the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem is as follows:
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
"He came to his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the [offspring] of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of human will, but of God." (St John 1.11-13)
1. Another Christmas is upon us and still we seek Peace for this Holy Land amidst continuing hardships. At the sane time it is important for us to reflect carefully on what the Evangelist is trying to put before us about God's gift to us of Jesus, born in Bethlehem's manger, together with the clear response God asks of each one of us.
Amidst our difficulties, we need to meditate upon what links us in the same time to God and this land. In this Land, we ask for our freedom, for the end of the Occupation. We mention the difficulties coming from "the Wall of Separation" that has transformed our cities into big prisons. With God, we are linked because our dignity comes from His dignity, and we are His children and the work of His hands. And we must keep in mind that it is not fleshly descent or human effort which makes us the children of God, and it is not human strength alone that makes us strong. Rather it is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God. Christmas reminds us that our faith is not only a human belonging to a group, or to a community different from the others by its religion, We are called to make a personal commitment to Jesus. Such a commitment tells the world and particularly those around us that we are prepared to witness and live by our reliance on Jesus the Word of God, born in Bethlehem, and who brought to us durable and firm peace in our hearts.
2. So often human beings believe they are capable of making peace through their own efforts; demanding conditions of their own choosing. However, when God gave us His Son to be born of a human mother and to experience all aspects of human life He did so in order that we might discern the way to resolve our difficulties from His example and teaching. Therefore we pray for ourselves in order to understand the strength God gave us when He gave us His Eternal Word born in Bethlehem. So we pray for our political leaders that God may inspire them and make them examine their conduct and demands in the light of God's commandments always remembering their own accountability to Him, in this very life and in the process of the conflict itself..
So dear Sisters and Brothers whilst we are truly conscious of the many problems of unemployment, poverty and frustration which many of you continue to face each day, we would still urge you to remember the words of the Apostle:
May "the peace of God rule in your hearts ..." and "the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." (Colossians 3. 15,16)
We as Christians must continue to offer our prayers to God for all those around us who are struggling to care for their families, not least the young children and the elderly. We rejoice with those families now enjoying the company of those recently released from prison whilst persisting in our efforts to encourage the release of thousands more who have the same right to have back their freedom and return to the joy of their families and children.
Amidst our sufferings, we share the sufferings of the others. We have a particular thought for the countless thousands across the world who have endured great disasters as a result of the devastating cyclones and subsequent floods of recent months. We pray for them. And for all of us we repeat the verse of the Gospel:
"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (St John 3.16)
3. To our Sisters and Brothers across the world: we are greatly encouraged by your continuing pilgrimages to this Land: we thank you for your presence with us. During your pilgrimage as well you learn at first hand of the difficulties of your fellow Christians here as well as following in the footsteps of our Blessed Lord. Thank you for your prayers and the many expressions of your love and care for everyone here.
If Peace is to come to this Land it needs even greater effort from all concerned - ordinary citizens as well as Political leaders. Christmas reminds us that God gave us the Prince of Peace to be born in Bethlehem so we must all seek that peace for everyone in this Holy Land, be they Palestinian or Israeli, Christian, Muslim, Jew or Druze. He tells us that we are able to make peace and overcome all obstacles with the power which the Prince of peace, born in Bethlehem, brought us.
We wish everyone a truly Happy Christmas and God's richest blessings on their homes and families.
Jerusalem, December 2007, Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem
Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem
Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Roman Catholic Latin
Patriarch Torkom I Manooghian, Armenian Orthodox
Fr Pierbattista Pizziballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox
Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian-Orthodox
Archbishop Abouna Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox
Archbishop Paul Sayyah, Maronite
Bishop Suhail Dawani, Anglican
Bishop Mounib Younan, Lutheran
Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian-Catholic
Bishop George Baker, Greek Catholic
Fr Rafael Minassian , Armenian Catholic