Brothers and Sisters,

I wish you all a Blessed Christmas.

"The grace and love of God have appeared to us" (Titus 3, 4).

We joyfully celebrate Christmas, hoping to see better days in our Holy Land, by the grace of God, by our own contribution to bring peace to this land and by sharing in all the sacrifices that it requires. For this reason, at Christmas, we renew our faith in the One in whom we have believed, the Word of God made man, Jesus born in Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace, and the Savior of humankind. He became man in order to bring us back to God our Creator and to let us know that we are not alone, that we are not abandoned to ourselves as we face the numerous challenges of this Holy Land.

Because God is with us, we remain hopeful in the midst of all the daily difficulties we experience as a result of the occupation and of the insecurity and deprivations that arise from it. God is with us, reminding us that the commandment of love, which was given to us by Jesus, born in Bethlehem, still remains valid for the difficult times in which we are living today: our love for one another and for every man and woman. This love consists in seeing the image of God in every human being, of every religion and nationality.

It is a love that knows how to forgive and, at the same time, to demand all our rights, especially those given by God to each person and to the entire community, such as the gift of life, of dignity, of freedom, and of the land. A love that requires from every one to care for one another. A love that is dedication and sharing with all who suffer from deprivation and poverty so that the same life, which God has given to all of us, may be lived to the fullest, namely, the "abundant life" that Jesus came to give us.

Again this year, we celebrate Christmas still searching for a peace that seems impossible. Nevertheless, we believe that peace is possible. Palestinians and Israelis are capable of living together in peace, each in their own territory, each enjoying their security, their dignity, and their rights. But to attain that peace, it is necessary to believe that Israelis and Palestinians are equal in all things, that they have the same rights and the same duties, and that both parties must adopt the ways of God, which are not the ways of violence, whether they be carried out by the state or by extremists.

The entire region, because of the conflict in the Holy Land, is in turmoil. In Lebanon, in Iraq, as well as here, the forces of evil seem to have been unleashed and to have decided to pursue their course along paths leading to death, exclusion, and domination. Despite all of this, we believe that God has not abandoned us to all these forces of evil. The situation beckons every man and woman of good will to enter into the ways of God in order to establish the reign of good among peoples as well as a sense of and a respect for every human being.

We believe that God is good. He is our Creator and Savior, and he has placed his goodness in the heart of every human being. Therefore, everyone is capable of working for good and peace on the earth.

A new peace effort was begun these last few weeks. In order for it to succeed, there must be a firm willingness to make peace. Until now, there has been no peace, simply because there has been no willingness to make it: "Peace, peace! they say, though there is no peace" (Jer 6, 14).

The strong party, the one with everything in hand, the one who is imposing occupation on the other, has the obligation to see what is just for everyone and to carry it out courageously. "O God, with your judgment endow the king," with your justice endow our governments so that they can govern your people with justice (Ps 72).

In recent times, there has been some talk about creating "religious" states in this land. But in this land, which is holy for three religions and for two peoples, religious states cannot be established because they would exclude or place in an inferior position the believers of the other religions. A state that would exclude or discriminate against the other religions is not suitable for this land made holy by God for all of humanity.

Political and religious leaders must begin by understanding the universal vocation of this land in which God has brought us together throughout history. They must know that the holiness of this land does not consist in the exclusion of one or the other of the religions, but in the ability of each religion, with all of their differences, to welcome, respect, and love all who inhabit this land.

The holiness and the universal vocation of this land also includes the duty to welcome pilgrims from around the world, those who come for a short visit, and those who come to reside, to pray, to study, or to perform the religious ministry to which the faithful of all religions have a right. For many years, we have been suffering from a problem that has never been solved, that of entry visas into the country for priests and for religious men and women who, in this land, because of their faith, have duties to perform as well as rights.

Every state in this land is not a state like all others because it has special duties stemming from the holiness of the land and from its universal vocation. A state in this land must understand that it must respect and promote the universal vocation of the land with which it has been entrusted and, accordingly, must be open to welcoming all believers of other religions.

I pray to God that the grace of Christmas, the grace of the God who is present with us, will enlighten all the leaders of this land. For all our faithful, in all parts of our diocese, may the grace of Christmas renew their faith and help them to live it more fully and to better carry out all their duties in their respective societies.

May you all have a Joyful and Holy Christmas.

The writer is Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch.