Opinion

A Festival to Bring Hearts Together

Christmas symbolizes unity, coexistence, new beginnings and hope. Now is the time for the followers of all three religions living in the Land of Israel – Jews, Christians and Muslims – to learn how to find and strengthen a sense of unity

Kids kiss each other ahead of the an annual "Christmas Run" in Mi'ilya, a Christian Arab village in northern Israel December 21, 2018
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

Today, the entire Christian world celebrates one of its most important and holy festivals: Christmas. We are celebrating this holiday, which unites Christians around the world, just a few weeks after Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights that symbolizes the unity of the Jewish people. These two festivals sanctify and glorify the symbol of light, a clear universal symbol whose significance can immediately be understood by everyone.

We all need light in our lives. We need a light that increases day by day, illuminating our journey, our relationships, our choices, our conscience.

Emerging from darkness into light is also a sign of the coming of hope. This is similar to the hope that fills our hearts with the birth of a child, a wonderful and moving event that represents not only the miracle of the creation of life, but also its fragility and tenderness. Every birth is a gift of life, one that requires us to accept with love and happiness what life holds in store for us in the course of our lifetime.

In the Latin Liturgy for Christmas Eve, we read a text from the prophet Isaiah that unites these two images, light and birth, which together bring us moments of joy, happiness and thanks to God for our continued endurance into the next generations.

In our Christian interpretation, this prophecy is fulfilled in the story of Jesus’ birth, but the prophecy itself is a powerful poetic allegory that can speak to everyone. The words of the prophecy have many meanings, but these are always bound together in messages of hope and love.

The sacred texts of both Judaism and Christianity help us to understand the significance of Hanukkah and the significance of Christmas in our two ancient religions, which have so much in common.

Today, Christmas Day, there will be solemn festive masses and prayers throughout the world, and the holiday will be marked in Israel by tens of thousands of Christians, whether speaking Arabic or Hebrew, immigrants, migrants or pilgrims.

At the same time, countless Christians around the world today look to Israel, the Holy Land, and its sacred sites with a great sense of love, and offer up a special prayer for peace, dialogue, reconciliation and brotherhood among all nations.

In the 800 years that we have been here as Franciscans, we see evidence of God’s divine providence, faith, and goodness towards us. We are constantly working to keep the holy places accessible to all, where everyone will be welcome. We believe that the holy places should be a focus for sharing our deepest values, where we can find inspiration to build a bridge in our hearts toward others, places of education for a life full of meaning, each according to our own faith.

Christmas symbolizes unity, coexistence, new beginnings and hope. And for this reason, it is particularly important at this time for the followers of all three religions living in the Land of Israel – Jews, Christians and Muslims – to learn how to find and strengthen a sense of unity, brotherhood and mutual bonds for a culture of peace. In the Holy Land it is fitting that there should continue to be coexistence between Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and from here I wish to convey a message to the entire world, a message of peace and brotherhood between all religions and all peoples. May Christmas symbolize the beginning of a new era among all peoples, an era of peace, brotherhood and prosperity.

On behalf of the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land (Custodia Terrae Sanctae), I wish all of Israel a year of tolerance, cooperation, brotherhood and peace, based on truth, justice, charity and freedom.

Father Francesco Patton, Order of Friars Minor, is Custos of the Holy Land.