26 July 2016
Archbishop Michel Sabbah served as the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1987 to 2008, working tirelessly to promote peace and justice in the Holy Land. (photo: CNEWA archives)
When he was named Archbishop and Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1987, Michel Sabbah made history. He was the first non-Italian to hold the position. But he knew the region intimately, growing up in a Palestinian Christian family in the hometown of Jesus, Nazareth.
He became a tireless advocate for peace, reconciliation and justice in the Holy Land — themes he echoed in 1989 when, breaking from tradition, he delivered a stirring and eloquent homily during Midnight Mass in Bethlehem:
We pray for peace and justice in our Holy Land which has been bathed in the blood and the torment of its children for many years, but particularly in these last two years.
First, we address our children in Bethlehem — all the Palestinian people. We say to them: We are living your ordeal and we understand your torment. We understand why you ask us how it is that we can celebrate Christmas, its joy, its message of salvation, in the midst of this humiliating ordeal, of ransacked homes, of children who are killed and imprisoned?
To you we say: In spite of this ordeal, your dark night, and in fact because of it, we will continue to announce to you the joy of the Savior who has been born for the salvation of all.
We invite you to contemplate the Savior to reflect on God and his eternal Word. We invite you to gaze upon the spirit, which is the revelation of the kindness and love of God, in order to renew your faith in God and in mankind. In spite of all misfortune which surrounds you, there are men of goodwill, there is goodness in humanity and in all people. This goodness will finally overcome evil.
We also say to you who are suffering this ordeal and this dark night, to prepare yourselves for love and for forgiveness.
The love in your hearts will save you and render you just — the love for God and for those who cause you torment. For it is when each one discovers the face of God in his adversary that justice and peace will be established.
During his years as patriarch, he served for a time as International President of Pax Christi, spoke out in support of Palestinian rights and called for an end to Israeli occupation. His efforts on behalf of peace and justice in the Holy Land have continued after his retirement in 2008. He works closely with the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and in 2009 launched Kairo Palestine, a movement advocating for the end of Israeli occupation and a just solution to the crisis in his homeland.
His concern and love for all those who suffer in the land we call “holy” marks Michel Sabbah as a kindred spirit and close collaborator of CNEWA — and, indeed, one of our heroes.