Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Archbishop Michel Sabbah, elected Latin patriarch of Jerusalem in 1988, is resigning today, on his 75th birthday.
Originally from Nazareth, Archbishop Sabbah was the first Palestinian to become head of the patriarchate of Jerusalem. The patriarch holds a number of offices - among others, he is president of the assembly of Catholic bishops for the Holy Land, and of the Latin bishops' conference in the region, and is also prior of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.
Archbishop Sabbah guided the Latin Church through periods of ferment and violence, becoming a pastor for the community of faithful that today numbers about 75,000 Catholics dispersed throughout the Israeli and Palestinian territories. He is succeeded by Archbishop Fouad Twal, an expert in diplomacy who, at the behest of Pope Benedict XVI, has worked beside Archbishop Sabbah since 2005.
In his last Easter message to the Catholic community, Archbishop Sabbah said: "I pray that God may infuse the joy and hope of the resurrection within you. We live in the Holy Land, a land of revelation, redemption, and reconciliation among peoples and with God. Unfortunately, this land is stained with blood, and ignores its own vocation".
From the Holy Land, called to be a place of peace, Archbishop Sabbah remembers the dead of the Gaza Strip, those who lost their lives in the attack on the Jewish school in Jerusalem, and cites also the deceased archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, a victim of the daily violence in Iraq.
"After more than a century, events demonstrate that violence has failed", Archbishop Sabbah continues, "and both the Palestinians and the Israelis must understand that weapons no longer protect the people, but expose them to fear and insecurity. It is time to learn the lesson that history teaches us; it is time for each people and each individual to accept the call of God to build up society, and not to destroy it. Because violence can only destroy, and can never build".