Gaza's manger and the Christmas of those for whom there is 'no room'

The Holy Family parish holds Mass amid a war raging for 80 days. “There seems to be no place for them (Palestinians), not only physically, but also in the minds of those who decide the fate of nations,” Card Pizzaballa said in his homily during midnight Mass in Bethlehem. Addressing the Churches of the world, he urged them to tell “their governments” to end the “hostilities”.

Bethlehem (AsiaNews) – He was also placed in the manger in Gaza and, like in the night of Bethlehem, as the Gospels tell us, there is no safe place for Mary and Joseph even today.

For Gaza’s small Catholic community, Christmas began this morning with the celebration of the Eucharist. Like the territory’s other two million residents, Catholics too are suffering the effects of a war that has raged for 80 days.

Fr Iusuf Asad has been the only Catholic priest at the Holy Family parish for more than two months. This morning, he led the service accompanied by altar servers with their red robes, candles, incense, in front of a congregation who, even on this day, as fighting continues in Gaza, spoke a message of peace from the heart of the conflict.

Last night, during the solemn Mass in the Church of St Catherine in Bethlehem, Card Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, addressed Gaza Catholics directly, saying, “we won't abandon you”.

“You are in our hearts, and the whole Christian community in the Holy Land and around the world gathers around you. May you feel the warmth of our closeness and affection as much as possible,” he said.

In the city of the Nativity, sadly left empty of pilgrims by the war, the patriarch led the traditional Midnight Mass with Card Konrad Krajewski, Pope Francis's almoner, sent to the Holy Land to show the pontiff's closeness.

This Christmas the Gospel of Luke seems particularly fitting, when the evangelist said, “there was no room for them (Lk 2:7). It is precisely on these words that Card Pizzaballa focused his homily.

“As it was for Mary and Joseph so it seems for us today that there is no room for Christmas. For too many days, we have all been caught up in the sad and painful feeling that there is no room this year for the joy and peace that the angels announced to the shepherds of Bethlehem in this Holy Night, not far from here.

“My thoughts go, without distinction, to all who are affected by this war, in Palestine and Israel and the whole region. I am especially close to those who are in mourning and weeping and waiting for a concrete gesture of closeness and care.”

Equally, “My thoughts go to Gaza and its two million inhabitants. Truly the words ‘there was no room for them’ describe their situation, which is now known to all. Their suffering ceaselessly cries out to the whole world.”

“No place or home is safe for anyone. Thousands of people have been deprived of their basic needs; they are hungry, and they are even more exposed to incomprehensible violence. There seems to be no place for them, not only physically, but also in the minds of those who decide the fate of nations.

“This is the situation in which the Palestinian people has been living in for too long. Though living on their own land, they continually hear ‘there is no place for them’. For decades, they have been waiting for the international community to find solutions to end the occupation under which they are forced to live and its consequences.”

Indeed, in the Holy Land, no heart seems to have room for Christmas today. In fact, “today it seems to me that each of us is entrapped by his own pain. Hatred, resentment, and the spirit of revenge occupy all the space in our hearts and leave no room for the presence of others. Yet, we need others. Christmas is precisely about this: God making Himself present in a human way and opening our hearts to a new way of looking at the world.”

Where can we find a place for Jesus to be born here too, even this year? “God always finds room for His Christmas. Even for us, here, today, despite everything, even in these dramatic circumstances, we believe so: God can make room even in the hardest of hearts.”

Because Christmas takes place in God himself, in the merciful heart of the Father, it is therefore to him that he calls us to return.

“We must go beyond the social and political explanations of violence and subjugation of others. These phenomena are ultimately rooted in having forgotten God, having made a false image of His face, and having used a fake and utilitarian religious relationship with Him. This happens all too often in our Holy Land.”

But the place of Christmas is also the actual “yes” by Mary and Joseph. For the patriarch, “Wherever a person’s life is at the service of the Peace that comes from on High, rather than serving their own interests, that is where the Son is born and where He continues to be born.”

“Allow me to add: we must all commit ourselves, beginning with me and those who, like myself, have a responsibility to lead and direct the social, political, and religious spheres, to develop a ‘yes’ based mindsets rather than ‘no’ based strategies. Saying yes to what is good, yes to peace, yes to dialogue, and yes to others. It should not be a rhetorical exercise but a responsible commitment. It should make room, not occupy it; find a place for others and not deny them one.”

On this Christmas night, Card Pizzaballa called on the members of his Church to rediscover themselves as heirs to the shepherds.

“I know well how difficult it is to remain alert, willing to welcome and to forgive. How difficult it is to always be ready to begin again, to set out on the way even if it is still night. This is the only way for us to find the Child.”

Speaking to the Churches of the world that look to Bethlehem today, “please convey to your people and their governments your ‘yes’ to God, your desire for the good of our peoples, for the cessation of hostilities, so that all may truly find again a home and peace.”

“I pray that Christ be reborn in the hearts of those who govern and those who lead the nations and that He may suggest to them His own ‘Yes’, which lead Him to become a friend and brother to us and to all. May those who govern commit seriously to stopping this war. Most of all may they once again begin a dialogue that finally leads to finding just and dignified solutions for our peoples.”

Lastly, “Words like occupation and security and many other similar ones, which have dominated our respective narratives for too long, must be strengthened by trust and respect. This is what we want for the future of this land. Only this shall guarantee a real stability and peace.”