03/20/2023, 11.25
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Msgr. Sabbah on his 90th birthday: 'Do those who govern knows what it means to love?'

by mons. Michel Sabbah *

In Nazareth, the Latin Patriarchate celebrated the pastor emeritus, whom John Paul II chose as the first Arab leader of this community. His message: 'I ask God for new eyes that see God and man, see lost peace and know that security exists only in people's hearts'. Pizzaballa: "Voice of truth and hope. His vision remains a guide for Jerusalem'.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem, Msgr Michel Sabbah, turned 90 years old yesterday. The Latin rite community of the Holy Land wanted to tmark the occassion with an expression of gratitude in a solemn celebration held Saturday in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the city where Msgr. Sabbah was born on March 19, 1933. Presiding over the rite, together with the 90-year-old prelate, was the current patriarch, Msgr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, in the presence of many vicars and priests who have had him as a pastor in their ministry.

Chosen on 6 January 1988 by John Paul II, Sabbah was the first Arab priest to serve as Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. He led the local Church until 2008: an episcopate during difficult years, marked by the dashed hopes of the peace process and the subsequent violence of the second intifada. From 1999 to 2007, he was also president of Pax Christi International. In his homily at the celebration, Msgr. Pizzaballa recalled his homilies on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, when patriarch  Sabbah would remind the world of the wounds of the Holy Land.

"We can say," Patriarch Pizzaballa added, "that you have been a good shepherd of this people. The political problems have not been solved, and this of course is not the Church's job. But the Church had in you a voice that expressed the truth and spread hope and unity in hearts. Thank you, Patriarch Sabbah, for your guidance and care for the Church in Jerusalem, which will remain a reference for the Church and for many people here in the Holy Land. On behalf of the Latin Patriarchate and the Catholic Churches, we offer you our prayers; and even if your sight is no longer strong, or your movement is more difficult, your vision remains, guiding the entire Church of Jerusalem".

At the end of the rite, Msgr Sabbah  addressed this short but intense message to the faithful, published by the website Abouna.org:

My prayer and my word to you is: be a Christian. What does this mean? It means to know Jesus Christ, to read and meditate on his holy Gospel, and secondly to love as he loved. In the parish, be a loving parish, one family, one heart, one soul. Let none among you be needy, neither in spirit nor in flesh. One parish and one family, the family of God.

In the city, be Christians. That is, love as Jesus Christ loves. Christian love is love for all men. It is the will to good for all men, and also the prevention of evil for all men, even in certain sensitive or political circumstances. The love of a Christian is as universal as God's love for all his creation, it is the love of every Christian belonging to any Church, it is the love of the Muslim, the Jew, the Druze and all those whom God has placed in our lives. We Christians in our different Churches need more love among ourselves. Nazareth needs more love to free itself from the temptations and evils that hover in its atmosphere.

The whole country needs love. Do the rulers of this country know what love is? Love, I say to the Christians, the Muslims, the Jews and the Druze, the rulers of this country. I ask God to send to this country, especially to its rulers, new hearts, new minds and new eyes that see God and man, see lost peace and know that security only exists in the hearts of people, not in fighting them.

Let us pray to be one hundred per cent Christian, let us learn to love ourselves and all people. Let us pray for peace. I ask God to grant us this through the intercession of St Joseph, to bless you all and to confirm you in his love. Amen.

* Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem

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