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SIDIC Periodical XXXII - 1999/1
Toward a new millennium. A Jubilee of hope (Pages 17-19)

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Towards The Third Millennium
Bathish, Kamal-Hanna


In Jerusalem on Dec. 9, 1998 in the context of the cultural initiative “Towards the Millennium - Trialogue in Jerusalem - Jews, Christians and Muslims” the following presentation was given by H.E. Bishop Kamal-Hanna Bathish, Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Assalamu ‘alaikum! Shalom ‘aleikhem! Peace be with you! With these words Jesus Christ greeted his apostles and disciples after the triumph of his Resurrection! With these words, today in the Catholic Church, the priest, and particularly the bishop, greets his congregation. All the Arab and Jewish people still use this same expression where and whenever they meet or greet one another. What then could more eloquently express how deeply rooted in every heart and soul is the desire for peace: peace that must be communicated to all human beings? How often do we hear these words and express such wishes!
One holy city, three monotheistic religions! Here in Jerusalem live, side by side, the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They all claim to be the children of Abraham, the first and model believer in the One God Most High. They recognize and accept many prophets of the Lord. They enjoy many common teachings on God, creation and life everlasting. They all venerate to the highest extent the city of Jerusalem because it belongs to God and signifies his presence on earth: “For Yahweh has chosen Zion, he has desired it as a house. ‘Here shall I rest for evermore, here shall I make my home as I have wished’.” (Ps 86:44-5)
Is this a combination of hard and blind destiny or rather God’s plan to have all his human children meet and reconcile? Could it not be God’s plan to have a message go forth from Jerusalem to the whole world? It is so sad to see that believers of these three religions meet in Jerusalem, fighting for Jerusalem. No doubt, the present social and political circumstances, full of enmity, greed, jealousy, fear, anger and hatred keep from our minds such good feelings and thoughts, and make it look almost impossible to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”. (Ps 121:6) In Jerusalem we are all orientally-minded people and as such we cannot separate in our thinking, and less in our behavior, between the religious, the social and the political aspects of our life. Our religious feeling influences our social and political behavior and vice versa!
On the other hand, we refuse to live under God’s threat, that applies also to dialogue, expressed through his prophets to those who say: “Peace! Peace! when there is not peace!...” (Jer 6:14; 8:11; Ez 13:10) From this warning derives the responsibility of all ruling Authorities to prepare urgently the way for peaceful co-existence and trialogue. They themselves might act out of political or religious motives and even out of their love for Jerusalem, while in fact they do harm to Jerusalem and destroy its sacred image just to affirm and consolidate their own understanding of the holy City and their pride in sovereignty over it.

Christians and Dialogue.

We Christians look forward to the Year 2000 and to the beginning of the new millennium as a golden opportunity for a new beginning, a better world and a better life. We remember always that Our Lord Jesus Christ consoled and comforted his apostles before leaving them to undergo his suffering and death with these words: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you!” (Jn 14:27) Therefore we have been directed by the Holy Father John Paul II to look with “grateful openness” to all religions. Obviously this openness begins first with all Christian sister churches but it extends to the major religions in the world and particularly to Judaism and Islam because of the privileged relation between our faiths. ...

Practical Initiatives.

It is already known how the Patriarchs and Heads of the Christian Churches in Jerusalem meet often and promote common initiatives and cooperation, In their messages they have already launched an appeal to all religious Leaders in this Land for common meetings. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, H.B. Michel Sabbah, in his document, “Seek Peace and Pursue It” Ps 33:15, of Sept. 15, 1998 wrote: “Given the strong impact of their words and their example on the great majority, the religious Leaders should play a decisive role in building up the public opinion...This would have its positive effect on the election and platform choice of the political leaders as well. Therefore a dialogue between the religious Leaders of the three monotheistic religions would lead to a common vision of justice and peace; and a common message to their followers in this direction would influence to a great extent the peace process.” (n. 27)
But it might be relevant to mention the meetings this year of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem with other religious Leaders: the last meeting with H. Em. ‘Akrama Sabri, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on June 23, and the two first ever, and so far last, meetings with the two Grand Rabbis of Israel, Meir Lau and Mordechai Bakshi Doron, on Mar. 23 and Aug. 24. The first fruit of these meetings was the unanimous conviction of the usefulness and the necessity of meeting frequently for better understanding and cooperation in many common fields and interests. Our hope is to see soon the leaders of the three monotheistic religions meet with the same aim.

Some Conditions of Dialogue.

It would be catastrophic if such dialogue/trialogue failed to realize any result. Therefore I want to point to at least some of the basic and elementary dispositions a constructive dialogue supposes: 1. The initial condition is to get rid of all previous prejudices about one another and to look forward to build rather than backwards to destroy. In other words, all parties need a previous “healing of memories” about the past and what I would call a “charge of positive good will” for the future. 2. To see and recognize the existence of one another as partners in dialogue. A dialogue cannot exist without the presence of the different parties. Deliberate ignorance generates an attitude that prevents progress and reconciliation. 3. To see and accept one anther as we are, and as essentially equal human beings. Actually our three monotheistic religions teach us that God has equally created all human beings from the same origin and with the same attention and love. 4. Be ready to recognize and respect one another with equal rights, obligations and freedom. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (Ps 85:11) 5. And, therefore to be so understanding and courageous as to offer sacrifice when necessary, and never to entertain jealous or greedy thoughts towards the other. “The fruit of justice is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (Jas 3:18)
When all this is well accepted on the basis of our equal and shared human nature as created by God, regardless of nationality, color, race, religion, class, etc., and within the variety of character, intelligence, history, tendencies, etc., which distinguish people from one another, only then can we be so happy as to love others as ourselves, with a love that leaves no room for disturbing or aggressive thoughts and plans!

Cooperation for Common Positive Values.

It is obvious that religion, and particularly monotheism, must never be the cause of division between persons; it should rather bring them together united in and for God! Sincere dialogue between religions means an openness to believers of other religions combined with full fidelity to one’s own religious faith. This will never open the way for violence nor fanaticism and religious extremism. All these would be deviations of religion, since religion is always on the side of human beings, of the poor and of the weak, of tolerance and solidarity, of love and peace. Let us say in short: Religion is love of God and love of neighbor for God.
Let then proceed an authentic inter-religious dialogue for understanding and cooperation, in Jerusalem and anywhere, with a genuine spirit of religion! We believers in the three monotheistic religions have, in our creed, so much to share. We have such a broad ground of common belief to start from and walk on. This would give the righteous people a tremendous strength to influence the world’s approach to many common questions and problems. Let us remember also that our dialogue should never be kept exclusively on the academic level. It should also be a popular dialogue that begins from the people’s circumstances and desires, in the hope that it will end by discovering just solutions for their wrong situations and with an answer to their legitimate expectations.
Knowing how strong is religion’s influence and impact on our people’s daily life and attitude here in the Middle East, why then not start in Jerusalem an association of inspired religious leaders and enlightened people of good will ready to meet for a joint campaign favoring all common human and religious values? Such an association would engage first in defending and promoting positive common values to help fight abuses, injustice, etc. A good start would be the common promotion of equal human dignity of every person, the value of human life, the inviolable rights of the human being, pouring out from human nature itself as created by the One Almighty God who, as we all profess, is also the only and just Judge of the last day.
Now, must we wait for the Year 2000 and for the new millennium to start the trialogue? I am sure that would be too late since it is already late! A trialogue has to be prepared at both the practical and spiritual levels. We cannot suppose that it is enough to call for a trialogue for a trialogue to take place. So, we have to start such trialogue without delay as an expression of our good will and begin the education of our faithful to openness and dialogue. Therefore, we acknowledge with real satisfaction and appreciation all the discrete, small, private and sporadic meetings and circles beginning here in Jerusalem which are bringing exponents or representatives of our religions together. Time does not wait! And I am sure that no one wishes to wait any more since it is so difficult for people to restrain their feelings of hatred and despair in the face of the discouraging circumstances of our lives in the area and particularly here in Jerusalem. It is good to be a religious leader. But how long can we rely on religious devotion to overcome our natural human feelings?

An Appeal.

Therefore, with this voice, coming from the centre of Jerusalem, the city God has chosen to be: for Christians, the City of God and of Redemption for the whole of humanity through Christ’s cross; for Jews, the Holy City of worship; for Muslims, the first direction and symbol of prayer - from Jerusalem, the City of love and of “worship in spirit and in truth”, the City of peace which for many decades has so anxiously longed for peace, we call on the whole world: Oh, you peoples of this Holy Land and of the world! Lay down all terrible and devastating weapons; give up all hatred and anger! Make place for mutual recognition, acceptance, reconciliation and love! Let us begin in Jerusalem to unite our efforts and build in good harmony and understanding, in deeply rooted peace and solidarity, the new society which will prepare us for a peaceful entry to a bright and prosperous third millennium of our era!
May we enjoy the day when, with one spirit and one voice, we shall meet in Jerusalem and sing together the prophetic song: “”Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may suck and be satisfied with her consoling breasts; that you may drink deeply with delight from the abundance of her glory. For thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall suck, you shall be carried upon her hip, and dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart will rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass.’” (Is 66:10-14a)
As Christians we express our wish with Paul’s words to the Philippians: “May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!” (Phil 4:7) And to all our wish: God bless you from Jerusalem! Wa assalamu ‘alaikum.


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