by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
I urge everyone to pray a daily rosary for peace in the Holy Land. The brutality of the Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel were crimes against humanity. The brutal murders of innocent civilians, particularly children, were morally appalling.
Israel has a right and responsibility to defend its citizens. Hamas’ plea for a ceasefire, after initiating the war and inflicting a heavy death toll on Israeli civilians, is a disingenuous and self-serving gesture. Hamas should immediately release all hostages.
I have been to the Holy Land five times. The Holy Land is often referred to as the “Fifth Gospel.” The ability to visit sites such as — 1) the actual sites of the Annunciation and the Nativity of Jesus; 2) Nazareth, the hometown of Our Lord; 3) Galilee where Jesus exercised much of his public ministry; 4) the Upper Room in Jerusalem where Our Lord celebrated the Last Supper, appeared on Easter night to the apostles and the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples on Pentecost; 5) the Garden of Gethsemane; 6) Calvary; and 7) the empty tomb, the place of the Resurrection — allows the Gospels to come alive. These sacred shrines make clear that Jesus was not a mythical figure, but a historic person.
The re-establishment of Israel as a Jewish state after World War II and the horror of the Holocaust was a tremendous blessing for the often persecuted Jewish people. The ability for Jews to have their own land where they can be in control of their own destiny and protect themselves from future persecutions was the fulfillment of centuries of prayer. At the same time, it also came at a significant cost to the Arab Christians and Muslims, who had their own claims to the land.
Fifty years ago, Christians made up 50% of the population of the Holy Land. Today, Christians are less than 2%. Why? Because it is very hard for an Arab Christian or Muslim to make a decent living. In order to protect the Jewish population, many restrictions have been placed on the freedoms of all Arabs, no matter their religion or political allegiances. These lost freedoms result in severe limits on educational, professional and employment opportunities.
Since my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Israel has systematically increased its “settlements,” which have resulted in the Jewish takeover of more land that previously belonged to Palestinians. Israel’s justification for usurping this land is to protect Israelis from Palestinian extremist terrorists.
The frustration of Arab Christians and Muslims is also understandable, since Jewish barriers and checkpoints have made it impossible for some Arabs to have access to significant portions of their own property. Of course, this latest act of terrorism by Hamas reinforces the Israeli claim for the need for extreme security measures.
Israel is on constant military alert because they have so many geographic neighbors who desire the extermination of the state of Israel. Israelis live under a constant threat of attack. As soon as there is any hope of peaceful co-existence, Arab Muslim extremists undermine the possibility with violent acts of terrorism.
It is hard to conceive of a political solution acceptable to all parties. This is why we need to pray more fervently for peace in the Holy Land. Only divine intervention will be able to make an abiding peace a possibility.
Last weekend’s first reading for Mass was uniquely appropriate for the current state of conflict and confusion in the Middle East. The prophet Isaiah identified King Cyrus of Persia as a messianic figure.
Persia corresponds to modern-day Iran. The Persian armies, under the leadership of Cyrus, defeated the Babylonian (modern day Iraq) empire. Previously, the Babylonians had defeated Judah and destroyed its capital of Jerusalem. The Babylonians took Jewish leaders captive, relocating them in their empire, where there was little respect for religious freedom.
King Cyrus, on the other hand, took a much more benign approach. Cyrus actually helped to fund the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple. Cyrus, even though he had no faith in Israel’s God, was hailed by Isaiah as “anointed” — a messianic term — because he made it possible for Jews to return to Jerusalem.
Pope St. John Paul II in a 1986 visit to a Roman synagogue said: “You are dearly beloved brothers and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.” As Christians, we have a special affection for the Jewish people.
We cannot truly understand the Gospels without knowing the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the apostles are all Jewish. Jesus makes clear that he is the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, Moses and the prophets.
At the same time, we respect every human being, no matter race, ethnicity or creed, because all are made in the divine image. We desire peace and welfare for every member of the human race.
At this moment, humanly speaking, it is difficult to see a realistic path for peace in the Holy Land. That is why we must storm heaven with our prayers and seek the intercession of Mary, Our Lady and Queen of Palestine. God can raise up a new Cyrus to bring peace to Jerusalem, to the Israelis and to all who live in the land made uniquely sacred by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.