Solemn Mass of the Resurrection of our Lord at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre
Jerusalem – Patriarch Fouad Twal
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
A happy and holy Easter to you all! Christ is truly risen! Alleluia! Easter is a celebration of light: the risen Lord illuminates us, he brings immense joy and great hope into our hearts and fills them with his love.
Today the Gospel tells us of the breathless race of Peter and John who follow Mary Magdalene to the tomb where the body of Jesus has been laid. But they discover an empty tomb. And yet, at once, John sees and believes that Jesus has not been taken away, but that he is risen. So faith is a gift and it is also personal. That is why a close relationship with God is necessary, built on prayer in the secrets of hearts before an absent presence, to which the empty tomb bears witness. The empty tomb, as we see it here today, is the beginning of the path of faith. This time, our faith rests on the testimony of the Apostles. We are asked to believe without seeing: Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. (Jn 20:29)
The resurrection is at the core of Christian faith: If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain. (1 Cor 15:17) In spite of this, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants celebrate Easter on different dates. The difference does not come from God. For this reason, we have decided in our diocese of the Holy Land, with the exception of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, that the date of Easter follow the Julian calendar so that families of mixed confessions can celebrate this mystery together, as is the case in Jordan, Syria and Egypt. A common, solemn and joyful celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord by all Christians across the Holy Land can become a credible and authentic witness of Christs call for greater communion, as of our response to that call.
This decision to unify the date for Easter is not easy, but it is a first step toward the complete unity for which we must continually pray. In this Year of Faith, which lends itself so well to this challenge, we are also asked to revitalize our faith and our enthusiasm. Evangelisation, through our charity, love of our neighbour and simplicity, appear to be a priority for our new Pope Francis. Our Argentinean Pope comes from a continent that accounts for 40% of the worlds Catholics, but where the position of the Church is challenged by evangelical groups and where political relations are somewhat strained. The Holy Spirit, which has puzzled the forecasters, has just given us a pope whose actions have for years been directly in line with the orientations of the last Synod regarding theNew Evangelisation.
The Holy Father in his very first address to the faithful asked that together, let us start this road this new path of the church of brotherhood, of love, of trust let us pray always for one another. (Pope Francis, March 13, 2013)
In the gospel of Saint John, Jesus tells us that He is the light: whoever follows him will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (Jn 8:12) As Christians, the Lord also invites us to be a light for the world; to bring the light of hope in the midst of violence, suffering, wars, and injustice. He invites us here to carry the light of faith at the centre of our region of the Middle East, where Christianity was born, where the Mother Church of Jerusalem was born, and where everything Christian was born. That is why our new evangelisation, in order to be up to date and effective, must start out again from Jerusalem: start out from the first Christian community who devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42); and start out again from the first community rooted in the person of Christ, having a cause and ready to make any sacrifice to the point of martyrdom. Thus I renew my invitation to all pilgrims from around the world to come to the to the Holy Land, starting with our Pope Francis who will be most welcome.
You come, like Peter and John, to see the empty tomb. Pilgrimage to the Holy Places and to the living stones, is a great way of renewing our faith and that of all pilgrims. It allows us to understand better the cultural, historical and geographical background of where the mysteries we believe in were born and of which the most important is todays feast: the resurrection.
Pilgrimage is an opportunity for a personal encounter with Jesus. Thus the Christians of the Holy Land are the collective, living memory of the history of Jesus. But at the same time, they need other faithful, their prayers and their solidarity. The presence of pilgrims is a witness of faith and communion with our Church of Calvary.
Our Church exists in suffering in the Middle East. So the Year of Faith is relevant to specific issues. First, I think of all the victims of war and all Syrian refugees who are crowding into neighbouring countries, notably into Jordan, but also of all the Christians of the Holy Land who are tempted to emigrate. I say again to all of you that the feast of the resurrection is a reason for hope for a world afflicted by profound tragedies, often caused by human violence. That does not mean that the crosses of our lives are swept away at Easter; God does not come to eliminate them, but to open a road of hope in the midst of suffering, and he wants to open it for us every day.
To live in the Middle East as a Christian is not a choice but a vocation. To know the resurrection, one must know the cross. The cross often scares us, for it seems to be the negation of life. In reality, the contrary is true! It is the yes of God to man, the ultimate expression of his love and the fountain from which springs forth life. For from the heart of Jesus open on the cross, sprang forth this divine life, always available to whomever is prepared to raise his eyes to Him on the cross. (Benedict XVI, World Youth Day, Madrid).
Since Easter morning, Christian hope has known no limits. The darkest night can be lit up by the victor of the tomb. It is not countries that need to be reconquered, but hearts. Hearts that must be converted and educated in the ways of peace. Yet again and again, I invite the international community, beyond speeches and visits, to take concrete and effective decisions to find a balanced and just solution for the Palestinian cause, which lies at the heart of all the Middle Easts troubles.
In November 2010, I personally met the Pope in Argentina where we discussed the situation of the of the Middle Eastn Christian in diaspora in Latin America. Argentina has welcomed many emigrants from the Middle East. So Pope Francis is well aware of the issue of emigration of the faithful from the Holy Land. He was also the Ordinary for the faithful of the Eastern Catholic Church residing in his country. I am convinced that the Holy Father will continue with strength and determination, the work of His Holiness Benedict XVI, for peace in the Holy Land and a coming together between peoples and religions of the world. Here in the Holy Land, our communion with the Holy Father is deep and our confidence absolute. We know from experience the importance of efforts for peace that the Holy See maintains with our Patriarchate and the Holy Land.
Dear brothers and sisters I convey my best wishes for a Happy Easter. May it be the occasion for a beautiful resurrection of ourselves, our churches and our Holy Land. May a new spring come forth on this Easter morning.
May this radiant feast of the resurrection of Christ bring you the blessing of the Lord! Amen.