Let there be peace, especially in the Holy Land Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010 -- 1:00 AM

During Advent and the Christmas season, our thoughts naturally turn towards the Holy Land as we contemplate the events leading to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

We know that there was unrest and conflict in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus’ birth. In fact, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because of a decree from the Roman occupiers that all people must register in a census.

Significance of Bethlehem

Christians recognize Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus and therefore as a holy site.  However, the city is also significant to Jews because it is the burial place of Rachel and the birthplace of King David. Samuel anointed David king in Bethlehem (I Sam. 16:1-13) and David was a descendant of Ruth and Boaz, who were married in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem, located just five miles south of Jerusalem, was turned over to the Palestinian Authority as a result of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement. Bethlehem now has a population of approximately 50,000 people, with Muslims holding a slight majority.

There is so much religious tradition throughout the Middle East, yet this part of the world has suffered a great deal of political turmoil and bitter fighting.

Building real peace

Pope Benedict XVI has been urging people in the Middle East to work toward peace. In a recent letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holy Father said that respect for each person's relationship with God is an essential part of building a just social order and real peace, reported Catholic News Service.

However, the pope pointed out that in some countries, Christians face “discrimination and even violence and they lack the freedom to live and publicly profess their faith.”

Catholics in Iran and throughout the region, he said, want to work with their fellow citizens to promote the common good and they are committed to being builders of peace and reconciliation.

He asked the Iranian president to launch a bilateral commission that could address “questions of common concern, including that of the juridical status of the Catholic Church in the country.”

As we observe Advent and Christmas, let us pray that people in the Middle East will continue to work harder to bring about respect for all faiths and build a lasting peace in the land of Jesus’ birth.