Dear friends, brothers and sisters,
this year the grotto of Bethlehem is empty, as are the streets and squares of the city. When Mary and Joseph came to be registered, there was not even a room for them. Today all the rooms in Bethlehem are available, waiting for the war to end, for the pilgrims to return, for the illuminations and the voices of children in celebration to brighten up the streets of the city again.
During this time, many have asked if we have cancelled Christmas.
We have not cancelled Christmas, because Christmas has already happened and – thank God – no one can cancel it. Christmas consists in the fact that the Son of God entered our history once and for all, made himself one of us, was given to us, gave meaning to our lives, and in doing so, saved us.
We may find ourselves in the midst of the worst and most difficult situations, in the midst of the darkness of history; we may find ourselves in the midst of the darkness of war and hatred; and yet even if the darkness does not receive the Light, the Light continues to shine and cannot be extinguished.
On the contrary, the more we find ourselves immersed in this night, personal and collective, the more we need the Light to shine. And we need the Light to spread everywhere from this grotto, to keep alive the hope of a new world, saved thanks to the birth of this Child: Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.
During this Christmas choked by the darkness of hatred and war, let us kneel before the empty manger in which Mary laid the Child Jesus after giving birth to Him and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and let us make our own the prayer of Saint John Paul II:
“Dry the tears of children, O child Jesus! / Caress the sick and the elderly! / Urge men to lay down their arms / and to embrace each other in a universal embrace of peace! / Invite peoples, merciful Jesus, / to tear down the walls created / by misery and unemployment, / by ignorance and indifference, / by discrimination and intolerance. / It is You, O Divine Child of Bethlehem, / who save us, freeing us from sin. / You are the true and only Saviour, / whom humanity so often gropes for. / God of peace, / gift of peace for all humanity, / come and live in the heart of every person and every family. / Be Thou our peace and our joy! Amen!”
Merry Christmas from Bethlehem.
Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land