Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Patriarch's New Year Message: Elephants Still in the Room

On the morning of January 1st, also traditionally known as the World Day of Peace, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Msgr. Foual Twal presided over the Mass of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God in the concathedral of the Latin Patriarchate in the Holy City.

In his homily, the Patriarch shared his wishes of hope and peace for all. Echoing recent statements made by the Holy Father, Msgr. Twal expressed the need of "educating young people in justice and peace."  He mentioned the recent interreligious dialogue in Assisi, the "Arab Spring," the situation in the Holy Land, as well as some upcoming Church events, congresses and synods that will take place in 2012.

Despite its generally positive, irenic and friendly tone, the substance of the Patriarch's message was disappointing and disturbing. A few months ago, Catholics for Israel published an open letter to the leaders of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land entitled Elephants in the Room? The Hidden Roots of the Crisis of the Church in the Holy Land. As the title indicates, the piece pointed out some issues of serious concern which, despite having a debilitating effect on the work of the Church in the Holy Land, remain virtually ignored and unaddressed by its  leaders.

Sadly, the Patriarch's New Year message is an indication that these "Elephants" are still roaming about freely in the Church in the Holy Land - still ignored and unadressed by the leadership.  Evidence for each one of the ten "elephants" was manifest in the homily. Obviously, it would not be fair to expect that the Patriarch should have addressed each one of these issues in one homily.  But that fact all of them were ignored is a characteristic illustration of the theological malaise that continues to afflict the local Church.

1. Neo-Marcionism, Replacement Theology and the “Great Disconnect” between Israel and the Church

The homily was characterized by the usual silence regarding the Jewish origins and roots of the Gospel. Despite the occasion of the Solemnity of the Mother of God, there was no mention that Mary was and remains forever a Jewish woman, daughter of Israel and daughter of Zion. No word was said about the vital connection and bond between Israel and the Church, about the role of Jesus and Mary as bridges between Judaism and Christianity, about the debt of gratitude that the Church owes to Judaism, or even about the first reading of the Mass, from the Book of Numbers, on the Aaronic blessing.

2. Anti-Zionism and Anti-Israel Bias

The Patriarch also said that "a generation of young Israelis and Palestinians were born and grew up under occupation and in an atmosphere of violence. They experience the checkpoints and the walls that separate people." As usual, the only problem mentioned by name is the Israeli "occupation," as if it were the only culprit behind the "atmosphere of violence."  No word was said about the ongoing Palestinian refusal to negotiate with Israel, let alone accept the existence of the Jewish State. As usual, "checkpoints," "barbed wires" and "towering concrete walls" just exist for no other reason than to "separate people," with no word said about the constant threat of terrorist and rocket attacks that has made these checkpoints and walls necessary for the sake of saving both Israeli and Palestinian lives.

Moreover, no word of gratitude or appreciation was said about the freedom of religion and worship, and the full security that Christians enjoy in Israel, a privilege that is rather rare in the Middle East.

Of course, there was also no mention of the biblical and theological bond and attachment of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel - and this, despite the increasingly aggressive and strident delegitimization and hatred of Israel, not only from hostile neighboring countries but also from the world at large. The name "Israel" was barely mentioned in the message, as usual replaced by the more politically correct expressions "Holy Land" or "Land of Jesus."

3. Palestinian Liberation Theology

The theme of the homily was justice, reconciliation and peace. While this is indeed an important topic, it has become almost a mantra in the Church of the Holy Land, ceaselessly repeated with a marked accent on socio-political aims rather than on solid biblical and doctrinal catechesis. There was the usual call for the creation of a Palestinian State, and the usual silence about the culture of anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish hatred and incitement in Palestinian society (including, for example the recent praise of Hitler in a PLO youth magazine because he murdered Jews), the Palestinian Authority's rapprochement with Hamas despite the latter's continued avowed goal to work towards the total destruction of Israel, or the PA's praise and glorification of terrorists (illustrated, for example, by  President  Mahmoud Abbas openly meeting with convicted terrorists and appointing them as advisors in his government).

4. Dhimmitude: the Surrender to Islam

The Patriarch called the so-called "Arab Spring" a "reawakening of consciences for democracy, peace and social justice" where "Muslims and Christians took to the street side by side," generating "real enthusiasm and great expectation." His only caviat was a strikingly weak reservation that "doubts arise on the form of government that will be implemented."  It is hard to grasp how an educated spiritual leader can arrive as such delusional conclusions about the violent revolutions that have already claimed thousands of lives (and counting) in numerous countries, causing the rapid rise of radical islamist forces and a widespread increase in Muslim persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East.

Despite his complete silence on the problems generated by the "Arab Spring,"  the Patriarch recalled that "the Pope asked the young and old to stay away from extreme nationalism or exacerbated fundamentalism" - as if the violence and killings in the Middle East were but the fruit of random and generic "fundamentalism" to which everyone is prone - certainly not related to any particular religion at all.

Why the silence on these persecutions? Why, if mentioned at all by Christian clergy, are the persecutions always carried out by nameless perpetrators? And why continue to use the ludicrous term "Arab Spring" when the reality on the ground does not even remotely resemble a "spring" but rather an "Islamic Winter"?

Surely such a combination of misguided statements and conspicuous silence cannot be the result of ignorance or malice. So what is left? Wishful thinking? Or perhaps a fear of openly saying the truth, lest this make things worse? Here we have again the spirit of dhimmitude, the fear of saying anything against Islam lest this causes yet greater violent anti-Christian backlashes on the part of Muslims.

5. Dialogomania and Practical Relativism

Another ever-recurring catch word, supported by the ever-popular "Spirit of Assisi," is "dialogue." The Patriarch invited the faithful to follow St. Francis in engaging in "peaceful dialogue between believers" and creating "bonds of friendship and solidarity."  Although this is a good and noble ideal, almost nothing was said about the Church's mission of evangelization and about the urgent need that Christians pray and work for the conversion of sinners and those who do not know Christ.

Msgr. Twal did say that "peace has its basis in the heart of man, in his conversion and reconciliation with God and family," but there was no word on how to practically arrive at this conversion and reconciliation. He gave the impression that anyone, from any religious tradition, can reach this conversion and reconciliation, with no need at all to believe in Christ or be baptized.

The result is that Christians, once again, are inoculated against giving a clear witness of their faith in words and deeds to non-Christians. They are given the impression that being a Christian essentially consists in being a "nice person" who gets along with everyone - including the Muslims who are persecuting them and driving them out of their homes and countries.  And so, with this underlying practical relativism, the Lord's commission and the Church's mission of making disciples of all nations is given a crippling blow and effectively neutralized.

6. Blurring the Doctrine: The Catechetical Crisis

In his homily, the Patriarch did not talk - even briefly - about the readings from the Word of God that were read during the Liturgy of the Word - not from the first reading, not from the Psalm, not from the second reading, nor from the Gospel. The homily was largely devoid of catechetical or doctrinal content, apart a few sentences exhorting the faithful to look to Mary who in her humility was "peaceful, pure and gentle" and at the same time "strong, vigorous, and full of hope."

Moreover, Jesus was almost entirely absent from the homily.  He was mentioned only three times, and two of these were indirect, passing mentions of the "land of Jesus" and "mother of Jesus." Only in his very last sentence did Msgr. Twal wish that Mary's son, "Jesus, the Prince of Peace give us His peace."

7. Battling Evil: Spiritual Warfare and Dormant Soldiers

With the homily focused on peace, dialogue, and social justice, and with no call or encouragement to share the Gospel with others for the purpose of their conversion and salvation, all appeals to prayer were calls to a generic and amorphous "prayer for peace." The element of prayer as spiritual battle and warfare for the salvation of souls was wholly absent from the message.

8. Lack of Prophetic and Eschatological Vision

The homily was also uninspiring in its complete lack of prophetic and eschatological perspective. Its stated aims and goals were mostly horizontal and humanistic - calling for peace and co-existence here on earth, now in this life. Nothing was said about the risks and dangers of a humanly orchestrated peace that is not based on Jesus Christ. Nothing was said about the eschatological vision of the Scriptures (confirmed by recent prophetic locutions) speaking of the rise of evil in the world, manifested by an increasing hostility of the nations against Israel.

9. The Eery Silence of Political Correctness

All of the above issues demonstrate once again that political correctness reigns supreme in the Church in the Holy Land: silence on the Church's theological and biblical roots and foundations in Israel and Judaism; silence on the anti-Israel bias of the clergy; silence on the Palestinian culture of incitement and shared Palestinian responsibility in the perpetuation of the conflict; silence on the growing Islamic oppression and persecution of Christians; silence on the Lord's commandment and Church's mission to lead all people to Christ; silence on the Church's biblical and doctrinal catechesis; silence on the need to pray for the salvation of the world and against spiritual forces of evil; and silence on the prophetic and eschatological vision of the Bible and of the Church.

10. Ignoring the Messianic and Evangelical Communities

Finally, there was also no mention in the Patriarch's New Year message of the growing impact of the Messianic Jewish communities in Israel - a prophetic movement that deserves not only the attention but also the support, help and encouragement of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.


For 2012, let us pray that the Lord may grant our leaders and all Christians in the Holy Land the grace, strength and courage to be more faithful to the Lord's calling as expressed in the Sacred Scriptures and in the Church's teachings!  As we pointed out in Elephants in the Room, we suggest that this should include the following:
  1. decisively rejecting neo-Marcionism, replacement theology, and rediscovering the Jewish roots of Catholicism and of the Christian faith;
  2. decisively rejecting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and fostering among Catholics a true appreciation and love for Israel;
  3. decisively rejecting anti-Israel Palestinian Liberation Theology, and supporting the Palestinian people in a way that is more respectful of Israel’s prophetic calling;
  4. decisively rejecting the dhimmi mentality and stop being silent or in denial about the increasingly aggressive threat of radical Islam;
  5. decisively rejecting religious relativism, and returning the role of dialogue to its proper place as a subset of the Church’s mission of evangelization;
  6. establishing vigorous programs of catechesis and doctrinal formation for the faithful;
  7. raising the awareness of the need for spiritual warfare, and train and equip the clergy to pass on this awareness to the faithful;
  8. restoring the prophetic and eschatological vision in the Church, and translating this vision into action;
  9. decisively rejecting political correctness and describing the reality in the Holy Land as it truly is.
  10. restoring a genuine ecumenical openness in the Church, with a welcoming outreach to Messianic and Evangelical believers.