Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land - 06/03/2000 info:

Statement by H.E. Archbishop Renato Martino (53rd session)


Statement by H.E. Archbishop Renato Martino Apostolic Nuncio permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations before the plenary of the general assembly at its 53 session on item 156 BETHLEHEM - 2000

New York, 18 november 1998

"Bethlehem, Palestine, is one of the most historic and religiously significant sites on earth. In the year 2000, the past and the future will meet in Bethlehem in a global vision of hope and peace for all peoples. On that occasion, the world will celebrate the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ and the onset of the new millennium". With this initial Explanatory Memorandum, the Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, asked for the inclusion of this item in the agenda of the Fifty-third Session of the United Nations General Assembly (A/53/141 of 15 May 1998). The Holy See welcomes this noble initiative and expresses its sincere gratitude to the authors.

Indeed, in the crossroads of history, Bethlehem marks the meeting point of past, present and future. This is because the one born there, Jesus, laid the foundation for a civilization of love and peace, a love which requires self-giving and a peace which is founded on each human person's relationship with God and with one another. It was this love and peace for which the Psalmist prayed : "Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth and justice shall look down from heaven" (Psalm 84:11-12). It was the peace the prophet Isaiah foretold: "..They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again." (Isaiah 2:4). Thus, Bethlehem was the fulfillment of the expectations of history, but at the same time it was also the start of a new era in history.

In this light, Bethlehem is more than a distant city, tucked away in the Judean wilderness. It becomes a universal message for the human family to live in peace and harmony. Bethlehem is not only a city of holy pla.ces but also of people trying to live their lives like any other. It is a city with markets and schools, shops and gardens, universities and shepherds' fields. It is a city where people build their lives, with hopes and dreams to be respected and nurtured, just as the hopes and dreams of every person, in every city, town, village, hamlet, or crossroads, in every comer of the world must be respected. In a sense, Bethlehem is every city, every town, every home.

Peoples and families have made their home in Bethlehem for centuries and they look forward to the opportunity to remain in their homeland, to watch their children's children grow and prosper.

It is a familiar place, dear to our hearts, and because of this specialness, it attracts pilgrims from across the globe.

My Delegation takes the floor today, to recognize and celebrate the history and the future of this little town that is such an important symbol for so many people.

It all started in a humble and simple environment. Bethlehem itself was not until then a remarkable city in the mainstream of history. Those who were called to be the real human actors in the Christ-event were neither the "mighty" nor the "rich". They were, in some way, the marginalized of society. His mother declared herself a "lowly handmaid" and his foster father was a carpenter. The manger in Bethlehem, which became the birthplace of Jesus Christ, was at once a symbol of man's rejection of God and God's acceptance of man. Not royalty, but shepherds, were the first beneficiaries of the message of "peace to people of good will". The wise men from afar, willing to bow their heads to cross the stable's threshold, to obtain a glimpse of the child "wrapped in swaddling clothes", were the ones blessed by his presence and filled with the peace of God. Bethlehem signaled a new way of uniting humanity to God, heaven to earth and earth to heaven; man's history began to be written in the language of love.

Jesus came to reveal a "God rich in mercy" (Eph. 2:4) to a world where mercy was a forgotten virtue and compassion an unpracticed act. The society, in whose midst he stood, was divided into ranks and levels. The "poor and lowly" had no guarantee to their rights, the oppressed had no voice and the imprisoned were deprived of their liberty. Fulfilling the prophetic message, he pronounced his first public statement: ...the Spirit of the Lord has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim to the captives release, and sight to the blind, to set at liberty the oppressed ..." (Luke 4:18-19). That was, in essence, a divine proclamation of the dignity of every human person. Since then that message, of which Bethlehem was the cradle, has unceasingly inspired human history.

The message of Jesus was identified with his person as he identified himself with every human person, especially the weak and the poor. He could identify himself with the displaced and refugees, because he was himself a displaced person and a refugee. As a manual labourer, he shared the fatigue and sweat of the working people. Being himself a person unjustly condemned to unbearable suffering, he renewed his commitment to stand with every human person forced to bear injustice and oppression. By giving his life for others, he became the source of strength and salvation. To those who believe, his resurrection became an unending fountain of fullness of life and his perennial presence a source of constant joy. For this reason, literature and art, in subsequent centuries, have been inspired by and have celebrated his person and message. Jesus of Nazareth transformed human history and gave it a new meaning because he redef032">ined the human person and restored his dignity.

He revealed a God whom men and women could call "Abba, Father" and became himself the revealing presence of God. In a God who is a Father, the entire human family was to enter into a fellowship of fraternal love, a love which forgives every transgression, grows beyond the boundaries of tolerance and even touches the hearts of enemies. It is a selfless love in the fullest sense.

He stood for truth, which alone can liberate and he condemned injustice which was a violation of the dignity of the human person; he advocated the cause of the marginalized and he stood at the side of sinners. Neither an awe-striking magician nor a popular healer, he was a human person like one of us, though without blemish. Thus he gave a human heart to the history of mankind.

Even today, Jesus remains an inviting impetus and an unceasing reminder, offering and urging a constructive change in the hearts of individuals and of the entire human family. He calls for a renewed conviction in the inalienable dignity of every human person. The two thousandth year of his birth in Bethlehem is a propitious occasion to rekindle trust in a human family united in fellowship and solidarity, devoid of any greed for power and conquest. Society is under constant threat from man's deeds, a threat which might destroy mankind. Man suffers under self-made chains of consumerism and permissiveness and he blindly pursues a culture of death and destruction. Everything in the universe, it seems, is revalued and redefined while the human person, who is the culmination of all creation, undergoes an exaggerated depreciation and contempt. God's truth about man can liberate us from egoism and self inflicted slavery. Love, without strings and limits, should impel us to build a new society. In this process of self-awareness and renewal, the message of Bethlehem, after two thousand years and in spite of bitter failures and shortcomings, even by the very followers of Christ, remains crucially important and universally appealing.

Falsehood or façades, hypocrisy or self-righteousness, megalomania or self-centeredness, all leading to conflict and violence, are opposed to the Christ-event of Bethlehem. His example is an invitation to humility and selflessness, goodness and generosity, forgiveness and acceptance. Then the history of conflicts and wars, hatred and oppression, power-politics and hegemony, could give way to a new millennium that exemplif040">ies harmony and love, brotherhood and solidarity.

At the threshold of the third millennium, Bethlehem inspires us with new hope. We can read in it a universal message, addressed to its inhabitants and to all people of the world, calling them to commit themselves to preserve and share the precious gift of peace.

Peace will become a reality if we enter the new millennium as people of good will The wounds of the past can be healed if love is understood and lived to the fullest. Human destiny will be brighter and promising when solidarity becomes an accepted principle by all Above all, the new millennium could be distinguished by its respect for life and for the dignity of the human person.

Mr. President, the Delegation of the Holy See avails itself of this occasion to renew to the entire world the message of Betlilehem. Let Bethlehem be a living witness to the message of peace which Jesus brought at his birth. This message, announcing the courage to forgive, the strength to love and the hope to live, extends in a special way, to the people of Bethlehem and of the entire region.

Thank you, Mr. President

Created / Updated Monday, March 06, 2000 at 20:10:01