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Cardinal's Christmas Homily: 'Conversion of heart' is key to peace in the Holy Land

posted on 01 January 1900

In his Christmas homily, the Archbishop of Westminster has said that the key to a peaceful Middle East is peace in the Holy Land, and has asked for a ‘conversion of heart’ of everyone involved in the conflict in Israel and Palestine.

He said that although negotiation and compromise are essential to peace, it is more important for leaders of nations and communities to undergo ‘a conversion of heart to trust each other’. They should ‘seek peace in their hearts, in their homes, in their nations’.

Speaking at his Midnight Mass homily at Westminster Cathedral a day after returning from an Ecumenical Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor described his ‘sadness’ that Christian pilgrims rarely now visit Bethlehem, the town where Christ was born. He encouraged people from England and Wales to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and in particular to visit Bethlehem and also urged Palestinian Christians to stay in the town.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor also spoke about the secularization of England, which he described as ‘a profoundly needy land’ where ‘God is increasingly excluded from public life’. This has resulted in the nation being ‘deprived of some of the greatest values of life which are reasons for meaning and reasons for hope.”

Our culture, he said ' is needy in the sense that we live in a culture that seeks to express itself as totally self-sufficient where only what is experienced or what can be calculated is valid; where individual freedom is held as the fundamental value to which all others must be subject.' This means that faith in God 'becomes more difficult because God no longer appears directly.'

He called on Christians to show ‘joy in faith’ and ‘happiness that God has given them ‘ the great gift of believing and hoping and loving him’.

Full text of Homily.

Imagine for a moment that you are suddenly called out from your place of work because there is an urgent message for you. You were worried as to whether the message is a happy one or a sad one – either you have won the lottery – or maybe suffered a bereavement. Whatever it is, it won’t be something trivial; it will be something extraordinarily important and maybe to challenge you to conversion, prayer and action. Tonight’s message is both. It is not simply a comfortable piece of news. “The shepherds were terrified”. They were also reassured when they were told, “Do not be afraid for, see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”.

The message of Christmas is that God is with us. He is called ‘Emmanuel’. God is present with us in our world. Not in a winter wonder-world or in tinsel decorations, but in the real world, our world. This is joyful news. God is present in Jesus in our world. That is the meaning of the Incarnation. God became man and was born in Bethlehem.

Pope Benedict puts it this way: God does not leave us groping in the dark. He has shown himself to us as a man. In his greatness he has let himself become small. God has taken on a human face. Only this God saves us from being afraid of the world and from anxiety before the emptiness of life.

My dear people, I have just returned from the town of Bethlehem. How extraordinarily moving it was to be there this Christmas-time. It was moving because I was able, with my companions, to enter the Basilica of the Nativity and go down those steps that have been there for a thousand years and kneel and pray in the grotto where Christ was born. There, on the floor of that cave is a star on which is written an inscription, Here of the Virgin Mary was born Jesus Christ. I experienced, as we do tonight, something of the joy of the Good News that God was with us in Jesus here in our world. But I could not also but be affected by sadness because the little town of Bethlehem is now almost a deserted town. The streets are slowly emptying. Pilgrims do not come and the Palestinian Christians, so sadly, are leaving, going to other places where they can find employment.

My purpose in visiting Bethlehem was to bring some reassurance to the remaining Christians that they are not forgotten. My visit was also to give encouragement to other pilgrims from all over the world to visit Jerusalem and the little town of Bethlehem and thus enable the Christians to remain here in that Holy Land. Please, please if you possibly can go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It will be well worth it, not only for yourselves but also for the Christian community who live there.This is the land where Christ was born, lived his life, and died on the cross because he loves us so much. Yes, Christ is risen, and is with us, but the land which is his land, is a Holy Land.

What can be done to bring about peace in that land - peace amongst the Palestinians and, above all, peace in Palestine and Israel? Everyone knows that the key to a less troubled and peaceful Middle East is peace in the Holy Land. It is not for me to propose solutions to what seems an intractable situation. I said earlier that when one is confronted with bad or sad news, the response has to be prayer, conversion and action. I ask you tonight to pray for the people of Bethlehem and for all the peoples who live in Israel and Palestine. I ask you to pray for conversion of heart of everyone engaged in the conflict that has gone on far too long.

For peace comes about not only through hard negotiation, a give and take, a compromise here – or there – but perhaps above all in a willingness on all sides to make sacrifices, change course, take risks and, above all, a conversion of heart to trust each other. This may seem a tall order but it is the only basis on which any kind of lasting peace can come about. As for action, our action is our prayer, perhaps our voices, raised in any way that is open to the leaders of the international community, and especially the leaders of communities in conflict, to seek peace in their hearts, in their homes, in their nations.

The people that lived in darkness have seen a great light, says the Prophet. Pope Benedict says, God does not leave us groping in the dark. But all is not well in our own country either; yes here is no war or famine, but the England of today presents itself to us as a profoundly needy land. It is needy in the sense that we live in a culture that seeks to express itself as totally self-sufficient where only what is experienced or what can be calculated is valid; where individual freedom is held as the fundamental value to which all others must be subject. Thus, in our land, God remains increasingly excluded from public life and faith in Him becomes more difficult because God no longer appears directly; He seems even superfluous or out of place. Our culture represents a truly radical break, not only with Christianity, but with the moral and religious traditions of humanity. Thus it is not able to establish a proper dialogue with others, nor respond to the fundamental questions on the sense and direction of our lives. In this sense our nation is in great need because it is deprived of some of the greatest values of life which are reasons for meaning and reasons for hope.

Here, my dear people, is where we Christians, through our faith, through our prayer, through the example of our lives, are able to say ‘yes’ to God and to answer the profound longings of the human heart. We need not be afraid as we set out again to give witness to our Risen Lord. We need not be afraid as we face our world in Britain where God is hidden, because we can bring him to life: I bring you tidings of great joy – to be shared by the whole pe

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posted on 01 January 1900

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