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Patriarch Compares Palestinian Suffering to That of Jesus

Msgr. Michel Sabbah, the first Palestinian appointed by the pope to the office of Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, has likened the suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation to the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

He made the comparison in an interview with the newspaper La Repubblica, published here Wednesday. The interview was conducted in Jerusalem three months after Pope John Paul II named Sabbah the highest-ranking Catholic prelate in the Holy Land.

Sabbah also said that while the traditional Palm Sunday procession in Jerusalem last Sunday was canceled because of the tense situation in the administered territories, he planned “no cancellation of traditional Easter rites.”

Half the usual number of Easter pilgrims have arrived from abroad, apparently because of the Palestinian disturbances in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But the poor showing has not daunted the patriarch.

“We won’t cancel anything,” he said. “We’re dealing with prayer. And then, Holy Week and the commemoration of the sufferings of Christ adapt themselves perfectly for these days.”

Sabbah, who admitted he has had no contact with the Israeli authorities since assuming his new office, drew an analogy between Jesus’ ordeal and that of the Palestinian people.

He said Jesus bore the cross and “every Palestinian carries the cross and has done so for many years. They carry it through wounds, through jail, through people closed into camps, through families without wages or food — an individual, social and collective cross.”

Sabbah added that he viewed the Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-administered territories as “a normal and natural thing. After 20 years it is normal that the people rebel and say enough with occupation.”

He expressed hope that “all these sufferings will not be in vain, that this clear expression against such a long military occupation will make people understand that it has to end. Today, unfortunately, there are no signs of peace. Rather violence is continuing against violence.”

ISRAELI ENVOY INTERVIEWED

La Repubblica published a full-page interview Tuesday with Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Mordechai Drory. The Israeli diplomat expressed pessimism over the continuing confrontations between Israeli security forces and the Palestinians.

“It’s certainly true that the latest events have focused attention on the Palestinian problem, maybe too much, to the point where it has made us forget that there is not just this problem, but also that of the relationship between Israel and the Arab states,” Drory said.

He acknowledged that Israel is politically divided, but though there are deep splits in public and political opinion, it is the elected government which must act. The Israeli democracy elected Yitzhak Shamir prime minister and no one else, the envoy declared.

But he agreed with Shamir’s rival, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, that the elections in Israel next fall will be the most important ever in that country. “For the first time, the Israeli people will be called on to decide their very future.”

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