Top Roman Catholic in Holy Land steps down

Palestinian Michel Sabbah to be replaced in coming weeks by Archbishop Fouad Twal, a Jordanian.

michel sabbah 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
michel sabbah 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The top Roman Catholic Church official in Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan and Cyprus, Latin Patriarch and Archbishop of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah, tendered his resignation to Rome on Wednesday - his 75th birthday - in accordance with Church tradition. Sabbah, who is known for his outspoken criticism of Israel and his opposition to the West Bank security barrier, is expected to stay in his post for the coming weeks. He will be replaced by Archbishop Fouad Twal, a Jordanian, who was chosen as coadjutor, a grooming position for the patriarchate, in September 2005. Twal's appointment continues the trend of appointing indigenous clergymen to fill the church's most senior positions, which began in earnest after World War II. The trend, which was tied to the reversal of colonialist enterprises, began in the Protestant churches, with Anglicans and Lutherans preferring locals to Europeans in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Sabbah, who was appointed in December 1987, was the first Palestinian to be appointed as patriarch of Jerusalem; the position was created in 1099, after the Crusaders' conquest of Jerusalem. Before Sabbah, the post had been dominated by Italians. Sabbah's tenure has been punctuated by strong political statements against Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria. The patriarch has also taken part in demonstrations against the security barrier, erected to prevent terrorist infiltration into Israel, calling it a "prison." In December, he said that Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a normal state for Christians Muslims and Jews. In his Easter message, probably his last holiday message as patriarch, Sabbah speaks of the Holy Land as a "land of revelation, redemption, and reconciliation" that has been troubled by "inhumane and futile violence." "Unfortunately this land remains a land of bloodshed, ignoring its own vocation," wrote Sabbah, who was born in Nazareth. "It is high time to learn the lessons of history and engage in the path of God; it is high time for every people and individual to accept the vocation entrusted by God to them, which is to build societies and not demolish them." he continued. "Patriarch Sabbah was the first to speak in the name of the Christian faithful, not in the name of the Church," said Father David Neuhaus, professor of Scripture at the Roman Catholic Seminary in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. "He is a son of the people who carries with him the experiences of the people. Current events are too close to real life for the patriarch to ignore them. He is too rooted in the land." Twal, who served in the Vatican Foreign Service between 1987 and 1992, received early education in Catholic institutions in the Holy Land. In 1992 he was appointed archbishop of Tunis. There are about 75,000 Catholics within the patriarchate.