Latin patriarch in Holy Land set to retire   2008/03/07
Source: AFP

The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, announced on Friday he will retire on March 19 at the age of 75.

Patriarch Michel Sabbah will be replaced by Fuad Twal, the 67-year-old bishop who has assisted him since 2005.

"On March 19, 2008, I shall reach the age of 75, the age of retirement according to the Church's tradition," Sabbah said in his last pastoral letter.

Sabbah was named Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem by Pope John Paul II in 1987, becoming the first Palestinian to hold the position since the Crusades.

"Like all the Palestinians, we are victims of the occupation," he said of Christians in the Holy Land.

"Like all the Palestinians, we have to pay the price in order to again find our political and economic freedom as well as in some ways, our religious freedom where access to the Holy Places and to Jerusalem itself is concerned."

Sabbah called for a "non-violent resistance" that would lead Israel and the Palestinians to enjoy their freedom, sovereignty and security.

The Christian vision in the ongoing conflict is of a land that belongs "to two peoples" but that "first of all is the land of God", Sabbah said.

His successor, Twal, was born on October 23, 1940 of a Christian Bedouin tribe in Jordan.

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