Saturday, December 24, 2016

Pizzaballa: “The situation of Christians in Syria, Iraq and Egypt is a complete tragedy”

“The situation of Christians in Syria, Iraq and Egypt is a complete tragedy. In these countries, cradle of our civilization, the vicious cycle of violence which is at work seems hopeless and endless,” Pierbattista Pizzaballa said in his first Christmas press conference in Jerusalem since he took up office as Apostolic Administrator. 

For the Latin Patriarchate this event is a chance to take a look at the main issues involving the Holy Land and the Middle East. A tradition Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa continued with his usual frankness. 

The images reaching from Aleppo and Cairo are heart breaking; but in his meeting with journalists in the heart of the Old City, recalls “the whole region” has experience this tragedy “during the long years of the conflict” fuelled by “the arms trade, by the game of interests of powers, by relentless fundamentalism”. These problems cannot be resolves by military means. 

“Peace would imply political negotiations and solutions. The army can win the war, but to build you need the politics. And we do not see it. Many interests are at work in these wars but finally the poor and the powerless are the ones who paid for them, and they paid too much.” 

The Apostolic Administrator of Jerusalem urged Christians in the Middle East: “We have our part of responsibility in those devastating tragedies,” he explained. “We cannot continue to only speak about dialogue, justice and peace. Words are not enough. We must combat poverty and injustice, and give a continual testimony of mercy to reveal to the world the love and the tenderness of our God.” 

He was speaking, aware of the fact that the scourge of extremism and radicalism is growing in the Holy Land too. He mentioned episodes of vandalism against churches, cemeteries and other Christian structures, over the course of the year. “Not only we want to raise our voices to denounce such acts,” he pointed out, “but we want to help finding solutions, tackling the problems at the root, by offering to the young generation a brighter future. Education is fundamental in our vision.” 

But this is precisely where one of the current problems lies: there seems to be increasingly less room for those who follow a different education method. “Our schools in Israel are still passing through an unprecedented crisis,” he recalled, “and no concrete solution has been offered till now.” 

Then there is the aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which are at a complete standstill: “Our future seems blurred. We are lacking vision,” Pizzaballa commented. “The continuing obstacles to peace in Israel and Palestine and the lack of dialogue and commitment to a true peace built on justice and security, are still obvious.” 

The Apostolic Administrator mentioned the case of the Cremisan wall near Bethlehem, where Christian families are being dispossessed of their land: “The wall has been built after a long struggle despite our multiple calls to the Israeli authorities.” 

But despite all these problems, the Church in Jerusalem is not giving up. “Our local Church here in the Holy Land also recognizes its own need for spiritual renewal and is entering a period of reform in terms of organization, administration and pastoral work,” he announced. This reform is in line with the vision set out by Francis, “the only clear and prophetic voice we can hear and trust”.  

One of the rays of hope in this difficult time is the restoration of Jesus’ Tomb and the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, both taking place thanks to a collaboration between different faiths. These are not just building works, they are a symbol of a more farsighted approach: working “with those of good will – Jews, Muslims and those with no faith – to build bridges, assist the poorest, educate our children, welcome the refugees and the homeless”. 

Finally, he expressed a Christmas wish for the continued fostering of hope. “Our broken hearts should be ready for surprises. And Christmas is actually the time to renew our faith in the God of surprises as we go to Bethlehem to venerate an apparently powerless God: The Child Jesus. In our prayers, we are and we will continually carry this wounded world.”

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