“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.
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.”
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