Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - Being "citizens and Christians" in the Holy Land as Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah says is not just a "historical or geographic" fact, but a "choice of vocation and mission. God calls us on a journey to accomplish in the land of Jesus, said Mgr Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the new patriarchal vicar of Jerusalem and Palestine.
The prelate spoke to AsiaNews about his 20 years of service as bishop, first in Nazareth and now in the city symbol of the three great monotheistic religions. For him, it is essential to stem the exodus from the Middle East, guaranteeing people, especially young people, the means and resources to "live and establish themselves socially and professionally. To reach this goal, “education, basic and university, is essential".
"The Latin Patriarchate has been engaged in pastoral work aimed at helping young people,” Mgr Marcuzzo said. “We want to prepare new generations for life and work. We have promoted a broad diocesan plan involving and embracing schools and universities, so that young people can find a job and build a home, a family, planting roots in this land. Achieving a position is the starting point for this plan."
As evidence of the renewed bond between young people and the Holy Land, the bishop noted what happened last year at World Youth Day (WYD) in Krakow, Poland. "All the young people (from Israel and Palestine) came back. By contrast, many of those who came from Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq chose to stay in Europe, saying that it was ‘heaven’ and that it was not possible to imagine going back to hell."
Bishop Marcuzzo, 72, is originally from the Diocese of Vittorio Veneto, northern Italy. He began his studies at the Pio X Missionary Institute in Oderzo. In 1960, when he was little more than a teenager, he left for Palestine to complete his priestly studies and learn Arabic. Ordained in 1969, he was appointed bishop in 1993. A year later he became the auxiliary bishop to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem with headquarters in Emmaus. Since then, he came to be considered the "bishop of Nazareth," the city where he lived, responsible for the local Christian community.
The prelate has also been involved in promoting interfaith dialogue and furthering Christian schools in the Holy Land, taking a lead in the protest against Israeli authorities over funding and their takeover by the state. For years, he has taught ancient Arab literature to young people and Christian, Jewish, and Muslim students.
Today, 23 September, he celebrated his farewell Mass at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, in a service that marked the handover to new patriarchal vicar, Fr Hanna Kildani. "I have taken on a new assignment,” Mgr Marcuzzo said, “but one that is not far from what I have done so far. It is the same mission, the same ministry, although in Jerusalem it becomes broader and more sensitive, with new challenges."
Jerusalem is the place where "everything is shared by Jews, Christians, Muslims", where "holy places stand and where pilgrims of the universal and local Church meet. It is a blend of pastoral realities and challenges, a very intense and at the same time very sensitive task, because it requires acceptance and sharing with others."
The pastoral plan remains the one drafted in the 1990s by the Synod of the Churches of the Holy Land and the indications of Pope John Paul II for 2000, namely make the Second Vatican Council a concrete fact, adapting it to the peculiarities of the Holy Land."
The Church in the region "wants, must and can" continue to be "a sign of unity, in a difficult context, marked by divisions," the prelate said. “A symbol and a message to the Middle East was the maintenance of the unity of the dioceses of the Latin Patriarchate, whilst dividing them between the territories of Palestine, Jerusalem and Jordan. In addition, we have the great work of communion with all the Churches. We respect their liturgical peculiarities, but we bring together the other aspects of pastoral outreach like vocations, social life, attention and women’s role."
In this context, interfaith dialogue with Jews and Muslims is renewed. “We want to be a bridge and an element of communion with our brothers and sisters of different faiths,” he said. “Such a dialogue must not be abstract, with the danger of rejecting reality; instead, it must be a true exchange following, as Saint Paul says in the Letter to the Ephesians, the example of Christ who breaks down the walls that separate and build a new humanity."
This is task is even more important today when the situation in the region is "more serious than in the past". In the 1990s, there was "a phase of euphoria, in which one really thought of a lasting peace. Then came disappointment, resignation, sharpened by a series of negative events on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian. We Christians, the Church of the Holy Land, want to encourage, promote hope, trust and openness despite disappointments. Believing in brotherhood and reconciliation is possible, even if we do not see its premises."
Finally, Mgr Marcuzzo said that he wants to appeal to Christians all over the world through AsiaNews, especially in Europe and the West. "Come as pilgrims to the Holy Land. Do not be afraid, because there are no risks or dangers. We see the presence of many Christians from Asia, including Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Malaysians, Indonesians, but visits from Europe are down. We in the Patriarchate are happy to welcome pilgrims and speak to them of our Church in Jerusalem." (DS)