Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The general situation "has worsened, there is no real willingness to resume peace negotiations, and there is always an excuse to put it off. Every day we expect more deaths, but nothing is done to resume dialouge": This is the picture of the Holy Land and the Middle East painted by Msgr. Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, patriarchal vicar of Jerusalem.
At the forefront of the battle of Catholic schools against Israeli Ministry of Education cuts, the prelate denounces' attacks by some municipalities on the goods and the coffers of the Church. "We've recently heard - he says - that some municipalities have blocked the accounts of churches, clergy, religious orders. Moreover in addition to the services we already regularly pay, they want to compel diocese to pay an extra administrative tax, but it is an absurdity because since the Ottoman empire religious orders have been exempt".
The auxiliary bishop does not hide its concern for the near future and speaks of how he is baffled that "even my personal account has been blocked. The problem is that with the fact that bills are taken directly from bank accounts which are currently blocked account, we risk finding ourselves with nothing, not even electricity or gas ... nothing".
The Maronites in Haifa and other religious in Jaffa find themselves in a similar situation. For the prelate these are "decisions made by local municipalities, but the government has done nothing to stop them. At the official level they say they are against it, but there is no great will to resolve the issue. The nuncio informed the Israeli Foreign Ministry, but nothing has changed. "
Blocked current accounts, difficult situations for schools and hospitals, relations between church and state and dialogue with the Holy See interrupted, without any sign on the horizon or a resumption in the short term.
The reality of the Church and the Christian community in the region is critical and also in terms of pilgrimages the news is not encouraging. Indeed, Msgr. Marcuzzo speaks of "complete crisis."
One thing above all: in 2015 there was a decline of about 30% in visitors over the previous year. "Pilgrims from all the European countries, except Poland, have declined," said the Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem. "Globally, there are pilgrims from Nigeria, then Koreans and Japanese, Indonesians and Filipinos, but the overall figure is a crisis."
The decline has an impact on the community of Israel, Palestine, Jordan because "nearly 30% of Christians work in this sector, in tourism and pilgrimages, and so they are not getting wages." "We must help these people - said Msgr. Marcuzzo - starting from the fact that the violence transmitted by TV on the Middle East have nothing to do with the Holy Land. The pilgrims here have never been touched; Jews and Muslims consider the pilgrim a person in search of God and respect him, so people should not be afraid”.
The patriarchal vicar emphasizes that peace is a basic requirement to restore cohabitation and dialogue in this land; to obtain it is necessary that the United States and Europe correct their "mistaken policy" in the Middle East. "You have to block aid and terrorist financing – he warns - not only to Daesh [Arabic acronym for the Islamic state], but all terrorists groups."
In this difficult context, the Jubilee of Mercy "has a very strong value" for which the Church of the Holy Land has promoted "a serious program, involving all communities." For the period of Lent, says Msgr. Marcuzzo, "we chose to visit the sick: not just in hospitals but also in homes, families, following the directives of Pope Francis ... that the sick themselves are evangelizers of suffering". Our example is Saint Mariam Bawardi, who "still being sick, was the first to help those who were suffering, a truly extraordinary witness." And then there is the distribution of aid and food for those who suffer in Gaza, refugees in Jordan.
Finally, for the period of Lent the priests "they have pledged to ensure greater availability and more time for confessions".
The faithful of the Holy Land speak of a feeling of "abandonment". And to understand how important the contact, closeness is, Msgr. Marcuzzo recalled the recent visit of the ambassador of Finland in a Catholic school in the Galilee.
"She was met with great enthusiasm - tells the prelate - so much so that she herself was surprised. But when they see a person who is interested in them, who cares, these kids feel encouraged. But not only young people: all Christians in the region need to feel included, supported. " And the way to support us, he concludes, is "to make this pilgrimage, to be with us, pray with us." (DS)