Jerusalem: the Cross breaks down the wall of fear
by Bernardo Cervellera
A talk with Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, Custodian of the Holy Land.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Jerusalem, the place of the Cross, is the city where one can feel close to God, but also where one can see the abyss caused by violence and man's pretensions. It is the city touched by love but also stained by walls and divisions, fears between Israelis and Palestinians, between Jews, Muslims and Christians. The Holy City is a place where the signs of death live side by side with the signs of the resurrection.

Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custodian of the Holy Land, has accepted to talk to AsiaNews about the mission of the Christian minority in the land of Jesus and its need for support from the Churches of the rest of the world.

How does one experience Holy Week in the land where Jesus died and rose?

This year for the first time in a very long time, Jerusalem is full of pilgrims. The faithful are thronging the streets and the prevailing mood is one of celebration and prayer; this had been lost as a result of the second intifada and Israeli violence.

Easter celebrations in Jerusalem always have a special quality; people are more attentive and religious fervour is stronger.

Different but related rituals and ceremonies overlap: those of Passover, and Catholic and Orthodox Easter. This year they won't occur at exactly the same time but most years one can see an intermixture of Jewish, Eastern and Latin rituals.

Is Easter in Jerusalem something of the past or is it still meaningful today?

It depends on whether one is Christian or not. As Christians we experience Good Friday with great intensity and emotion; we share in the suffering of Christ, His pain and the inequities of the world.

But walk just ten paces away and you step outside of this world into a society that knows nothing about it, that continues its own life. For us it is an exceptional moment; for them, just another day.

This is in no way meant to be a criticism of Muslims or Jews, but we must understand that an event so central and foundational for us leaves them totally indifferent.

In Europe, it is taken for granted that this is a time of celebration. Here, we must have different attitude. We know that Christ who died on the Cross is the source of salvation, for us both also for them even if they do not realise it.

For this reason, even though I respect their faith and their history, I am impelled to be more faithful and loving towards my faith, to be a better witness of the event that occurred here.

It is like bearing our own little cross: we feel the presence of Jesus in our inner passion.

For Christians Jerusalem is where the faith begins. But it is a place where humanity is bitter divided;  the place of a war between Israelis and Palestinians that has lasted a hundred years; the place where Catholics and Eastern Christians cooperate with difficulty . . .   Is it perhaps some kind of put-on? Some twisted sense of irony?

Absolutely not! Jerusalem is where God and man met. Its beauty lies in the marvel that this meeting inspired. It is where one can see the gap between God's design and man's pretensions. This might seem contradictory but the two go together.

There would not be so much pain in Jerusalem if Christ had not been here. At any rate, Christ took the pain of the world upon Himself and here we can see the pain of the world.

What are the signs of death and resurrection in Jerusalem?

There are inequities, pain and suffering that the Cross of Jesus embodies. But they all spring from a deeper emotion: fear. This is true for Israelis and Palestinians; for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. Take us Christians! We talk a lot about reconciliation but are not credible.

The fear of others and the lack of trust in them have consequences that are visible to everyone.

These fears are like Jesus dying on the Cross all over again, but, as Saint Paul said, He came and "broke down the dividing wall of enmity" (cf Ephes, 2: 14).

Israel's wall is a great injustice for it prevents so many people from going to work or school. Palestinians' reluctance to fully accept the right of Israelis to exist and live in peace and security is another basic injustice.

Even so one can see small and quiet signs of the resurrection, which appear when conversion occurs in the heart, when the love for Jesus turns hatred into love.

There is teacher from Bethlehem who told me that every time she crossed Israeli checkpoints she was always humiliated. This went on for a long time, but, at one point, she decided she would no longer lower her eyes and hate the soldiers; she would instead look them straight in the eye as her equals. And she was freed.

In the midst of all the violence there are many groups, religious or secular, Israeli and Palestinian, who still meet despite the barriers.

There are also many people who help the poor, work for human rights and pay a personal price for their commitment.

The catechumens are another sign of the resurrection. This Easter, two Israelis are going to be baptised. In my old Hebrew-speaking communities some Palestinians will also be baptised, so will some Thais, Sri Lankans and Filipinos who have come here to work as care givers, bricklayers and domestic workers.

In Jerusalem the Church is truly the home of every nation.

Every Good Friday, money is collected for the Holy Land. What is the money for?

It was Saint Paul who first asked that money be collected for Jerusalem. We are thus in pure apostolic tradition.

The collection is important—it shows that Jerusalem belongs to every Christian in the world.

Christians are a minority in the Holy Land and alone we could not survive. For this reason the Universal Church feels the obligation to support us.

What is the money for? Of course, some of it goes into brick and mortar, i.e. to maintain and restore churches, schools and enterprises. But more than 60 per cent goes to projects that benefit the Christian population.

The Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches led the way; it used money collected for Jerusalem to help people before it helped institutions.

What advice would you give Christians who would like to come to Jerusalem?

Thank God that pilgrims are back. I appeal to everyone to come to the Holy Land because it is safe—there are no dangers.

Coming to the Holy Land is one way to support local Christians, but also a way to find the roots of one's faith and go to the heart of the mystery that gives life to the world.