Bishop Pizzaballa: Advent is a time of religious and spiritual revival in an uncertain climate
The Holy Land has "never before seen" such a political situation, which generates "instability". Rebuilding from ruins is strengthening a sense of community. Economic migrants to the Holy Land are "an integral part" of the life of the Church. Bethlehem is not only a place but an "invitation" to a different lifestyle.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Politically, the Holy Land is in “a phase of great uncertainty, something never seen before”. Israel is on its way “to a third election" in less than a year whilst Palestine is beholden to a status quo complicated by the "difficult reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah,” this according to Mgr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate looked the climate that reigns in the region at the beginning of Advent. Politics, the prelate said, "is important" because it provides "guidelines in social life" and conditions "economic investments”.
In recent weeks, Israel has been in the middle of an unprecedented crisis, its main camps in a deadlock, with two elections (April and September) already under the belt and no one able to get a majority in the Knesset.
The situation is even more confused and uncertain with the indictment of incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges, and US President Donald Trump’s decision to treat Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories as not against international law.
"From an economic point of view, things have barely changed,” Mgr Pizzaballa said. Things are “More or less good for Israel, bad in Palestine and worse in Gaza. The political deadlock generates instability,” compounded by military tensions, like the recent clashes and civilian casualties involving the Israeli army and Islamic Jihad in Gaza with Hamas, for once, looking on from the side-lines.
From a "religious and spiritual" point of view, there are attempts to build something out of existing economic, material and spiritual morass. With Advent upon us ahead of Christmas, there is an opportunity "to strengthen the community, with the simplest things, like going back to villages and parishes" as “points of reference” for the faithful as they “prepare themselves in the best possible way” for the birth of Christ.
With the recent return of a fragment of Jesus’s wooden manger to Jerusalem and now Bethlehem, there are reasons to celebrate. The relic, which that Pope Francis wanted to give to the Church of the Holy Land, was " welcomed with surprise "and great joy.
“Our reality is very fragile, so it is important to keep our traditions alive,” Mgr Pizzaballa said. It now includes Christian migrants who come to the Holy Land to work, and are already "an integral part of the life of the Church and the diocese, which coordinates their activities.”
One priest deals specifically with their pastoral care and is committed to "inserting them into the reality of the local Church". Since most live in Israel, "preparing for Christmas is more complicated for them. But Fridays and Saturdays (Muslim and Jewish days of rest) provide an opportunity to meet and take part in communal celebrations.”
Lastly, pilgrimages “are doing well” and are “very important”. They “have increased in size largely because of the greater presence of Catholics from Asia and the East.”
This revival is also economically important "because it brings job opportunities", although it must be said that “our towns are not equipped for large numbers. In the past few months, people have had to wait long hours just to get into the holy places,” a problem bound to get worse in the coming weeks.
At present, the prelate is working on a message to the faithful in the Holy Land for the Christmas holidays. One of the key passages of the text will touch upon the city where Christ was born. For Bishop Pizzaballa, "Visiting Bethlehem is not just going to a place, but also an invitation to adopt a different lifestyle.”