Bishops stress Jerusalem’s shared heritage, a city where no one has a monopoly
For the members of the Holy Land Coordination, who came from Europe, America and South Africa, the Holy City is Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Christians are tasked with upholding the “city's openness and universality.” The prelates met with the family of slain Christian Palestinian journalist. They also expressed hope that pilgrimages will restart for they represent a crucial resource.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Bishops from Europe, North America and South Africa travelled to Jerusalem for the annual Holy Land Coordination, held this year on 21-26 May.
Following the gathering, they issued a statement stressing the city’s pluralism. In it, they state: “Jerusalem is a Jewish city, a Christian city, a Muslim city. It must remain a common patrimony and never become the exclusive monopoly of any one religion.”
The event provided the prelates with the opportunity of stressing the value of solidarity towards local Christians in the name of the 4Ps: prayer, pilgrimage, pressure, and presence. At the same time, it allowed them to express their closeness to the family of Shireen Abu-Akleh, a Palestinian Christian journalist killed on 11 May in Jenin.
Following Patriarch Pizzaballa, the bishops noted; “it is our right and duty as Christians to uphold the city's openness and universality.
The Holy Land Coordination (HLC) is a group of bishops who have gathered in Jerusalem since October 1998 at the request of the Holy See.
This year, bishops came from, among other places, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland. Chaired by HLC president Bishop Declan Lang, they discussed this year’s theme: “Jerusalem, locus of the soul – A mother who educates and makes us grow”.
Their statement goes on to say that, “The Christian community is essential to Jerusalem's identity, both now and for the future. Yet its continued presence is threatened by occupation and injustice.”
In fact, “Many of those we encountered are facing violence and intimidation by settler groups, restrictions on their freedom of movement, or separation from their families because of the status they are assigned.”
One of the most poignant moments was the meeting with the family of Shireen Abu Aklef, the Palestinian journalist killed, in all probability, from bullets fired by Israeli soldiers during a gunfight with the Palestinians in Jenin.
The family welcomed the meeting. The journalist’s brother, Anton Abu Akleh, stressed the importance of the Churches’ “closeness" at such “a tragic moment”.
Shireen, he added, was a "generous, humble woman, who did her job with great skills”; hopefully, “something good will come” from this tragedy.
Still, the prelates expressed outrage at “the shameful attack on mourners” at the journalist’s funeral.
The statement also shares “the concerns expressed by the Christian community about unilateral restrictions on freedom of worship during Easter, imposed by the Israeli police.”
It also mentions the sharp rise in poverty caused by two years of restrictions of COVID-19 pandemic, and the collapse of religious tourism and pilgrimages, which play a crucial role in the community’s economy.
About 30 per cent of local Christians earn a living from tourism and the hospitality industry. Lately, however, some families have been “struggling to afford housing, food, or other essentials.”
Despite such huge difficulties, there are some signs of hope thanks to the work of Christian associations and groups helping the neediest, including young people who, “despite facing daily violations of their fundamental human rights, refuse to be the last generation of Christians in the city.”
Lastly, the bishops call on Christians to come back as pilgrims to support their co-religionists in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. For the prelates, the value of the Holy City, as Pope Francis himself points out, “goes beyond any consideration of territorial issues.”