09/30/2023, 18.55
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Card Pizzaballa: Jerusalem, the 'Mother Church' founded on 'justice, truth, forgiveness'

by Dario Salvi

The Latin patriarch received his cardinal's biretta from Pope Francis. The presence of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch was a sign of progress in ecumenism. Christians in the Holy Land face the problems and challenges of the West (the family) and the East (the exodus). The patriarch expressed proximity to Card Sako and stressed Jerusalem’s role as a bridge with Asia’s Churches and faiths.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Jerusalem is the “Mother Church" of "different spoken languages” capable of understanding each other thanks to “the Spirit that proclaims the Risen Christ,” said Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa of Jerusalem of the Latins, speaking to AsiaNews.

Today he received the cardinal's biretta from Pope Francis. Interviewed yesterday, the first resident patriarch to receive the scarlet biretta spoke about his 34 years in the Holy Land, where one learns the hard way how important it is to keep together "justice, truth and forgiveness".

Appointed in 2020 as the tenth Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Franciscan was born in Bergamo (Italy) in 1965 and has been working in the Holy Land since 1999. In May 2004 he was elected Custos, confirmed twice thereafter. On 24 June 2016, he was appointed apostolic administrator when Patriarch Fouad Twal reached the age limit. The jurisdiction the new cardinal heads embraces Latin-rite Catholics in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus, in 71 parishes and six vicariates.

The interview with Card Pizzaballa follows:

Your Beatitude, in the past you have spoken several times of the central place Jerusalem has in the universal Church. What is its role today?

First of all, it is always the Mother Church, from where the apostles left and spread the Gospel. It is the starting point; and the mother can never be forgotten, not only from the point of view of history, of the roots. But we must also try to understand the model of Church from which it started, that of Pentecost; a plural reality of different spoken languages that got along with each other, understood each other, in the light of the Spirit that proclaims the Risen Christ.

The other aspect to keep in mind is that Jerusalem, even today, is a laboratory where different Churches, communities, religions live side by side with each other, sometimes well, sometimes less well, with difficulty but also with very beautiful experiences. I believe it is a precious laboratory in which this experiment, which that we have been living for so many centuries, is, in fact, relived today all over the world where societies are increasingly plural.

Jerusalem and the Holy Land are mentioned in relation to controversial episodes, violence and conflict. What can become a symbol of hope?

I have been in Jerusalem for 34 years and I remember well the Christian reality when I arrived, the relationship between Churches, and how it is at present. Tomorrow (today for those who read the article), the Greek [Orthodox] patriarch of Jerusalem will be present at the consistory, as a show of solidarity. This is an example of how the situation has changed; [Jerusalem] is not only the city of the status quo since things change with slowly but consistently.

This aspect is strong and visible, but there are also others, such as interfaith activities that are carried out in public and less public form; the latter perhaps are even the most real precisely because they are far from the spotlight and the media. This city is not generous with those who are in a hurry and want immediate answers; it knows how to nurture in a very powerful way those who are looking for something solid and need time.

As for your election as cardinal, you will also be the first cardinal resident in the holy city.

As always, one has to work at it, aware of the responsibilities that the role entails. To be a voice of Christians, for Christians.

What can you give to the universal Church?

I can remind the universal Church that is wondering what orientations to take, about the epochal changes taking place in the world and the Church, that it is necessary to return to the fundamentals, i.e. the relationship with Jesus Christ, the Gospel, without too many frills, and from there, start again. We need to return to the core of the Christian message.

In the holy city, how can you define the relationship between the Latin Church and other confessions?

The struggle between Churches for the possession of holy places is often talked about, one of the labels attached to us. Of course, this was the case in the past, and relations between us in this large condominium are not always perfect, but there is greater harmony; we can live very well and despite all the limitations we can move this 'building' forward. Relations have improved a lot, perhaps because there are few of us, very much aware of how important it is to have a single voice. It is not always easy, we have different sensitivities, but we have this awareness... We know how to be together!

As for the community, is it declining?

Yes, the numbers are going down for two reasons: first, because we have few families, we marry less, and then there is migration, especially among the young. We face the problems and challenges of the Western world (the family) and the Eastern world (the exodus).

Your Beatitude, what are the prospects of the mission in response to such problems?

The perspective does not change, on the contrary. We must also work harder on the unity of the Catholic Church, among its various rites, bearing in mind that for us unity is not something abstract as in the West, but something concrete. Our Church is in four different countries that have closed borders; so, unity means, first of all, being able to meet in person, and it is not easy. We are the Church of Jerusalem, but most of our faithful cannot even come to the holy city.

No religion is an island and even in the relationship with other faiths we must be aware that our problems cannot be solved by turning inward, navel-gazing; we need to start with others, look at others, listen to Judaism, Islam. We need to be aware that we are part of a very intricate complex of relationships and no one alone can find the solution.

Does the fact of being a Church that includes migrants help to be open?

This brings an additional element of complexity, but, at the same time, it makes the life of the Church that more colourful, even more universal, which can have this universal dimension only in Jerusalem.

Here too there is a strong mixture of religion and politics, which you recently condemned as "shameful" given what is happening in the Russian and Ukrainian Churches amid the war.

I used a strong word to stress the fact that the Church always needs to maintain her freedom. One cannot be free to proclaim the Gospel, to speak of reconciliation and forgiveness, of salvation, if one is not free from political circumstances, from power, which follow completely different dynamics, and totally contradict each other.

In particular, in a context of conflict such as ours, the Church – and religions in general – must have a political role in the highest sense; they must give orientations, indications, use a language that is not exclusive, keeping in mind that we belong to one humanity. It is from there that we must start. In Jerusalem there will always be Jews, Christians and Muslims with whom I will have to deal. Starting from the premise “I and not the other” means denying reality, therefore denying my faith in God who must illuminate my civil life, not only the religious one.

Is this also why you have taken strong positions in the recent past when violence and serious abuses against Christians have taken place?

Of course! In Jerusalem one learns, the hard way, a fundamental point, that of holding together the demands of justice, truth and forgiveness. There is no before or after, because the three must go together. One cannot fail to speak of justice, where justice is denied, but if one speaks only of justice, it can become vigilante justice and create more injustices. One must use words of truth, which can be comforting, but one must also speak of forgiveness and reconciliation; otherwise, there are no perspectives and justice turns into revenge.

It is clear that politics and religion mix, for example, in the affair involving the patriarch of Baghdad of the Chaldeans. You are among the few voices to have come to his defence...

Living in Jerusalem, I know very well what it means, as a pastor, to feel unheard sometimes or isolated. At such a moment, regardless of what one may think or assess the facts of the matter, it was important to say to Card Sako that "you are not alone; we are with you."

Your Beatitude, how are relations with Jews and Muslims evolving?

We do not have many opportunities for theoretical or intellectual assessments; we always start from shared life. We have very beautiful situations in which we can listen, engage in dialogue, express solidarity, as well as more difficult ones. But after many years, I can say that this is how things will accompany us; we shall always have beauty and someone who wants to deface it.

Lastly, does the holy city also have a role as a bridge to the East, to the Churches of Asia and even China, something that is very close to Pope Francis’s heart?

Jerusalem, like the whole Holy Land, is the point where East and West meet and clash. Those who are interested in a life of the spirit, of faith, those who have a desire to understand religious life, cannot ignore the heritage and bond that it has brought to billions of people. In Asia there is Islam, which is a source of many challenges, but there are also countries with deep Christian roots like the Philippines. in a broader sense, there is a common ground, with different threads but a shared foundation, a shared root, a shared seed; that is Jerusalem, which remains central to the life of the Church and the world.

(Photo from the website of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)

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