03/26/2008, 00.00
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Custos of the Holy Land: a "normal" Easter, overflowing with pilgrims

At least 150,000 faithful from all over the world visited Jerusalem and the holy sites in these days, going to comfort the local Christian communities, of Palestinian and Jewish origin. Easter is the hope for all the unresolved problems in the land of Jesus. Six adults of Russian origin baptised.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - Easter was "normal" this year.  This is how the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land, Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, described it in an interview with AsiaNews: "normal" means that it was without incident, full of faith and prayer, with the holy city overflowing with pilgrims from all over the world.

This year, Catholic Easter has so far been celebrated only in Jerusalem.  In the other cities of the Holy Land, Easter is celebrated together with the Orthodox: in 2008, this date falls about five weeks after the Latin observance.  Harmonising the observance of Easter in Jerusalem is not possible because of the status quo, the Ottoman arrangement that still regulates relations among the Christian communities and the use of the holy sites.

According to the Custody, which does not yet have exact numbers, this Easter week at least 150,000 people have come from many nations, wanting to participate in ceremonies at the Holy Sepulchre, in the Via Crucis along the Via Dolorosa, visiting the sites of the passion and resurrection of Jesus.

"There has been a good return of pilgrims to the Holy Land.  This year, we even surpassed the number who came for the Jubilee of the Year 2000".  In previous years, many communities - out of fear of attacks and tensions between Israelis and Palestinians - delayed their visit to the sites of Jesus' life: "this year, thanks to a period of discreet tranquillity, there have been countless visitors, and this has meant more effort  and more work for the Christians who live here".

"The people", continues Fr Pizzaballa, "speak of the problems between Israel and Palestine, and fear some attack, but they are not allowing themselves to be swayed, and above all, by coming here, they realise that life goes on and that it is possible, through the holy sites, to encounter Jesus, our only hope and certainty".

The presence of foreign pilgrims, not only for the Easter celebrations, but throughout the entire year, communicates "the profound participation and support that the other Christian communities of the world devote to us, the faithful of the Holy Land.  This solidarity becomes very specific on Good Friday: on that day, in all the churches of the world, the donations collected during the ceremony of the Lord's Passion are dedicated to the support of the churches in the Holy Land".

Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus, is also the only hope for the local Catholics.  The Custos explains: "there are political problems in Israel; a bitter conflict between the two peoples and within their own ranks; insecurity; uncertainty over the future; the Wall; the lack of jobs; the temptation to emigration . . . In the face of all these sufferings, which have remained the same for decades, our only true hope is to hold on tightly to the faith.  The resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our optimism".

"This very year, I realised how the faithful from everywhere in the world, from the occupied territories, and from Israel want to take advantage of these moments in order to be together, to comfort each other, to pray".

"Even the few Hebrew-speaking Catholics, who number about one hundred, met in Qiryat Ye-arim.  For them, it was a bit more difficult, because the Jewish Passover is still far off (it will take place in a month) and they did not have any holiday time".

These celebrations demonstrate that the Church here in the land of Jesus is still alive. "One sign of this vitality is always the baptisms that are celebrated at the Easter vigil.  This year, six adults of Russian origin were baptised, who may have been Jewish by ancestry, but were raised as atheists.  They too have discovered who Jesus is".

Photo: www.custodia.org

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