03/26/2018, 18.31
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Mgr Pizzaballa: tens of thousands of believers and pilgrims in Jerusalem for Easter

The apostolic administrator spoke about the festive atmosphere during Palm Sunday. Large number of people experienced an ambiance of sharing, boosted by the proximity of Orthodox celebrations. After years of crisis, pilgrims are back in large numbers. Christians pray for the end of emigration and conflicts.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – "Tens of thousands of believers" celebrated Palm Sunday yesterday, "not only pilgrims, but also many locals coming from the different areas that make up the diocese," said Mgr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Speaking to AsiaNews, he noted that this is perhaps "the only moment when Christians meet”, a time of “celebrations that start the rites and services of the Week “with huge numbers”, partly because of “the proximity of Orthodox festivities, which fall only a week after Catholic ones".

The atmosphere of sharing and celebration "felt in all the parish communities" was boosted by the “number of pilgrims that keeps growing compared to the past" when a worrying drop was recorded.

It is important not only to be close to the heart of Christianity, but also to fuel one of the main economic activities of the local community whose earnings depend for 30 per cent on religious tourism.

"In 2017, the number of stays was double over the previous year,” Mgr Pizzaballa said. “For the first months of 2018, the number of pilgrims is even higher. So, from this point of view, we can say that the situation is much improved and this is an element of relief "after a critical period.

Some of the reasons for the higher numbers include "the liberalisation of air travel by Israel, which has allowed many low-cost companies to fly in from all over the world, especially Asia. What is more, the Holy Land has not any bad stories lately, and this has contributed to allaying fears about the pilgrimages."

On 24 June 2016, the former Custos of the Holy Land was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem of the Latins, which had been vacant since the resignation due to age limit of Patriarch Fouad Twal.

The 52-year-old archbishop (53 on 21 April) received his episcopal consecration on 10 September 2016 in the cathedral of Bergamo (Italy), his diocese of origin.

The prelate has been in the Holy Land since 1999 where, in May 2004, he was elected custodian. On 22 March 2010, he was chosen a second time. In 2013 he got another three years. His posting ended in April 2016.

A fine expert of Jewish culture, he also taught Biblical Hebrew at the Franciscan Faculty of Biblical and Archaeological Sciences in Jerusalem and has ties with prominent Israeli Jewish figures.

This year "there are no particular situations that cause concern," Mgr Pizzaballa noted. "We hope to experienced the holy days in a more serene and shared atmosphere."

Political and social problems remain, the Israeli-Palestinian question "is always topical" and the clash with Israeli authorities over taxes that led to the closure of the Holy Sepulcher is only "on hold". However, for now the goal is "to celebrate Easter rites".

For Christians*, the greatest desire “is that this situation of conflict and waiting be over.” People pray and make invocations for "a more peaceful life, like the other citizens who make up the country.”

“In this sense, the participation, even this year, of a certain number of Christians from the Gaza Strip is something positive,” but to come to Jerusalem they must be authorised by Israeli authorities.

Still, "The Christian presence is at risk,” Mgr Pizzaballa noted. “It is necessary to ensure a future by encouraging social and economic initiatives, by strengthening training and education, and by supporting Christian schools as a privileged place to meet and exchange."

"On the occasion of Easter,” he said, “I renew the invitation to Christians from all over the world, especially in the West, to come to the Holy Land and experience a humanity reconciled by the death and resurrection of Christ.”

"There is nothing in the human experience that cannot be touched by His love. For this reason too, it is necessary to continue to pray and work for peace, even if there are no results in the short term because of the lack of political action.” (DS)

* Christians represent just over 1 per cent of the population in the Holy Land, and their presence here as elsewhere in the Middle East is at risk due to large-scale emigration.

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