12/20/2016, 12.48
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Msgr. Pizzaballa: At Christmas the faithful of Asia and Russia revive pilgrimages to the Holy Land

The Apostolic Administrator refers to a "substantial increase" of the faithful visiting the holy places. Chinese and Indonesian "want to pray" and deal "with the local community." Pilgrimages are safe. To heal the wounds in the Middle East serves justice accompanied by mercy. Encounter with a people and a wounded community the reasons for renewed hope.


Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The faithful "from Asia and Russia" are "fueling" the presence in the Holy Land, a phenomenon that "obliges guides and tourists to update themselves." Lately there has been "a significant increase" in the number of pilgrims, so that " there are no rooms" in hotels and hostels in Bethlehem. This is what Msgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem tells AsiaNews, with his thoughts already turned to the upcoming Christmas celebrations. "In these days - adds the prelate - I am meditating on the homily of the Mass. I would like to appeal to people to return to the Gospel, to look to Christ to rediscover our fraternity, and as such be able to help each other in our time common need".

Recounting the boom of pilgrims from the Asian continent and the Russian Confederation, the apostolic administrator and former Custos of the Holy Land says that " different cultural approaches are emerging" compared to those of traditional flows from Europe and North America.

"The Chinese, Indonesians– he adds - are pilgrims who really want to pray, who devote much of their time to the sanctuaries, the celebrations". In addition, they "adapt to everything", they do not  disdain "smaller hotels" which provide for  "more opportunities for interaction and discussion with the local community."

For these new generation pilgrims, says the prelate, "Jerusalem and the Holy Land are first of all the land of Jesus" and the choice to make a journey there "is almost exclusively for religious reasons". In contrast, the economic crisis, fears of attacks and violence, "which perhaps represent the main element",  have contributed to "a gradual and steady decline" of visits from the Old Continent, the United States and Canada. "But I want to strongly emphasize - he adds - that pilgrims are safe."

On 24 June the former custodian of the Holy Land was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, following the resignation of the Patriarch Fouad Twal who had reached retirement age. The 51 year old new archbishop received episcopal consecration on 10 September in the cathedral of Bergamo, in Italy, his diocese of origin.

Born in Cologno al Serio, near Bergamo, April 21, 1965, he has worked in the Holy Land since 1999 and, in May 2004, he was elected Custos. On 22 March 2010, he was appointed for a second term. In 2013 was again elected for another three years. This mission came to an end in  April 2016. A fine connoisseur of Jewish culture, he also taught Biblical Hebrew at the Franciscan Faculty of Biblical and Archaeological Sciences in Jerusalem and has good relations with many prominent Israeli Jewish personalities.

Reflecting on the recently concluded Jubilee Year, Mgr. Pizzaballa recalled "the many events liturgical and educational" on the subject of mercy. The message that unfolded during the Holy Year, resonated now more than ever in Israel, in Palestine and throughout the Middle East today: "All of our injuries – he explains - divisions, religious and family must be resolved in the interests of justice, but there is no justice without mercy. "

The apostolic administrator invites the faithful to "start afresh from the Gospel", to " to look to Christ to rediscover our fraternity". The peace message contained in the New Testament "is two thousand years old" and is "always true: this need to always return, to find support and feel ourselves part of a community of believers."

Meanwhile the journey of preparation ahead of the festive season continues. "There is talk of decorations, fairs but there is an underlying sadness  – says Msgr. Pizzaballa – over the tragic events in Cairo, Jordan [added to these the murder of the Russian ambassador in Turkey and the attack in Germany, ed] and there is a strong desire to show solidarity with the victims. These facts are of concern, but people also long to celebrate the holiday. Children await gifts, families are busy with preparations, they meet in schools, in homes,  share the stories of their preparations, among the faithful there is a desire to come together, to fully enjoy the event. "

This is not a time "grand gestures", the archbishop says, but of "small ones, initiatives in the parishes, homes, among youth, within the community and of spending time together". The advent of the birth of Jesus "unites the Christian churches", not only patriarchs and bishops "but parishes, communities, villages." A drawing closer of the various Christian communities of the Holy Land that " has been accelerated by terrorism."

The Archbishop’s last thoughts are for these first months as head of the Church of the Holy Land: "I have met so many ecclesial realities - says Msgr. Pizzaballa - some already known to me and others that are new ones, I visited religious communities and absorbed so much strength, I observed realities that are full of wounds, but also many people who are completely committed". This, he concludes, is the real "reason for hope: when I meet people with so many problems, but for whom these hardships and obstacles are part of the journey,  then all is not lost." (DS)

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”