07/08/2016, 13.56
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Msgr. Pizzaballa: Only mercy will save the Middle East from fundamentalism

by Dario Salvi

The new Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem recounts the challenges of his mission. From the relationship with the Israeli leadership to the drift towards fundamentalism and the need to respond with "encounter and dialogue”. What’s more, the pastoral care of migrants and reception of refugees fleeing the war. The inability to forgive, is the "main problem" in the Middle East.


Rome (AsiaNews) - One of the problems, or perhaps the "main problem" in the Middle East is the "inability to forgive." That is why mercy is the only power that can break this "vicious circle". It is the greatest "witness" that Christians can give to other peoples of this land where violence, extremism and terror are commonplace. This is the vision of the new Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Msgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, outlined in an interview with AsiaNews.  The bishop, who was recently in Rome waiting to return to the Holy Land, says that forgiveness is not the result of "sentimentality", but is the fruit "of a process, of an awareness of evil" and the "mutual acceptance"

On 24 June the former custodian of the Holy Land, Mgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, following the resignation for reasons of age of the Patriarch Fouad Twal. The 51 year old new archbishop will receive his episcopal consecration on September 10 in the cathedral of Bergamo, in Italy, his diocese of origin.

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, his mandate was again extended for another three years until 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.

Here, below, Msgr. Pizzaballa’s interview with AsiaNews:

Your Grace, what will your pastoral priority be?

From a pastoral perspective ​​the diocese is very diverse: Jordan, Israel and Palestine are quite different from each other, so you need to pay attention to the various social dynamics involving the world of the family, work, young people and all of which need responses appropriate to the territory they belong to. There is also an emerging problem, an obvious one, that affects our diocese: the relationship and dialogue with other religions, especially Islam, which in this context of growing fundamentalism has become even more important. And then the confrontation with Israel, relations with the other Churches, immigration and persecution, all that is happening impels the Church to improve our coordination at the pastoral level and beyond. Here, I would say that there is a lot to be done.

And how will you reconcile the need to preserve the original Arab community and the new migrant Christian community who are now the majority?

An antithetical reading of this situation, as if one were contrary to the other, is counterproductive. The universal element is not contrary to the local and vice versa. We must work together, starting not from our ethnicity, but rather from our shared religion. St. Paul says that we belong to Christ, and it is from this point that we have to start out. Then it is clear that in all things you have to be concrete, diversifying activities as needed, which can also be different but not antithetical. We are one Church.

And the Latin Patriarchate has long been at the forefront in migrant reception …

Yes, and here in a very different way. Immigrants to Israel are one thing, the refugees from Syria and Iraq, who have settled in Jordan are very different realities, that need different answers, but within a single ecclesial context.

How has the Holy Land and the Middle East changed over the last 12 years, during your tenure as Custos?

The changes from the political point of view are very evident. And also very clear. Across the Middle East, the Holy Land, Jordan, the political sphere has become weak and unable to create clear prospects. From the social point of view the arrival of immigrants, and then refugees, has brought enormous changes, and even an economic deterioration. This has generated a growth of anxieties, fears, demanding a clear response by the Church. From the political point of view there is a strong loss of hope in the future and that's where we have to intervene. Within the religious sphere, we must work to counteract the growth of fundamentalism, be it Islamic or Hebrew. We have witnessed events that were unthinkable in the recent past and faced with these we must react in a balanced and wise manner, always willing to accommodate others but without sacrificing anything of our history, of our belonging.

How can we counter extremism and the exploitation of religion for war, terrorism, violence?

The only answer in the face of all this is to do exactly the opposite. The fundamentalists want to try to close each community within their own ghetto and avoid all forms of diversity, of difference; we instead want to show that the Middle East has a different story and stubbornly insist on this, clearly, denouncing the exploitation of religion and promoting all forms of encounter and dialogue possible. A dialogue that is not just a 'feel-good' sentimentality, but a concrete effort linked to the daily reality of everyone involved. We must work in this area and with this in mind, otherwise prejudice and mutual distrust will win.

There are however, some unresolved issues with the State of Israel: the Cremisan Wall, the missing funds for Christian schools ...

Again we must speak very clearly and with determination, claiming our rights and freedom for all, without compromises or concessions, but always open to calm and respectful discussion. In particular, with regard to the missing funds for Christian schools the situation [also for the holiday period] is stalled. However, the question remains open and we will try to resolve it through discussion and dialogue, without prejudice to our rights as a Christian community.

There are many challenges that lie ahead in this new task. What does the Pope’s Year of Mercy bring to a context that is as complex as this one?

I think it points us towards an indispensable method. One of the problems, if not the main problem in the Middle East is the inability to forgive. This is a vicious circle that can be broken only through forgiveness, mercy. This is the most important witness we can give as Christians. Of course, forgiveness is not a simple thing, it is not a sentimental act but fruit of a process, of awareness of evil, of self-awareness, awareness of the other, of mutual acceptance,. It's not pretending that nothing has happened, but a goal to strive towards and towards which we must journey, taking the whole community with us. We do not decide when, but we must do it together.

In conclusion, what are the main challenges in the near future?

The first thing I must do is go out to meet the diocese from another perspective, listen to everyone, encourage their involvement and participation, these are the first challenges at a Church level. And the rest will follow...

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