02/15/2023, 11.05
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Patriarch Pizzaballa: 'the law of the strongest' applies in Jerusalem

by Fady Noun

The Latin primate participates in the work of the Synod on Synodality scheduled from 13 to 18 February. The holy city is losing its peaceful heart and its being a reference point for the three great monotheistic religions. The need for the defence of identity borders and the 'difficult' situation of Christians in the region.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - "We come from different realities, but we have in common the fact that we belong to nations at war, characterised by political tensions and deep divisions. And then there are the distances, be they geographical or cultural". Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the 56-year-old Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, is currently in Lebanon.

The prelate chaired the Conference of Latin Bishops of the Arab Region (CELRA), which held its annual session in recent days, and since 13 February he has been engaged in the continental phase of the synod on synodality, scheduled until the 18th of the month.

"In my region alone," he added, "we speak three different Arabic dialects: Jordanian, Egyptian and Lebanese, and now, because of Cyprus, we also have to speak Turkish".

At a time when the situation in Israel is becoming explosive, the Patriarch wanted to discuss several issues that affect the Church and the region. Indeed, there are deep social disparities that characterise the societies in which the Latin Church lives and works, not to mention Jerusalem, the spiritual heart of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The reality with the current government, the Patriarch emphasises, is thatt "there is no longer a peaceful status quo" or at least a truce between the parties, but rather "the law of the strongest" seems to be increasingly in force. 

Defending the 'borders of identity'

"Usually, we talk about our need to defend ourselves: to defend our borders of identity, physical, political, etc. The role of Jerusalem is to remain an open city, as the Holy See has always wished. Certainly, some gates are necessary, but they must not end in exclusion. We must learn inclusion, not rejection," he adds, echoing the welcoming vocation of the holy city, which can count on job creation and the economic prosperity of its indigenous population.

From the way he speaks, it is clear that Patriarch Pizzaballa's concern is not only for the Latins - whose number does not exceed 55,000 between Israel and the West Bank - but for all the peoples present in the diocese, including the tens of thousands of migrants from Asia who work there.

The pastoral network of the Latin Church includes numerous reception facilities (parishes, kindergartens, dispensaries and hospitals, schools, universities and institutes of higher education, youth organisations), within which these very diverse populations can be met. 

Difficult moment

"We are experiencing a difficult moment" acknowledges the Latin primate, taking into account the veritable manhunt launched by the Israeli army and the acts of vandalism and anti-Christian hatred that are multiplying on the part of some Jewish extremist groups.

"The countries of the region all seem to be taken hostage, in one way or another, which explains the human haemorrhage that we all see," continues the patriarch. 'In particular,' he continues, 'this affects Christians, but the younger generations cannot be prevented from wanting to escape from a situation without horizons'.

In this perspective, Lebanon is "the nation to which all Christians in the Arab world turn, to find strength and give meaning to their presence" in the region. 

The educational mission of the Latin Church, the true "backbone" of the Christian presence in Lebanon according to the Bishop of the Lebanese Latins, César Essay, is threatened with bankruptcy due to the depreciation of the lira. The issue is on the agenda of the working session, in addition to the situation of the clergy reduced, like the entire population, to a precarious state.

"The collapse of these structures would cause a fatal blow to the country," insists the bishop, who adds that almost half of the students attending Catholic schools belong to the Latin Church. This mission "is also of primary importance in Syria and Iraq," adds the patriarch, citing two other very important realities. 

Synod on synodality

The synod on synodality promoted by Pope Francis is among the most important topics on the agenda of the session.

"Things do not change by themselves," Patriarch Pizzaballa explains to AsiaNews. "We must, first of all, delineate a clear personal vision of the work to be done, then we have to work at an institutional level, which is much more difficult".

Taking the example of the conservation work on the Holy Sepulchre, which had to wait since 1947, i.e. 70 years, for completion, the Latin primate comments: "You have to know how to wait for the people with whom you work to understand. And not to give up. If they feel loved, people end up accepting. It takes longer, but that way it will last!".

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