Patriarch Pizzaballa: Holy Land 'great condominium', Easter beyond 'extremism'
The Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins recounts the climate of "enthusiasm" among the faithful despite attacks and violence in recent weeks. Tensions fuel desire to participate. Christians in Gaza less than 200 permits. The community has grown "in the sense of belonging and unity". Overnight Israeli police raid on al-Aqsa: 350 Palestinians arrested.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The Holy Land is "a great condominium" where people live together "despite the problems: there are great extremisms, but we must continue to work together" as is the case in schools and hospitals.
However much we continue to "build barriers" in the end "we are forced to cross each other, to meet each other in all areas of life. And condo meetings are never boring," notes the Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins Pierbattista Pizzaballa, describing the climate in these days leading up to Easter, in a region that in recent weeks has seen an escalation of violence. The latest of which was the overnight Israeli police raid at the al-Aqsa mosque that led to the arrest of 350 Palestinians.
"The situation is problematic," the cleric told AsiaNews, "but this is nothing new, we are used to problems" that do not affect celebrations that the community awaits "with enthusiasm".
"This year," he continues, "we started with the Palm procession, which was very well attended and in the presence of all the parishes". It may seem paradoxical, but 'perhaps precisely because there are so many tensions, political and religious, we want to once again express our desire to celebrate with even greater determination'. Wanting to attend the services, he explains, is a "spontaneous reaction" because "I keep repeating it, we are not afraid, we do not give up, we are part of this land and we will not allow a few extremists to dictate our agenda".
The patriarch of Italian origin in the Holy Land since 1999 first as Custos (2004-2016), then as Apostolic Administrator (2016-2020), refers to the tensions in Israel, the rise of the most right-wing government in history and the attacks that have also involved Christians.
Out of a population of nine million inhabitants, Christians of the various denominations in Israel number about 180,000, less than 2%, and Catholics only a small fraction. But, as the heads of the Churches often repeat, here everything was born, here Christian history began, and for this reason it is decisive to be there and to stay.
On the occasion of the Palm Sunday celebrations, Patriarch Pizzaballa returned to respond to those who accuse Christians of being foreigners, tied to the West, or rather guests of the Holy Land.
"We are an integral part of the identity of this city, of Jerusalem, and of this land" he explained. The escalation of attacks "is nothing new", only that they have now acquired "greater force, because there are extremist parties in government that claim them very clearly". The number of permits for Christians in Gaza, an increasingly open-air prison, has also plummeted, "from almost 700 at Christmas to just under 200" this Easter.
"I am against the very idea that there should be permits to go to places of worship," he points out, and for some time now "restrictions and problems" have been part of a "political context" that has tightened further with the "new government of the extreme religious right. They are all part of one context'. It remains a 'torn and violent world' and 'as I said in my Christmas homily, violence seems to be our only language, our only form of expression, which is not true. On a political and religious level there is violence, but going into the territories you also see many people who live differently, we must also be able to see the good that grows, not just the evil that destroys'.
Christian schools remain valid example of convenience, even though there have been "episodes of violence" here too, there is an "opposite reaction of solidarity, of closeness, of denunciation on both the Jewish and Muslim sides".
Children of different faiths 'live together', families 'meet and talk to each other', they discuss the most important issues and their children 'even if there is no lack of problems'. But what emerges, he says, is a movement of "rejection of violence and stereotypes" of a generalised immobility and indifference even at the global level, in which "the Palestinian issue has been totally downgraded".
Finally, Patriarch Pizzaballa addresses a reflection on the Christian community of the Holy Land, which he has seen grow "in the sense of belonging, of unity"."We always run the risk," he observes, "of each living on their own island: Gaza, West Bank, Jordan, Jerusalem, Galilee, Cyprus; religious, secular, Arab, non-Arab".
On the contrary, the sense of belonging "to the one Church of Jerusalem," he concludes, "has grown a lot, becoming a concrete participation. The synodal process has helped by fostering participation, collaboration, friendship, initiatives and relations'.