Just five weeks after being installed as the new Patriarch of the Latin Church in Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal described his experience to CNA as the “top of happiness.” At the same time, he also said that the complex conflict in the Holy Land requires courageous leaders to forge a new mentality of peace in the region, leaders he is still waiting for.
As with any monumental event, the handing over of the Catholic Church’s oldest church from Patriarch Michel Sabbah to Bishop Fouad Twal was not without a certain amount of anxiety and nervousness.
“In the beginning,” now Archbishop Twal recalled, “I felt a bit anxious. But seeing many, many friends just beside me, and the many prayers from bishops’ conferences around the world [that] sent messages to say we are with you and we pray with you; thanks [be to] God I don’t feel alone in this mission.”
“Besides Jerusalem always has a world dimension,” Archbishop Twal said as he explained that he doesn’t carry the burden of leading the Church in the Holy Land all by himself. “The problems are not only for me, they must be for all Christians outside and for the Church. The Church must be involved in finding a solution, involved in helping the Christian community to stay there. And I have asked a lot of bishops to feel co-responsible… everyone must feel that Jerusalem is his own mother Church.”
“Spiritually we are all born in Jerusalem,” Archbishop Twal reminded Christians around the world.
Signs of hope in the land of hope
Although the Church in the Holy Land is in many ways besieged, the new patriarch said that he finds many signs of hope in his new flock, one being international support for the small Christian community.
“We have had many bishops’ conferences and groups of pilgrims coming to the Holy Land” over the last few years, the archbishop related.
Even though many reports emphasize the dwindling numbers of Christians, Archbishop Twal told CNA that “you will be surprised to see how prayerful, how dynamic” the parishes in the region are.
Especially noteworthy is the unduly large number of seminarians, he noted.
“Each year I have from two to three ordained” and the patriarchate currently has 28 seminarians in formation for the priesthood.
One other sign of hope that the archbishop pointed to is a “greater awareness and intensity to resolve the problem than there was before.” When a solution in Palestine and the Holy Land is found, Patriarch Twal thinks that “60 to 70 percent of the Muslim radicalism will run away.”
Conflict in the Holy Land
The decades-long dispute over the Holy Land is over the land’s ownership, which the Jews consider to be theirs by divine right and the Palestinians lay claim to through having settled there in the last couple centuries. While there are many more facets to this conflict, including religious dimensions, the land is at the heart.
Archbishop Twal insists that progress has been made in the past year because the multi-dimensional nature of the clash has been acknowledged by political leaders.
“We are happy to see that in one year more or less, the politicians, the international community have taken into account the religious aspect. Now when they come to the Holy Land, they ask to meet us,” he told CNA.
“They start to consider that maybe this religious leader…can have an influence on our faithful and change the mentality for more cooperation.” He continued, “We cannot resolve the problems but we are sure that the politicians without us cannot solve the problem.” Together in a “partnership with our people and with Muslims and Jews we can create a new mentality for more peace and more collaboration and less for hate.”
One major source of agitation for Palestinians is the security wall which Israel says it is building to prevent attacks from terrorists. However, the wall significantly worsens the living conditions of many Palestinians and has divided families.
When Archbishop Twal was asked for his opinion of the wall, he said, “For me the wall is stupid, stupid. The wall is a realization of many other walls in the human being…before building this wall, they had a wall of hate, of mistrust, of ignorance, and they put all of these internal walls, obstacles in something that you can see.”
“It is not with walls that we can find the solution, that we can find peace for all, security for all,” the archbishop said, pointing out that the two recent bulldozer attacks both took place within the wall.
“We cannot go on, I think everybody is tired, tired, tired,” Patriarch Twal stated.
What is needed to achieve peace are “courageous people doing courageous gestures,” he said. “But with all my respect to everybody, I doubt whether we have right now very courageous leaders to make these gestures, to make these decisions.”
The Church can play a role in bringing about an end to the conflict in the Holy Land by breaking the 60 years of mistrust and violence with a new mentality, explained Archbishop Twal. “By starting at zero, with a new mentality, a new education, a new culture, the Church can teach the youth to live in peace.”