“I don’t think that in less than a year we can have the normal pilgrimage situation we had before,” he said.
Poverty is also growing for Christians in Palestine, who face the same problems due to the pandemic, as well as the inability to enter Israel for work.
After long-standing conflicts in the wider area, such as in Syria, and Iraq, as well as instability and disaster in Lebanon, poverty in Jordan, and the political situation between Israel and Palestine, you can feel that the people of the Holy Land are frustrated, Pizzaballa said.
“All these aspects that are not new, because we are seeing this situation since years, create a lot of frustration and a lot of temptations, temptation to leave, to find their future somewhere else,” he said.
“We try to insist to the population, to tell [them] they have to remain, that they have a vocation to remain. But when they have children and a family, it is difficult to convince them.”
Since he became apostolic administrator in 2016, Pizzaballa said that political tensions had worsened, but a “positive aspect” was that among Christians “we have a better understanding.”
Pope Francis appointed Pizzaballa to the position following his role as head of the Custody of the Holy Land, a province of the Order of Friars Minor which encompasses Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus, and the Dodecanese in Greece, with convents also in other countries.
The Franciscan followed Patriarch Fouad Twal in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In 2016, the Latin Patriarchate was facing grave financial difficulties and teetering on bankruptcy from debts amounting to more than $100 million.
“They have been four difficult years,” Pizzaballa said. “I had a very clear mandate: first to put order in the administration.”
As apostolic administrator, the bishop reorganized the patriarchate’s financial management, put in place new internal and external controls, and created more transparency.
He was able to pay the debt with help from international donations, by cutting expenses, and with some property sales in Nazareth.
(Story continues below)
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The bishop said that he was also given the task of improving the pastoral situation in the Holy Land, including creating more unity among the priests and the different Christian communities in Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Cyprus.
He wanted to show “what we have in common,” he said. “And to create understanding, trust, among the different communities in the same diocese.”
“In the beginning it was very difficult. But once we have been transparent, I felt that all the community was very supportive and so we could overcome all our problems and turn the page finally,” he said.