‘The Holy Land changed my life:’ Archbishop Pizzaballa on 30 years in Jerusalem

‘The Holy Land changed my life:’ Archbishop Pizzaballa on 30 years in Jerusalem

Caption: Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa. Credit: Cristian Gennari/OESSH.
Caption: Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa. Credit: Cristian Gennari/OESSH.

.- Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa has concluded his four-year mandate as apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Since 1990, shortly after his priestly ordination, the Italian bishop and Franciscan friar has lived in the Middle East.

“The Holy Land changed my life. My life of faith also,” the 55-year-old bishop told EWTN News in Rome on Wednesday.

He said: “I arrived there 30 years ago. I didn’t know the languages. I came from a very, very Catholic context and I was suddenly in a context where [Christians] were just 1% of the population.”

“But early on I understood that in this quagmire of religions and political tensions, you can find men and women of faith that can help you to really live your faith in a new way through the holy places, the Scripture, and men of faith,” he said.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem is the See of the sui iuris Latin Church of the Holy Land. It is part of the Roman rite. The Latin Patriarchate has not had a patriarch since June 2016.

As apostolic administrator, Pizzaballa oversaw the patriarchate together with auxiliary Bishop Giacinto Marcuzzo, whose resignation, for the ordinary reason of age, was accepted by Pope Francis in August.

Now the Holy Land’s Catholics await the pope’s nomination of a new patriarch and auxiliary bishop.

Pizzaballa told EWTN News he could not share the news of his next position yet, but “in a few days it will be known.”

About the path before him, he said, “for 30 years, for most of my life, I lived in the Holy Land, so I am part of the Holy Land and I continue to be part of it. So we have to remain united in prayer, first of all, in friendship; wherever Providence will bring me, I will bring the Holy Land.”

The archbishop said that Christians in the Holy Land were suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, noting that Jerusalem had already experienced two separate lockdowns.

“And it was very difficult, not only because the health situation of many families but for the economic situation. The consequences of the lockdown is that thousands of families, especially Christian families, now are without jobs, without work,” he explained.

Pilgrimages to the holy sites are a major source of income for Christians, but with borders closed, “pilgrimage is now totally canceled,” he said, making it “a very, very difficult situation for hundreds of families in the Bethlehem area especially, in the Nazareth area, and in Jordan, of course.”

“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.

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.

Tags: Holy Land, Catholic News, Church in Holy Land, Catholic Church, Vatican news

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