by Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm
Custos of the Holy Land
(abouna.org) July 30, 2014 – For some time now, especially due to the fear generated by the wars in the Middle East and the attacks committed by fundamentalist groups that have caused bloodshed in Western countries as well, pilgrimages to the Holy Land have undergone a dramatic decline. From Italy alone, the reduction in the past year is estimated at over 40 per cent. Despite some timid signs of recovery, there continues to be a great fear of travelling to this blessed Land.
Knowing that I am interpreting the voice of the various Christian communities that live in Israel and Palestine, I would like to say: “Do not abandon the Holy Land.” There is no reasonable motive not to organize a pilgrimage to the Holy Places. Security in the shrines and in the areas where pilgrims go is guaranteed. And more than ever, we, the Christians of the Holy Land, need the presence and support of pilgrims who come here in prayer from all over the world.
Living as Christians in the Holy Land means having a particular and a universal vocation. Here the Latin Church essentially consists of three groups: the community of local Arab Christians, the long-established group of Palestinians representing the traditional Christian presence in these places; the Hebrew-speaking qehilà, a new Church, in ferment, which has elements in common with the evangelicals, the Messianic Jews and the Catholics and which celebrates the liturgy in Hebrew, and the international community, which includes many foreign workers, especially from the Philippines, South America and India who live stably in the Holy Land and some other groups of different origins who, for multiple reasons and with different roles, spend periods of varying length here. Alongside the Latin Church, other important Christian Churches live and work here, the main ones being the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Church and the Coptic Church. Inside the Catholic world, there are also groups with rites other than the Latin one.
Jerusalem and the Christian Holy Places continue today to be a fundamental sign of faith, the testimony of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, which actually took place here. All Christians, even the most distant, look towards the Holy Land to find in these signs their roots and the authentic meaning of their mission in the whole world. The life of Christ, the school of the Gospels, can be read in the Holy Land. Here it is possible to learn to look, listen, meditate and savour silence to understand the deep and mysterious meaning of His passage. The environment of your stay amongst us evokes the same places, customs, colours and fragrances that Jesus knew when he was revealed to the world.
Christians have always been a minority in the Holy Land, a tiny presence but with an ardent heart and they have never disappeared. They are called on to give a great testimony of faith, to be a living presence, in love with their history and their ideas, not to fear changes and encounters with diversity, but to be open, calm, free, positive and, at the same time, deeply rooted in their sense of identity and belonging, pro-active towards the future, active in guarding the Holy Places which are the depositories of the tradition and memory of the whole of Christianity.
It is precisely to safeguard this presence (and if possible reinforce it) that I am once again inviting dioceses, parishes and movements not to abandon us, but to work for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land so that it is a testimony of peace and dialogue. I am confident that this appeal will be heard by many Italian (but not only) faithful who have the Holy Land close to their hearts. And that soon in the roads that Jesus walked, the presence of those who set out to meet He who came for our salvation, will grow once again.