On Saturday 10th September, Archbishop elected Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, will reiceve the episcopal ordination in Italy. Interview.
Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa (51), after 12 years of ministry as the Custos of the Holy Land, will be ordained bishop next Saturday, in the Cathedral of Bergamo. The rite will be presided by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches assisted by the Bishop of Bergamo, Francesco Beschi, and by the Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal. The many concelebrants will also include the present Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton.
Announced on 24th June, the appointment of Fr. Pierbattista, although there had been rumours to that effect in the previous weeks, was somewhat unexpected. When Mons. Twal’s mandate came to an end, the Pope decided to send an apostolic administrator, a figure used by the Holy See, after the departure of a bishop, to administer with full powers a diocese which is in particular conditions (and which formerly remains a vacant see).
“I was just as surprised as many people,” explains Archbishop elected Pizzaballa, who is from Cologno al Serio (Bergamo). “I imagine that some were pleased and others probably less so. This is in the order of things, but several weeks after taking possession of the diocese I can say that I am in a positive environment and wish to progress, looking ahead confidently.”
On the eve of the episcopal consecration, we asked the new archbishop how he accepted “going back to Jerusalem.”
“I wrote this in my message to the diocese: “I am returning to Jerusalem with the desire, in the first place, to serve the local clergy and the whole community, asking everyone for their comprehension, friendship and collaboration.”
Your episcopal motto is “My grace is enough for you” (an expression taken from Chapter 12 of the Apostle Paul’s Second Letter to the Christians of Corinth). Why did you choose these words?
On the day I was informed of the Holy Father’s decision, this expression was also the Biblical reference taken as a starting point. This was therefore the reason for my choice: being aware that our mission is none other than to testify the Grace which touched us first and to always start off again from there.
The Holy Land is a crossroads of all kinds of difficulties and divisions: between the Churches, between the monotheistic religions and between the peoples who live there. The difficulties always appear enormous and insurmountable. In such a context, the Church apparently seems crushed by these situations. Others, however, could fall into the temptation of being called to take “their salvation,” based on their means and strategies, to the dramas of that Land.
In these circumstances, the Word of God reminds us that we must entrust ourselves only to Grace and nothing else. The Church of the Holy Land does not have the means and does not have power. It has only Christ and His Grace. “Peter said: I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!” (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 3 verse 6).
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has jurisdiction over Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. What does a photograph of the diocese today look like?
Although I have lived in Jerusalem for 26 years, I am only at the start of my service in this context. I would say, however, that the strong points include the local entrenchment, a young clergy, a widespread presence with many pastoral and educational initiatives of various kinds and a strong community spirit. You have to grow in the awareness of the new pastoral and educational challenges: the arrival of new Christians from abroad, especially from Asia and Africa, the new legislation on schools, the multifarious religious presence and a new form of interreligious dialogue. In my message to the diocese I emphasised the need for us to “meet and to welcome others, building paths and bridges and not walls: between us and the Lord, between bishops and priests, between priests and lay people, between us and our brothers of the different Churches, between us and our Jewish and Muslim friends and brothers, between us and the poor, between us and those who need mercy and hope. Only this way can we fully answer the social universal vocation of the Church of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Places.”
In short, there is no lack of aspects to work on.
Of course. I have a particular thought for young people. They are the future of our Church and I look at them with hope and confidence. I am thinking in particular of those who are involved in the various initiatives of the Patriarchate: in the schools, in the parishes and in the universities. They are important places for meeting and sharing, which deserve all our attention. They are precious resources helping young people to build the dream of their future here, but also structures for which all of us, with clarity, transparency and solidarity, are committed to supporting.
The Latin Patriarchate is strongly committed, in Jordan in particular, to helping the refugees from Iraq and Syria…
Through the Caritas the Patriarchate is doing everything it can: welcome, psychological support, legal aid, projects for social insertion… I do not believe it is possible for us to do more. It is also wonderful to see how many local volunteers are devoting time and energy to supporting these needs. However, we cannot cope with the situation of millions of refugees on our own, but we can be a small oasis of serenity for thousands of abandoned people.
The Church of Jerusalem lives in close contact with the Muslim world. What are the lessons and the suggestions that it can offer the West, especially after the recent terrorist episodes?
We must not be afraid. We must not fear what is new and changes. A Christian has to articulate his thought not starting from needs or fears, but from his experience of faith, which must enlighten his relations, realistically but always serenely. There is not just one Islam. We must not generalize and we must always try to understand the various situations in their context, without fears and concessions.
How can support for the Church and the works of the Holy Land be reinforced?
The Good Friday Collection continues to be fundamental, but a great deal of work has to be done on communication. If things are not known, it is not even possible to express one’s solidarity, Through ecclesiastical communications - I don’t think it is easy to go beyond that context – it is important to make the crosses and, together, the beauty of this Church known. And when I speak of the Church, I mean the Catholic Church in its entirety, I am not only referring to the Latin rite. We must not forget that our Catholic communities have a single confession, that of Peter, although with different rites and traditions. It is a sign of the particularly rich and also tormented history of this Church. There is pastoral coordination between all the Churches, which started many years ago and which works very well. All the bishops meet periodically, many meetings are held together. Distinctions, I imagine, will not be lacking, but the sense of unity prevails.
Excellent. In the new ministry to which I have been summoned I know I am not on my own. I am walking with those who preceded me. I am certain that I can count on everyone’s support. I entrust myself above all to the prayer of the contemplative communities of the diocese and all the faithful. My feeling is that I need them greatly.
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