The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (ACOHL) held its semi-annual plenary on March 15-16, 2016, in Amman (Dabouq), Jordan, with the participation of the ACOHL members (Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Cyprus) and the Apostolic Nuncios in Jerusalem and Amman.
In his opening statement, Patriarch Fouad Twal remembered with appreciation, the third anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. He expressed profound gratitude for the Holy Father’s extensive efforts and witness for the universal Church and all of humanity. He also asked for prayers for the success of the Pan-Orthodox Synod to be held soon in Crete. He thanked the Custos of the Holy Land, Rev. Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, whose mandate ends in April, for his loyalty and dedication to the Assembly for the past 12 years.
The program of meetings for the two days was full, as several matters were addressed. Here below is a summary of the most significant topics:
1- Archbishop Alberto Ortega, Apostolic Nuncio in Amman, spoke of the good relations existing between the Holy See and the civil authorities. Bishop Maroun Lahham reviewed the political and social situation in Jordan, which is greatly affected by the presence of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. He noted that Jordan remains a peaceful country in the midst of a Middle East in flames and that the Christian community is respected and enjoys religious freedom.
2- The Nuncio and Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, presented the final document of the bilateral agreement between the Holy See and Palestine. He urged the members of the Assembly to read and to make known the document, available in English and Arabic. This agreement, which is already in effect, gives the Church the freedom to carry out her pastoral work in a harmonious relationship with the Palestinian government. This agreement, he said, is a model that can be replicated in Arab countries. On the other hand, he anticipates the resumption of negotiations for the bilateral agreement with Israel soon.
3- Bishop Marcuzzo recalled the success of the World Day of the Sick, held in Nazareth in February. Liturgical celebrations, cultural activities and various visits to hospitals and institutions involved with health care, helped to highlight the dignity of the patient, the benevolence of health professionals and the promotion of a systematic process and guidelines for the pastoral care of the sick in the diocese.
4- Bishop William Shomali presented a report for the World Youth Day (WYD) to be held in Krakow in July. Over 700 young people from Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Cyprus will participate. Spiritual preparation for these young people has already begun.
5. There was a discussion about pilgrimage in the Holy Land. The members noted that pilgrimages are in obvious decline, but change in origin and style continues. Despite the existing wave of violence, the route of pilgrims remains safe and secure. The good work of local guides is much appreciated, while noting the need for continuing training sessions to improve their services. The work of spiritual animators who accompany groups is also important. However, the “green card” issued to the facilitators should not deprive local guides of their livelihood.
6- The situation of Christian schools, which is especially alarming in Israel, was the topic of extensive and serious reflection. The help of Father Rashid Mistrih and Father P. Abdelmassih Fahim, Directors of the Secretariat of Schools in Jordan and Israel, in the deliberations, resulted in the adoption of policies to safeguard the identity of the Christian schools.
At the end of the meeting, the members of the Assembly visited the “Restaurant of Mercy”, established by Caritas Jordan in Amman on the occasion of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and shared lunch with about 50 poor people. The restaurant for the poor feeds over 500 people a day for free. The bishops met a number of refugees who expressed appreciation for this Caritas initiative of opening a “Restaurant of Mercy” and for all the great work done for the many displaced people.
The Assembly meetings closed with the participation of its members in praying Vespers in the Greek Melkite Cathedral in Amman.
Amman, March 16, 2016
H.B. Fouad Twal Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem – President
H.E. George Bacouni Greek Melkite Archbishop of Akka – Vice-President
H.E. Moussa El-Hage Maronite Archbishop of Haifa, Maronite Exarch of Jerusalem, Palestine and Jordan
H.E. Yousef Soueif Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus
H.E. Yaser Al-Ayyash Greek Melkite Archbishop Emeritus of Petra
H.E. Joseph Jules Zerey Greek Melkite Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem
H.E. Krikor-Okosdinos Coussa Armenian Catholic Exarch of Jerusalem
H.E. Maroun Lahham Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan
H.E. Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel
H.E. William Shomali Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine
H.E. Selim Sayegh Latin Patriarchal Vicar Emeritus
Very Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm Custos of the Holy Land
Very Rev. Jerzy Kraj, ofm Patriarchal Vicar for Cyprus
Rev. Pietro Felet, scj Secretary General