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JERUSALEM – On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, the Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem accompanied by a delegation went to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to join the other Heads of Churches in presenting their Easter greetings to Patriarch Theophilos III . The Heads of Churches were then welcomed at the Latin Patriarchate.  Late in the  day, Archbishop Pizzaballa visited the Custody of the Holy Land. At the heart of the exchanges were the joy of Easter and the tragedy in Cairo on Palm Sunday

At the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate

The leaders of the different churches in Jerusalem all celebrated Easter this Sunday, with the Catholic and Orthodox dates coinciding this year. Copts, Ethiopians, Orthodox Greeks, Syriacs, Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics of various rites met at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate for a fraternal and traditional exchange of wishes and greetings. In unison and in one chorus, the Heads of the Churches sang the hymn of the Resurrection in Greek, Cristos Anesti.

“The empty Tomb is the sign of what we believe in,” stated Archbishop Pizzaballa in his speech (full text in English), referring to the strength of the Easter message. “We know how difficult it is to testify to this faith in the resurrection, not only here among the people, among whom we live, but also in the rest of the world. The Archbishop offered his condolences and assurance of his prayers to the Coptic Bishop Anba Antonios and his community following the terrible attacks on Palm Sunday in Cairo, and condemning  these acts based on religious radical hatred”. He also expressed “appreciation for the wonderful example” given by the Copts to all Christians and to the whole world: “Despite the violence against them, their reactions have been peaceful: no violence, but only the serene and correctly strong desire for justice. The death of the martyrs has not erased the strength of this community’s life.  They are a wonderful testimony and witnesses of the Risen Lord. 

Archbishop Pizzaballa ended his speech by recalling that as “we all celebrated Easter on the same date, it was in a joyful and organized confusion as we are used to in Jerusalem.” During these days of festivities, the Holy City was “invaded by Christians from around the world” to celebrate Easter, which once again “showed the Christian character of Jerusalem as part of its universal identity”. “Maybe some consider our faith as strange here, but we as Christians are fully citizens of this city”, he added.

Speaking in turn, Patriarch Theophilos also referred to the particular circumstances of this Easter feast, a few weeks after the completion of the restoration work on the Edicule which houses the Tomb of Christ. “Together we are witnesses of the resurrection,” said the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, as he presented his condolences and prayers to the Coptic Bishop Antonios, deploring “the shadows of persecution hovering over the region. “He invited all those present and appealed to the international community to “put an end to indifference to these people, sacrificed for political and human interests, also in Syria”.  But hope will have the last word, he concluded, quoting the Apostle Paul in the letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 4:9-11): ““We are afflicted in every way… but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed (…), so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

Bishop Antonios was invited to speak: “Easter is the feast of our resurrection and our salvation … Despite this painful and tragic event, this was the path that led them to heaven”, he said, visibly moved, but in a strong voice full of hope.  The Anglican Archbishop Suheil Dawani also spoke about the Palm Sunday tragedy in Cairo, emphasizing  how “the resurrection of Christ is a sign of consolation for the families of the victims, who are our martyrs and the martyrs of the Church”. The Lutheran Bishop Mounib Younan concluded the series of speeches by proclaiming forcefully: “There can be no resurrection without a cross.  With our martyred brothers and sisters, we understand the meaning of martyrdom. This is our message: we must not fear those who cause confusion and disorder, who attempt to uproot us from our lands. We are here to stay in prayer, churches and faithful united together. Do not fear! For the peace of Christ fills our hearts! “

At the Latin Patriarchate

The heads of the Churches then visited the Latin Patriarchate for the continuation of the exchange of greetings, with the exception of Patriarch Theophilos and Armenian Patriarch Manougian who will come the next day. All were again fraternally welcomed by Archbishop Pizzaballa who reiterated that “the Church of Christ is one despite our different stories. The whole world’s eyes are on us (…). We want to be the light of the world, with the joy that no one can take away from us. “

The following day, Wednesday, April 19, the Orthodox followed by the  Armenians visited the Latin Patriarchate to once again present their Easter greetings.  In his speech, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch returned to the profound bond between the “living stones”, the local Christian communities, and the “stones of the Holy Places”. At the same time, he referred to the restoration of the Edicule of the Holy Sepulcher made possible by a “great collaboration, deeply appreciated by all”.  Theophilos III emphasized how “these stones must radiate life for the whole world”.  Archbishop Pizzaballa, who had expressed his wishes to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate the previous day, re-affirmed the importance of this exchange in his speech (full text in English): “This is by no means a formality. These visits make us ever closer and give our communities the testimony of friendship and mutual respect.”

After receiving the Armenian Archbishop Sivan Gharibian, Archbishop Pizzaballa spoke (full text in English) of the tragedy that struck the Coptic community on Palm Sunday, saying: “You, as Armenians, know better than anyone what the word persecution means. (…) And with you, we pray that the international community and religious leaders can go beyond these generic repetitive and unnecessary calls for peace and reconciliation and that they take concrete action to stop all this religious violence that seem endless, which particularly affects not only the countries of the Middle East. ”

At the Custody of the Holy Land

In the evening of Tuesday 18,  Archbishop Pizzaballa, accompanied by a delegation of priests of the Latin Patriarchate and Bishop Bathish, Vicar Emeritus, went also to the Custody of the Holy Land where he was received by the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton ofm in a very fraternal atmosphere and imprint of Easter joy.

In his speech (full text in Italian), the Archbishop paid tribute to the “Sons of (Saint) Francis” and encouraged them to persevere in their mission despite the “shadows that are not lacking”, referring again  to the Cairo attacks: “thus, even today, the Lord continues to need us … to continue to witness to the world this sign of the empty tomb of Christ, above all with the life and prayer of Christ, an incessant intercessory prayer, which here rises for the whole world “.

The Custos then spoke a few words, highlighting  the importance of being witnesses of hope in the face of sufferings and struggles of this world and the need to witness  humbly of the resurrection of Christ.

Bishop Joseph-Jules Zerey of the Melkites, testified to his joy of the resurrection and his confidence in the infinite mercy of God for his children, while recalling the importance of praying for all those in the world who do not believe In this Good News of the Resurrection.

The visit ended with songs from the choir of the Franciscan Friars. Before his departure, Archbishop Pizzaballa greeted the elderly and sick Franciscan Friars. 

Myriam Ambroselli and Remy Brun

Photos : © Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

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