Homily of January 1st, 2022
Co-Cathedral of the Latin Patriarchate
Num 6,22-27; Gal 4, 4-7; Lc 2,16-21
Most Reverend Excellencies,
Dearest brothers and sisters,
Today we have reached the beginning of a new year. Yet, different feelings and thoughts, which have accumulated throughout the past year, now move restlessly within our souls. I am referring to the fatigue and instability that the pandemic has transmitted to us, and which has made the school year difficult for students and consequently also for families, creating more than a few problems in the world of work and in other contexts. I am also thinking of our political situation, always changing, but also always the same, where no real and structural solutions to existing problems appear on the horizon. Proof of this is the umpteenth war in Gaza, which left problems as they were, but added more violence.
We must recognize, however, that we have seen a lot of solidarity from the world and among ourselves. In spite of the difficulties, we managed to conclude the school year and organize a minimum of pastoral activity. In short, in the problematic circumstances in which we found ourselves, we also experienced closeness and vitality. We experienced a beautiful moment in which we came together as Church at the shrine of Deir Rafat, for the opening of the Synod desired by Pope Francis, who in turn visited our Church in Cyprus and left us precious indications for our ecclesial life. We have, therefore, also reasons for encouragement.
We have already expressed, in our Christmas homily, our thoughts on the civic life of our diocese. Allow me, today, to look to our Church, to our diocese of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and to speak as we look ahead to the year that is beginning, rather than to the year that is ending. Let us ask the Blessed Virgin, whose divine motherhood we celebrate today, to help us gain an outlook that is full of life.
I would very much like 2022 to be a year of recovery in the life of the Church. After a long period of instability due to the pandemic, which stopped many of our initiatives, I would like us to resume our activities without fear, to start planning again not so much new parish halls or renovations of churches and community centers, but initiatives of announcement, sharing, community life.
Above all, I would like us to revive the art of catechesis and spiritual formation, and to develop a more familiar relationship with the Word of God. We live in the Holy Land, which holds the holiest places in the world, but we do not always know them well. In this period when pilgrims cannot come, we can organize pilgrimages to meet the humanity of Jesus, in our Land and in our Holy Places and have beautiful and strong experiences of faith. I am not sure that all of our faithful are thoroughly familiar with the Holy Places or have ever made a pilgrimage to their Holy Land. Many pilgrims return to their land changed and strengthened in their faith. Why can't we have that same experience as well?
In fact, I think that every moment of our lives is a kairos, that is, a special moment given to us by Providence. We must not always complain, and shut ourselves up in our difficulties. I feel I must say that we are too often negative about everything. Whereas the encounter with the Lord, despite the difficulties, opens us up to life and joy. It is true, we are tired of the situation in the world and often in the Church as well, worn out by the ups and downs of the Holy Land and of our entire region. This time, however, in spite of everything, invites us to stop hesitating and to walk with great strides towards the One who awaits us on the way, who leads us to life. We must go beyond the preoccupation with numbers and the desire to see immediate results for our actions and initiatives. We must acquire the trust and patience of the sower.
We are on the synodal journey desired by Pope Francis, which perhaps not everyone has understood, but which nonetheless has the potential to make the Church a place where we can resume with strength the journey to meet the Lord.
The synodal journey is centered on listening. I believe that we must learn to listen to each other more. Listening is more than hearing. It means making room for the life of the other within ourselves, trying to put ourselves in his or her situation. Listening is a way of being, an attitude, a way of life. I hope that this small synod will at least teach us to listen to one another, to listen to the Scriptures, to listen to the Spirit we have received and who never ceases to speak to us. In a special way, we are invited to go out of our usual contexts, to listen to those we do not usually listen to: women, the marginalized, those Christians who have drifted away... and young people! We have a special duty to listen to the new generations, they too have dreams that can open new horizons. These dreams can show us new paths to take, leading us to Christ, to others, to the world around us.
This year we are invited to strengthen the bonds of communion among us. Not to form closed groups in which to ally ourselves against someone. We often speak of union among ourselves, among our Churches, as a necessity to face external difficulties or possible enemies... This cannot be enough. Communion is consciousness of belonging, of a gift received, where one is part of the other and the other part of oneself. All this springs from the experience of the encounter with Jesus. It is the encounter with Jesus that makes us aware of being a community, in which we listen to one another. Communion with one another gives us the confidence to open ourselves not only to our Christian brothers and sisters who are not Catholic, but also to our Muslim and Jewish neighbors.
I would like to add that we are also invited to participate actively not only in the life of the Church, each according to his or her gifts and vocation, but also in the life of our society. Paraphrasing the Gospel, I often hear it said in our speeches that we consider ourselves and want to be "salt and light". But again paraphrasing the Gospel, we need to add that salt is of no use if it is kept in our beautiful closets and that light should be placed on a bushel basket (cf. Mt 5:14-15). How much our society, in Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus needs salt and light, people who know how to make a positive contribution in the world of culture, solidarity and politics!
This year with renewed energy we are called to be sent as part of the Church's mission to the world. This mission is to proclaim the Good News. Together, united in communion and in our participation in the life of the Church and in the building of the Kingdom, we want to experience God's fidelity and the promise that good will overcome evil. For we Christians of the Holy Land are called to be heralds of the Good News of God's promises and not prophets of doom.
Sometimes I hear people say that we Christians want "protection", that is, we want to be protected from the many difficulties and hostilities, to have our own space, dedicated to us... I cannot share this attitude. We do not want to be protected and sheltered by a glass dome, but to be an integral part of the civil and religious life of this society of ours. We are a part of it not by chance, but by a design of Providence, and therefore we want to be here and now an integral, constructive part of civil life. In society, we want to be those who announce the Good News with their lifestyle, who are able to propose different models in our relationships, alternatives to our suffering world, centered on equality and reconciliation, mutual respect and love!
I truly hope that we seriously commit ourselves to this synodal journey and that we begin this year with trust and gratitude towards Providence, which never ceases to assist us and which invites us to have a grateful and serene outlook for the Salvation we have received.
We invoke the intercession of the Mother of God and her maternal gaze upon our Church in the Holy Land. May she who gave birth to the Son of God bring light also to our families, our religious communities and our entire Church in Jerusalem.
Dear sisters and brothers, Happy New Year!
Jerusalem, January 1st, 2022
† Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem