Christmas 2017 Press Conference
Jerusalem, December 20, 2017
As is tradition, for some years now, allow me to present the moments and/or events that have mainly characterized our ecclesial life this past year. I will divide the presentation into two areas. The first is strictly ecclesial and then a wider view of the social and political context in which the Church is placed.
The Ecclesial Sphere
The Patriarchate, the Latin diocese, this year, has seen a series of consistent changes in religious personnel and administration. A consulting firm (Deloitte) is accompanying us in the restructuring and administrative reorganization, which will continue throughout this pastoral year.
We have set up a pastoral office which helps the bishops and priests to guide pastoral choices in the diocese and above all to identify themes and give recommendations to better accompany our people. We decided to focus on the theme of the family: preparation for marriage, accompaniment of young couples, education in parenting, formation, etc.
I initiated visits to the parishes and religious communities of the diocese. The first officially visited parish was Gaza, at the beginning of this month.
We have witnessed almost a doubling of the presence of pilgrims in the Holy Land. We hope that the present crisis in Jerusalem will not frighten those who have decided to come to the Holy Land. The presence of pilgrims, as well as being an important experience of faith, is also a beautiful expression of solidarity with the many Christians and non-Christians who work in the field of religious tourism. In Jordan there is serenity. We therefore invite pilgrims to visit the Holy Land and Jordan without fear, because there is no danger.
The improvement in relations between the Christian Churches was sealed by the inauguration of the restored Aedicule of the Holy Sepulcher last March. An event that a few years ago would have seemed impossible to realize and that has instead marked a point of no return in our internal relations.
The Social Sphere
This year has been quite challenging. Above all in the second part of the year we found ourselves involved in different types of tension, in particular about the city of Jerusalem, once again present in the media. In the month of July and throughout the summer the entire city of Jerusalem was marked by tensions, not only political, regarding access to the Al-Aqsa mosques and the Dome of the Rock. Even the Christian churches published a statement.
Shortly thereafter we had to publish another document, directly concerning the churches themselves, about their properties and a bill before the Knesset that would limit their freedom to decide on their properties.
A few days ago we all witnessed the President of United States’ declarations, whose consequences are known and have not yet ceased altogether.
The position of the Catholic Church in this regard is clear, and was reiterated by the Holy Father himself: to respect the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant UN Resolutions. In our press release we said: we believe that every unilateral solution cannot be considered a solution. Unilateral decisions will not bring peace, but rather will distance it. Jerusalem is a treasure of all humanity. Any exclusive claim – be it political or religious – is contrary to the city’s own logic.
We hope that the violence of these days ceases completely and that we can continue to legitimately discuss Jerusalem not only on a political level, but also on a religious and cultural level.
Politics is the great absentee of this moment. We do not know if and what is developing in the chancelleries of the countries that decide our future, but here, in our context, politics, the one thing that indicates perspectives and outlines the future, is absent. This is a source of frustration and disorientation. We need politics, not that of the living room, but that which can translate the expectations of the respective peoples into concrete choices on territory.
Our populations are tired of violence, which has not led to any results. Instead, they are thirsty for justice, rights and truth. They seem generic and rhetorical statements, but here in this context, they have a concrete and precise implication in daily life, in displacements and in freedom of movement, in permits, in family reunification and in the daily life of all Christian families.
At Christmas, we celebrate God who appears and enters into the human history, not with an announcement of judgment, images of misfortune and punishment. If he had done it this way, it would have been evident that his purpose was to conquer us, to subjugate us, like any earthly power. Instead God comes with a simple announcement of joy: “Behold, I announce you great joy”. The joy of God is an “incarnate” joy, it passes through the simple things of life. There is no joy if there is no life, the humble life of regular people: a mother, a father, a son.
The joy of God is salvation: this Child, who the shepherds will see if they set out on their journey, “is the Savior” (Lk 2:11).
And salvation is a chance to always start over. Salvation is an opportunity that everything will be transformed: darkness into light, evil into goodness, pain into joy, selfishness into love, death into life.
This is the salvation of God: not a ready-made package, not something already done, but a continual starting again, an ever-new way of walking behind Him.
The difficulties of these days, the difficulties of all time, the thirst for justice, the hunger for dignity, therefore, do not prevent us from starting over, do not extinguish our joy, nor our determination to work together to improve our world, to work in defense of life, the simple life of our faithful, of our families and our religious communities.
+Pierbattista Pizzaballa Apostolic Administrator