The Custos of the Holy Land at the Synod

Giacomo Pizzi15 October 2010
Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, is Custos, or Custodian, of the Holy Places in the Holy Land. His address, this week, to participants at the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops touched on the work the Franciscans do in the region and on his belief that being a minority does not prevent Christians in the Holy Land from being vibrant witnesses to the faith. Speaking to Vatican Radio he spoke of what he sees as the main challenges facing the bishops at this time. He singled out the need for better coordination among the churches of the region, both catholic and non-catholic, so as to be able to give a true testimony of unity. Another vital challenge – he said – is to “give a word, a clear word to our Christians concerning our life among non-Christians”.

And to do this, Father Pizzaballa says “we must meet regularly, share problems, coordinate activities, improve communication and common activities, and improve coordination among parish priests. We must give” – he continued “concrete testimony that we are one church working together”. And speaking of the particular situation of Christians in the Holy Land, Father Pizzaballa pointed out that “There is a way to be Christian in Israel, there is a way to be Christian in the Palestinian territories where the majority of the population is Muslim. It is true” – he continued – “that the conflict takes a lot of our attention and attentions”, but this must not mean that our discussions and reflections focus only on the conflict. “There is a society, there are almost 6 million Jews in Israel, and we have to open a dialogue with them.” Ordinary people – father Pizzaballa points out – are already doing that, and as Church “we should start having better, normal, regular relations with the Israeli authorities and with the Jewish leaders of Israel.” Also in the Palestinian territories – he said – many Christians are living with Muslims, and we are responsible for the Christian community and we must really stress the importance of peaceful coexistence.

Referring to the so-called Kairos document, father Pizzaballa explains this is not an official Church document but the result of a spiritual reflection by Christian leaders and lay persons. It aims to give some guidelines for the behaviour of Christians in this context. The document – he says – has had a lot of positive and negative reactions. For some it is too political, for some it only represent the Christians in the Palestinian territories. One of the more obvious political consequences is that it calls on people to divest from Israeli companies and take concrete steps against the occupation. However- he concludes – it is a questionable but important document that must be taken into consideration. As far as the position of the Franciscans in the Holy Land is concerned, Father Pizzaballa says he thinks religious authorities should not be afraid of expressing their thoughts on the political situation, but – he points out – it is always easy to criticise the Israeli government. Maybe – he says – we should talk a little less about complex situations, but when we talk we must be clear and outspoken.

Regarding the ongoing synod, father Pizzaballa agrees that more Jewish representatives should have been invited to participate in synodal and extra-synodal activities, and expresses his doubt that the Israeli perspective is not well represented. As far as the social problems are concerned, “All churches in the holy land are concretely involved in supporting the Christian population with housing projects, schools, job creation and so on, but they do not have enough resources to answer all the needs. However this is not – he says – and must not be, their first activity. First of all we must educate our Christian community to help and support itself. “We cannot be welfare for the Christians.” Finally, father Pizzaballa spoke with heartfelt warmth of the role of women in the Church in the Holy Land, which – he said – is fundamental. The nuns’ work is indispensable not only for Christians, because women are able to enter into the families, into social activities much more than the men. What they are doing socially, and within families is indispensable and – father Pizzaballa said – “I think the Christian presence and character in the holy land is maintained and respected mainly thanks to the activities of these nuns”.

Source: Vatican Radio