Mgr Pizzaballa talks to AsiaNews about the crisis and uncertainty caused by the novel coronavirus and political and economic difficulties. The Patriarchate is a “pluralistic” reality that needs strengthening through “work and collaboration with the clergy, the seminary and all the faithful.” The Patriarch calls for bearing witness among Jews and Muslims at a time with no “great agreements” but favourable to “sowing”.
Bergamo (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis on Saturday appointed the Apostolic administrator of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, as Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the new Patriarch noted that in a world affected by the coronavirus pandemic and political and economic uncertainties, the Holy Land, like the rest of the world, “is going through a time that requires careful action. For this reason, we must strengthen the sense of community and belonging of the various components of the diocese,” each with its own peculiarities.
Set to continue the work he begun in 2016, the prelate wants to enhance a “pluralistic” Patriarchate by strengthening “work and collaboration with the clergy, the seminary and all the faithful.”
Although some management and budgetary issues remain unresolved, the Patriarchate carried out “very important work” in in recent years, “and not only administrative in nature,” said His Beatitude. “I was a temporary figure. Now my presence has stabilised, with the same responsibilities;” thus, giving him the opportunity to deal with “unfinished business”.
Archbishop Pizzaballa, an Italian Franciscan, is the tenth resident Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem since the post was restored in 1847. Since the 1980s, the Patriarchate has been led by Arab Catholics, the Palestinian Michel Sabbah and the Jordanian Fouad Twal.
The Latin Patriarchate, whose jurisdiction covers in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus, is headquartered in Jerusalem. Its territory is divided into 71 parishes, grouped into six vicariates.
At present, the prelate is visiting his native province of Bergamo (Italy) where he was born (in Cologno al Serio) on 21 April 1965. He left very young to study in Bologna, where he was ordained deacon on 27 January 1990 and priest on 15 September of the same year, at Bologna cathedral.
He arrived in the Holy Land in 1999, and was elected in May 2004 to a six-year term as Custos of the Holy Land. He was re-elected to a three-year term on 22 March 2010, which was renewed in 2013 until April 2016. On 24 June 2016, he was appointed apostolic administrator sede vacante of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, after the then Patriarch Fouad Twal reached the age limit.
One of the issues he had to address in recent years was the restoration of the aedicule of the Holy Sepulchre and the repayment of the debt linked to the construction of the American University in Madaba.
During his tenure, he was able to reduce by 60 per cent the deficit that weighed heavily on the Patriarchate’s finances.
Previously, when he was Custos, the Pope had him involved in organising the peace meeting in the Vatican Gardens between Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.
For the new Patriarch, it is essential to boost the missionary spirit and evangelisation “through pilgrimages to the holy places, which are now in difficulty” due to the COVID-19 pandemic and by bearing “witness to a life of faith among Jews and Muslims.”
“We are in a serious economic crisis,” he said. “For this reason, we must first of all strengthen internal solidarity and the sense of community, as well as maintain relations between our Church and the Churches of the world.”
“This is a time of waiting,” not only at the religious level, but also at the political level. “There is no room for great gestures or agreements,” but the time is “favourable for sowing and working within institutions to rebuild trust from a long-term perspective.”
Personally, “I was very impressed by the participation of all the religious and political authorities, Muslim and Jewish, Palestinian and Israeli, following my appointment.”
After receiving many messages and expressions of support, His Beatitude said that “The decision of some consecrated persons to pray every night for my future service struck me as a show of solidarity on the part of people who are simple and yet feel part of my mission.”