Christians like citizens of the Holy Land. The Custos at a meeting organized by the UCID in Treviglio | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Christians like citizens of the Holy Land. The Custos at a meeting organized by the UCID in Treviglio

Treviglio, Centro Salesiano don Bosco, 3rd March 2012

The meeting with the Custos of the Holy Land, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, was held on the afternoon of Saturday 3rd March in the Auditorium of the Centro Salesiano don Bosco in Treviglio, on Catholics and other Christian communities in the Holy Land: pilgrims or inhabitants like Jews and Muslims? The initiative which was under the patronage of the Department for Culture of the Rtreviglio City Council, was promoted and organized by the UCID – Christian Union of Entrepreneurs and Executives. The UCID is a non-political association of entrepreneurs, executives and professionals which aims to offer moral and spiritual training for its members, in order to stimulate their personal and professional ethics, through knowledge and respect of Christian moral principles and the social teaching of the Church. The UCID also raises awareness in the community of subjects and problems of special interest, thanks to public lectures which deal with the questions in an authoritative and competent way and in great detail.

Last Saturday’s meeting in Treviglio can be placed in this context, where the Custos of the Holy Land was the central figure. In a fine room full of people, including many members of the UICD from different parts of Lombardy, many friends welcomed Brother Pizzaballa on his arrival. Many of those present have known the Custos for a long time, as he comes from Cologno al Serio (BG), also in Lombardy; others have met him in the Holy Land, where Brother Pizzaballa has lived for many years now, becoming friends and collaborators of the Franciscan Custody. All the people who surrounded the Custos with their affection also included his family, full of pride and moved by the occasion.

Sitting at the speakers’ table, with Mons. Roberto Ziglioli, Consultant of the UCID of Treviglio and Rector Emeritus of the Sanctuary of Santa Maria del Fonte in Caravaggio, don Ettore Guerra, Director of the Salesian Centre of Treviglio, and Italo Scaravaggi, President of the UCID section of Treviglio, the Custos gave a very interesting and well structured speech, based on an insightful and exhaustive analysis of the condition, role and prospects of Christians in the Holy Land. With a brief introduction, Brother Pizzaballa explained how the expression ‘Holy Land’ has a religious connotation, with which Christians refer to the geography of faith, the very places where God revealed himself to man and the story of salvation was carried out, the places to which, therefore, we all belong and which gave the origin to our faith and culture.

The Custos then continued his speech, giving some figures of the different Christian groups that live in the Holy Land. This information is necessary for a better understanding of the dynamics involving these people. Of the approximately 170,000-175,000 Christians of the Holy Land, who represent 1% of the total population, the majority belong to the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Greek, Armenian, Coptic...), whilst some 40,000-45,000 are Catholics and the remaining groups represent, due to their very small numbers, symbolic presences. 60% of the Christians live in the State of Israel, 40% in the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem. This part of the city has a particular physiognomy regarding the composition of the population; the city has about 500,000 Jews, 260,000 Muslims and about 12,000 Palestinian Arab Christians. There is then the small community of Christians of Jewish origin (about 5,000 people), reborn after many centuries, when the State of Israel was established and which includes for the majority Evangelical Christians but also has a few hundred Catholics. Lastly, there is the group of foreign Christian workers who, especially in more recent years, have become very numerous in Israel, with more or less
350,000 people, especially Filipinos, Indians and South Americans.

Brother Pizzaballa continued with examining the condition of Christians respectively in the State of Israel and in Palestine, underlining the specificities and diversities of the two situations. In particular, the State of Israel, whilst having the vocation of guaranteeing a homeland for the Jews, is essentially democratic and guarantees the recognition of the fundamental civil and social rights for all citizens. In this contest, the main problem concerns the identity of the citizens, especially the non-Jewish minorities as, since there is no Western-type concept of laity, religion also defines the social, cultural and civil definition of a person. The faith that each individual professes therefore has a clear public and civil function. In the Palestinian territories, marked by a serious territorial and social fragmentation, the situation is more delicate, as often there are often no intermediate social and professional figures and social and health care is not yet guaranteed. The continuation of the conflict certainly aggravates the fragility of the situation. Whilst in the State of Israel, the Church has above all an ecclesiastical and pastoral function, in Palestine it also carries out many of the tasks of the social State: it offers work, ensures education and training, guaranteed health care and economic welfare for the weaker subjects and social categories. In this context, the religious authority also represents an important social reference.

The Custos explained how, at the centre of this complex function that the Church carries out in the Holy Land, there is the educational activity, sustained especially through the network of Christian schools. Within a centralized and very ideological educational context, the Christian schools perform a twofold function: they deal with forming the identity of the Christians, with a very old and highly appreciated educational tradition; they promote the dynamism of intercultural relations and interreligious dialogue, generally also accepting many Muslim pupils, more rarely Jewish ones, who thus have the chance to grow up together and also to integrate the Christian minority more easily.

Brother Pizzaballa continued to explain that there is also the dimension of the inter-Christian relationship, i.e. dialogue between the different Christian communities, each of which desires to maintain a space of its own and its presence in the Holy Land. In this context, dialogue and confrontation do not touch on the large theological problems as much as with the more concrete questions of belonging, identity and the particular interpretation of history, on which the possibility of coexistence the custody of a common heritage and the construction of a common language depend.

The Christians, concluded the Custos, are therefore citizens of the Holy Land, equal to Jews and Muslims, and the Christian character of the Holy Land is an integral part of the territory therefore there is a Christian style of living in this situation. Although having little political relevance, due to the very small numbers and the internal divisions, the Christians in the Holy Land represent a fundamental cultural presence, not only because over 66% of the intense tourism in these places is linked to Christian pilgrimages, but also because they have the very important task of being a witness of life and constructive, non-violent action, capable of starting up initiatives of common growth, building micro-bridges of peace, overcoming prejudices and fears, fighting the violent mentality that tends to be reproduced in the family, at school and in wider relations, often wounded and compromised. In this very complex situation, in the beautiful and fascinating melting pot of the Holy Land, where the relationship with those who are “other” and different can never be ignored, there are also many presences of peace, individuals, groups, associations and movements that daily create small worlds of peace.

The lecture was followed by an intense and lively discussion with many members of the audience.

At 6.30 p.m., Brother Pizzaballa presided the Saturday Eucharistic celebration in the Basilica of San Martino, in the centre of Treviglio, which was attended by his family, his many friends and acquaintances, several members of the UCID and the local Christian community. The day came to an end with a dinner, offered by the UCID, at the Salesian Centre which had hosted the meeting in the afternoon.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Alessio Rivoltella