Just before the Consistory of 30 September, when His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa will be elevated to the rank of Cardinal, he wanted to meet journalists at a press conference which was held on the morning of Tuesday 21 September in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Pierbattista Pizzaballa is about to leave for Rome, to define the last steps towards receiving the red biretta which will take place on the esplanade of St Peter’s Basilica next Saturday, 30 September. During the conference, he wanted to emphasize how his appointment as Cardinal is linked to the Holy Land.
“I think that Pope Francis, in appointing me Cardinal, has chosen not only the person, but above all the place where I am: I am called to be a voice of Jerusalem, and I am aware of the responsibility, especially because I represent this voice from the heart of the Mother Church. We know that Jerusalem is also the heart of many conflicts, that it has always been in search of stability. I have already been able to speak of this with the Pope, not only with respect to the tensions present in this city but in the Church in the Middle East in general, and above all of the prospects that will open up, because I believe it is fundamental to speak of a concrete programme for this land.” It is a Land that the Patriarch, formerly Custos of the Holy Land from 2004 to 2016, knows very well, and to which he has devoted thirty years of his life and his apostolate.
During the conference, Pizzaballa emphasized the recent most critical situations that have targeted Christian places, in Haifa, the Stella Maris monastery, and in Jerusalem: these tensions are fuelled by the ultra-Orthodox and extremist groups which are rooted in historically non-pacific contexts. “Violence is growing and the “moderate” voice remains unheard. We are in contact with the Israeli authorities and the police: the positive aspect is that, unlike the past, this phenomenon of attacks and aggressions on the Christian communities is no longer denied. Of course, this is only the beginning: we have to coordinate better with all the churches present here. And as the Catholic Church we are called to engage ourselves more completely, to create real opportunities, not only “assistance”.
A long and painful parenthesis is devoted to Syria. “I went back to Syria after 7 years. Today I found a country that is prostrate, from all points of view: nothing has been rebuilt. Villages, buildings, roads, facilities: everything has stayed as it was, and the situation in many cases has tragically worsened after the recent earthquake. Economically, it is a disaster, petrol is on the black market, inflation is sky high, the average salary is about 20 euro and people have lost all confidence that things can change. Everyone is exhausted.”
However, in this scenario, the future cardinal sees and points to a glimmer of hope: “The very recent ordination as bishop of fr. Hanna Jallouf, a Franciscan of the Custody of the Holy Land, the first Syrian bishop who has at the same time taken on the position of Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo of the Latins, can be an important sign. Fr. Hanna, who has always stayed in his country, today in the hands of the anti-government rebels, since the outbreak of the war until today, is a credible symbol for the Syrian population: he can bring a new voice at a time when Syria needs these people, examples who keep faith and hope for the future alight.”
Pierbattista Pizzaballa takes his leave with a promise: I start this new service in which I bring what I am, what I have learned and what has shaped me, for good and for bad.