An Experience of Synodal Unity and Communion

Interview With Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel

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By Gabriela Maria Mihlig

ROME, OCT. 29, 2010 ( While the synod fathers participating in the special assembly for the Middle East worked to produce several useful and valuable documents, they also managed to create a special spirit of communion and unity, says Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo

Bishop Marcuzzo, an auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem who also serves as the Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, was in Rome for this month’s Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which concluded last Sunday.

He said the synod fathers «experienced a sincere and joyful Catholicism and universalism,» and that the synodal spirit «filled us with new enthusiasm and gave us the will for a new and fresh start especially in the Christian witness of love, peace and unity.»

At the end of the assembly, the synod fathers published a Message to the People of God and a List of Propositions, which Benedict XVI will take into consideration when writing a post-synodal letter on the situation of the Church in the Middle East.

In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop Marcuzzo reflects on the achievements of the synod, the experience of unity and communion experience by the bishops gathered in Rome, and on what affect the gathering may have on the region.

ZENIT: Considering the situation in the Middle East and in the Holy Land and looking at the final propositions could you explain what are the main items of interest in general and to you as bishop in Holy Land?

Bishop Marcuzzo: In the synod we prepared several proposals which have been presented, together with some other papers like the Message to the People of God, to the Holy Father. Those proposals are very comprehensive, containing all our main problems in the Middle East, and especially in the Holy Land. That «sacred package» of ideas is called in a very meaningful and solemn way: «Propositions of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops on the theme The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. ‘Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul’ (Acts 4:32).»

Speaking in general, they are 44 proposals involving different issues, for example: The Word of God, a biblical pastoral programme, identity of the eastern Catholic Churches, sharing in the Cross, encouragement to make pilgrimages, the questions of justice and peace in every country, the interreligious dialogue, the jurisdiction of Patriarchs, etc. Of course, we included in these «Propositions» also the topics on Christian witness in the Middle East countries, passing through the issues of the religious life, the liturgical renewal, the schools and human rights, the special care for the youth.

ZENIT: What in particular were the contributions made by the bishops of the Holy Land?

Bishop Marcuzzo: In a special way for the Holy Land, we, the bishops of our assembly, we contributed a lot with our particular interventions: the uniqueness of the Mother Church of Jerusalem, the Holy Sites and pilgrimages, the specificity, the service and complementarity of the Latin presence, the newness of the presence of a indigenous «Palestinian Christian community in Israel» and a «Catholic Kehila (community) of Hebrew expression,» the problem of emigration, the interreligious dialogue, the phenomenon of sects, etc.

ZENIT: What about your personal official intervention in the synod?

Bishop Marcuzzo: My personal paper read in the Synod Hall, and, shortened for the press, was about what I believe is the top priority of needs for the Churches in the Middle East and in our Holy Land: the absolute urgency of Christian formation for lay people and priests, the necessity of a cultural and historic mediation of faith, the importance of the Arabic Theology or Patrology as a chance of unity and enculturation.

ZENIT: What about your role in the preparations of the propositions?

Bishop Marcuzzo: We, the bishops and other members of the Holy Land in the synod, we worked hard and we gave a strong support for the redaction or completing of some specific proposals concerning our situation, like the pilgrimages, the good enculturation of the new communities or movements in the local Church, the work for justice, peace and reconciliation, the teaching and spreading of the Christian Arabic Literature. In other words, we can say that we communicated the rich experience of our «diocesan pastoral Synod for the Holy Land» of the past years in the bishops’ synod for the Middle East.

ZENIT: Is there any special aspect in the message and the proposals that impressed you more that others?
Bishop Marcuzzo: What is of interest is the fact that all these proposals mentioned herein are very rich in its contents. It means that this document includes all the historical and wonderful experiences of all the bishops of all the countries of the Middle East. This documentation is really an incomparable preciousness and richness for the Church and especially for our activities in the future.

Second, there is a spirit of the synod, not only the documents. And that spirit was of full communion and, if you allow me, of full democracy. Though so different and completely free in our expression, we were and are deeply «one heart and one soul» around Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Vicar on earth, the Pope. We experienced a sincere and joyful Catholicism and universalism. That spirit filled us with new enthusiasm and gave us the will for a new and fresh start especially in the Christian witness of love, peace and unity.

ZENIT: What were the role and the presence of the Pope in the Synod?

Bishop Marcuzzo: Benedict XVI attended most of our general sessions. That is a beautiful sign of respect for the venerable history of the Churches in the Middle East and of consideration for their actuality. His appreciated participation was a presence of fraternal love, of listening with attention and of encouragement for all. By the way, we shall not forget so easily the three reflections he gave us during the synod: the homily of the inaugural Mass, the first meditation of Monday, Oct. 11, and the homily of conclusion of the Synod. They are three masterpieces of wonderful, deep and supernatural reflection about our roots and presence in the special situation of the Middle East.

The Pope now received the propositions of the synod fathers. With the help of seven elected and three appointed members of the synod’s counsel, His Holiness is reflecting on them and considering the best opportunity for the final and official use of the propositions. As for other Synods, he will probably write for us a document called «Exhortations,» a kind of pastoral and practical guideline related to the essential points of the proposals.

We are very thankful to the Pope for what he already did for the Churches in the Middle East, and we are already very eager to receive that pontifical synodal document. It will be in the future like a guide for our daily life, in the decisions and attitudes the Churches of Middle East will take in all the various fields. The future of our Church depends on the Synod and on that pontifical synodal document.

ZENIT: Is there a special issue that affects the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in particular?

Bishop Marcuzzo: The synod does not speak of any Eastern Church in particular; it speaks of all the Churches in the Middle East. The Latin Patriarchate is one of the Churches in the Middle East. You know, there are seven Christian traditions in the Middle East, and the Latin tradition is one of them. This was a kind of discovery to see that there is in the Middle East a Latin Church well adapted and well rooted. The synod is a pastoral on
e, and we almost share the same problems with some differences between the Christians living in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Egypt, in the Holy Land or in the Gulf region etc. Basically, we have the same problems.

Now we have to try to take the same experience, to apply together those proposals and to live the same spirit of «communion and witness» in our realistic and local situations. The synod will not have an immediate result. It needs a certain time to give visible fruits, though we are expecting to see already a fresh spirit. The adaptation and application of the new propositions or exhortations need patience and time, but the most important is to walk already toward the good orientation, together, with a new spirit.

ZENIT: Going back to Holy Land, will you talk to all parish priests of Latin Patriarchate to forward all the necessary information obtained here in the synod so that they can implement the new issues in their daily life in the parishes and religious communities?

Bishop Marcuzzo: The priests, the consecrated people and the lay people were already well involved in the preparation of the synod and in following, at least spiritually, its event. Now, since our own pastoral synod, more and more in the Holy Land we speak to all priests, to all consecrated people, to all monks and nuns and to all religious people, to all laymen and to all young people. More and more we are working together, we have a greater common pastoral ministry, for example, for the youth, for the religious life, for the vocations.

More and more, at all the levels, we meet and decide together about the main problems of the faithful in their religious and daily life: For example, the problems about marriage, about justice and peace in Holy Land. That is urgently needed not only in order to avoid more conflicts, but to give a living example of communion and of Christian witness. So, in the Holy Land — thanks to God — we already practise many things together and more and more we have to strengthen and to deepen that common work.

ZENIT: What is your special task as bishop of the Latin Patriarchate? Is it more related to the pastoral care, or is it more related to the education and formation of seminarians and students?

Bishop Marcuzzo: Of course, as a bishop now I am involved especially in the pastoral work. In the past years I was in charge of the seminarians, of the vocations and of the formation for the future priests. Now, I have to take care of the pastoral needs of the people, especially of the young people. I am in charge of taking care especially of the Christians living in Nazareth, in Galilee, in Israel. In general, in spirit of cooperation with the Patriarch of Jerusalem [Patriarch Fouad Twal] and his vicars, we have to take care of the Christians, Arabs, Jews and others, together with other priests of the Latin Patriarchate or of other institutions. That is my daily pastoral responsibility.

As mentioned, after our local Synod in Holy Land, which was held in the 1990s and that we concluded in the jubilee year 2000, and which gave us the General Pastoral Plan, now we are working and cooperating more and more together. This is the reason why I said that for us this Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops here in Rome with Holy Father was not exactly a first experience of that kind. Though very special and unique, for us it is like a second very good and important experience of communion and witness.

ZENIT: And now that the synod has concluded, any final thoughts?

Bishop Marcuzzo: We joyfully thank God for having given light and strength for this historical ecclesial event. We thank the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for having confirmed our faith and our efforts to be «one heart and one soul,» we thank all the people who worked hard for the successful result of this huge initiative, including the journalists, all the people especially the contemplatives who prayed continuously for this holy intention. And now, with the intercession and example of Mary of Nazareth, let us continue to serve God and our beloved faithful Christians in the Middle East, in the Holy Land, in the Holy Mother Church of Jerusalem!

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