Patriarch of Jerusalem on Hope in Our Lady for a Solution in the Mideast

As a Native of Nazareth, Mary Is ‘Our Parishioner’

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By Salvatore Cernuzio

CROTONE, Italy, MAY 21, 2012, ( The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, visited the southern Italian city of Crotone last week, to render homage to the Madonna of Capocolonna, a long standing devotion in the city.

After a press conference on May 17, Patriarch Twal spoke with ZENIT about the situation in the Middle East.

ZENIT: Beatitude, you have said that Jerusalem has a specific vocation: to be a city of peace. What, today, is impeding its fulfilling this vocation?

Patriarch Twal: As all human vocations, it is not always attainable, because of the human will and liberty. It is necessary to remember then that in Jerusalem there is not only the spiritual dimension that unites us all, but also private interests, politicians’ agenda and so many other factors that, coming together, impede the full attainment of peace. There are calm periods today, but true peace, that, namely, which gives full liberty of movement, full liberty of access to the Holy Places, full liberty to live to Christians of the Middle East, up to now has never existed.

ZENIT: What is the situation at present of Christians in the Holy Land, considering also the recent incidents of vandalism by some young Israelis of sacred symbols and images?

Patriarch Twal: It is these sad and lamentable events that unfortunately the Christians of Jerusalem have always had to suffer. The Christian Church in Jerusalem is almost 100% Arab and Christians are an integral part of the Arab and Palestinian population: they suffer and rejoice with the local population and aspire to the same objective, that is, peace.

Then we have Christian populations that have come from outside — recently, for example, numerous Filipinos — who arrive in Jerusalem for work, who find themselves in a vulnerable position because they could be expelled from one moment to the next. Because of this, the Church seeks to ensure them a good religious service and legal advice, to help them live and not forget their Christian identity.

ZENIT: You have said you are more “intensely concerned” about the phenomenon of emigration of the Christian population than by the immigration. So, does the “flight” of Christians from this land continue?

Patriarch Twal: Unfortunately yes. The exit of Christians from the Holy Lands can be described as a real “human hemorrage.” We suffer a lot because of this, because there are very few of us, hence, the departure of even a single person has its weight.

ZENIT: To what is all this due?

Patriarch Twal: To the occupation, to the political situation, to the difficult conditions of life, to the lack of work, of trust. It’s almost natural that this option to leave arises, because the only real and radical remedy – peace – is still very distant.

ZENIT: When the Christian population doesn’t leave, how does it react?

Patriarch Twal: In civil society, whether Israeli or Arab, there are numerous groups made up of hundreds of mothers who have lost their dearest relatives. They are not only Christian mothers, but Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian, of all nationalities, who come together because they are tired of the vendetta and the violence, and appeal only for peace. Besides them we have very many contemplative Congregations, whose members do not leave the walls of their monasteries, but, through constant prayer, make a stronger and more effective contribution.

ZENIT: Among the initiatives and projects that the Italian Episcopal Conference and the Holy See are carrying out, which are supported?

Patriarch Twal: The institutions, the schools, the universities first of all. Recently there was a project to which the Italian Cooperation contributed very well through Minister Frattini and Dr. Elisabetta Belloni, and the construction of dwellings for young Christian Palestinian couples. Projects of this sort are indispensable and I hope they will happen again.

Last year we instituted a university, thanks to the support of the Holy Father and of the Italian Episcopal Conference. At this point I wish to thank especially the Italians, for their closeness and sensitivity to Christians in the Middle East.

ZENIT: You are referring to the Catholic University in Jordan, inaugurated last Fall: a wish that was very dear to you, as well as the will of the Holy Father expressed in his visit of 2009. This morning, among other things, you also spoke of more than 105 Catholic schools present in Palestine. Can formation and education, therefore, be the key to a better future?

Patriarch Twal: Certainly! A person with a degree, well prepared, can guarantee to himself and to others a better future. Formation is a fundamental element: it means to prepare the new generations, to prepare, of course, more responsible leaders, to open the mind of young people to the novel, and to collaboration with others.

The population of Jordan also understood this, so much so that the university, although it opened its doors last October, now has 300 students.

ZENIT: What is the Patriarchate of Jerusalem committed to now?

Patriarch Twal: In all: from participation in the Synod of the New Evangelization of October and the meeting of Families at Milan, to the Pope’s visit to the Lebanon and to Dublin’s International Eucharistic Congress. Everything must begin again from Jerusalem!

ZENIT: One last question, almost an obligation in this Marian month: how is devotion to the Virgin lived in the Holy Land?

Patriarch Twal: We need Mary. We are vulnerable at this time and we are seeking help and protection. We certainly don’t entrust ourselves to the politicians; there is no hope with them. Instead, Our Lady has never disappointed us, because she is truly our Mother. In fact she is even more sensitive to our problems given that she is from Nazareth, hence one of our “parishioners.”

[Translation by ZENIT]
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