Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa and president of the Italian bishops’ conference, recently returned from a trip to the Holy Land. He spoke of his findings with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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Q: You have just visited war-torn Gaza as a guest of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. What impressed you particularly?
Cardinal Bagnasco: How a city has been destroyed—but then there was the hope that I saw on the faces of so many children. It was like an explosion of joy. There was also a sense of dignity and pride of the people, who need so much but ask for nothing. I was also impressed by the local Christians’ devotion to their faith. They are a very small, but very effective minority.
Q: You also visited Sderot, the Israeli city on the border with the Gaza strip, which has suffered from Hamas rocket attacks for years.
Cardinal Bagnasco: The situation in these two territories typifies the state of mind of both peoples. If, on the one hand, the cities which have been damaged have to be rebuilt, how much more important is it to rebuild people’s hearts so that they can forgive the destruction inflicted upon them and start out on the path of reconciliation. Spiritual and moral rebuilding must be the foundation of all further reconstruction.
Q: Will you report on the situation in the Holy Land to the Pope?
Cardinal Bagnasco: Yes. I will tell him how much the people here love him. They thank him for his visit here this year. They would naturally be delighted to welcome him here again. They trust in the prayer and the word of the Holy Father, but also in the influence which he enjoys thanks to his authority at the level of international bodies, his ability to draw the world’s attention to the dramatic situation here in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East.
From everything I hear from many sources, solutions are coming. They consist of creating an alliance of all moderates in the region in order to isolate the extremists. If such a sincere and effective alliance of moderates were formed, then the extremists would be left isolated. God-willing, they would then be obliged to give up their evil project of constantly unleashing chaos and violence.
Q: Do you believe that Western Christianity is paying sufficient attention to the situation of Christians in the Holy Land?
Cardinal Bagnasco: There is no general answer to this question. However the Catholic Church in the individual countries of Europe needs to become more aware overall of the drama that is taking place in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East. It should also reflect on how it can express solidarity with the faithful in the region better. We must do even more.
Q: Do you already have ideas for projects to help the Christian community here?
Cardinal Bagnasco: We will continue to lead our dioceses in prayer for the peoples of the Holy Land. In addition, according to our means, we plan to implement concrete works of solidarity. Many of these exist already, such as schools, hospitals and so on. Thirdly, I believe that we must step up the pilgrimages to the Holy Land. This is possible, and we need not be afraid. Our communities must overcome their fears and start visiting once more the places associated with the life of Jesus. That would be a major boost for the Christian communities in the Holy Land.
Q: In view of the events in Syria and Iraq, do you believe that Christians have a future in the Middle East?
Cardinal Bagnasco: They must have a future. Anything else would be a disaster for humanity, and not just for one religion. It would mean the failure of the civilisation that must strive for and ensure that individuals can profess their own faith in peace and be universally respected. Furthermore, if this failure were the result of a concrete project, that is to say, to wipe out the Christian presence in this country or other countries of the world, that would be even worse. That must not be allowed to happen. All men and people of good will and good sense must prevent the execution of any such plan to eliminate the Christian presence in the Middle East.
Cardinal Bagnasco visited the Holy Land on 3 and 4 November together with the Presidium of the Italian Bishops’ Conference.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)