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Holy Land cardinal boils it down to forgiveness, truth, justice

Newly elevated cardinal, Italian Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 05/03/24

The Church’s pastoral care must be able to "place these three elements in continuous, difficult, painful, complex, tearing, tiring dialogue with each other,” says Cardinal Pizzaballa.

“A true and lasting peace will take a long time, now we need to work for an end to the hostilities, for a ceasefire,” Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa told journalists – including I.MEDIA – on the sidelines of an event in Rome on May 2, 2024. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem underlined the difficulty of political and interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land due to the conflict, and called on the Catholic Church to avoid the “easy temptation” of giving a political response to the war.

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome on May 2, 2024.

Back on April 15, the Italian Franciscan, who was created a cardinal by Pope Francis in September, had to postpone taking possession of his titular parish in Rome, Sant’Onofrio, following an Iranian offensive against Israel on April 13. The ceremony finally took place on May 1.

The next day the Cardinal went to the Pontifical Lateran University for a “lectio magistralis” (an inaugural lesson) on the theme of pastoral approaches to peace. At both events, he spoke about the gravity of the situation in the Holy Land, and stressed the role of leaders in ending violence and working for a lasting peace.

In his speech at the Lateran, the cardinal emphasized that this conflict revealed the “growing crisis” of multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, as well as the “weakness” of the international and local political community.

He nevertheless insisted that it is not the Church’s vocation to enter into the “political dynamics of negotiations,” seeing it as an “easy temptation” contrary to its mission in favor of peace. 

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem giving an inaugural lesson at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome on May 2, 2024.

The failure of religious leaders

The Patriarch also deplored the fact that the word of religious leaders is largely absent from this conflict.

“With a few exceptions, in recent months there have not been heard from religious leadership speeches, reflections, prayers that are different from any other political or social leader,” he underlined.

He said that religious leaders in the Middle East are not called to “reinvent the wheel” in terms of how to deal with the difficult situation, but rather “to be credible, sincere and passionate witnesses of God.” 

He also noted how, despite interreligious dialogue having produced many fruits in the past, this conflict marks “a watershed” in this dialogue, that “can never be the same as before, at least between Christians, Muslims, and Jews.”

“After years of interreligious dialogue, we found ourselves not understanding each other,” he said.

Cardinal Pizzaballa, who has lived in the Holy Land since the 1990s and has long been responsible for the pastoral care of Hebrew-speaking Catholics, described this realization as “personally, a great sorrow, but also a great lesson.” He however hoped for improvements in the future.

“Despite our differences, we care for each other, and we want this good to find concrete expression in the lives not only of ourselves but also of our respective communities.”

Forgiveness, truth and justice

“‘Peace’ today seems to be a distant, utopian word empty of content, if not the object of endless instrumentalization,” Cardinal Pizzaballa said. He highlighted that for a lasting peace both political and religious leaders need to take into account the weight of “wounds, pain, resentment, anger” that result from this conflict, and called especially to focus on forgiveness, truth, and justice.

“It is necessary, therefore, that the Church’s pastoral care be able to place these three elements in continuous, difficult, painful, complex, tearing, tiring dialogue with each other,” he said. “But it is a fruitful process that respects the rights of God and man, and builds, little by little, in the times we do not possess, prospects for peace.” 

“Peace needs the witness of clear and strong gestures from all believers, but it also needs to be proclaimed and defended by equally clear words,” he said, saying that as believers “our prophecy will be our daily testimony.” 

Ceasefire and hostage release

Before the conference, Cardinal Pizzaballa told journalists that a ceasefire would represent a “first step toward other perspectives of a political nature, which, however, are all to be constructed.” He explained that first the hostilities must stop and that there needs to be the liberation of the Israeli hostages on one side, and of “at least some” Palestinian political prisoners, “and then we’ll see.” 

He also suggested that it is not the role of the Holy See to participate “in mediation, especially in such complex and problematic realities,” but rather “to create the premises, the contexts, for this to happen.” 

The Pope’s support for the parish in Gaza

In answering questions from the audience, Cardinal Pizzaballa also spoke about the situation of the 462 refugees who are at the Latin Catholic parish in Gaza. He underlined Pope Francis’ proximity, as he calls the parish priest everyday and also sends aid.

The cardinal said the military situation in Gaza was “calmer” than right after the October 7 attacks, but still “precarious” and “difficult” due to the lack of food and water. “They keep themselves alive, they are good,” he said of the refugees.

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