Holy Land     24.06.2015

Rome/Königstein – 24.06.2014 To “transform a shared home into a family, through dialogue” – this is the “challenge” for the Church in the Holy Land, according to Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, the papal nuncio in Israel and apostolic delegate for Palestine. Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), he was commenting on the recent arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee by Jewish extremists, one of the symbolic places of Christianity in the Holy Land.

“These actions are a cause of great bitterness to us, since, although not shared by the majority of the population, they express an attitude of closure, of refusal to accept the presence of those who are different from them”, the archbishop told ACN. Nonetheless, the Christian community is not allowing itself to be discouraged by these events, the nuncio explained, but is continuing to pursue the path of dialogue. Dialogue between Christians of course, but also with Jews and Muslims.

“This is what Pope Francis is constantly recalling us to – to educate ourselves and others to dialogue.”

In this sense, the Church is on the front line and is profoundly committed to working “so that these two peoples may learn to live together and so that this land is not limited to being a shared home but may become instead a place in which we can know one another, respect one another and also wish one another well”, the nuncio added. Such reconciliation would also benefit the now tiny Christian community, which for decades now has been continuing to desert the cradle of Christianity. “If the conditions of life work to improve, the Christian faithful would not leave, because no one truly wants to leave the Holy Land”, the nuncio said.

Quoting the words of Pope Francis at the recent meeting of ROACO (Riunione delle Opere d’Aiuto alle Chiese Orientali, a Vatican-led committee for assisting the Oriental Churches), Archbishop Lazzarotto underlined the urgency of “sowing the seeds of reconciliation”.

“Just as the Holy Father did in his visit to the Holy Land and in his meeting at the Vatican with Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas.

Unfortunately, immediately afterwards there was the conflict in Gaza, which sowed hatred, division and destruction – both material and spiritual”, he said, noting that in the Gaza Strip it is still possible to see the signs of the conflict last summer.

“There was terrible destruction there, and the reconstruction has not even begun”, the nuncio explained, underlining the important contribution made by the local Catholic Church which, although numbering just 1,300 faithful, runs three schools, a retirement hospice for the elderly and a centre for the disabled.

“These are the paths of dialogue”, he insisted.

One possible hope for the future may well be the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community, which has grown rapidly in recent years, thanks to the presence of the children of Catholic migrant workers in Israel. “This is a new and beautiful reality, to which we must pay careful attention and which may in future play a fundamental role”, he said.

Speaking about Israel’s separation wall and about the granting of permits to Christians to enable them to gain access to some of their sacred places, Archbishop Lazzarotto believes he has encountered a greater openness on the part of the Israeli authorities. “We are against the walls, but it has to be said that this year we have noted a much more positive attitude. At Easter and at Christmas time more permits were granted than in the past and many of the faithful were also able to leave Tel Aviv, whereas previously this was prohibited”, he said.

Another factor that is raising Christian hopes is the approaching accord between the Holy See and the Palestinian State. “This agreement will provide us with a legal guarantee. In Palestine the Christian community has freedom of religion and worship, but from now onwards this freedom will not merely be the fruit of goodwill on the part of whoever is in government, but rather a right recognised by the State, which is now officially committing itself for the present and the future of the Church”, the archbishop said.

For several years now ACN has been helping to promote dialogue between the various different religious communities in the Holy Land, notably through its support for the Al-Liqa Centre for interreligious research in Bethlehem, whose goal is to promote a deeper dialogue between Christians, Muslims and Jews. Last year ACN gave 20,000 Euros in support of the work of the centre. The charity also supported the activities of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR), which seeks to promotecloser relations and a better understanding between Christians and Jews by means of educational programmes, encounters and information work.Most recently ACN helped the centre with a grant of 45,000 Euros.


Marta Petrosillo

Apostolic Nuncio in Israel and Delegate in the Palestinian terri