Msgr. Pizzaballa: For Christians, welcoming pilgrims to Holy Land is like an embrace

It was a difficult but necessary decision. The doors to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem remained shut for three days in protest of two controversial decisions by Israeli authorities. First, the municipal government of the Holy City sought to collect taxes from Church properties. In addition, Netanyahu’s government wanted to expropriate lands sold by the Church.

MSGR. PIERBATTISTA PIZZABALLA
Apostolic Administrator of Jerusalem
“A decision like that had to be made because there were no other clear channels to unlock the situation and establish dialogue. Now, we are in contact with the government, directly with the prime minister, and we hope it can be resolved in a way that gives the Church and Jerusalem full citizenship in which rights and duties are clear, instead of living in a situation of limbo in which we’re always suspended.”

The agreement between the Vatican and Israel has been under negotiation since 1994. Both parties seem increasingly closer to resolving the sensitive issue of tax protocol for Church properties and the management of some sites.

Both the internal and external politics of the region keep many people on edge. Any movement can be considered inflammatory, like Donald Trump’s intention to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

MSGR. PIERBATTISTA PIZZABALLA
Apostolic Administrator of Jerusalem
“It’s a political war. It involves defining the sovereignty of Jerusalem and its borders. It’s one of the most burning and difficult questions that has come up again following Trump’s declaration.”

At the edge of the political situation, though, are the sites and the people who live in the Holy Land. For some years, migration from India, the Philippines, Eritrea or South Sudan has changed the face of Christianity. Therefore, the Apostolic Administrator of Jerusalem will establish a parish in May to tend to their specific needs.

MSGR. PIERBATTISTA PIZZABALLA
“The Christian presence changes and transforms but it’s always a vital presence in the Holy Land. The political situation could hurt it, but it won’t eliminate it.”

For the presence to remain a constant, Msgr. Pizzaballa advises Christians around the world to make a pilgrimage to the Land of Christ because it’s crucial for local Christians.

MSGR. PIERBATTISTA PIZZABALLA
Apostolic Administrator of Jerusalem
“The pilgrimages give work to many Christians. Many families are able to live with dignity because of this work. Welcoming millions of pilgrims gives us the experience of the universal Church, the embrace of the univeral Church in Jerusalem.”

In 1948, Christians in the Holy Land made up 20 percent of the population. Today, they barely represent one percent, some 55,000 people who maintain the flame of faith in the place where it started.