By Robin Gomes
Recognizing the reality, vocation and prophecy, prayer, charity, ecumenical dialogue and freedom of expression are some of the concrete ways in which the Church in the Holy Land can “announce dialogue and peace seriously and credibly”, without empty words.
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, made the exhortation during Mass on New Year’s Day in the Holy City.
Marking the Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace on January 1, he reflected on dialogue, one of the themes of Pope Francis' Message for World Day of Peace.
Speaking about the ecclesial community and Church in the Holy Land, he said that adhering to the Christian faith “does not automatically make us capable of dialogue and experts of peace”. All the faithful are called to “make this personal and communal journey, this spiritual struggle, which leads us to encounter the other,” the Italian archbishop said in his homily.
“We are not called to witness our desire for dialogue only as individual believers,” he pointed out. “It must primarily be a testimony of the entire Church understood as a community and not as an institution”. “This,” he stressed, “is the primary vocation of our Church in the Holy Land.”
Accepting reality and witnessing
Archbishop Pizzaballa called on the ecclesial community to accept the reality of the region, with its struggles and conflicts. Fleeing conflicts or trying to resolve them with non-Gospel methods, he noted, would perhaps preserve the Church’s structures, but warned, “it would not nourish the faith and hope of the Christians”.
Hence, the first step for a meaningful community witness, the Franciscan archbishop pointed out, is to recognize the difficult reality of life, by making sure that people are listened to in their pain. They need to continue to “affirm the way of the Gospel as the only possible way leading to peace in a social and political context where oppression, closure, and violence seem the only possible ways.”
Prayer and charity
Building peace, the 54-year-old archbishop said, also demands persevering in faith and intercession. Praying, he said, “is to give back space to God amid violence and despair.”
A service similar to prayer, he further explained, is charity. This means actively sharing the “struggles and sufferings of the victims, the weak and the poor, with a lively and intelligent charity that testifies to a different possibility of being in the world”.
Christians of the Holy Land, Archbishop Pizzaballa said, may have little opportunities to intervene in political conflicts or sit at international tables, but they can certainly make the Church a place and an experience of a possible peace through ecumenical dialogue.
It is the duty of Christians, he said, to construct reconciled and hospitable communities that are open and available to encounter. They can help create authentic spaces of shared fraternity and sincere dialogue.
Finally, Christians of the Holy Land also have the duty to make its judgement on the world and its dynamics. Archbishop Pizzaballa said the faithful expect from their leaders not just words of hope and consolation but also of truth. Hence the Church cannot be silent in the face of injustice or invite Christians to quiet living and disengagement.
“The preferential option for the poor and weak,” he pointed out, “does not make the Church a political party.” The Church always needs to raise her voice to defend the rights of God and man without entering into the dynamics of competition and division.