A Greek Orthodox Christian prays at the Church of the Nativity A Greek Orthodox Christian prays at the Church of the Nativity  (AFP or licensors)

Fr. Patton: Holy Land is where Christians live in concrete unity

The Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, describes the Pope’s audience with The Holy Land Review, and affirms that local Christians of various confessions seek to live in concrete unity.

By Devin Watkins

“I would dare to say that the Holy Land is the place where Christian communities are closest to unity. I would say that in the Holy Land we speak less about the theory of ecumenism and instead practice unity much more.”

Fr. Francesco Patton, OFM, offered that assessment of life in the Land of Jesus at the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land was speaking in an interview with Vatican News’ Alessandro Di Bussolo on the heels of an audience with Pope Francis.

Concrete sign of unity on Epiphany/Christmas

On Monday, the Pope told journalists of The Holy Land Review that he had seen firsthand that Christians “in the Holy Land are often already close to unity.”

Fr. Patton offered the date of 6 January as a concrete example of this unity, because Catholics celebrate the Epiphany while the Eastern Churches begin the celebration of Christmas.

“On that day, practically all the Churches of the East and West meet around the manger in which Mary laid the Child Jesus. There are those who celebrate the Epiphany and those who begin to celebrate Christmas: it would be nice to show that image sometime to make people understand how even in the midst of apparent confusion, in that grotto there is also—very sui generis—a kind of Christian unity.”

Joining forces to lift children out of war

The Custos also recalled that Pope Francis had encouraged the journalists to “wear out the soles of their shoes” to tell the story of fraternity among the children of Abraham.

Fr. Patton said another example of Christians working together in the Middle East, with the help of Muslims as well, can be found in Syria.

In the aftermath of the battle over Aleppo, many children were left without a father, and therefore could not be registered with the state, according to Fr. Patton.

He said the local Franciscan parish worked with the Bishop and the local Muslim mufti, Sheikh Mahmud Akkam, to “give a name and a future to these children.”

“We were able to set up a project to help children and young people overcome the trauma caused by being immersed for many years in war, which led to destruction, hate, and devastation. All these are signs of fraternity that is possible in the name of the good of the person and of the least among us.”

Pilgrimage to Jesus’ homeland

In conclusion, Fr. Patton expressed his hopes that pilgrims would soon be able to return to the Holy Land in greater numbers.

He said pilgrimage to the Land of Jesus is an important way to “mature in the faith” by coming into contact with “the places where the Word of God was revealed, where He took on flesh and gave His life for us for our salvation.”

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18 January 2022, 11:41