Patriarch’s intervention at the Synod
On Tuesday, October 12, His Beatitude Fouad Twal spoke about the Mother Church of Jerusalem. He explained how the Church of the Holy Land is the direct descendant of the first Christian communities. Following is the full text of his intervention.
Holy Father and dear Brothers,
It is my responsibility to tell you about the Mother Church of Jerusalem, which includes Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus, with Jerusalem as the center and in the heart of the most significant expression in which the Lord tells us “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth “(Acts 1, 8).
The Mother Church of the Holy Land though small is very much alive, a tangible and living reality. She is like all other churches, yet particularly unique in a biblical and historical sense. Christians in our countries are not converts during a certain period of history. They have been members of the body of descendants of the first community formed by Jesus Christ Himself. We still have the grace of a vibrant community, that by its faithful, its institutions and holy places witness to Jesus of Nazareth, alive as the collective memory of the story of Jesus.
Our early Christians were certainly Jews who accepted Jesus Christ. Like the Virgin Mary of Nazareth, the Apostles, the disciples, the devout women, and thousands of others who believed in Jesus, formed the first Christian community with St. James, our predecessor, and St Simeon as their pastors.
Among the early Christians were also believers of pagan origin who lived in the Holy Land: the Aramaic, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Samaritans, Philistines, Nabateans, and Arabs which added to the Greeks and Latins, thereby increasing the number of Christian believers in the area. From the time of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles, many of them, including the Bedouins believed in Jesus Christ, and in time the entire Holy Land became a Christian country.
This Christian community experienced many challenges and changes in history, but for all time, a nucleus remained true to their faith. We can say that our Christian faith in the Holy Land was never interrupted. A long and solid historical sequence takes us back from the first Christian community of the Holy Land to the time of Jesus Christ.
Some historical and chronological realities of ecclesial and pastoral consequences for the Universal Church are:
1. The Church of Jerusalem, the Mother of all Churches in the world, is your Mother Church, where you were all spiritually and ecclesially born . (Psalm 87).She watches over the Holy Places of the Patriarchs, prophets, Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and the Apostles on behalf of and for the whole Church. She keeps an incomparably precious historical heritage, and our faith that is substantially based on the mystery of the Incarnation. She is, as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, “the fifth Gospel”.
2. The Mother Church of Jerusalem is a local church, one, with history, identity, language and culture. She has parishes, clergy, four seminaries, religious communities and institutions, Biblical institutes, schools and local structures. Likewise, she is an integral part of the universal Church. As Church and Mother Church of the Holy Places, she is open to the world and all peoples.
3. The Mother Church of Jerusalem must therefore be the object of love, prayer and attention of the whole Church, from bishops, priests and the faithful people of God. This was repeatedly encouraged by popes, especially Pope John Paul II and lately by Pope Benedict XVI. Be co-responsible and supportive of the Mother Church of Jerusalem, in witness and communion which the Synod speaks about, making known our duties as shepherds in the spirit of Episcopal collegiality.
4. The best way to love the Holy Land is to come as pilgrims to visit the Holy Places and experience the local community. This journey to places of very special significance enriches the local Christians and creates an atmosphere of ecclesial communion. It is an expression of support for our Christian brothers and sisters, an assurance that they are not forgotten and abandoned. Pope Benedict XVI was himself a shining example during his pilgrimage. We were inspired by his presence and his words directly addressed all peoples of the Holy Land.
5. The second best way to love the Holy Land is by serving the needs of many. There is a need for priests, religious and lay people, who generously come to share their gifts and talents, learn the language, adapt to the country’s culture and traditions, and minister to the local church and the needs of our Christian community. We welcome individuals: guides, researchers, archaeologists and biblical scholars. I make a special appeal to young people who feel called to the priesthood, to seminarians who love the land of Jesus, and the original communities of this land – study the Scriptures, and I persuade you be incardinated into the clergy of Jerusalem.
6. The Christian Community of the Holy Land is suffering and our numbers are dwindling. We have become a small minority (only 2% of the population). Your Mother Church lives in a generally difficult situation, in an environment of conflict and violence, of instability and injustice, in the challenges of everyday life, lack of livelihood, and anxiety about the future. Calvary is a Church, threatened by emigration. She has a great responsibility of bringing forth the message of peace and reconciliation in this land of the Gospel, the message of coexistence, dialogue and cooperation with Muslims and Jews. She also suffers from the division of her own Christian communities as she arduously works for ecumenical and interchurch dialogue and unity.
7 . Faced with these challenges and this overwhelming mission, do not leave your Mother Church of Jerusalem alone and isolated. Sustain and support her with your prayers, your love and solidarity to stay rooted in the land of Jesus. We, the bishops of the Holy Land, and all of us bishops of the Universal Church, will absolutely not allow the Holy Land to become a large open air museum, without a vibrant Christian presence. I request that we here read the moving apostolic exhortation Nobis in Animo, § 10, written by Pope Paul VI on March 25, 1974. We are very grateful to the Holy See, to bishops, priests and all our friends for their generosity and the many ways of spiritual and material support for the Holy Land, to the Congregation of Eastern Churches, to the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre worldwide and all organizations who are helping our Christian community in Jerusalem. We thank all associations and individuals for their generosity in promoting peace and justice.
Despite insurmountable difficulties, we believe in God’s plan, we believe in the mission of the Church and in the spirit of the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, as we humbly and courageously proclaim: “For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh,…that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace.”(Ep.2:14-15)