Mgr Marcuzzo : “Come to the Holy Land!”
HOLY LAND – Pilgrimages to the Holy Land recorded a sharp decline this year; the instability prevailing in the Middle East and the many wars that are raging discourage the Western pilgrims, and cause despair to the local Christian communities. Bishop Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel makes an appeal.
“Do not abandon the Holy Land”, in essence, is the strong appeal that resounds through Israel and Palestine, since the beginning of the summer, and was echoed in late July by the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa. Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, in turn joins his voice to this call and urges the European pilgrims to “be free from fear” and to visit the Holy Places.
An unjustified fear
Fear is a bad counselor, the saying goes, and sometimes proves to be unjustified, as is the case here. Speaking with several groups of pilgrims, Bishop Marcuzzo finds indeed some confusion: “They tell me, “we see on television all these killings and abductions that occur in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and even now in Tunisia … But precisely! I say to them “between those countries and the Holy Land, there is a vast distance, geographically and politically. The Holy Land is far from these problems. We are safer in the Holy Land than in Europe or Italy!” he says, before noting: “It is amazing to see how much damage this fear unfounded can cause. Therefore, we are not afraid to repeat: “pilgrims, free yourself from this fear that imprisons you, and open the doors to your desire to visit the Holy Places, in order to enjoy this grace that a pilgrimage offers; a water that satisfies and regenerates; and brings life and faith.”
Coming on pilgrimage is to help local Christians
“What can we do to help Christians in the Holy Land?” pilgrims ask. Bishop Marcuzzo is adamant, insisting that “we must not abandon the Holy Land Christians to their fate”. These communities now represent a tiny minority, increasingly tempted by emigration, due to lack of prospects. They often feel neglected and have a real need of encouragement.
There are several ways to help them, says Bishop Marcuzzo, the more effective is the pilgrimage. “Pilgrimages help local Christians economically; we know that a good percentage of Christians (in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, an estimated 30%) derive their income from the tourist sector and especially pilgrimages. In practice this means that when there are pilgrimages, at least 30% of Christians normally work; conversely, when there is a decline in pilgrimages, 30% of them see themselves potentially exposed to unemployment and thus, directly or indirectly, forced to emigrate.”
The need to encourage Holy Land Christians
Another form of support for Christians in the Holy Land, no less fundamental, remains the moral, social and ecclesial: “Always because of our status as a small minority, the local Church discovers strength and encouragement by the Church Universal; when it feels part of the larger body, Christians realize they are not forgotten or abandoned, alone with their problems. Whenever Christians in Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Amman see a pilgrims’ bus arrive, they think: “Ah! They are here! They have not forgotten us, they love our land and will share our lives for at least a few days.” When a group of pilgrims leave the Holy Land, the phrase that comes up often on the lips of local guides, leaders and friends is: “Don’t forget us, pray for us, and come back!”.
Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.