As cardinal, patriarch of Jerusalem will keep his 'feet on the ground, heart with the people'

Cardinal-designate Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, arrives for a press conference in the Old City of Jerusalem Sept. 21, 2023, ahead of his elevation to the rank of cardinal during the consistory at the Vatican Sept. 30. (OSV News photo/Debbie Hill)

JERUSALEM (OSV News) -- With his elevation to the rank of cardinal, the Mother Church of Jerusalem has acquired a voice in the life of the church, said Cardinal-designate Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, at a Sept. 21 press conference.

"This is something positive and long-awaited," Cardinal-designate Pizzaballa told the journalists a day before he was to travel to Rome in preparation for the consistory called by Pope Francis to create 21 new cardinals Sept. 30 at the Vatican.

"I understand this is also a responsibility to be a voice of the Christian community, but not only to be a Christian voice but to be one of the voices from Jerusalem. We are living in a very complicated time, at a crossroads of many different cultures, religions and political tensions, so it is very important to be a serene but oftentimes a clear, strong voice as much as possible from Jerusalem to the world."

Cardinal-designate Pizzaballa said it was not enough to just let people know about the situation of Christians in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

"What we are missing are the possible perspectives. Our perspectives should be put into the broader context of other perspectives. Jerusalem has a lot of narratives … so I think it is important to talk not only about what we are living but also about possible and concrete perspectives for the future of the city," he said.

According to the patriarchate, the prelate will be the first resident cardinal in Jerusalem. Patriarch Filippo Camassei (1907-1919) was created a cardinal in Rome in 1919, but he did not come back to Jerusalem after the consistory and died in Rome in 1921.

Cardinal-designate Pizzaballa said that after the consistory he will take on the responsibility of assisting the pope, as well as joining other cardinals in being able to elect the next pope when the time comes.

Noting that he was initially surprised by the summer announcement he would be made cardinal, he said he was adapting to the formalities involved with the role and the traditions of the local community, including the many well-wishes, visits and communications he has received from Christians, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders in the Holy Land as well as the official greetings from political leaders in the region.

He will, nevertheless, he said, try to remain himself and continue with his local pastoral duties as he still is foremost a pastor to his community.

"I remain myself and continue to do the things of always. I didn’t go to any preparation 'course of cardinals' so I don’t know exactly what it means. In doing it I will learn little by little," he said.

"I will be obedient as much as I can. I will try to be simple (as is) my personality. I want to remain myself with my feet on the ground and my heart with my people."

In response to a question from a journalist, he commented on the current tense political situation in Israel, where the government is the most religious and nationalist in the country's history. He said that although some sections of society may feel they are perhaps protected by the new government, the violence against Christians is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, on the positive side recently more attention and awareness has been brought against such attacks, he said.

He added that the violence against Christians needs to be seen as part of a broader context of increased violence within both Israel and Palestinian society.

"(It) is part of a broader phenomenon where it seems that the moderate voice is not heard and all different types of extremism is the only way of relations sometimes. Because of that it is very important to work against that," said Patriarch Pizzaballa, noting that he is in touch with both religious and civil authorities about the subject.

Together with an Israeli group they opened a hotline to report on attacks against Christians and Christian holy sites, he added.

While the situation for Christians in the Holy Land is challenging and difficult, having returned from Aleppo, Syria, a day earlier, the cardinal-designate said the reality for Christians as well as the general population in Syria was "catastrophic." Whole villages and towns still lay in ruins following the civil war, as well as stretches of homes and buildings in Aleppo left in rubble, which also were destroyed in the earthquake in February.

"It is very sad, all the people especially the Christians in Syria we spoke to are very tired and have a deep mistrust that anything will change," he said.

In response to the call by Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister, call for special status for Jerusalem at a ministerial-level meeting held during the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 18, the patriarch said the declaration served as a good reminder that the issue of Jerusalem remains open and needs to be addressed.

"This is important because Jerusalem was a little bit out of the picture for some time," he said.

"Of course, this is a very general statement. We can't expect to have something systematic and clear about the complexity and perspective about Jerusalem … but at least the declaration reminds … that the question of Jerusalem is still open and waiting for a stable solution. And a special status for Jerusalem reminds us that we need to give Jerusalem not only politically but also religiously a clear and equal perspective."



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