Roman Catholic leader in Israel laments plight of Mideast Christians

"We must counter fundamentalism."

PIERBATTISTA PIZZABALLA shakes hands with a well-wisher in the Old City (photo credit: REUTERS)
PIERBATTISTA PIZZABALLA shakes hands with a well-wisher in the Old City
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The most senior Roman Catholic cleric in Israel, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, has urged inter-religious dialogue in the region to counter the impact of fundamentalists.
Pizzaballa formally took up his role as apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on Wednesday, a temporary position that he is filling until a new patriarch is appointed.
During a press conference before his investiture in the Old City of Jerusalem, Pizzaballa said that one of his main goals during his term of service would be to encourage dialogue both between the numerous Christian denominations in the region and different faith groups.
“People often talk of the importance of dialogue but we do not see much result come from this,” said Pizzaballa, who was appointed to his position by Pope Francis.
“Religions here are seen as source of conflict.But we insist that despite the problems in the Middle East, it is important to stress dialogue and communication with the others,” he continued.
“Fundamentalism wants to boycott any kind of dialogue and in order to fight fundamentalism we have to do exactly what they don’t want.
One of the main problems here are the divisions, and everyone wants to find a solution by themselves but solutions must be found together.
There are no magic solutions. We know it is very hard but we will humbly present what we think can be done.”
The Latin Patriarchate has jurisdiction over all Roman Catholics in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Cyprus.
During the press conference, Pizzaballa said that he planned to meet with the heads of the Jewish and Muslim communities, as well as with President Reuven Rivlin and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
The archbishop noted the severe crisis that has beset many Christian communities in the Middle East, including the flight of hundreds of thousands of Christians from Iraq and Syria, but observed that the situation for Christians in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority was better.
“Christianity [in the region] is facing challenges unlike anything in the past. What happened in Iraq and Syria was dramatic and catastrophic,” he said. “Here the situation is calmer, although that does not mean it is quiet.”
Among the issues which Pizzaballa said he would address, are assistance to refugees, immigrants, and foreign workers, many of whom are Christians, and what he described as the distancing of Christian youth from the Church.