The new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem celebrated Mass Aug. 10 at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, making an urgent plea for Christians in the United States to support their brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, and to pray and work for peace there.
The new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem — the holy city of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths — celebrated Mass Aug. 10 at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, making an urgent plea for Christians in the United States to support their brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, and to pray and work for peace there.
"Do what you can to express solidarity with the baptized sons and daughters in the Holy Land. Please do not leave me alone in this mission," said Patriarch Fouad Twal in the closing words of his homily.
The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, which helped host the visit, said that the Mass was the patriarch’s first in the United States since he was installed in June as the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
The patriarch said that without help and solidarity, the Christian community will continue emigrating in large numbers from the Holy Land, and the Christian holy places there could become like museums. Ongoing violence in the region and lack of economic opportunities have helped spur the tide of emigration of Christians from lands they have lived in since the time of Christ.
"The mother Church is your Church. The Church of Jesus is still there. It’s your Church, your roots," he told the 600 people attending the Mass in dowtown Washington.
Patriarch Twal noted that now only about 10,000 Christians live in Jerusalem, along with 255,000 Muslims and 455,000 Jews. As a small minority in the Jewish state of Israel and within the Arab community, the Christian population there sometimes feels like "second and even third class citizens," the patriarch said. But, he added, "we have our faith, our culture, we can be a bridge," working for peace, justice and understanding in the region, to help stem the tide of Christians leaving the land of Christ.
People can do several things to support Christians in the Holy Land. The first, the patriach said, is prayer.
"We still believe in the power of prayer," Patriarch Twal said. "…We go on with faith, with trust, knowing very well that anyone who lives in Jesus, who loves Jesus, who works in (the name of) Jesus, must bear a cross. We have to bear a cross. It seems very heavy. At the end, we’ll have resurrection, we’ll have justice, and we’ll have peace."
Christians face many obstacles in the Holy Land, but the patriarch said they draw strength from Jesus, who told his followers, "Do not be afraid."
"As long as the Lord is with us, we have courage," said the patriarch, who leads the Catholic communities in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus.
Peace and security there cannot just be for one group of people, it must be for all, he said. The people of the region, he said, "are tired of the violence… we pray for peace."
Politicians, he said, must continue their work for peace, and he also said working for justice for the Palestinians is a central issue for peace throughout the Middle East. "There is not peace. Despite many speeches and promises, we have no peace, and the situation is worse, worse, worse," he said.
Patriarch Twal also encouraged Christians to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land, to pray with the people there and to experience their vibrant faith.
"When you come to the Holy Land, you give us the sensation we are not alone in this mission, we are not forgotten in this mission," he said.
The patriarch also encouraged Christians to support projects in the Holy Land, such as schools, health care institutions and seminaries.
The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, which has an office in Bethesda, sold items after Mass that were hand carved from olive wood by Christian artists in the Holy Land. The items included rosaries, crosses, nativity scenes, and carvings of Mary and Jesus. The foundation supports educational, housing and employment opportunities for Christians in the Holy Land.
The rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, welcomed the patriarch at the beginning of the Mass. The priest helped lead a pilgrimage of cathedral parishioners to the Holy Land this past fall, and during the visit they met with the future patriarch.
"Please be assured of our prayers, and that we will indeed find many concrete ways to help you and the people of the Holy Land," Msgr. Jameson told the patriarch at the Mass.
Theodosius, the retired Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America, also attended the patriarch’s Mass at the cathedral. The retired prelate served as the spiritual leader of the nation’s Orthodox Christians from 1977-2002.
After the Mass, the patriarch met with people at a reception at the cathedral. Fred Ayoub, 73, is an Orthodox Christian now living in Fairfax, Va., and he immigrated to the United States when he was 13 and later operated a family business selling oriental rugs. A native of Ramallah, which is north of Jerusalem, he said, "The churches in the Holy Land are in dire need of repair, (and in need of) starting schools to educate the kids into our religion, to have a chance to stay there and maintain a presence there."
Yvonnne Neno Ulrich came from near Philadelphia to attend the patriarch’s Mass. Now an executive working in real estate finance, she was born near Bethlehem, and her parents joined her after the Mass in greeting the patriarch.
"Everything he said is what we’ve been saying," she said. "Nobody seems to be listening. We wish for Christians (around the) world to start listening to the plight of the Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, and to come to their aid."