“You Stand Before a Small Flock that Is Shrinking”
Here is the welcoming address the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, gave to Benedict XVI at the beginning of Mass in the Valley of Josaphat, in front of the basilica of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives.
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The Church of Jerusalem fervently welcomes you to this city where Jesus Christ was welcomed by the crowd shouting “Hosanna in the Highest, Hosanna to the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mt. 21:9). Welcome to the city, where He obtained the victory over sin and death, and salvation for those who have faith in him. Here, with you, the Church takes loving care of and comes to pray at those places, where Our Lord carried out his awesome tasks of redemption. These sites are witnesses of the past and the truth of our present lives.
Just a few yards from here, Jesus said to his most favored disciples “Remain here, and watch with me” (Mt. 26:39). But these same disciples closed their eyes, not losing sleep over Jesus’ agony, only a short distance away in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Holy Father, today, in many ways, the situation has not changed: around us, we have the agony of the Palestinian people, who dream of living in a free and independent Palestinian State, but have not found its realization; and the agony of the Israeli people, who dream of a normal life in peace and security and, despite all their military and mass media might, have not found its realization.
And the international community, just like Jesus’ beloved disciples, stands apart, eyes drooping with indifference, unconcerned with the agony of the Holy Land, which has gone on for sixty-one years, and does not seriously rouse itself, to find a just solution. In this Valley of Jehoshaphat, a valley of tears, we raise our prayer for the realization of the dreams of these two peoples. We raise our prayer for Jerusalem, to be shared by the two peoples and three religions.
On this very Mount of Olives, Jesus wept in vain over Jerusalem, and continues to do so, with the disillusioned refugees, without any hope of return, with the widows of the victims of violence and the many families in this city, who every day see their homes demolished because, it is said, “they were built illegally,” when the whole situation is illegal and still looking for a solution
Above where we stand now, Our Lord cried out: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children — all your children, Jews, Christians and Muslim — and you would not!” (Lk 13:34)
Dear Holy Father, we ask you to see and understand the lives of your poor children here, and to strengthen our faith and hope. Your visit brings the awareness and solidarity of the entire Church, and the attention of the world to this region, these peoples, their story, their struggles and hopes, their smiles and tears.
For one who suffers — someone infirm, a refugee, a prisoner or one bearing the weight of injustice — the greatest distress, is to think that he has been forgotten and that no one sees, knows or is moved by what he undergoes. Your visit today does much to comfort hearts and to say to all, that the God of compassion and those who believe in Him are not blind, have not forgotten and are not unmoved.
Your Holiness, you are the successor to St. Peter, charged by the Lord to “strengthen [his] brethren” in their faith. (Lk 22:32) This we entreat you then, and we cry out with the Apostles in the Gospel, “Increase our faith!” (Lk 17:25)
Holy Father, you stand before a small flock that is shrinking, that suffers from emigration, largely due to the effects of the unjust occupation and all its humiliation, violence and hatred. Yet we know that the faith is the victory that overcomes the world, (1 Jn 5:4) and that through it, we are able to see and recognize Jesus Christ in every person. With Jesus and in Jesus, we can enjoy here and now the peace that the world can neither give nor take out of our hearts. This peace means serenity, faith, a welcoming spirit and the joy of living and working in this Land.
Therefore we take advantage of your blessed presence among us to cry out with the suffering father in the Gospel who begged Jesus to free his son from long lasting torments “I do believe, help my unbelief.”
Holy Father, as we welcome you as the successor to St. Peter, help our unbelief. Pray with us now to our Heavenly Father for all the inhabitants of the Holy Land; and to the Mother of Sorrows, who did not shirk from standing beneath the cross of her suffering son, that she help us have her same faith in God’s loving providence, accepting all even before we understand.
Oh Lord, Strengthen our faith!
+ Fouad Twal, Patriarch