INTERVIEW – Speaking on Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey this weekend, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem says security risks cannot prevent the Jesuit Pontiff from doing his mission and reaching out to the “periphery.” In an interview with Zenit on November 26, after the leader of the Italian bishops, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, returned from Gaza and spoke to his nation’s bishops in Assisi, His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal not only spoke about the need to courageously confront situations facing Turkey and the Holy Land, but also shared how the January meeting of European bishops will not be held in Europe, but rather in Jerusalem, and why. Speaking about the dramatic situation in the Holy Land, including Jerusalem’s recent upsurge in violence, the Jordanese-born Patriarch made an analogy to a mother and child to show what is to be understood about and done for the region.
ZENIT: Your Beatitude, the Pope visits Turkey this weekend, Nov 28-30. Could you speak on the importance of this visit?
Patriarch Twal: It’s always about the “periphery,” you know. Turkey is not in the center of Europe. It’s not very strong, not very rich. I think we have to have good, good relationships with the Muslim countries, with the Muslim people. Reasons such as friendship, collaboration, and further understanding are important, but what is also very important and needs to be fought is relativism, moral relativism. The courage to see the truth is critical.
ZENIT: Could you speak about whether you believe the Pope’s safety is at risk in making this trip to Turkey, especially given ISIS’s recent advancements?
Patriarch Twal: I don’t think so. I remember when I spoke with the Holy Father who is Saint now, John Paul II, he told me, “The threat I had was here in Rome, not outside.” I don’t think these threats can stop us or stop the Pope from making his mission. I don’t think so.
ZENIT: Should one be afraid though to have this view?
Patriarch Twal: As long as we say the truth, we shouldn’t be afraid. If we say something wrong, we must pay the price. But as long as we say the truth, we must be courageous and tell the truth. I think if a mother loves her children, she must have the courage to say what is wrong, for their benefit, for the future, for their health. … If you love, you must have the courage to say what is wrong is wrong, what is good is good. For the well being of all, for being all together. Sometimes you have to say it. We can’t give our blessing to what is bad for others. If you want to believe in peace, you cannot [give it.]
ZENIT: When you said one must have this courage to say what’s being done in a given situation is right or not, is this likewise applicable to Israel?
Patriarch Twal: Continuing the analogy of the mother and children … This big mother must have the courage to say to her children what is wrong, what is right. So if Israel, the “spoiled child,” is doing wrong, we need to have the courage to say this is not for your benefit, not for the future, not for children. We must have a big, big vision for the future, not just for the moment. We can’t just be satisfied with momentaneous victories. We need to think far away, far away, far away. And when I say far away, I think we need more concrete steps from Israel to show Israel wants peace too. Not only to live with or manage the conflict, but to have a solution. We have to solve the conflict for all.
And when I speak in Jerusalem, about peace, I said it needs to be peace for all, as one people can’t enjoy peace without peace for the others. We are condemned to live together [chuckles], we have no choice, at least we can be condemned to live together as good neighbors.
I am from Jordan, so I am a little outside the conflict. So from outside, we could be a little more objective.
ZENIT: Turning to Cardinal Bagnasco’s visit to Gaza: Could you speak about the purpose of his visit to Gaza and whether you feel this goal was achieved? Perhaps, you could reflect a little on his remarks to the other Italian bishops at their recent episcopal conference in Assisi, earlier this month.
Patriarch Twal: We spoke quite a bit on the situation. And the Pope has his own concern about the whole situation. In the last consistory, I launched an appeal for all the cardinals, bishops, presidents of episcopal conferences for two things: first, that they can come visit us in Ankara just to pray with us, and to be with us, for praying for peace in the region. The second part of the appeal to episcopal conference presidents was for dioceses to adopt or buy one house or one land, in Bethlehem or Jerusalem. And if a diocese is poor and it can’t on its own, they can put two dioceses together. Because as you know, in Palestine, in the Holy Land, in Bethlehem, in Jerusalem, the land, the house, is poor … We are losing more and more houses, not just for all people, but for Christians. If we have more houses we can keep more young couples, get them to stay. However, since they cannot buy, they cannot build, and they need [supplies and help] and money, they therefore can’t stay. That’s why. That’s the difficulty.
ZENIT: Has anyone responded to your appeal? Have you seen any positive outcomes?
Patriarch Twal: So Cardinal Bagnasco [President of the Italian bishops’ conference] was the first president of an episcopal conference to say, “I am going.”
I have gotten good news for next year. All the presidents of the episcopal conferences will have their meeting in Jerusalem. That’s the first time. Jerusalem is not Europe. They are bishops of European episcopal conferences and normally it would be in Europe. This next year, I invited them. They accepted. This will be a good event for us …. to promote awareness, to promote community, to know about the situation. I think after this, no one will be able to say, “I don’t know.” Everybody knows now how we are living.
And this last time, there’s been more violence in Jerusalem, within Jerusalem, and it begged the question whether these walls that Israel built has protection, or not. If we speak of the war around Gaza, daily, we have rockets going from Gaza to other villages … we cannot stop rockets. And in recent days, we’ve had a lot of killings and violence, in Jerusalem, inside the Wall, which is a proof that the Wall doesn’t help in any way. These walls. They don’t mean anything, these walls.
The fact that Cardinal Bagnasco came with members of the presidency of the episcopal conference is a lot for us. And I must say that the Italian bishops, even the Italian government more or less, were always close to us, to the patriarchate in Jerusalem. Of the different groups that we receive in the patriarchate in Jerusalem, we have more Italian groups than American groups, than German groups. The Italians have been a little more welcoming, yes. And what is to be learned from this? Well, we learn that early on, there have been links to Italy. In the beginning, we had many Italian patriarchs, priests … We are in some ways more linked with the Italian bishops’ conference.
ZENIT: Your Beatitude, what does this gesture, responding to your appeal, signify?
Patriarch Twal: It is a good sign I hope. During the assembly, he [Cardinal Bagnasco] had addressed this situation in the Holy Land, sharing his experience, with the more or less 200 or 250 bishops there, [between] those still active and those already in pension. So it can be a good sign. And if each diocese can follow his example and comes and adopts one project, just one project… It can be a social project, a religious project, an education project, or something like a scholarship, that would be great. If each diocese does something, it could do great things, and would be great for the Holy Land. So this could be a great help.
I’ve had many friends who have helped. So we’ve had many kinds of help and of collaboration, and this one could be very nice. The fact that he spoke to all the bishops was a great step, and I hope and I pray that others will follow his good example.
ZENIT: Is there a certain nation or group that you feel will follow his example, specifically?
Patriarch Twal: For sure. Now we’ve launched the appeal. The Pope spoke. I spoke. We started. Now that it’s near Christmas I don’t think there’s much hope for them [to visit]. But perhaps after Christmas. Many come between Christmas and the end of the year. There are some holy days. Many groups who cancelled their pilgrimage during the war of Gaza are now coming back. For two months, everything stopped. And it was a big loss. For Israel, for Palestine, and so on.
ZENIT: Your Beatitude, do you foresee, in the near future, positive steps or acts of solidarity that will help those suffering in the Holy Land?
Patriarch Twal: Well, the acceptance of my invitation for the European bishops’ conference to convene in Jerusalem in January is a great sign. This has been coordinated with the bishops with the goal of giving them, and them having, more information … but even more, to have more solidarity with the Holy Land. So we started preparing this meeting: who would come, who would speak, and so on. For me, from an information and advocacy point of view, it’s beneficial.