HOLY LAND – In the last week, Israel and Palestine have seen a new wave of a pandemic that shows, as yet, no signs of abating. Due to the current situation, this has meant that pilgrimages to the Holy Land have been brought to a standstill.
Speaking to Vatican News’ Federico Piana, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, explains that due to the pandemic, borders remain closed and many pilgrims have been discouraged from traveling due to quarantine restrictions.
He acknowledges that at this difficult time faith in these holy places has been put to the test, as many priests continue to broadcast liturgical celebrations online and meet the faithful through social networks.
But the Archbishop points out that despite the circumstances, the intensity of prayer is not lacking.
“We are in the East and in the East, there is a traditional Church”, he says, “in the beautiful sense of the term – where participation in the liturgy is very heartfelt.”
The virus does not erase prayer
The ability to participate in liturgies is one of the problems brought on by the pandemic. To overcome this, Archbishop Pizzaballa notes that “parish priests have equipped themselves to make concrete alternative forms of prayer, to make visits where possible, to form the heads of families, so that they can bring communion to their families when the priest is unable to go there. Without any doubt, prayer is absolutely a necessary human and spiritual support”, he says.
New priests for the Holy Land: a sign of hope
The Archbishop underlines that this is the land “where Jesus rose and it is we who must preserve the paschal vision of life, made of the Cross but also of the Resurrection”. In a note of optimism, he says that in the Holy Land, eleven priests and eighteen deacons have so far been ordained.
“Despite all the hardships and despite all the divisions, even political ones, the Lord blesses us with vocations and for all this we thank Him” says the Archbishop.
The Church supports the suffering
Speaking about the economic fallout from the pandemic, the Apostolic Administrator stresses that the effects of the virus have struck at the heart of thousands of families in the Holy Land, who for several months have found themselves without work, especially in the poorest areas such as Palestine and Jordan.
The Church is not backing down, he emphasizes, and “has set in motion a mechanism that concretely allows us to meet the needs of the people: We do this through the support of many institutions. I am thinking in particular of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher. With them, we have opened emergency points, especially in the area of Bethlehem, in northern Palestine and East Jerusalem, as well as in Jordan, of course. The emergency points serve to give help to families who have found themselves without anything and who have been pushed to the poverty line. We have activated food support, school, and health support. This is the best we can do at this historic moment.”
The near future
Looking to the near future, Archbishop Pizzaballa says they have taken into account that “for about a year we will live as we are living now. We are aware, then, that for the pilgrimages there will no longer be the numbers we had before: the journeys will be more complicated, even post-COVID will require us to put in place measures that in the past were not taken. The pilgrimage, in short, will have to adapt to new situations with different forms, modalities, and itineraries. At the same time, however, in the Holy Land, the pilgrimage will always have the fundamental characteristic of an encounter with Jesus in his places. This will never change”.