The vicar of Jerusalem resigned upon reaching his age limit, but remains in office until the appointment of a new patriarch, expected shortly. Speaking to AsiaNews, he talks about 60 years in the region, including 50 as a priest and 27 as a bishop. The diocesan Synod was a central moment in the life of the Church. He talks about the controversy surrounding the Nazareth mosque and a peace that is still possible.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The fundamental question for Christians in the Holy Land is “always that of staying and not emigrating;” for this reason “we must continue to work to make them stay, otherwise the community will shrink,” said Mgr Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Auxiliary Bishop and Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem speaking to AsiaNews.
The prelate resigned at the end of August having reached the mandatory age of 75, but remains in office until the appointment of the next Patriarch of the Latins.
“Permanence is not just a practical issue, linked to schools, politics, and work but it is rather an inner vocation: being a Christian in the Holy Land is a vocation and a personal commitment,” he told AsiaNews.
In this interview, the bishop talks about his 60 years of mission in the region, first as a student, then as a priest and finally as a bishop in the past 27 years.
“During my studies in Rome I discovered that the Christian community, not only in the Holy Land, but throughout the Middle East, had a philosophy and culture deeply rooted in the Middle Ages, especially in the period from 800 to 1200 AD.
“This makes it clear that they are not strangers in their land; since the Bible until today there is a continuity of bonds, literature and unique ideas, which we must value.”
From a pastoral point of view, the prelate hopes “they can return soon and that there will always be pilgrims, because the Holy Places without their presence” due to the coronavirus pandemic “are a disaster”.
“This void is very bad for our families, if we consider that 33 per cent of them work directly or indirectly in contact with pilgrims. The future of the Christian community in the region also depend on their continuous presence.”
At the end of August, Pope Francis accepted Bishop Marcuzzi’s resignation upon reaching the mandatory age of retirement at 75, as required by Canon Law.
Born in San Polo di Piave, Treviso province, Veneto (north-eastern Italy), the Italian prelate held the position of auxiliary bishop for 27 years and was one of the closest associates of Mgr Michel Sabbah, the first Palestinian Patriarch of the Latins.
Bishop Marcuzzi, who will remain vicar general of the diocese until the appointment of the new patriarch to replace the current apostolic administrator, Mgr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, entered the minor seminary of the Missionary Institute of St Pius X in Oderzo (Italy) in 1957. Three years later he went to Beit Jala where he continued his studies, first in the minor seminary, then in the major one. He was ordained a priest on 22 June 1969 and consecrated bishop on 3 July 1993; on 15 August, 2017, he received his last assignment as patriarchal vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine.
The Italian prelate spent his entire priestly and missionary life in the Holy Land. Looking back over the years in the region, he sees “no major political changes, above all, no peace. Even the latest agreements, in particular the one between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, seem more like someone’s private interest, with the US blessing, than a step in favour of the peoples.”
“We saw the illusion of true peace in the years between 1993 and 1995, with Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo accords,” he explained. “At that time, there was really hope for a new future, for peace, which then faded. Now we are waiting for political leaders who really care about a peace based on justice, along the path traced by John XXIII in his ‘Pacem in Terris’, even if it now seems difficult” to achieve.
The central moment of his experience in the Holy Land was “the great nine-year diocesan general pastoral Synod, which had an enormous impact on the life of the Christian community.
“This synod, whose motto was ‘Together’, and involved all Christian confessions as well as Jews and Muslims, was special in many ways, especially thanks to its organisation, methods and participants. In the end, a ‘General Pastoral Plan’ was published to guide the Church in the new millennium, which is still relevant today.”
In terms of relations with Muslims, the controversy that arose between 1997 and 2002 around the construction of a mosque in Nazareth was a key moment.
“Those were difficult years,” he said, “in which there were no issues associated with religious freedom or worship, only with politics. One faction wanted to build a mosque in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation, with five minarets and much taller than the basilica itself, to dominate it.
“We did not want to ruin the excellent relations with the local Muslim community, whilst showing opposition to the project, and many Muslims fought with us. In the end, without protests but working through diplomacy and dialogue, and thanks to the support of Pope John Paul II, we were able to stop the project.”
Bishop Marcuzzo underlines the great work done in recent years by the apostolic administrator, Archbishop Pizzaballa, and calls on the new patriarch who will be named in the near future to “always return to the guidelines of the diocesan Synod”.
To this must be added the primary task of preventing Christian emigration and safeguarding the Christian presence. Looking into the future, into the Holy Land in 2050, “I want to be optimistic to believe that there will always be a strong Christian presence” that can “change the world and the Middle East, by bringing true justice and peace. . . We must never lose hope.” (DS)