Cardinal-elect Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, recently spoke with ACI Mena, CNA’s news partner agency in the Middle East, about increasing attacks on Christians by Israeli extremists, his hope for Christians in the Holy Land, and his surprise at being named a cardinal by Pope Francis.
Your Beatitude, how widespread are the recent attacks against Christians in Israel?
The attacks are concentrated, essentially, in two parts of the country. Most are in the Old City in Jerusalem, in the sacred quarter of Jerusalem, where there is a high concentration of holy sites, and [the others are] in the North in Haifa, at the Shrine of St. Elijah, also called Stella Maris [Monastery]. They are two completely different phenomena.
Starting with Haifa: It’s a phenomenon tied to an extremist Jewish movement connected with Rabbi [Eliezer] Berland, who wrongly holds that the tomb of the Prophet Elijah is in the church of the [Discalced] Carmelite fathers. Something that doesn’t exist. This is why they want to enter the church: to pray, and so, to occupy it.
It’s a phenomenon, however, that is part of a sectarian movement also inside the Jewish world itself. Now it’s a little more under control. The police are trying to speak with these people to keep them away.
In Jerusalem, [the violence] concerns the whole Christian community a bit, especially those who find themselves close to the holy sites: the Armenian quarter, the Holy Sepulchre, the Via Dolorosa, the third station of the Via Dolorosa, the Armenian Church, and so on. And even those near the Holy City. This is connected to a somewhat sectarian phenomenon: some ultra-Orthodox Jews. They are becoming more present in the Old City, in this area, while before they were much fewer. They see pagan symbols in the presence of Christians and Christian symbols.
And then, as is known, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the past was not simple, so there is a bit of all of this together. The phenomenon is also very widespread lately, maybe because they feel, how can I say it, a little protected by some Israeli political movements that right now are in the government. And this has drawn a lot of attention.
It should be said that attention to violence is a little bit at a general level in the country. The violence we are experiencing is not unique. There is also violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the State of Israel. Even within Israeli society, there is violence and so forth.
So, right now we are in contact with the police and with religious movements to try to calm the situation. But it needs time.
You said these movements feel protected by part of the government or by political movements. Do you think that after your meeting with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog at the Stella Maris Monastery in Haifa the Israeli government will now work harder to protect the Christian population at the holy sites?