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'We are not alone,' patriarch of Jerusalem says on Palm Sunday

Cardinal Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, says the life of Christians in the Holy Land is often a 'Via Crucis'
Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, marches down a road, overlooking the Dome of the Rock mosque at the al-Aqsa mosque complex, during the traditional Palm Sunday procession at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem on March 24, 2024.

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, marches down a road, overlooking the Dome of the Rock mosque at the al-Aqsa mosque complex, during the traditional Palm Sunday procession at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem on March 24, 2024. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 26, 2024 05:24 AM GMT
Updated: March 26, 2024 05:31 AM GMT

When Christians gathered in Jerusalem to remember Jesus' entry into the city, it was one of a few joyful moments in the Holy Land, "crushed by so much hatred" in the months following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

"Despite the war and everything going on around us this year, we have once again chosen to celebrate Jesus' triumphal entry into the Holy City," said Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, as the traditional Palm Sunday procession moved through the streets of the city.

"We have joined voices with those who sang in Jerusalem two thousand years ago: 'Hosanna Filio David,' Hosanna to the Son of David," he said. Especially now, it is "even more important and necessary to shout strongly that Jesus is our Messiah, He is our Lord," the patriarch said March 24.

Over the past months, Cardinal Pizzaballa said, many felt "lost or alone and without reference points," and "crushed by so much hatred."

"This war, which is so terrible and seems never-ending, sometimes leads us to fear for the future of our families," he added.

Walking through the unusually empty streets of Jerusalem, given the Holy Week and Easter time, the patriarch emphasized that the celebration in this time, when many of the dioceses "could not join us," makes it all the more important to "shout with strength and faith that we have a point of reference, Jesus Christ."

"We are not alone, we are not abandoned, and above all we are not afraid!" the church leader emphasized in his message for Palm Sunday.

"Following Jesus also means accepting the way of the cross," something Christians in the Holy Land "unfortunately know well," he continued, because their "ordinary life is often a 'Via Crucis,' a painful road, marked by many obstacles, misunderstandings, rejections and hostilities of all kinds."

"Yet this does not discourage us," the patriarch said.

Father Waldemar Cislo, director of the Polish section of pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need, said that when he saw the patriarch as they entered Holy Week, "he told me it's the saddest experience that he has ever had in the Holy Land -- to see empty streets of Jerusalem for Easter" and experience the suffering of so many Christians in the region.

"There are no pilgrims, and that means no income for local Christians, who also are barred from working in Jerusalem," if their permanent residency is in the Palestinian West Bank, Father Cislo told OSV News.

Cainal Pizzaballa said Jerusalem is a land that is holy, but "wounded because it is invaded by so much hatred and resentment." "Woe to us if we allow ourselves to be contaminated by all of this," he said in his Palm Sunday message. "Today, we want to ask God to preserve our hearts from these feelings of enmity. For we cannot remain friends of Jesus if we cultivate enmity in our hearts. We cannot love Jesus, if we do not love one another, and if we do not have the courage to be close to all, even in the present tragic circumstances in which we live in. We want to live, suffer, and act with Him and for Him."

Father Cislo, who spends Holy Week in the Holy Land, said that the painful division between Jews and Palestinians is very much visible today throughout the Holy Land. Hamas militants killed over 1,200 people on Oct. 7 in an attack that brought back horrors of the Holocaust to many Israelis. Israel started a war with Hamas right after the attack, which as of March 25 has killed over 32,000 people in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

"Cardinal Pizzaballa told me he prays that the Lord slides the stone over the tomb of hatred, so that it ends once and forever here in the Holy Land," Father Cislo told OSV News.

Praying for peace for Jerusalem and the region, the patriarch asked for "peace, which is a cordial and sincere welcoming of the other, a tenacious willingness to listen and to be in dialogue, that opens roads on which fear and suspicion give way to understanding, encounter and trust."

"Peace is the element that is missing," said Father Cislo. "Jesus came and said, 'Peace be with you' and it's precisely peace and peace only that this land needs. Enough killing children," he lamented.

Cardinal Pizaabballa said the thoughts of Christians present during the Palm Sunday celebration were with "those who cannot be here with us today, and especially with our brothers and sisters in Gaza," to whom he had a message of closeness: "You are not alone," assuring them of prayer.

"The whole Church in Jerusalem is united with you, embraces you and appreciates your testimony of strength and courage," the patriarch emphasized.

According to the sources close to ACN, conditions for the small Christian community that remains in the Gaza Strip have deteriorated over the last four months. Since the conflict began, 30 Christians have died in Gaza.

The situation in Gaza is increasingly desperate, with the region divided into two parts: north and south. Finding food and fuel continues to be very difficult in the north, where exorbitant prices make life even harder.

But despite dire conditions, a group of over 500 Christians sheltering in Holy Family Parish in Gaza City celebrated Palm Sunday "in the most solemn way," said a social media post on X, formerly Twitter, by the Latin Patriarchate, which also shared joyful pictures of the celebration.

"We know well how difficult it is, after almost six months, to stand amidst this terrible dark night that never seems to end, to stand united and steadfast, amidst the hunger and violence that surrounds you," Cardinal Pizzaballa said, adding, "For you, too, as for all, will come the dawn of the third day, the news of the resurrection."

The patriarch also urged pilgrims to return to the Holy Land: "We are waiting for you. Do not be afraid, return to Jerusalem and to the Holy Land! Your presence is always a presence of peace, and we sincerely need peace today, may you come and bring us your peace."

Father Cislo echoed his call: "It's the best you can do to support the Holy Land -- come and visit! The pilgrimage places such as Jerusalem and the West Bank are safe for pilgrims."

As the church entered "the week of the Passion," Cardinal Pizzaballa asked that the days "give us strength," and reminded all that this time of the year shows everyone the Lord "does not leave us alone."

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