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The Media Line: Vatican Signals Diplomatic and Religious Intent With Jerusalem Cardinal Appointment

Vatican Signals Diplomatic and Religious Intent With Jerusalem Cardinal Appointment 

The appointment of Archbishop Pizzaballa as a cardinal underlines the Vatican’s desire to play a more active role in the ongoing diplomatic discussions concerning Jerusalem 

By Nicole Jansezian/The Media Line 

The appointment of the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem to the position of cardinal in the Catholic Church signals that the Holy See has its eyes on the city and the status of Christian minorities in the region.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, will be officially consecrated as a cardinal during a September 30 service at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Cardinal is the most senior position in the Catholic Church after the pope.

In a press conference on Thursday, Pizzaballa said the pope’s decision to appoint such a senior position in Jerusalem reflects the church’s prioritization of the Holy Land and gives a voice to the Christian population here.

“It is, regardless of the person, a recognition of the role of Jerusalem in context of the church,” Pizzaballa said, adding that it will give Christians and the church the opportunity to “affirm and declare and present our situation.”

Roberto Cetera, a veteran correspondent for the Vatican daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, told The Media Line that he believes the timing shows that Rome wants to “facilitate the role of the Christians here, particularly in this political phase when the Christian minority appears to be an even smaller minority.”

“I think Pope Francis assigned Pizzaballa as a statement,” Cetera, a Middle East correspondent, said. “No patriarch in Jerusalem has ever been named cardinal. Pope Francis wanted to launch a message that Rome, the Holy See, is with Jerusalem.”

It also appears the Holy See is looking to reignite dormant diplomatic talks on the status of Jerusalem, Cetera said. This week, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, raised the special status of Jerusalem at the United Nations, calling for “an internationally agreed special statute” for the city.

The Holy See “is firmly convinced that whoever administers the City of Jerusalem should adhere to internationally guaranteed principles,” including equal rights for the three monotheistic religions, “the absolute guarantee of freedom of religion and of access to and worship in the Holy Places, and respect for the status quo regime, where it applies,” Gallagher said.

At the press conference, Pizzaballa said that this serves as a reminder that “the question of Jerusalem is still open and is awaiting a stable solution,” taking into account not only politics but also religious equality.

Pizzaballa also addressed a recent surge in attacks on Christians and Christian sites in Israel, dozens of which have been recorded this year, which he has discussed with Pope Francis.

Careful to note that the attacks are being carried out by “extremists” in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community who may have “felt not supported but at least protected,” Pizzaballa said the church is working with other Christian leaders, Israeli authorities, and Jewish organizations in order to quell the situation.

He also said that the violence both in Israeli and Palestinian society, “is part of a broader phenomenon where it seems a moderate voice is not heard, and extremism becomes the only way.”

Having served in Jerusalem for decades, Pizzaballa insists he will “be the same” in the new role.

“I want to remain myself with my feet on the ground and the heart with my people,” he said.

The church provides jobs and humanitarian assistance to its community, with the Catholic Church and its organizations the third largest employer in the Palestinian Authority. But that is not enough, Pizzaballa said.

“We are always concerned what to do [for] job opportunities and so on. It is important for us not just to give assistance, but to provide sustainable opportunities,” he said.

Pizzaballa will aim to work together with other Christian communities as well to strengthen the overall Christian minority.

Numbering around 190,000, Christians make up less than 2% of the Israeli population and 1% of Palestinian society.

While the Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world, Catholics are a minority of minorities in Israel. The Latin Catholics account for 13% of the Christian population of Israel. Most Christians in Israel are Greek Catholic or Greek Orthodox.

In response to a question from The Media Line, Pizzaballa addressed recent land sales in Israel by other churches, which are major property owners in Israel. For example, the Greek Orthodox Church is the second biggest landowner in Israel after the Israel Lands Authority. Pizzaballa said the churches need to determine a common stance on the issue.

“Properties are the living space of the Christians for the future,” handed down for generations, Pizzaballa said, noting that removing them reduces potential living space.

Born in Italy in 1965, Pizzaballa studied in Israel and is fluent in Hebrew. He served as the custodian of the Holy Land from 1999 until he was appointed Latin patriarch of Jerusalem in 2020. The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem presides over Latin Catholics in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus. It is unknown who will fill the position after Pizzaballa becomes cardinal.

As a cardinal, Pizzaballa will be able to vote for a new pope in the event of a conclave and could, himself, technically be nominated for the top position.

Pierbattista Pizzaballa.jpg – Cardinal-elect Pierbattista Pizzaballa (center) at a press conference at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem,  Sept. 21, 2023. (Nicole Jansezian/The Media Line)


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