The Custodian of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa calls out: Do Not Abandon the Holy Land

Terrorist attacks by fundamentalist groups worldwide, have affected pilgrimages to the Holy Land, causing a decrease of more than 40 percent in the number of pilgrimages. Despite some signs of recovery, the fear of going to this blessed Land remains great.

Listening to the voices of the various Christian communities who live in Israel, I tell you: "Do not abandon the Holy Land." There is no sensible reason not to organize a pilgrimage to the Holy Places. Security in shrines and areas frequented by pilgrims is guaranteed. We Christians of the Holy Land are in need more than ever of the presence and the support of pilgrims who come here to pray from all over the world.

Living as Christians in the Holy Land means having a particular and universal vocation. Here the Latin Church is essentially composed of three groups: the local traditional communities of Christian Arabs; a new community uniting Evangelicals, Messianic Jews and Catholics; the international community, which includes many foreign workers, especially Filipinos, South Americans and Indians, permanently residing in the Holy Land, and some other groups from different backgrounds who spend shorter or longer periods here. Along with the Latin Church other important Christian realities live and work in the Holy Land, of which the main ones are the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Church and the Coptic Church. Even within the same Catholic world there are groups with different rites than the Latin Church.

Jerusalem and the Christian Holy Places remain to this day a fundamental sign of the faith, the testimony of life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that right here, in this place, these events took place. All Christians, even the most remote, look to the Holy Land to find these signs in their roots and the true meaning of their mission in the world. In the Holy Land you can feel the life of Jesus, relive the New Testament. Here one can learn to look, listen, meditate and enjoy the silence to grasp the deeper meaning and mystery of His passage. In the Holy Land one can experience the same smells, sights and colors that Jesus knew when he revealed Himself to the world.

Holy Land Christians have always been a minority and they have never disappeared. They are living testimony of a higher faith in love with their own history and their own ideas, not fearing changes, but open, peaceful, positive and at the same time, clear, rooted in their sense of identity and belonging, proactive towards the future, active in guarding the Holy Places, that are custodians of the tradition and the memory of the entire Christendom.

In order to safeguard this presence (and if possible strengthen it) I invite and encourage once again dioceses, parishes and movements not to abandon us, and to come on pilgrimages to the Holy Land as a testimony of peace and dialogue. I am confident that this call will be welcomed by the many Italian Catholics (and others) who have the Holy Land at heart. I welcome all believers to follow the footsteps of Jesus.

Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM