On Friday, 29 September, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos iii, met in audience with Pope Francis. The following is the English text of an interview the Patriarch granted to L’Osservatore Romano after their meeting.
The elevation of Pizzaballa, the Patriarch of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, to the College of Cardinals has an important significance for Christians in the Holy Land.
We rejoice in the elevation of our brother, Patriarch Pizzaballa, to the Sacred College of Cardinals, and we assure you of the prayers and support of the Heads of the Churches of the Holy Land and of the Christian communities. He has, as Custos and Patriarch, been a servant to Christians in the region for many years, something we are most grateful for. His elevation to cardinal is yet another sign of the importance that Pope Francis ascribes to the Holy Land and its many problems.
Among these problems, in addition to the long-standing and difficult situation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is now also an increase in hostile demonstrations against Christians.
While the majority of Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land recognise the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious reality of our region, in recent years we have seen the rise of Israeli radical groups that are working systematically to undermine the legitimate status quo and to reshape our common life. Unfortunately, there is a growing increase in vandalism, in the desecration of our properties in strategic locations, as well as increasing pressure at various levels on the presence of Christians in the land.
In what way have you and Patriarch Pizzaballa, as Catholic and Orthodox leaders, worked together to confront these challenges?
My brother, Patriarch Pizzaballa, continues to be a strong presence and voice in opposition to all the challenges we face, and has been successful over the years in building a climate of trust and effective cooperation between our two Brotherhoods so that we may speak and act with a united voice. This unity also fosters cooperation with the Hashemite Custodianship of the Holy Sites and a bond of unity with the 13 denominations in Jerusalem. I would like to add that Patriarch Pizzaballa’s elevation to Cardinal is yet another powerful reminder to Christians around the world of the importance of the spiritual heritage of local Christians, who have worshipped faithfully in the footsteps of Christ since Pentecost.
This spirit of unity that you often speak of in your ministry is repeatedly threatened by controversial policies and by conflicts in the Christian world.
As Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, we have always expressed special concern and commitment for the unity of Christians in general, and especially of the Orthodox Churches around the world. As Saint Paul reminds us in the Letter to the Ephesians: “Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (2:14-16).
The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and the threat of schism in the body of the Orthodox Church, are matters of deep pain and difficulty, not just for Orthodox Christians, but for the entire Christian world and for all people of good will. This is why I wanted to express to the Holy Father our willingness as Patriarchate of Jerusalem to reach out to our sisters and brothers in Ukraine and Russia, to mediate a swift end to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has a special concern for the unity of Christians and peoples and can be a useful instrument of reconciliation, alongside Pope Francis’ efforts through the mission he entrusted to Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi.
By Roberto Cetera