· Vatican City ·

‘My heart aches for those who endure the hardships of this land’

 ‘My heart aches for those who endure the hardships of this land’  ING-043
27 October 2023

A prayer and memorial service was held on Sunday morning, 22 October, at the “Catholicos” of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, for the 18 Christians who were killed in last week’s bombing of the Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrios in Gaza. Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theophilus iii, presided over the liturgy, which was also attended by the Apostolic Nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Tito Yllana, and the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton. At the end of the ceremony Patriarch Theophilus granted the following interview to “L’Osservatore Romano”.

What is the situation of the Christians who survived the horrible tragedy of the bombing of your church in Gaza?

The tragic bombing of our church in Gaza has left a profound impact on the Christian community in Gaza and the rest of the Holy Land. The survivors of this horrific bombing are resilient and filled with the spirit of Christ. They have displayed faith through the aftermath of this horrific ordeal. We have come together as a community to support one another, praying for healing and strength in the face of adversity. As faithful Christians, we are called to be peacemakers and to seek justice. Our response to this war crime should serve as a beacon of hope, demonstrating the transformative power of faith and the capacity of the human spirit to rise above the darkness of war.

Which initiatives are you taking to protect and to support them?

In these trying times, it is our sacred duty to extend our hand in support and protection to our Christian brethren and all those affected by the tragedy in Gaza. The Christian community, through the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, are working tirelessly to provide humanitarian aid and relief to those who have suffered the most. Our charitable organizations are collaborating with local partners to ensure that essential needs such as food, shelter, and medical care are met to the best of our ability given the Israeli decision to cut off water, electricity, food and medicine since October 7th. Through prayer, advocacy, and practical support, we are resolute in our mission to protect and support those affected by this tragedy, following the teachings of Christ who calls us to be instruments of peace and agents of healing in a world in need of love and compassion.

What is the sentiment among your people in Palestine and Israel?

The sentiment among our Christian communities is one of hope, resilience, and a deep commitment to our faith. While the region has faced complex and challenging circumstances, our Christian brothers and sisters remain steadfast in their determination to live out the teachings of Christ. In this diverse and often contentious land, we continue to promote peace, and coexistence. We actively participate in interfaith dialogues and collaborative efforts, striving to build bridges among people of different backgrounds and beliefs. Our communities serve as living witnesses to the message of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation that is at the core of Christianity. At the same time, we cannot deny the difficulties and hardships that many in the region face, especially those living under the horrors of air strikes and artillery bombings in Gaza. Ultimately, our message is one of unwavering faith, commitment to peace, and the belief that, as Christians, we are called to be peacemakers in this land, embodying the hope for a brighter and more harmonious future for all its inhabitants. We continue to pray and work for peace, justice, and the well-being of every soul in this sacred and troubled region.

I can imagine your personal pain and suffering and the difficult position you are in at the moment. What are your personal feelings?

As the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and along with our fellow Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, I bear the weight of responsibility for the spiritual welfare and well-being of our Christian communities in this region and safeguarding pilgrimage to the Holy Land on behalf of all Christians in the world. It is a position that often brings with it great challenges and difficult decisions, especially in times of turmoil and conflict. Our personal feelings in such moments are rooted in the teachings of Christ, which guide me to maintain faith, hope, and love. I do, indeed, feel a deep empathy for the suffering of our people, and my heart aches for those who endure the hardships of this land. I also feel a profound responsibility to lead by example, demonstrating Christ’s message of compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation to all. In the face of challenges and personal difficulties, I am reminded of the words of Saint Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). It is with this strength and the support of our faith community that I navigate the complex role I hold in the pursuit of justice, peace, and the betterment of all God’s children in this sacred land.

By Roberto Cetera