25-July-2014 -- ZENIT.org News Agency |

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Fr. Pizzaballa: Israel and Palestine Need Courageous Leaders Like the Pope

Custos of the Holy Land Says Region Needs Charismatic Leader With a Vision

VATICAN CITY, July 25, 2014 (Zenit.org) - The Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land says that to restore peace in the war-torn region, a courageous, charismatic leader such as Pope Francis is needed.

Just two months ago, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa helped organize the "Invocation for Peace" at the Vatican to pray for peace in the Middle East with Pope Francis, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew.

Though he admits this gesture was very important and has more effectiveness today than in the past, he reflects that, at the same time, the day in which this peace can come still seems far off.

However, the priest of the Order of Friars Minor, long considered one of the main Christian religious authorities in the Middle East, did reflect that regardless of conflicts, the relationship between the Holy See and the Middle East has never stopped.

Fr. Pizzaballa noted that Pope Francis himself convinced him that the peace initiative invoked at the Vatican had not passed "in vain." He said this was evidenced by the Pontiff's well-known habit of picking up the phone to personally tell Peres and Abbas of "his and the Church's unceasing prayers for peace."

The Franciscan was further convinced by the Pontiff's urging Middle Eastern leaders to commit themselves to ensure that "all parties and all political leaders take action in favor of a truce."

The priest explained that it is not the task of the Holy See to enter into direct negotiations of a political nature. "It is not our role. At this time," he added, "we cannot do anything except pray and make plans for the future."' He added we are to wait for and listen to dialogue, rather than shouting and criticism.

"Israel and Palestine need charismatic leaders, courageous, and with a vision," he said.

Pope Francis has this charisma, and then necessary quality of "warming the hearts of the people." He said we all hope that his testimony and his words will have an effect.

"That being said," he added, "I do not want to be pessimistic, but the prospect of peace in the Holy Land is still a distance away."

There are slightly more than 1,200 Catholics, the rest are almost all Orthodox, "but they suffer just as the others do," he said. Some homes, including that of an Orthodox priest, as well as other facilities, have been affected by the fighting.

Working with young people in the Holy Land is complicated, Fr. Pizzaballa admitted. He lamented that although it's possible to construct peaceful relations with new generations, they still are scarred by the images of war that they see, which overpower all other words and actions. "What is more difficult to eradicate is the hate itself," which the official says, "creates violence."

"For this," he added, "we try to do everything that is possible. But I assure you that it is a complicated job."

In the northern city of Aleppo, the situation is dramatic. Fr. Pizzaballa explained that 2 million people have been forced to live for months without a secure water source and with electricity delivered for no more than two hours a day. "And then there's the question of security, the fights are daily," he said, noting "Syria is a country divided and at war, without a way out at the horizon."

Furthermore, he said in some areas of the country, communications are very difficult which prevents people from following the news. (D.C.L.)

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