Israel has reopened its borders welcoming the first groups of pilgrims after two years of closures due to Covid-19. The Latin primate looks back on a time when “we assumed fragility and loneliness”, but the desire to “start over” by defining “goals and perspectives” is strong. The importance of a “synodal path” of “participation and mission”.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – A picture of hope, in a world marked over the past two years by the daily death toll, contagions and restrictions imposed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. A world that in recent days has become aware of a new conflict at the gates of Europe triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the risk that it will turn into a third world war fought with arms devastating atomics.
In this reality of shadows and fears, a glimmer comes in the first groups of pilgrims who once again enliven the streets of the old city of Jerusalem and the holy places of Christian tradition. From the desolation of the coronavirus to prayers, during Lent, when tens of thousands of faithful returned – as pilgrims – in the footsteps of Jesus.
The revival linked to the spring season which has just begun is accompanied by the resumption of travel to the holy places, thanks to the reopening decided by the Israeli government. The green light was expected by Christmas, but the emergence of the Omicron variant prompted authorities to close the borders. Thanks to a massive vaccination campaign and the decline in the number of hospitalizations and victims – proportional to the number of cases – with an easing of the hospital pressure, the leaders of the Jewish State have passed the emergency phase behind them. , aiming for a gradual return to (new) normality. Hence the reopening, on March 1, of the airspace to tourists (including non-vaccinated) of all ages, subject to a negative molecular sample on departure and a new negative test on entry into the airspace. Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.
Major tourist attractions and places of worship are accessible and the Green Pass (Tav yarok) is no longer required to enter Israel, one of the first countries in the world to adopt the controversial measure. The obligation to wear a mask remains, especially in public transport where the device is still compulsory. Nevertheless, the city has come back to life and the first groups of pilgrims are visible, as happened at the end of February when the Patriarchal Vicar Emeritus Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo welcomed some compatriots from the diocese of Treviso (in northern Italy ) and a depiction of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. These are small groups, confides the prelate, of 20 or 30 people at most, a sign of a trend that can be described as positive. And for the whole of Lent and Holy Week, we expect good attendance, which should increase in the period after Easter”.
Silence, fragility, loneliness
One of the most symbolic and significant events of the first phase of the pandemic is the celebration – almost in solitude – of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa on the slopes of the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday. A rite that replaced the traditional procession inside the walls of the old city, the government – in line with measures adopted in much of the world – imposing strict confinement on the population. Today, two years later, the mood has changed and Lenten celebrations are expected, while reservations for groups of pilgrims, one of the driving sectors of the local economy, especially for the Christian component, multiply.
Patriarch Pizzaballa recalls AsiaNews “For two years, we have had to witness silence, the almost total closure of borders, the dramatic economic situation of many families in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and other regions of the Holy Land. Unlike the West”, he adds, “we have not seen churches empty, but there have been serious repercussions in the academic and school world. We have overcome a lot of fragility and loneliness, but these months, j ‘ve also seen a great urge to restart. We too are wondering what the before and after of the pandemic will be like, there are no certain answers yet, but I believe we need to first work. There are no definitive answers yet, but I think we have to work first. We will see what happens in the future, but for now it is important to be there and to maintain our presence. The objective for the coming weeks is to celebrate “a normal Lent” as much as possible, coming out “of closures and restoring all normal conditions and customary activities of prayer, fasting, w which is very important to us,” he said.
A community on the move
Patriarch Pizzaballa also anticipates the central theme of the Easter message, which is to continue on “a synodal path” made up of “communion, participation, mission: this – he explains – I believe is the most important point after two years of restrictions… to meet and form community”. From this point of view, the progressive openings and the return of the faithful from all over the world are fundamental: “The borders have been reopened, from March 1 also to non-members. -vaccinated – confirms the primacy – so we can look to with cautious optimism. Of course, we are not expecting record numbers anytime soon”, such as those recorded in the two years preceding the pandemic, “but we look forward to a recovery, with the awareness of being able to define objectives and perspectives. Reorganizing the opening of shrines and places of worship takes time, but we know that we are heading in this direction”.
Regarding the situation of the Church in the Holy Land, the Latin Patriarch points out that “we do not have the vocations of 20 years ago in numerical terms, but they are still there and come from all over the territory. The profile has also changed, because before they were very young, today there are many people who come to the seminary from the world of work or from university. These are more mature vocations, which require different training” in a situation where “the migrant component” remains an important presence” and capable of surviving “despite the many problems”.
Finally, on the tensions that still characterize the area and two years of pandemic that have not subsided but have contributed to exasperating Patriarch Pizzaballa does not want to give in to pessimism: “The Middle East and the Holy Land in particular are a reality of and. ..and’, no ‘aut…aut'” and after the violence of the last few months, with the blitzkrieg in Gaza and disputed areas like Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem “we welcome the permits that the Israeli government has granted for We need relationships, relationships, and for Gaza the situation seems to have improved recently. Changes do not happen overnight because they require both cultural and legislative steps, they require commitment and patience” such as “citizenship”, which can be the basis of a peaceful “coexistence” In the region.