INTERVIEW – On April 27, Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo received a letter threatening death for “the Patriarch, the Heads of all the churches in Israel and to all Christians.” On the same Sunday and on following days, there occurred other serious cases of vandalism and intolerance against the holy places. This has created an impressive solidarity movement whose center is the Latin Patriarchal Vicariate of Nazareth. Journalist Ziad Schlewat interviewed Bishop Marcuzzo.
1) What was the public reaction to the series of vandalism and anti-Christian death threats that have troubled Galilee?
The public reaction was immediate, sincere, general and varied. Many people have sent e-mails or faxes. Many have called (the phone during the first five days had not stopped ringing!). E- mails and phone calls came from Israel, Palestine and Jordan, but also many from abroad: Europe, USA, Canada and even Australia. It made me happy to know that these people had known the case through our means of communication (websites LPJ.org, Abouna.org and Franciscan Media Center).
But a good number of local people have come personally to give evidence or sign of friendship and cooperation. “During the last ten days I was confined to my ‘diwan’, welcoming people and groups who came to express their solidarity. All recommended me to communicate their support and spiritual closeness to His Beatitude Patriarch and other Pastors of the Holy Land.”
2) What religion were the visitors?
Most were Christians, of various denominations: Latin, Melkite, Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Coptic, and Anglican. The Greek Orthodox community has been particularly sensitive. But also some were Muslims, Druze and Jews. White Mosque of Nazareth dedicated the traditional Friday sermon to “solidarity with our Christian brothers, the unjustly threatened Christians who are sons of this land, who love this land and are at the service of all its inhabitants.” Sheikh Raed Salah, of the Islamic movement, and Mohammad Zidan, Chairman of the Executive Committee of Arab Local Authorities, administrative advisors of religious communities, with the A.I. Ministry
Among the visiting groups we must single out the parishes, parish councils, schools, associations, academia Hebrew, interfaith associations, municipalities, of which was, first and foremost, the new and former mayors of Nazareth, Ali Sallam and Ramez Jarayseh. Even groups of French pilgrims, having heard the news, changed their program to come and offer their support.
3) We read that you have found an empty space in this chorus of reaction?
Yes, the Israeli political sector, at least in Nazareth and with me, has shown no sign of condemnation for vandalism and threats, and no sign of solidarity with the people and places mentioned or the religious symbols vandalized or destroyed. This has raised many questions and fears among people. The faithful are asking: Do the authorities realize and really consider the seriousness of the situation and the danger of escalation?.
4) To your knowledge, how does the press cover the news?
From what I could follow, the local Arab press has covered the news. The Hebrew Israeli press and the international press initially almost entirely ignored the facts.
5) What was the content of the various expressions of condemnation and solidarity?
These visitors remarks were not conventional or clichés. There are, of course, traditional Arabic expressions to be said on these occasions. They are, moreover, very beautiful and meaningful, the result of centuries of experience of social relations.
The faithful expressed strongly, even angrily, their total condemnation of vandalism and threats, and continually repeated their solidarity with the Patriarch, bishops, priests and all Christians, all Muslims and even Jewish victims of these actions.
I was struck by the authenticity with which they expressed these traditional formulas, and especially through their exchange of information, analyses and experience that they passed on to each other.
6) Do you have practical examples?
Many visitors, especially intellectuals, informed me that whatever happened now had already been planned and announced in a book, “The King’s Torah,” published in 2009 by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Josef Alitzor coming from the Yitzhar village. The Tzahal kibbutz was even bothered by its extremism, but it appears that the authorities, in the beginning, did not paid enough attention to the danger of ideas in this book and the fanatical actions of its authors.
Another topic of conversation was the “Report on the Practice of Human Rights in 2013” in Israel, published by the United States State Department. The report speaks of hundreds of cases of violations, abuse, vandalism and threats, of which only 10% had a police pursuit or judicial prosecution.
7) What should be done, then? Did the visitors share their thoughts?
Absolutely yes, and it was perhaps the most interesting aspect.
Many shared their thoughts on what should be done and, frankly, I was positively very impressed by the serenity, maturity and lucidity with which they were expressed. I could summarize their contributions in three points:
- On the immediate and practical level, it is necessary to carry out an investigation, and police to find those responsible: it is certainly the first task.
- On a deeper and more significant level, the political discourse must change. Even if politicians are not directly involved in these actions of vandalism, their political speeches are able to generate such actions and create a favorable climate for the outbreak of these behaviors.
- On a third level, by far the most important and fundamental, it is that a new style, method and goals of education should be adopted. Education at school, of course, but also through family and the means of communication.
8) You, Your Excellency, what do you say to visitors?
In my answers I emphasize unity, communion, collaboration, and solidarity in the face of these threats, but also as a response to measures which are taken, even in these days, to divide the population, especially the Christian community.
I repeat all the time and to all that “We Christians, we are sons of this land. We were born here, the Church was born here. We are here, and we resist, even if there is a cross to bear. We want to live in peace with everyone; we ask for a society of equality for all citizens. A society where, even in its diversity, acceptance of the other is a sacrosanct thing and provides for civil and religious coexistence, absolutely necessary for the future of Israel and Palestine. We stay here and continue to love all and we put ourselves at the service of all, especially to spread the culture of life and hospitality to others.”
But in all honesty, it was mainly the visitors who expressed themselves and posed many questions.
9) What kind of questions, for example, were people asking?
Spontaneously, questions revolved around practical details and the content of the famous threatening letter.
I was also surprised by the many questions about Pope Francis. I perceived a great love for our Pope, an associated apprehension about his next pilgrimage, and especially great confidence in his charisma. Has the Pope been informed? How did he react? Is he going to talk about it during the weekly audience or the Angelus on Sunday? Will all this disturb and challenge the Pope’s pilgrimage? Will he talk about this situation with the authorities?
Many questions pertained to the local church: What has the Church done? How does she do it? Can we do something? And many other questions.
10) It is my turn to ask you the same question: what do you do – Patriarch, bishops and leaders in general – to address the situation?
Firstly, all the churches have reacted, much unified. There has been ongoing dialogue. We tried to keep composure and lucidity, without dramatizing and without too exaggerated fears, but with realism and responsibility.
We informed the police and the press of their duty and responsibility. We are preparing together these days a series of initiatives for the political and civil authorities of their responsibilities and to properly inform the Jewish community and international opinion. We are confident that the Vatican, especially the Holy Father who loves the Holy Land (Israel, Palestine and Jordan), will not fail to speak and intervene to keep and strengthen the peaceful coexistence among all the inhabitants of this country. And we continue to move forward with the strength of our faith and our love for the Mother Church of Jerusalem, even if it passes through the Cross.
Interview by Ziad Schlewat