JERUSALEM — On the backdrop of multiple violent incidents in Israel in recent months against Christian leaders and Christian sites, Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa emerges as a champion of tolerance and coexistence. Religious leaders from different dominions as well as Israeli academics recognize Pizzaballa’s engagement in establishing inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.
Pizzaballa, 58, will soon make history when he becomes the Catholic Church’s first cardinal whose seat is in Jerusalem. His unprecedented appointment by Pope Francis on July 9 was set against the rise in attacks on Christian clergy in Jerusalem’s Old City over the last few months. There is much hope that he will be able to lessen the violence and promote messages of reconciliation.
The Patriarch isn’t very well known to most Israelis. He is, however, a familiar and popular figure among rabbis from all denominations, top politicians and academics throughout the country. Many of them treat him as an Israeli, in part because of his fluent Hebrew and the fact that he has lived in Jerusalem for the past 30 years while filling a number of senior positions in the church.
Pizzaballa says that he was surprised by his appointment, which he first learned about when the pope announced his picks for 21 new cardinals. He was certainly aware that once news of his historic appointment became known, all sorts of explanations would be given for the reasons behind the choice.