Patriarch Twal is there a special memory that you cherish after so many years of service in the Patriarchate’s diocese – which includes Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus?
I cherish the memory of the apostolic visits to the Holy Land of Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. They personally witnessed the situation and the contradictions in which we live. I saw their suffering before all of this.
However, the outcomes of the visits we not as we had expected.
Pope Francis did his utmost to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, to the extent of inviting, on June 8 2014, the President of Israel Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart Abu Mazen to pronounce a joint plea to end conflicts in the Middle East in the Vatican gardens. Unfortunately to no avail. Three days later Israeli premier Netanyahu gave the green light to the building of 3000 apartments in Palestinian territory.
On that day was planted an olive tree that continues growing in spite of everything, in silence, as do our hopes. Let us hope that the same may occur in the hearts of political leadership.
Over the past years you worked to improve diplomatic relations between the Holy See, Palestine and Israel, thereby contributing to the fundamental agreement between the Holy See and Palestine, and working for the finalization of the agreement with Israel, which is yet to be signed. Why?
I have had the pleasure of affixing my signature on the ratification of the agreement with Palestine. As relates to the fundamental agreement with Israel, it is yet to be ratified since 1993.
Another State would already have interrupted diplomatic relations with Israel – not having reached a ratification after so many years is not serious behaviour. But by its own tradition the Holy See never breaks off diplomatic relations.
We need to pray that also the agreement with Israel is signed soon.
In your mission you often addressed the issue of the unsolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, strongly denouncing Israeli military occupation, the separation barrier, and the Jewish settlements in Palestinian lands. These are open wounds which neither faith nor politics manage to heal. Will this Land ever experience peace?
I hope that one day it will be possible to live side by side as good neighbours, with two States in peace, no longer enemies. Unfortunately politics overshadows all aspects of life in the land of Jesus. The occupation equally harms the occupying forces that fear for their own safety and thus grow harsher, trust no one, erect walls imprisoning themselves as a result. Christian exodus from Palestine, from the Holy Land, is a plague that stems from this situation. The same could be said for Gaza, where the Christian community is growing smaller as a result of war and instability. Every time exit permits are released, those who return are less that those who had left. They remain as illegal residents in Palestine, without documents or permits, preferring to live in this way rather than returning to the Strip. The international Community, notably Europe, should ensure the respect of international law without fear or partisan attitudes.
Another theme that is dear to you is interreligious and ecumenical dialogue…
We have no right to be tired, desperate, or surrender. We should continue promoting dialogue with religious leaders, with the support of political and military leaders.
No progress is possible without the latter. Dialogue for its own sake is not enough and we risk wasting precious time. For dialogue to be effective it needs to spring at grassroots levels.
In which way?
In schools, especially in the Christian schools of the Holy Land. They play a crucial role in the formation of our young pupils. There are 118 Christian schools, attended by over 75 pupils of all faiths – we teach dialogue, tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Schools are the safest means to further dialogue. Pupils live, study and play together since their early years. Unfortunately the Christian schools in Israel are going through a difficult period. The Government was supposed to allocate 50 million shekel to address a financial emergency resulting from the cuts in public funding. We hope that the agreement stipulated at the time will be respected.
Your mission as Patriarch has involved inter alia, also Jordan, your home Country. Here too there are critical situations, notably the war in Syria and Iraq, that caused the plight of hundred of thousands of refugees. The Church is addressing this challenge with major efforts…
Our Churches in Jordan are putting major efforts in the reception and support to Iraqi and Syrian refugees. The commitment of many young people and families aided by Caritas and Churches at international level is laudable. I wish to extend a special thanks to the Holy See and to the Italian Bishops’ Conference for their support to our projects. Sadly, the lack of a clear vision for the future is taking the toll on high numbers of migrants. They wish they could find a job, go to school and have the possibility of living with dignity while waiting to return to their home Countries. Many of them go to Australia, Canada or the US, and they will never return. My thoughts also go to them and to all those who are suffering the consequences of the wars in Iraq and Syria.