Mixed reaction to appointment of Italian as Jerusalem patriarch

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa was appointed as the 10th Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem on Saturday. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 October 2020

Mixed reaction to appointment of Italian as Jerusalem patriarch

  • Pizzaballa has been apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate since 2016 while the patriarch office remained vacant

AMMAN: Pope Francis named Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa as the 10th Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem on Saturday, but there has been mixed reaction to the appointment of a non-Arab to the high-level post.

Pizzaballa, who is Italian, follows Jordanian patriarch Foad Twal and Palestinian Michel Sabah.

Sabah, who was appointed in 1987, was the first Arab to hold this position in the Latin Patriarchate.

Pizzaballa has been apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate since 2016 while the patriarch office remained vacant. His appointment ends the wait for around 293,000 Latin Catholics in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Cyprus for a new patriarch.

Pizzaballa told parishioners in a message he understood there would be difficult moments and complex choices ahead. “I am sure that together we will be able to look to tomorrow with confidence, as it has been until now,” he added.

The Latin Patriarchate was facing financial debts of more than $100 million when Pizzaballa became apostolic administrator. But he reorganized its financial management, implemented new controls, introduced greater transparency. He paid off 60 percent of the debts by selling Nazareth church property.

Johnny Mansour, a Palestinian academic from Haifa, called the papal decision a form of religious colonialism. He said the Vatican had rewarded the person who sold church lands in Nazareth instead of holding him accountable.

“It reflects a lack of respect to the people of the land who live (in) a difficult and painful period with the occupation and oppression. This is religious colonialism.” 

Wadie Abu Nassar, a senior media advisor to successive patriarchs, said that while the local parish would have loved to see an Arab in the role, there was also a need to understand the universal nature of the church.

“The church of Jerusalem has a special place that makes its borders much wider than the geographic borders,” he told Arab News. “It is the church of Christians around the world. We as members of the Jerusalem diocese and the believers of the holy land, are honored to be sons of the mother church and to pray with believers from around the world. We will not grow if we keep the Jerusalem church a national one. It is a holy institution that belongs to all nations and is above nationality. Believers in the church are all equal, regardless of their geographic background or national affiliation.”

Pizzaballa speaks Italian, Hebrew and English but does not speak Arabic, which has been a point of contention among some.

Nasri J. Rabadi, a member of the faculty of engineering at Jordan University, said: “The mistakes of those who preceded him justified the mistake of the Vatican in bypassing Arab priests in this appointment.” 

But a former school teacher and principal in Jerusalem, Ibrahim Deabis, rejected criticism of Pizzaballa’s appointment. He said that the pope was the head of the church and had a right to make the appointment. "The problem is not in the citizenship of the patriarch but in his works and values.”

Pizzaballa was born in 1965. He joined the Franciscans in 1984, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1990. He was vicar of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem for the pastoral care of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel, overseeing the publication of the Roman Missal in Hebrew in 1995.

The Latin Patriarchate welcomed Pizzaballa’s appointment. “May His Beatitude be granted good health and divine blessing to continue serving our Local Church, while promoting peace, justice, and reconciliation.”

Pizzaballa’s appointment as patriarch by the Holy See was a reflection of his honesty and sincerity for over 35 years, according to Father Firas Abed Rabo from the Latin Patriarch. “This doesn’t violate the biblical-based church principles in choosing its bishops and leaders and we should not be surprised if it contradicts the principles of the world that are called democratic.”


German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

Updated 24 November 2020

German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

  • Germany insists it acted correctly in boarding a Turkish ship to enforce arms embargo of Libya
  • Turkey summoned European diplomats to complain at the operation

BERLIN: Germany’s defense minister on Tuesday rejected Turkey’s complaints over the search of a Turkish freighter in the Mediterranean Sea by a German frigate participating in a European mission, insisting that German sailors acted correctly.
Sunday’s incident prompted Turkey to summon diplomats representing the European Union, Germany and Italy and assert that the Libya-bound freighter Rosaline-A was subjected to an “illegal” search by personnel from the German frigate Hamburg. The German ship is part of the European Union’s Irini naval mission, which is enforcing an arms embargo against Libya.
German officials say that the order to board the ship came from Irini’s headquarters in Rome and that Turkey protested while the team was on board. The search was then ended.
Turkey says the search was “unauthorized and conducted by force.”
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer backed the German crew’s actions.
“It is important to me to make really clear that the Bundeswehr soldiers behaved completely correctly,” she said during an appearance in Berlin. “They did what is asked of them in the framework of the European Irini mandate.”
“That there is this debate with the Turkish side points to one of the fundamental problems of this European mission,” Kramp-Karrenbauer added, without elaborating. “But it is very important to me to say clearly here that there are no grounds for these accusations that are now being made against the soldiers.”
This was the second incident between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally enforcing an arms blockade against Libya.
In June, NATO launched an investigation over an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, after France said one of its frigates was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking.
Turkey supports a UN-backed government in Tripoli against rival forces based in the country’s east. It has complained that the EU naval operation focuses its efforts too much on the Tripoli administration and turns a blind eye to weapons sent to the eastern-based forces.
In Ankara, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Irini was “flawed from the onset.”
“It is not based on firm international legal foundations,” Akar said. He renewed Turkey’s criticism of the German ship’s actions.
“The incident was against international laws and practices. It was wrong,” he said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed that “Turkey is still an important partner for us in NATO.” Turkey being outside the military alliance would make the situation even more difficult, she argued, and Turkish soldiers are “absolutely reliable partners” in NATO missions.
But she conceded that Turkey poses “a big challenge” because of how its domestic politics have developed and because it has its “own agenda, which is difficult to reconcile with European questions in particular.”