The Plight of a Church Where ‘The Resurrection Happened’

His Beatitude Fouad Twal, The Latin Patriarch Of Jerusalem

Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., invited His Beatitude Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, to visit Notre Dame last fall and to participate in the 2015-16 Notre Dame Forum on “Faith, Freedom and the Modern World: 50 Years After Vatican II.”

Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, Patriarch Twal is the senior churchman of the Latin Patriarchate, or Roman Catholic diocese, of Jerusalem, which includes the Catholics of Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and Cyprus. Throughout his tenure he has been involved in the work of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, the center of ecumenical scholarship, prayer, and hospitality founded on a hilltop between Bethlehem and Jerusalem by Pope Paul VI and Notre Dame’s late president emeritus Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C.

The patriarch took the occasion to give a lecture entitled “Middle East Christians’ Future: In Whose Hands?” addressing the increasingly desperate plight of Christians in the Middle East.

Patriarch Twal has often called the Catholic Church in Jerusalem the “church of Calvary,” and has recently begun to speak of the entire Middle East in similar terms due to the vast displacement of Christians from their traditional homes in the war-torn region. At Notre Dame he addressed the struggles of Christians in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, the suffering of the refugees, and the effects of the arms trade on the conflicts in the Middle East.

“Generally, people like to hear a ‘fair and balanced’ presentation, especially on a contentious subject,” Patriarch Fouad said. “I am not sure that this is possible when speaking about the Middle East and the Holy Land.”

“Jerusalem is the Mother Church and therefore has a responsibility to the entire world,” he said, “just as the entire Christian world has a responsibility to its Mother Church. The Christian faith started there. We are the custodians of the holy places, and when pilgrims from around the world come to the Holy Land, they will find ‘living stones,’ living communities around the holy places.”

But the Mother Church, as Patriarch Twal described it, is beset by multiple afflictions. “In addition to widespread fanaticism and violence,” he said, “there are bureaucratic challenges facing Christians in areas of family life and education, and the effects are likely in the long run to prove just as tangible as violence.”

“Generally, people like to hear a ‘fair and balanced’ presentation, especially on a contentious subject,” Patriarch Fouad said. “I am not sure that this is possible when speaking about the Middle East and the Holy Land.” 

Religious leaders in the Holy Land adamantly oppose violence, whether inflicted by governments, groups, or individuals, but the patriarch insisted that “similarly, a strong stand must be taken against the suppliers of arms, for they are major players in violence and war. Despite the condemnation by many, including our Holy Father Pope Francis, the weapons trade continues undiminished in our region. We must oppose those who would enter into the fray for the sake of self- interest and those who disregard basic human rights and the common good. This is very much in the interest of all of us.”

Patriarch Twal lamented the inattention of international media to the plight of the Holy Land’s Christians. “Lost in the conflict between Muslims and Jews are the Christians of Israel and Palestine, who are becoming a forgotten people while the more dramatic conflicts dominate the news,” he said. “Perhaps this is not surprising, given that Christians make up such a small percentage of both countries. Even if the media and the international attention are focused on the dramatic events of ISIS and the problem of refugees in Europe, the grossest facts on the ground in Israel and the West Bank cannot be overlooked. Palestinian Christians expect a stronger Church commitment both in educating the world leadership on the Middle East Christians’ crisis and in encouraging the people to remain in their country, and so keeping hope alive for a better future.”

Given what his Mother Church is up against, Patriarch Twal said, “I, too, am anxious about the future, but hope for a bright future.” After all, he concluded, “Jerusalem is a city of surprises. The Resurrection happened there.”