Most Reverend Excellencies
Your Excellencies the Consul Generals of Jerusalem
Dear priests, religious and faithful,
The Lord give you Peace!
“Non est hic, surrexit enim sicut dixit” (Mt 28,6). Al Masih kam, haqan kam
“He is not here! He is risen as He said” (Mt. 28:6)
Here we are, again, in front of the Empty Tomb of Christ – the heart of our faith and of our Christian community.
It is a tradition here in our Land, that at the start of a new ecclesial journey, we unite at this Holy Place, to remember Easter whatever the time of the liturgical year. There is no beginning, no ecclesial initiative, no project that can exist outside of the Easter experience. “To celebrate Easter” means to give one’s life out of love. And this is particularly true for our Church in Jerusalem which has this specific calling and mission of living in the light of Easter. In the Book of Apocalypse which we are reading these days, the City of Jerusalem has no need of sunlight because “her light is the Lamb” (Ap. 21:23)
Today I wish to celebrate with you this Easter experience: in this Holy Place I ask God to grant me strength, courage and constancy in giving life to this Church; to love her and guide her with patience and a paternal spirit.
It is not the first time that I come to this Tomb to begin a new service to this Church of God, where I arrived as a newly ordained priest 30 years ago.
After many years of study and service that gave me a better understanding of this country, I began here my service as Custos of the Holy Land. That service brought me more contact and knowledge of the realities of this Mother Church in Jerusalem; to touch with my own hands the grace of the Holy Places and the needs of the brothers.
To this Holy Sepulchre I have returned to begin and also to thank God for His faithfulness in these past four years, which I served the Church in Jerusalem as Apostolic Administrator. Those were intense and difficult years, but also rich with wonderful experiences.
And just when I thought that it was time to depart, to begin a new journey, the Lord through the Holy Father Pope Francis brought me back here, to remind me that I must celebrate Easter here … with you.
We journey together with a God whom we know, towards a future that we don’t know. An uncertain future would cause fear and anxiety, especially at this present moment. Let us entrust ourselves to God whom Jesus revealed, to find consolation and comfort. We recall the collective and individual stories of each one, and we remember how many times we had already experienced the faithfulness of God to us. Remembering is essential for constructing a bridge between our present time filled with worries and fear, and the future of hope which we find in God revealed and encountered in Jesus.
Recalling the past years, I truly acknowledge that the Lord has guided me and accompanied me in many decisions which I would never have made alone. And sometimes, He has had to wait patiently for my return from the uncertain paths of my own heart.
We can say the same about our Church. Despite ourselves, in spite of everything, the Risen Lord guided and waited patiently and faithfully, without allowing us to be tempted beyond our strength (cf. 1Cor. 10:13). And until today He has guided us: me and you together… to this moment, to resume our journey; so that from here we can leave renewed in enthusiasm and joy. Like Peter at the Sea of Galilee, then, let us trust the Word of the Lord and cast the net (cf. Lk 5:5). Let us begin together with faith our new service to the Church in Jerusalem.
Certainly, I cannot but experience feelings of fear in the face of a mission that exceeds my capacities. But I accept this new obedience, which I wish to fulfill with joy. It is certainly a cross, but a cross that bears fruit of salvation each time it is embraced in joy. The Cross of the Son of God, raised only a few meters away from here, has given meaning to all the crosses of the world.
I know that I am not alone. A bishop cannot lead his flock without the collaboration of his priests, the religious and the faithful. He would not be a good shepherd. Today you are all with me, though not as numerous as we wished. But I know from different parts of the diocese and the world, many faithful and pilgrims of our and other diocese, are close to us in prayer, and it is in this spirit that we find ourselves as Church – the Mother Church of Jerusalem.
There are many expectations of our Church community and which specifically touches on the vocation and mission of our Church. We look forward to a renewed pastoral impetus which takes into account the different territories and cultures, but which is also capable of unifying all of us. Enormous economic and social problems confront us, aggravated all the more by the ongoing pandemic. We look forward to saying a clear and peaceful word regarding politics, which is often fragile and short-sighted, but which weighs heavily on the lives of all our families.
We look forward to an encounter with other sister churches, with the Muslim and Jewish brothers. To live in the light of Easter means to know what to say to all, and to witness in life, the Christian hope that sustains us.
Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to pray for me and for our beloved Church in Jerusalem, so that I may lead it, serve it and love it with an undivided heart. I do not have the “gift of tongues” (1Cor. 13:8), but I assure you that the desire to reach the hearts of all is sincere, especially those who are in this difficult time and in need.
From this Holy Place, the Risen Lord repeats the words that He spoke to the women on the day of the Resurrection: “Do not fear; go and tell my brothers …” (Mt. 28:10). Let us be thrilled by these words. These are the words of the Risen Christ and they must always resound in our hearts. We are not alone, nor orphans, we need not be afraid. We are sure that the Risen Lord will once again fill us with His Holy Spirit and make us bold witnesses of His love in His Land.