Italian archbishop Pizzaballa appointed new Latin patriarch of Jerusalem

Office has been vacant since resignation of Fouad Twal in 2016

The acting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa leads a Christmas midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem in the West Bank, December 25, 2019. (MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/POOL/AFP)
The acting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa leads a Christmas midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem in the West Bank, December 25, 2019. (MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/POOL/AFP)

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the most senior Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, has been appointed by Pope Francis as the new Latin patriarch of Jerusalem.

The office had remained vacant since 2016, with Pizzaballa holding the position of the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem since then.

The Italian Pizzaballa, 55, formerly a Franciscan friar, was a pastor for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel and a member of a commission for relations with Judaism. He speaks fluent Hebrew and has lived in Israel since 1990. The last two Latin patriarchs of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal and Palestinian Michel Sabbah — like the vast majority of local Catholics — were native Arabic speakers.

“With feelings of joy and gratitude, the family of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, Amman, Nazareth and Cyprus, in particular the bishops, patriarchal vicars, priests, deacons, seminarians, religious men and women, consecrated men and women, the People of God in all the parishes as well as the workers in the diocesan institutions, congratulate the new Patriarch wishing His Beatitude success in carrying out his exceptional responsibilities, especially in these unusual circumstances,” the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said in a statement.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, congratulates Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land after attending a Christmas midnight mass at Saint Catherine’s Church, in the Church of the Nativity, traditionally recognized by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, December 25, 2018. (Nasser Nasser/AP)

“May His Beatitude be granted good health and divine blessing to continue serving our Local Church, while promoting peace, justice and reconciliation,” it said.

Pope Francis on Sunday also named 13 new cardinals, including Washington DC Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who would become the first Black US prelate to earn the coveted red hat.

In a surprise announcement from his studio window to faithful standing below in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said the churchmen would be elevated to a cardinal’s rank in a ceremony on November 28.

Other new cardinals include an Italian who is the long-time papal preacher at the Vatican, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, a Franciscan friar; the Kigali, Rwanda, Archbishop Antoine Kambanda; the Capiz, Philippines, Archbishop Jose Feurte Advincula, and the Santiago, Chile, Archbishop Celestino Aos Braco.

Another Franciscan who was tapped is Friar Mauro Gambetti, in charge of the Sacred Convent in Assisi. The pope, when elected in 2013, chose St. Francis of Assisi as his namesake saint. Earlier this month, the pontiff journeyed to that hill town in Umbria to sign an encyclical, or important church teaching document, about brotherhood.

In a reflection of the pope’s stress on helping those in need, Francis also named the former director of the Rome Catholic charity, Caritas, the Rev. Enrico Feroci, to be a cardinal.

In this image made from UNTV video, Pope Francis speaks in a pre-recorded message which was played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 25, 2020, at UN headquarters, in New York. (UNTV via AP)

Gregory, 73, was picked by Francis to lead the prestigious diocese in the US capital last year. The prelate has his pulse on factions in the US Catholic Church, which has both strong conservative and liberal veins since he served three times as the head of the US Conference of Bishops.

Nine of the new cardinals are younger than 80, and thus eligible to elect the next pontiff in a secret conclave. Some cardinals head powerful Vatican offices, and pontiffs frequently turn to cardinals for advice.

No details were immediately given by the Vatican about the concistory, as the formal ceremony to make the churchmen cardinals is known, especially in view of travel restrictions involving many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As he has in other groups of cardinals he tapped in his papacy, Francis in this selection reflected the global nature of the Catholic Church and his flock of 1.2 billion Catholics.

Others receiving the honor include a Maltese prelate, Monsignor Mario Grech; Monsignor Marcello Semeraro, an Italian serving as prefect of the Vatican office which runs the saint-making process; Bishop Cornelius Sim, a Brunei native who serves as apostolic vicar of Brunei; the Italian archbishop of Siena and nearby towns in Tuscany, Augusto Lojudice; the retired bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, Monsignor Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel; and an Italian former Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi.

Churchmen over 80 who are named cardinals are chosen to honor their life of service to the church. Those in this batch too old to vote in a conclave are Cantalamessa, Tomasi, Feroci and Arizmendi Esquivel.

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