Among fellow countrymen in the Holy Land
Fr Ireneusz Skubis talked to Bishop Ryszard Karpinski.
Fr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Bishop Ryszard Karpinski, delegate of the Polish Bishops Conference for Polonia (Catholics of Polish descent who live outside Poland).
Fr Ireneusz Skubis: - You have been again to the Holy Land recently. Please share your impressions of this journey with our readers?
Bishop Ryszard Karpinski: - The main aim of this 38th pastoral visit was administering the sacrament of confirmation to a group of Polish youth in St Peter's Church in Jaffa, district of Tel Aviv, on Sunday, 12 June.
Monsignor Grzegorz Pawlowski, priest of the Archdiocese of Lublin, from a Jewish family, survivor of the Holocaust, has been carried out his pastoral ministry among Polish people in Jaffa for 35 years. This time it was him who invited me to the Holy Land. The candidates for confirmation are older children of Polish families, children of the people working in the Polish Embassy or other people living in Israel. The Mass was co-celebrated by several other priests, mostly the Franciscans from the Custody of the Holy Land, who are involved in various ministries in this territory. After the Mass there was an interesting meeting with the confirmed youth and their families in the refectory of the Franciscans who work in this church.
- You must have visited other holy places, not only the biblical Jaffa...
- That's right. Thanks to the generosity of the Franciscans and of other people I was able to visit again at least several most important holy places in such a short time, and get to know some new places. I had numerous interesting talks concerning pastoral ministry as well as I met Polish people, employed at various posts in this country. So on Friday 10 June I had an interesting meeting with the Franciscan Fathers concerning the pastoral ministry for Polonia and pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The Franciscans made my visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem possible. In Bethlehem I could experience joyous Christmas in 1968 when I was a student of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. But at the same time those days and hours were days of reflection because I received the news of my mother's sudden death in Poland and I could not participate in her funeral.
The present 5th visit to the Holy Land was an occasion to get to know the last Israeli occupation in Bethlehem. I saw the wall, which separates Israel from the Palestine National Authority, and the inscriptions on the wall, which reminded me of the Warsaw ghetto and other ghettos. Beside the Basilica of the Nativity and St Catherine's church in Bethlehem I visited the chapel on the Shepherds' Field. I was at Mount Tabor. Years ago, at the Catholic University of Lublin, I wrote my master thesis about the place of the Lord's Transfiguration. Then I went to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. For the first time I was there at the time of its construction. During this visit it was nice to see a group of Palestinian youth, including many alumni who were praying the breviary in Italian in front of the Grotto of the Nativity. The melody of the psalms sounded like songs of the Neocatechumenate Movement. In Nazareth I visited the Polish Sisters of Nazareth who work in the residence of Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo and I also met my old friend, a German physician.
How nice the two meetings were! The next place was Cana in Galilee and then the main aim of the day - the Golan Heights and a meeting with fellow countrymen who served there in the UN peace operation at the Syrian-Israeli border. Actually they are under the jurisdiction of the Field Bishop but being far from their relatives they appreciate every visit from their fatherland. Those who were not on duty gathered at the evening Eucharist in the beautiful chapel in the area of the barracks. In my short homily I focused on the importance of testimony of faith in this world where human life is often exposed to various dangers. On Monday afternoon I visited El-Qubeybeh (biblical Emmaus) and the convent of Polish Carmelite Sisters in Bethlehem. In the evening there was still time for another meeting with Polish Franciscan Fathers in Jerusalem.
- What did you visit in Jerusalem?
- At first I must admit that although I knew the topography of the city from my studies and previous pilgrimages I was surprised how much work has been done in recent years, the new buildings around the old town, and present constructions. For example, in order to improve the traffic a new line, which will connect the more important districts of new Jerusalem, will be opened next year; it will run near the old town walls. Of course, I went to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. On 13 June, in the morning, there were only a dozen pilgrims, so I could pray quietly in the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre and on Calvary. On the same day I co-celebrated solemn Mass, in honour of St Anthony, patron saint of the Custody of the Holy Land, in the church of St Saviour. Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, Custo of the Holy Land, presided over the Mass. Two bishops were present. There was also Bishop Kamal Bathish, auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate, and the homily in Arabic was delivered by the parish priest of St Saviour in Jerusalem.
-Did you feel safe while travelling in the Holy Land?
- This time I did not notice any hard situation. Let me repeat the appeal of the Apostolic Nuncio, of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and of the Franciscan Fathers, guardians of the sanctuaries in the Holy Land, to organise pilgrimages to the land of Christ and to the land of so many biblical events. Otherwise numerous Polish believers who desire to visit the holy places will come with tourists' groups and this is to miss the aim of such a journey.
- Thank you for the conversation.