Head of Catholic order for the Holy Land calls for a ‘just peace’

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, stressed that there can be no peace in the Holy Land unless there is justice and the understanding that both sides, Israel and Palestine, have a right to exist.

The cardinal spoke on Thursday (March 14) to Vatican journalists, where he discussed the work that his order financially supports in the Holy Land.

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre was founded by Pope Pius IX in 1898 with the role of funding and sustaining the Christian community in the Holy Land. Its roughly 30,000 members, knights and dames, are not only bestowed with an honorary title but they are also required to make financial contributions to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Every month, the order collects about 900 euros from members, which amounts to about 15 million euros (over $16 million) a year. The patriarch decides how to administer the money, which is used to support Christian schools, charities and the poor in the Holy Land.

The violent attack by Hamas militants in October and the Israeli invasion of Gaza that followed have led to over 30,000 deaths, the vast majority among Palestinians. Shops are closed and pilgrims have fled, Filoni said, putting numerous families on the poverty line.  

Pope Francis and the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, have made repeated appeals for peace. The Vatican has historically supported a “two people, two states” solution for the Holy Land, which would establish an independent Palestinian state next to Israel, but Pizzaballa voiced his skepticism in recent remarks.

“It seems difficult to me, even if it’s the only viable solution,” he told Vatican news outlets on March 9, describing the current crisis as “absolutely one of the most grievous in the past 70 years.”

Cardinal Fernando Filoni in 2019. (Photo by Simon Liu/Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Cardinal Fernando Filoni in 2019. (Photo by Simon Liu/Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Filoni underlined that no solution will work, be it one state or two states, unless justice is guaranteed for both sides involved in the war.

“There can be no peace without justice. An unjust peace could create new wars, injustices and violence,” he said. Addressing the origins of the conflict, the cardinal said that “when a people feels to have suffered an injustice or doesn’t feel heard, hate grows and can become violent.”

“We have to start by saying that one can’t deny Palestinians their right to exist, just as you can’t deny Israel its right to exist,” Filoni said.

The cardinal added that the Israeli invasion in Gaza was “illegal” and “violent.”

Filoni made clear that the order is not involved in the politics of the Holy Land and “is not an architect of peace.” While the knights and dames might not directly interfere with peace and diplomacy, he said, “we can be workers.”

The charities funded by the order mostly help Christian families in the Holy Land, which currently make up only 2% of the population. But its schools and hospitals are open to all, Filoni said, which create a framework for peaceful coexistence.

“If we are able to prove that peace is possible, then it can be applied to all in the Holy Land,” he said. “Just because we don’t talk about coexistence, it doesn’t mean it does not exist. The future of this land is peaceful coexistence, which is still possible, but we have to build it,” he added.

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