The recently established Our Lady of the Holy Land Arab Catholic Community of Chicago received a special visit Jan. 26-27 from Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, at Our Lady of the Ridge Church in Chicago Ridge. The community, a ministry of Our Lady of the Ridge-St. Linus Parish, has been gathering at the church for more than a year with the Latin Patriarchate of the Holy Land sending priests for short periods. In December, Father Wissam Mansour of Jordan arrived from the Holy Land to serve at the parish for five years. On Jan. 26, the Cardinal Pizzaballa met with various groups, including the youth group and mothers group, and on Jan. 27, he celebrated Mass with the community. More than 400 Arab Catholics attended the Mass, along with archdiocesan clergy and the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre. During a press conference before Mass, Cardinal Pizzaballa addressed the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. “I think we are living in one of the most difficult periods of the last decades and for the intensity of the events from the seventh of October until today — both in Israel and Gaza, especially in Gaza — we are living in a very problematic and complex situation,” he said. The situation cannot be summarized in a few sentences, the cardinal said. “The intensity of the hatred we are experiencing now in the Holy Land is very concerning,” he said. “We never saw such intense violence and we join the call of Pope Francis for a cease-fire to stop the violence and to try to settle the perspective for the future as soon as possible. It’s too early and not realistic to talk about peace now.” Cardinal Pizzaballa met with Pope Francis in Rome on Jan. 15 to discuss the war in the Holy Land and said the pope calls the Catholic parish in Gaza almost daily. On Oct. 12, days after the deadly attack by Hamas on Israel, the cardinal offered himself in exchange for the children taken hostage. Christian churches throughout the Holy Land are pushing for a permanent solution to the decades-long conflict, he said. “It’s about time to go to the roots of the problems in the Holy Land, not just to find a temporary solution,” he said. “Given the dramatic situation we are living in, no one is ready to accept something temporary.” That would be a two-state solution, he said, adding that continued pressure on Hamas and Israel from the international community for a cease-fire is crucial. Cardinal Pizzaballa has visited Arab Catholics in Chicago in the past, most recently last year, to show his support for establishing a formal community. “This is a quite active community for being a very young community,” the cardinal said. “They are full of fire, full of zeal with a desire also to invest energies and resources to keep the community alive.” Cardinal Pizzaballa’s ongoing support for the Our Lady of the Holy Land community and his visit to Chicago is very important, said Mansour. “We were in different parishes and now we are in one community. It’s not about language. … It’s about the community, the culture, about being together and to support each other and to feel we are not alone in this big world, this big society,” Mansour said. “The visit of his eminence gives strength to the community and says, ‘You are still in our mission, in our heart and in our minds.’” Mary Gail Reding is one about 40 members of the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre from around the country who attended the Mass. The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem dates to the 1300s and supports the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. Cardinal Pizzaballa serves as the order’s grand prior. “It is amazing that Cardinal Pizzaballa loves and supports this Arab Catholic community in Chicago,” she said. “The joy that the cardinal has is absolutely phenomenal. I couldn’t find a better person to represent the church as the Latin Patriarch there.” Dan Olsen, director of the archdiocese’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, attended the Mass to show his support for the new Catholic community. “I think it’s a gift for the Archdiocese of Chicago to have a presence of Catholics from the Holy Land with us,” said Olsen. “I think the dialogue that could develop about what it means to be a Christian in the Holy Land is something many Christians in the U.S. don’t get. So I’m really encouraged and hope we can develop more interactions, programs to learn about each other.” Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Pizzaballa as the new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem on Oct. 24, 2020. A Franciscan friar, Cardinal Pizzaballa served as Custos of the Holy Land from 2004 to 2016, and apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate from 2016 to 2020. He was made a cardinal by Pope Francis on Sept. 30, 2023. Cardinal Pizzaballa is the Catholic Church’s highest ranking official in the Holy Land.