JERUSALEM — Deacon Bernard Poggi, who was among the priests and religious slated to meet with Pope Francis in Jerusalem Monday, stated that seeing the Successor of Peter reminds him of the first apostles.
“To have the Successor of Peter in this land where Peter was, and to have so many priests, religious and seminarians” present with him, “is a reminder of the first Church,” Deacon Poggi told CNA May 26.
It brings hope that the Church “continues, like the promise of Christ: that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
Originally from San Francisco, Deacon Poggi moved to Jerusalem five years ago in order to join the seminary of the Latin Patriarchate and is among the priests and religious who will meet with Pope Francis later this evening in Jerusalem’s Church of Gethsemane, located at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
Speaking of his decision to enter the seminary, the deacon relayed that he originally felt called during his first visit to the Holy Land for a pilgrimage in 2007.
“I saw what the Church was doing in the Holy Land for the Christian community” and how they served them, he recalled, so “I decided to give my life” in service to the Church.
“Now, it’s a big honor to serve in the Holy Land,” the deacon continued, adding that, “with all of the difficulties one has to deal with, because of the political situation,” you feel that “you are supporting Jesus in the Holy Land.”
“It’s a fulfilling feeling to know that you are serving the Church in this land.”
Recalling how he was present at the Holy Father’s Mass Sunday in Bethlehem, Deacon Poggi explained that it was “an honor to be with the Pope in Manger Square” and that he is greatly looking forward to tonight’s encounter at Gethsemane.
“It’s wonderful to be gathered around the Holy Father” and “encouraging” to see him experience a little of what life is like for those who live in the Holy Land, the deacon observed.
“I wish he could see what Christians live here every day,” he explained, acknowledging that the Pope is doing “the best the can” and saying that the Pope’s brief stop yesterday to pray at the dividing wall between Israel and Palestine was “a touching moment.”
Deacon Poggi further pointed out that “living in the Holy Land is never easy” because of the ongoing tensions, stating that when “you go through check points you feel at times that people don’t want you there,” and, often, “they delay you,” so “you feel unwelcome.”
“But when you see the locals and see how they need you, it makes it worth it,” he said, adding that “difficulties never get in the way of your daily duties.”
It’s a call “to live with humility and to try to live as Jesus did.”
Revealing his expectations for his encounter with Pope Francis tonight, the deacon stated that he “expects to work toward Christian unity.”
Noting that last night’s moment of prayer between Francis and the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, was “very important because Christian unity is important,” Deacon Poggi observed that efforts for unity are crucial because “we have the same Lord Jesus Christ, but are separated because we are not in full communion.”
Pope Francis’ presence in the Holy Land is “a big sign of hope,” and it brings “the prospect of peace,” he stated, referencing the moment of prayer to take place between the Israeli and Palestinian presidents next month at the Vatican.
The Pope allows us “to have the prospect of peace once again,” he explained. “The Pope brings the prospect of peace.”