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Second, what we as a church experience here is common with Christians all over the world: We have a crisis in our families, as youth participation declines — in part because Sunday in most places is not a day off — and gaps widen between generations, as a unified concept of values erodes.

I always share with the people of my eparchy that the pilgrims who come from abroad are not only here to visit the holy places, but to meet the local Christians and find in them genuine witnesses of the faith.

The third challenge is the plight of Christians living in the Middle East. While we are free to practice our faith in Israel — and we live in peace with other communities of faith in our society — the situation of our brothers and sisters in neighboring Syria, Iraq and Egypt has been harmful to the church in the whole region.

I keep saying that, since I became bishop, the blessings have increased and the cross has become heavier. But in all things the Holy Spirit is filling me with grace and encouragement to keep on in my mission.

I made a plan to visit, with the parish priests, all the families of our eparchy in their homes over a period of five years. So far, almost half of them have been visited. I have seen that many remain firm in their faith, even if they don’t attend church. They love their church; they are proud of their Christianity. Every year, during Advent, their generosity surprises me during the fund-raisers for the suffering Christians in Syria or Iraq.

A few months ago, representatives of the leaders of the European Catholic Episcopal Conferences met in Jerusalem. I told them that the last part of my liturgical vestments worn during my ordination was the omophorion, a woolen shoulder garment. It is a symbol of the lost sheep. I told them that my call and my main task are to look after the lost sheep and be a good shepherd. This means that the bishop is not a businessman, nor a politician, nor a general manager.

All kinds of pastoral work give me great joy, and being close to the faithful, sharing with them their joyful or painful times, achieve the goal of my consecration. They want to know whom their bishop is, and that it’s easy to reach him.

In our tradition, we have married men who can be ordained priests. The seminarian has to decide before being ordained deacon. When I decided to stay single, my main reason was to have enough time to dedicate myself to the mission. Instead of having my own family, I have a wider one. All the faithful with whom Jesus entrusted me are my family, with all the joy and pain that I experience. I don’t pretend that I have succeeded, but at least this is my vision.

I have lived, worked and served in many countries in the Middle East. Many Christians have left, but many others remain. We are the salt and the light of the region. In Galilee, Jesus taught: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12)

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