Mons. Alberto Gori was the Custos of the Holy Land and Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in one of the most difficult periods in the history of the Middle East (1937-1970).
He governed the Custody of the Holy Land with great skill, continuing the policy of collaboration with the British authorities his predecessors had followed. From mid 1936 to mid 1939, Palestine was engulfed in a bloody Arab revolt. The friars who were operating in the region encountered great difficulties in exercising their ministry, also because the fundamentalist component in the Palestinian national movement saw in Christians – even in those of Arab origin – the fifth column of the “British occupier” and the “Zionist enemy”.
When the revolt came to an end, the Second World War broke out. The British, who interned many German, Italian and French religious, left Father Gori free to exercise his functions. During the war years, working with the few friars and managing the scarce financial resources as best as he could, he was able to avoid the paralysis of the mission. Schools and seminars had to be closed, but the Custody continued to guarantee offices in the Holy Places and it was able to keep those in its exclusive possession as well as keep the parishes and charity institutions running.
When the Second World War was over, the “war of liberation” of the Jews against Great Britain and the first serious clashes with the Palestinians began. In a report to the Holy See, Gori said that the Custody of the Holy Land – “whilst remaining outside and above every political question” – could not remain indifferent to the conflict in progress. This conflict concerned it very closely, “both due to the Holy Places it look(ed) after on behalf of the Catholic Church and also due to the many religious and educational works it cultivate(d) in this land”.
During the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the Custody asked the Holy See to carry out diplomatic action in favour of the internationalization of Jerusalem and for freedom of access and worship in the sanctuaries to fall under Arab or Jewish sovereignty. He also spared no effort to take refugees into the “Casa Nove” (the Franciscan guest houses) and the Custody’s various schools and houses. To provide for their needs, he succeeded in raising awareness in the Western Catholic world, especially in the USA. On 11th November 1949, Pope Pius XII decided to appoint him Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. After thirteen long years as Custos, he left an important spiritual and pastoral heritage: he restored and embellished the Holy Places; he built churches and convents; he established and enlarged schools open to pupils of all religions; he founded and reorganized seminaries and Franciscan colleges; he sent the most gifted religious to continue their education in European universities; he strongly encouraged the archaeological excavations by the Studium Biblicum of the Flagellation and rapid publication of the scientific results and he was at the origin of multiple pastoral initiatives in favour of the Oriental rites. When Mons. Gori became Patriarch, the situation was anything but easy. The priests of the Patriarchate had been without guidance for two and a half years and the diocese was spread over four different countries (Jordan, Israel, Cyprus and Egypt).
When the state of war was over, the Patriarch succeeded in obtaining the return of most of the religious institutions that had been occupied by the Jewish army or by the Arab Legion and, a few years later, he was even able to obtain the payment of war damage from Israel and Jordan. However, the lives of Christians were not without difficulties and discrimination, especially due to the confessional structure of the two countries and – regarding the refugees who could not return and the restrictions on freedom of movement in the Jewish state and with the neighbouring countries – to requirements of national security. Mons. Gori made his voice heard with the rulers of the two countries and he also devoted a great deal of energy to pastoral activities. It was a difficult task, considering the chronic shortage of financial resources and the complex political and military situation in the region. However, he was unable to curb the growing phenomenon of emigration by the faithful, fuelled in particular by discrimination, the unsolved problem of the refugees, the recurring economic crises and the political tensions.
Mons. Gori continued to pay great attention to the governance of his diocese even when he was invited to help organize and take part in the Second Vatican Council. He made his contribution to the proceedings with repeated speeches of a disciplinary and doctrinal nature. In January 1964, Mons. Gori received Paul VI in Jordan and in Israel, becoming a central figure in an event with important ecumenical implications. After he returned to Jerusalem in December 1965, the now elderly Patriarch governed the diocese for another five years and in this period also became President of the “Episcopal Conference of the Latin Bishops in the Arab regions.”. He passed away on 25th November 1970 at the age of 81 and was buried in the Patriarchal Concathedral in Jerusalem, alongside his most illustrious predecessors.
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