Symposium of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences Held on Jerusalem

On 26 and 27 October 1998, presidents and delegates from several bishops’ conferences and of the unions of episcopal conferences of Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia, a number of cardinals, and members of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, met at the invitation of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, H.B. Michel Sabbah, at the Latin Patriarchate, to consider the question of Jerusalem. During the symposium, several statements were made, expressing positions regarding the Holy City of Jerusalem. In connection with the symposium, a delegation of seven participants, headed by H.B. Patriarch Michel Sabbah, visited with Israeli President Ezer Weizman on 27 October, and met with President Yasser Arafat on 28 October. The participants in the symposium also adopted and distributed a Final Communique, which conveyed their collective views and position on the question of Jerusalem.

Further, a strong statement was delivered by Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, conveying the position of the Vatican at the symposium. His statement was reflective of the increasing concern being voiced recently by the Vatican with regard to the future of the Holy City of Jerusalem. The following are a few important excerpts from Archbishop Tauran’s statement "Resolving the Question of Jerusalem":

"The Holy See has spoken out on this and will continue to speak out clearly, without mincing words and consistently adhering to the position of the majority within the international community as expressed above all in the pertinent U.N. resolutions. Since 1967, a part of the city has been occupied militarily and subsequently annexed. In that part of the city are to be found most of the holy places of the three monotheistic religions. East Jerusalem is illegally occupied."

"It is therefore wrong to claim that the Holy See is only interested in the religious aspect or aspects of the city and overlooks the political and territorial aspect. The Holy See is indeed interested in this aspect and has the right and duty to be, especially insofar as the matter remains unresolved and is the cause of conflict, injustice, human rights violations, restrictions of religious freedom and conscience, fear and personal insecurity."

"Jerusalem is a treasure of the whole of humanity. In view of a situation of evident conflict and considering the rapid transformation of the Holy City, any unilateral solution or one brought about by force is not and cannot be a solution at all."

"We all know, and the Israelis and Palestinians are the first in this, that peace and coexistence in the Holy Land and Middle East have no future unless an answer is found to the political question of Jerusalem."

"Israelis and Palestinians, with the collaboration of all who can help them, have to reach an agreement which corresponds in some way to their particular legitimate and reasonable aspirations and respects the principles of justice."

"Looking to Jerusalem, the Holy See continues to ask that it be protected by "a special internationally guaranteed statue." In the Holy See’s view: The historical and material characteristics of the city, as well as its religious and cultural characteristics, must be preserved, and perhaps today it is necessary to speak of restoring and safeguarding those still existing. There must be equality of rights and treatment for those belonging to the communities of the three religions found in the city, in the context of freedom of spiritual, cultural, civic and economic activities. The holy places situated in the city must be preserved, and the rights of freedom of religion and worship, and of access, for residents and pilgrims alike, whether from the Holy Land itself or from other parts of the world, must be safeguarded."

"Israelis and Palestinians, in the desired search for a political settlement of their conflict over Jerusalem, cannot overlook the fact that the city has aspects which go far beyond their legitimate national interests. They therefore have to take these aspects into consideration in looking for and in reaching a lasting political and territorial solution."

"The Holy See believes in the importance of extending representation at the negotiating table: in order to be sure that no aspect of the problems is overlooked and to affirm that the whole international community is responsible for the uniqueness and sacredness of this incomparable city."