Symponum et the Catholic Bishops' Conferences On Jerusalem

Jerusalem, 26.27 october 1998

Presentation of the Memorandum of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem on The significance of Jerusalem for Christians"

By Patriarch Michel Sabbah,

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem


The aim of this encounter is to become aware that there is a christian question of Jerusalem. In the frame of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, it seems that only Judaism and Islam are in confrontation. In fact Jerusalem has also a christian dimension, hence our responsibility as Christians and as Church to deal together with the question.

The present moment is historical because the question of Jerusalem is open and the future of the city is still to be decided, and with it the future of the christian presence in Jerusalem. In this situation we cannot neglect our responsibilities as christians towards the holy city.

As christian living community in Jerualem, we know that we are not forgotten. On the contrary we are a matter of concern and solidarity from the part of many Churches and in many aspects. Therefore I would seize this occasion to express my gratitude and that of my brothers in the different Churches of Jerusalem towards the Churches of the world for their fraternal and sincere solidarity.

However in what regards the political future of the city and from which depends the future of the christian community, put aside the Holy See and few Bishops' Conferences, there is a certain silence which worries us. Therefore we say that an action, a louder voice is needed now, for the security of Jerusalem and for her peace.

We wanted this meeting to be simply a shared reflection on various aspects of the question. This sharing is for us a support and will give us a new light and inspiration in order to be more faithful to our responsibilities for our own good but also for the good of the universal Church.

The memorandum of the Patriarchs and Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem

In Jerusalem we are thirteen heads of Churches, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. On November 1994 we reached a common vision and signed a common document containing a vision and some principles for a solution for the question of Jerusalem.

I would like now to present this memorandum which was entitled "The significance of Jerusalem for Chistians"

The Memorandum gives, first, basic characteristics, historical and religious, indicating the christian significance of Jerusalem. Then it gives some necessary elements for any possible solution.

1. Importance of Jerusalem for Christians

1.1 The document begins by recognizing the importance and holiness of Jerusalem for the three religions. Then it insists upon its importance and holiness for Christians in particular and on the permanence of Christian presence in it since 2000 years: 'For almost two thousand years, through so many hardships and the succession of so many powers, the local Church with its faithful has alwarys been actively present in Jerusalem. Across the centuries, the local Church has been witnessing to the life and preaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus-Christ upon the same Holy Places, and its faithful have been receiving other brothers and sisters in the faith, as pilgrims, residents or in transit, inviting them to be reimmersed into the refreshing, ever living ecclesiastical sources. That continuing presence of a living Christian community is inseparable from the historical sites. Through the living stones the holy archeological sites take on life ' (Memo 9)

1.2 Mong centuries, historic rights have obtaiend for different local Churches These are now defined and stated by the Statu Quo, which is to be respected by any political power.

1.3 The christian attachment to Jerusalem is based on the Holy Scripture, both on Old and New Testament.

1.4 Jerusalem is a center of spirituality and pilgrimage. It became soon a source of spiritual and deep significance: it is the image of the Church, the New Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12 and 12:2) "This holy city is the image of the new creation and the aspirations of all peoples where God will wipe away all tears and "there shall be no more death or mourning, crying or pain for the former world has passed away" (3ev 21:4 Mem 6).

1.5 Therefore Jerusalem is the heart and spiritual homeland of every christian living until today in Jerusalem or around it, or anywhere in the world. It is the city where every thing has started, where God has sent His Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, Messiah and Saviour of all. In Jerusalem christianism was born. Every christian, every Church is born in Jerusalem. The words of the Psalm apply exactly to that spiritual but real birth and belonging: "every one was born there" (Ps 86:5)

2. Jerusalem holy city and place of living

2.1 Jerusalem, holy city for local Christians, is also the mother city for them as people. It is the place of living their daily practical concrete life with all its needs, difficulties, and struggles, as persons and people. These two aspects are essential and inseparable: holy city and place of living.

The memorandum says: It is "their native city where they live, hence their right to continue to live there freely with all the rights which obtain from that" (Mem 10), similar in that and equal to all citizens, without any distinction or discrimination. These rights are general and concern their contribution in all institutions and public life of the state; they are also special and concern the Church as religious institution, with all its requirement for its religious and spiritual development and growth; this spiritual growth being the source of their force and contribution in the civil and public life.

2.2 Again. as for the religious aspect, the Memorandum does not forget the others. For the civil aspect also, Christians recognize to all believers, Moslems and Jews, same rights and duties, and share with them in claiming these rights, in any status which the city will have following the decision of all its children.

3. Relation of the Local Church with the Universal Church

3.1 The whole Church, born in Jerusalem and hence scattered througout the world, remained present in it through the local Church, composed today of various local Churches, Cartholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. Alltogether, we are the mother Church and alltogether we are a small Church. As Jesus was, we are still today, small and a sign of contradiction. The mother Church is still a suffering Church, so that through the same way of cross, the resurrection will be achieved in it, resurrection to love those among whom we are small, resurrection to share in the building of the earthly Jerusalem and in the preparation of the heavenly one.

3.2 The Church of Jerusalem, though small, remains an important element in any remodeling of the region. Her role does not consist only in her own survival, but to enliven with her message of universal salvation all new creation in the region. This Church means the believers and as such it is a part of the land and the people; therefore its role is important in the search of reconciliation and peace, based on justice and equal dignity for all. The importance of the role of the local Church obtains also from its relation with the universal Church.

3.3 As local Christians, we are aware that Jerusalem belongs to us for two reasons, religious and civil, while all Christians of the world have concern in Jerusalem on religious grounds only. We are aware as well that we have the duty and the right to welcome in Jerusalem all Christians of the world and to serve them in their pilgrimage and in their faith relation to the same Mother city. We are aware also to be strong and big by our communion with the universal Church.

This relation betweern local Churches and Universal Church is a normal and vital one, and it is conform to the nature of the Church, if it is well understood and well lived, it cannot lead to any contraditction between the double relation to the Universal Church and to the nation or to one's own people.

Therefore Christianism in Jeruslem has two dimensions; local and universal. Each one of these two components completes and supports the other. Through the local Church the presence of the universal Church is guaranteed. The local Church is the host and the servant of the universal Church. On the other side, the small local Church becomes big and efficient, not only through the incessant coming of pilgrims, but also through the regular and continuous support of the universal Church.

4. Two peoples and three religiuns in Jerusalem

4.1 The two peoples are the Palestinians and the Israelis. Palestinians are Moslems and Christians, Local Christians are Palestinians. They are an integral part of the Palestinian society and belong to their own people, to its history and culture. just as every faiththl, christian, moslem or jewish, everywhere in the world, belongs to its people, to its history and culture. This fact is to be stressed upon because some have the tendency to consider Christians in the Holy land as solely christians. without any incarnation within a people, just as a religious ethnic comrnurnty, which survived along centuries and is now an erratic and strange body among modern political entities. Christian Palestinians are Palestinians; they belong to their people and are part of its hopes and sufferings.

4.2 The three religions are judaism, christianism and islam. Absolutely speaking, the three religions have to relate equally to the city in what regards political, civil and religious rights and duties of their believers. 'In the name of religions, each of the three religions has an equal right to be present in the land and to have access to it in order to be able to practice its faith. But the political rights of one or another of the three religions, or of any of the faithful"(LP 4, p.54) depends from international law, based on historical and legitimate rights.

5. Future or Jerusalem

5.1 Jerusalem, along centuries, was always governed by one political power corresponding to or supported by one religion. Therefore it had remained along status which will distinguish it from all cities of the world, and put it above all security circumstances. This local special status, once given to Jerusalem by its own citizens, should have the support and the guarantees of the international community.

When Israelis and Palestinians will agreee on this vision, when believers of the three religions will agree on this vision, they will have made a historical and decisive step. which will introduce the region and the world in a new hsitoriacal phase.

6. Conclusion

The question of Jerusalem is a political and a religious question. Both aspects cannot be separated. Believers in Jerusalem are also citizens. Holy places and place of living a daily life, these are two inseparable aspects of Jerusalem. Therefore the question of Jerusalem is also the question of the poor and the oppressed in Jerusalem, who have waited and still wait for peace and security.

The current changes on the ground undertaken in Jerusalem by the Israeli authorities, the withdrawal of the Identity Cards of the Palestinians of Jerusalem, have paralyzed the peace process and discouraged hopes for reconciliation. It is now high time that the question of Jerusalem be put as top priority to be discussed first. Once the question or Jerusalem is settled, the peace process will go smooth.

Religious leaders have a role to play, a reconciliatory role, not the role of exclusivist extremism. Jerusalem today is a disputed city, because of its sanctity and religious character, All three concerned religions agree that this city is the city of God and of His Prophets. The way shown by God to believers is not war, although we find human history all of religious wars, although we find the spirit of war even in Holy Scripture, in its human and linguistic expression. Despite that, the commandment of God to humankind is: kown each other, love each other and collaborate for the good of all.

The Catholic Churches and Bishops' Conferences have to share in this responsibility towards the city of Jerusalem. This responsibility has two aspects, the first regarding the present and future shaping of Jerusalem, because as we have said, Jerusalem question is also a christian question. The second, regards the future of Christians themselves in Jerusalem to be helped face the daily difficulties coming from the present political situation.

Catholic efforts, as it happened until now, especially from the Holy See, were also attentive to other Christian Churches in Jerusalem, informing them of any step taken by the Catholic Church. This is also an aspect which we recommend, the coordination and consultation with all our brothers in the Churches of Jerusalem

I hope that through our sharing in these two days we will come to express clear ways how to bear this responsibilty towards the holy city of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, 26 octobre