Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem

Keynoter at the Awards Banquet of the ADC,

14th National Convention "Organizing is Power"

June 14th , 1997



I thank the ADC and the organbizers of this 14th national Convention, for the invitation entrusted to me to talk on Jerusalem.

I bring to you the greetings of Jerusalem, with all itsa hopes and sufferings.

I come from Jerusalem, I live in it with my own Roman Catholic Church, but also with all its churches, religious beleivers, Moslem, Christian and Jews. All of us, we are in search of peace, the ttre peace which includes everyone, the two people and the three religions livin today in Jerusalem.

I will talk about the Christian aspect of Jerusalem, without neglecting the other aspect refering to the document signed by all my brothers the Patriarchs and head of Christian Churches in Jerusalem.

I hope that my modest contribution will be a help, though small, in our common and hard search of peace, for our holy city.

I knew of course, these days, about the recent step taken by the Congress of the US concerning Jerusalem. The least we can say about it: it is unfortunate, because it does not lead to peace. It is not the true way to peace. The true way to peace in Jerusalem and in the region is therecognition of all its peopls' rights and dignity. Ignoring one will not help the other. It is acting against both: because abscence of peace, due to extremism, will affect both, depriving them together (the Israelis and the Palestinians) of the wanted peace.

In November 1994, The Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem published a document on "The Christian Significance of Jerusalem." In Jerusalem, we are three Patriarchs: the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Catholic. In addition, there are ten Archbishops or Patriarchal Vicars, for the Orthodox Churches (the Syrian, the Coptic, and the Ethiopian); for the Catholic Churches (the Melkite, the Syrian, the Armenian, the Maronite, and the Chaldean); and for the Protestant (the Anglican and the Lutheran).

We have together signed this document to express clearly our basic and common Christian position regarding Jerusalem. The main elements of the Memorandum can be summarized in three points:

1. The importance of Jerusalem for Christians;

2. Jesusalem as a holy city and a place for living;

and 3. The future of Jerusalem.

1. The Importance of Jerusalem for Christians

1.1 The document begins by recognizing the importance and holiness of Jerusalem for the three religions. It then insists on its importance and holiness for Christians in particular and on the permanence of the Christian presence within it for two millennia:

"For almost two thousand years, through so many hardships and the succession of so many powers. the local Church with its faithffil has always been actively present in Jerusalem. Across the centuries. the local Church has been witnessing to the lift 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, whether as residents or in transit, inviting them to be re-immersed into the refreshing ever-living ecclesial 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." (Mem. 9)

1.2 Through the centuries, historic rights have obtained for different local Churches. These are now defined and stated in the Status Quo, which is to be respected by all political powers.

1.3 The attachrnent to Jerusalem by Christians is based on the Holy Scriptures, both the Hebrew and the Christian.

1.4 Jerusalem is a center of spirituality and pilgrimage. It early became a source of deep spiritual significance; it is the image of the Church, the New Jerusalem atev. 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"' (Rev. 21:4; Mem. 6).

1.5 Therefore, Jerusalem is the heart and spiritual homeland of every Christian living to this day whether in Jerusalem, or near it, or anywhere in the world. It is the city where everything began, where God sent His Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, Messiah and Savior of all. In Jerusalem, Christianity was born. Every Christian, every Church, is born in Jerusalem. The words of the Psalm apply precisely to that spiritual but real birth and belonging: "Everyone was born there" (Ps. 86:5).

2. Jerusalem: A holy city and a living place

2.1 Jerusalem, a holy city for local Christians, is also the mother city for them as a people. It is the place where, as persons and as a people, they live their daily practical concrete life with all its needs and difficulties and struggles. These two aspects are essential and inseparable: a holy city, a 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 and equal to that of all citizens. without any distinction or discrimination. These rights are general, concerning their role in all institutions and the public life of the state; they are also specific, concerning the Church as a religious institution with all its requirements for its religious and spiritual development and growth, this spiritual growth being the source of its force and contribution to the civil and public life of the society.

2.2 Again, as to the religious aspect, the Memorandum does not ignore the others. In civil terms as well, Christians recognize that all believers, Muslims and Jews, have the same rights and responsibilities, and share with them in claiming these rights in any status which the city will have, following on the decision of all its children.

3. The Relation of the Local Church to the Universal Church

3.1 The whole Church, born in Jerusalem and thence scattered throughout the world, remained present in it through the local Church, today made up of various local Churches, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. All together, we are the mother Church, and all together we are a small Church. As was Jesus, so we today are still small and a sign of contradiction. The mother Church is still a suffering Church, and so, through the same Way of the Cross, the resurrection will be achieved in it, a resurrection to love those among whom we are small, a resurrection to share in the building of the earthly Jerusalem and in the preparation for 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 in enlivening with her message of universal salvation all new creation in the region. This Church is the believers, the faithM, and as such is a part of the land and the people. Therefore her role in the search for reconciliation and peace, based on justice and equal dignity for all, is important. This importance of the role of the local Church derives 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, whereas all Christians throughout the world are concerned for Jerusalem on religious grounds only. We are aware as well that we have both the duty and the right to welcome in Jerusalem all Christians of the world and to serve them in their pilgrimage and in their relation in faith with the same Mother city. We are aware that, through our communion with the Universal Church, we are also strong and large.

This relation between local Churches and the Universal Church is a normal and vital one, conformed to the very nature of the Church. If it is weU understood and well lived out, it cannot lead to any contradiction between our dual relationship with the Universal Church and with the nation, or with our own people.

Christianity in Jerusalem, therefore, has two dimensions: local and universal. Each of the two components supports and completes 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 large and effective, not only through the constant visits of pilgrims, but also through the continuous regular support of the Universal Church.

4. Jerusalem: Two peoples, three religions

4.1 The two peoples are the Palestinians and the Israelis. Palentinians are Muslims 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 all faithful,Chrisflans, Muslims, or Jews everywhere in the world belong to their own people, history and culture. This fact must be stressed because some have the tendency to consider Christians in the Holy Land as solely Christians, without any incarnation within a.people; merely a kind of religious ethnic community which has survived over centuries and is now an erratic and strange body among modern poilitical entities. But Christian Palestinians are Palestinians; they belong to their people and are part of its hopes and sufferings.

4.2 The three religions are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism on the local and international level is a part of Israeli society in Jerusalem. The two others, Christianity and Islam, are part of the same Palestinian society in Jerusalem. The position of Christians worldwide is dependent on the just and equitable relations between Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem. Hence, the great responsibility of both Muslims and Christians in the formulation of their vision and practical attitude toward Jerusalem, with a frank and courageous openness to one another as well as toward Judaism.

Absolutely speaking, the three religions must relate equally to the city in all that concerns the political, civil and religious rights and responsibilities of their be]ievers. "In the name of religion, 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), derive from international law, based on historic and legitimate rights. Today, they still depend on the force of military occupation.

5. The Future of Jerusalem

5.1 Regarding the future of Jerusalem, two distinct questions are involved: political sovereignty, and free access to the Holy City.

5.2 Political sovereignty

A document published in June 1996 by the Holy See (Jerusalem - Considerations of the Secretariat of State) states: "The attitude of the Holy See with regard to the territorial siruadon of Jerusalem is necessarily the same as that of the international community. The latter could be summarized as follows: the pan of the City militarily occupied in 1967 and subsequently ann exed and declared capital of the State of Israelis occupied territory and all Israeli measures which exceed the power of a belligerent occupant under international law are therefore null and void. In particular, this same position was expressed and is still expressed by resolution 478 of the United Nations Security Council adopted on 20 August 1980 which declared the Israeli "basic law" concerning Jerusalem to be "null and void" and which invited countries with Embassies in Jerusalem to move them elsewhere." (I,1).

Jerusalem through the centuries was always governed by one political power corresponding to or supported by one religion. Therefore it had remained for centuries a source of war. Exclusivism nourishes wars and hostflity, now and in the future, just as in the past. Exclusivism from any side, whether political or religious, will harm the identity of the City and threaten the harmony among all concerned, all its sons and daughters.

The political future of Jerusalem depends on its two dimensions, religious and political. With three religions and two peoples, Jerusalem should be shared by all of them.

To arrive at a position of stable peace, each of its chfldren, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Muslims, should enjoy the same freedom, the same dignity, the same duties and rights. No one should feel like a guest or a stranger in one's own city. No one should be put in the situation of asking for protection from any one else. For all of us, children of Jerusalem, despite our national and religious differences, our future is to be one family of the Holy Land. Much purification, many rectifications will have to be done in order to reach this state.

5.2.1 Jerusalem: Divided or Unified

Despite its political and military unification, Jerusalem today is divided. The two peoples are deeply separated by the conflict, obvious in the faces and hearts of both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians- Therefore the question to be asked is: How to reunify Jerusalem today? As geography, as shrines, holy places and stones, Jerusalem is important, but the living people in it, Palestinians and Israelis, are just as important. Its geographical unity is important, but the human unity of its two peoples is just as important. Today, this human unity does not exist. Therefore the question is: How to realize this human unity? Every polifical formulation, if it is to last and take effect for a long future, must take the living people into consideration. How to reunify Jerusalem? By recognition of the rights of both peoples in it and through shared government of the city. The Israeli part will be Israeli; the Palestinian part will be Palestinian. The two parts can be geographically and politically separated if the hearts of the two peoples and the believers of the three religions are unified. The two parts can also be politically united through a formula of shared administration: one city, two flags and two capitals, as is already said by some. Mutual recognition and sharing, these are two main elements on the way to returning unity to Jerusalem, and so to achieve peace and reconciliation between its two peoples and three religions.

5.3 Free access to Jerusalem

Jerusalem is first of all the spiritual capital for the two peoples and for the three religions. Therefore the city should remain always, in any and all circumstances of war or peace, accessible to all. Jerusalem should be above all hostilities and wars. The experience of history shows that it is impossible for any government to isolate any of its towns from general security measures, and therefore in times of war borders are closed to all enemies and opened only to friends. This has happened and even today happens in the Ho ly City; Jerusalem was in the past and is today opened to all friends from the whole world, but closed, for security reasons, to its own children and those nearest to it in the Palestinian towns and villages.

Ways need to be found in order that ~Jerusalem remain open to all without exception. The security system should adapt to that priority: Jerusalem is first of all a spiritual capital for three religions: And not only for believers comig fiom all over the world but also to those believers who are Palestinians and live but a few miles from Jerusalem.

5.4 Special status

Therefore, given its pluralistic character and its religious importance, Jerusalem requires a special status. The Memorandum of the Patriarchs says: "In order to satisfi' the national aspirations of all its inhabitants and in order that Jews, Christians, and Muslims can be at home in Jerusalem and in peace with each other, representatives from the three monotheistic religions, in addition to local political powers, ought to be associated in the elaboration and application of such a special statute "(Memo 14.1).

The guiding principle in this elaboration is to give Jerusalem a definitive stability, so that it will never again become a source of war between peoples and religions.

The Memorandum says: "Because of the universal significance of Jerusalem. the international community ought to be engaged in the stability and permanence of this statute. Jerusalem is too precious to be dependent solely on municipal or national political authorities, whoever they may be. Experience shows that an international guarantee is necessary" (Mem 14.2).

This fact requires its citizens who are its governors and the guardians of its holy places to give it a special status in conformity with its dignity and holiness, in all circumstances of peace or war. In our hands God has put a city he has chosen and made unique among a]) cities of the world. Therefore it needs a unique status which will distinguish it from all cities of the world, and place it above all security circumstances. This local special status, once it is given to Jerusalem by its own citizens, should have the support and the guarantees of the international community.

When Israelis and Palestinians agree on this vision, when believers of the three religions agree on this vision, they will have taken a historic and decisive step, introducing the region and the world into a new historic phase.

The position of the Holy See is similar to what I have presented above. The same document, Jerusalem - Considerations, says on this point:

"With a view to safeguarding the universal character of a City already claimed by two peoples (Arab and Jewish) and held sacred by three religions, the Holy See supported the proposal for internationalisation of the territory, the 'corpus separatum' called for by the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 ('I) of 29 November 1947 The Holy See at the time considered the 'corpus separatum' as an adequate means, a useful juridical instrument, for preventing Jerusalem from becoming a cause and arena of conflict with the resulting loss of an important aspect of its identity (as in fact subsequently happened and continues to happen).

"In the years that followed, although the objective of internationalisation was shown unattainable, the Holy See continued to call for the protection of the Mojy City identity. ft consistently drew the attention to the need for an international commitment in this regard. called for 'an internationally guaranteed special statute.' To this end, the Holy See has consistently called for an international juridical instrument: which is what is meant by the phrase 'an internationally guaranteed special statute' lb. 1.1 a-b).


The question of Jerusalem is a political and a religious question. Neither aspect can be separated. Believers who live in Jerusalem are also citizens. Holy places and a place to live a daily life 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 undertaken in Jerusalem by the Israeli authorities: the Har Homa settlement and 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 the top priority to be discussed first. Once the question of Jerusalem is settled, the peace process will go smoothly.

Religious leaders have a role to play, a reconciliatory rqle, not the role of exclusivist extremism. Jerusalem today is a disputed city, because of its sanctity and its 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 full of religious wars, and even find the spirit of war in Holy Scripture, in its human and linguistic expression. Despite that, the commandment of God to humankind is: Know each other, love each other, collaborate for the good of all.

So Holy Scripture will help us understand the true nature of Jerusalem and with this true understanding, we will be able to find the appropriate solution for our common Jerusalem, City of God, and all his chfldren whom he wanted to live in it: two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, and three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.