The Vatican Position on the Holy City

by: Alessandra Antonelli

The Palestine Report, Oct. 30, 1998

With the final status talks between Palestinians and Israelis approaching, the Vatican has reiterated its position on the status of Jerusalem: East Jerusalem is illegally occupied and enveloped in conflict. Therefore, the parties involved have a duty to reach an agreement that manages to address their legitimate, reasonable aspirations for the city. This is the summary of a two-day conference on the question of Jerusalem that was organized by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Patriarch Michel Sabbah has invited presidents and delegates from several conferences of bishops, from the Union of Episcopal Conferences of Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia, as well as cardinals and members of the Assembly of Catholic Orders of the Holy Land. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Foreign Affairs Secretary for the Holy See, presented"and emphasized " the position of the Vatican on Jerusalem in his opening speech.

"The cause of the Holy City has long been at the center of the Holy See's concerns and one of its top priorities for international action," he stated.

The distinction made between the question of the holy places and the question of Jerusalem is "unacceptable" to the Holy See because "the holy places are not mere monuments," as Archbishop Tauran explains. "They are the living expression of the communities who live around them and see them as their spiritual center."

Many interpreted the statements of the Vatican diplomat as a Holy See request to sit at the negotiations table. But Tauran clarifies that what Rome is seeking is a diplomatic channel through which they can reach those sitting at the table, to remind them of the rights of all the communities living in Jerusalem " a city that plays a unique role in the spiritual patrimony of the entire world.

"It is, therefore, incorrect to claim that the Holy See is interested only in the religious aspects of the City and overlooks the political and territorial aspects, " explained Archbishop Tauran. "While the Holy See is unable to enter into territorial disputes between nations, to take sides, to seek to impose detailed solutions, it does have the right and the duty to remind the parties of their obligation to peacefully resolve disputes in accordance with the principle of justice and equity and within the framework of international law."

In fact, he says, Jerusalem is a treasure for all of humanity being the holy city for the three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Because of this, Jerusalem "is and ought to be a universal symbol of fraternity and peace" and "fulfill its divine calling."

The Holy City, referred as the Old City, inside the walls, is a patrimony that should be protected by the conferring of special international status, but there is nothing that prevents Jerusalem from becoming the symbol and the national center of both the peoples that claim it as their capital."

Archbishop Tauran, who met Israeli and Palestinian presidents Ezer Weizmann and Yasser Arafat, would not say whether the Pope will visit Jerusalem. "His Holiness is a messenger of peace. After Wye, the peace process seems back on track. Let us hope for positive developments. Certainly he will not visit next year because his agenda is already full of commitments."

The great hope of the Roman Catholic Church, which with the other churches is moving to raise the awareness of negotiators about the question of Jerusalem, is that the Holy Land will celebrate the jubilee and the start of the third millennium no longer torn apart by conflict. And that the Pope could then seal the long-awaited peaceful resolution.