JERUSALEM – On Monday, February 17, 2014, during a meeting with Shaun A. Casey, head of the “Office of Faith Community initiatives” of the U.S. State Department, Patriarch Twal reiterated his vision of a mutual peace for the two peoples and the three faiths.
Shaun A. Casey is the head of the new office set up by Senator John Kerry in August 2013 with the mission to renew and strengthen the role of religious communities in the foreign policy of the United States.
During a meeting yesterday with the Latin Patriarch, Mr. Casey revealed how John Kerry is aware of the power of faith in the peace process and how he has been attentive to the concerns of Christians in the Holy Land in the design of a peace agreement between the two parties. Kerry hopes even to put in place the framework of the agreement before the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land. “What is certain however is that speaking to the Pope during his next visit to the Vatican will be important to help the two peoples to move in this direction,” noted Shaun A. Casey.
The protection of Christians, the freedom of worship and access to the holy places of the Holy Land, are at the heart of the concerns of the Vatican and the United States, Casey also recalled.
His Beatitude spoke of his admiration for the courage of John Kerry and his tenacity in the peace process. He welcomed the establishment of the faith-based initiatives office whose role will be crucial in the peace process: “we cannot indeed claim to find a solution without taking into account the spiritual dimension of this land. It is a Holy Land, as its name implies”, stressed Patriarch .
The U.S. official stressed how much the Holy Land “needs now concrete steps to move towards peace”, recalling how the role of the United States, a decisive interlocutor in the peace process, is the subject of many expectations. The Patriarch insisted on the fact that peace would be very beneficial for Israel itself, while affirming that “defending the Palestinians did not mean being against Israel.” He called for “both parties to work courageously for a genuine and lasting peace. A peace that is not only visible on one side, but mutual peace. A peace that is worth a few sacrifices.”
His Beatitude added: “There are walls everywhere. But even prior to destroying physical walls, there is the need to destroy the walls of hatred, ignorance, fear and arrogance that are in the hearts of men and their leaders.”
Bishop Shomali, who attended the meeting, raised the humanitarian problem constituted by the thousands of families divided by separation wall. “Allowing family reunification before the arrival of the Pope would be a sign of hope for Palestinians and a tribute to the visit of the man of peace.”
“Everyone should realize how peace would be beneficial not only for human rights but also economically for both parties,” declared Shaun A. Casey before enthusiastically saying, “just imagine what peace would look like…” He hopes the framework of a future peace agreement will be formulated within a few months.
For the Latin Patriarch, the “goodwill” of the two parties is crucial in the peace process. His Beatitude recalled that the parties should work in a climate of “reciprocity,” and that Jerusalem must remain “an open city for two peoples and three religions.”
Regarding the hopes and aspirations aroused by the arrival of the Pope for the Christians of the Holy Land, the Patriarch stressed that His Holiness comes first “as a man of prayer.” “He will nevertheless confirm the Christian people, a minority in the Holy Land, in faith, in an ecumenical spirit and interfaith dimension.”
“The whole world will be watching us through the media and we are delighted because we believe in the power of prayer,” added the Patriarch. About four thousand journalists are expected for the occasion.