JERUSALEM – May 20, 2014 – A few days before the imminent arrival of the Pope, a conference entitled: “On the Trail of Pope Francis: Holy Sites in the Holy Land” was held in Jerusalem. Bishop Shomali spoke on the status of Jerusalem, the city whose universal vocation is to confront two irreconcilable stories.
An event organized by Search for Common Ground, an international organization that seeks to promote dialogue and peaceful coexistence between different communities.
Fifty years after the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, and in view of the encounter between Francis and Bartholomew, various topics were discussed: The issue of Christian holy places in Jerusalem; the opportunity that the visit is for interreligious reconciliation but also between the followers of the same faith (Christian); and the status of the Vatican’s relations with Israel and Palestine.
The conference is taking place within the framework of a pilot being implemented in the Holy Land to gauge the practical effectiveness of a Universal Code of Conduct on Holy Sites. The Universal Code endeavors to safeguard holy places and promote interreligious reconciliation worldwide.
Those attending the meeting were Sharon Rosen, co-director of Search for Common Ground in Jerusalem and Michael Mertes, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung office. Also present were different religion personalities including the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Professor Mohammad Dajani of Al-Quds University and Hana Bendcowsky, Program Director, the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations. The latter presented a case study on Mount Zion. Another presentation was made on the sacred ceremony of the Holy Sepulcher Fire, a Greek Orthodox point of view.
The afternoon was devoted to the study of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel and Palestine. On this occasion, Bishop Shomali, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem spoke on the issue of Jerusalem, the Holy City for the three religions. After quoting the Saint Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter “Redemptoris Anno”, referring to the love of Jews for Jerusalem, a city steeped in the history of the Jewish people, the bishop recalled the unique status of this city for Christians because it is “the city of Jesus the Savior.” Also, John Paul II stressed the sanctity of the city for Muslims. “Jerusalem must be a crossroads of peace and a meeting between the three religions” the Holy Father expressed in 1982 to Yitzhak Shamir at the Vatican. Subsequently, Pope Benedict XVI, referred to the universal and multicultural vocation of the Holy City, which “should be a place that reflects universality, respect for others, dialogue and mutual understanding.”
On the issue of Jerusalem, Bishop Shomali recalled the “two versions” of the history of Jerusalem: “For Israel, it is not an occupied territory, the city belongs to Israel since King David. It is their holiest city in which the Temple was built. For this reason, it must remain the capital forever. For Palestinians, East Jerusalem is occupied since 1967 and has become the capital of a future Palestinian state.” A delicate situation that has led most countries to have embassies in Tel Aviv and consulates in Jerusalem. After 1967, therefore, the Holy See followed the same approach.
The Holy See has always demanded that Jerusalem is respected for its unique universal vocation as a “treasure and heritage for the world,” said Bishop Shomali. With regard to the urgency of finding a solution for the city internationally, “the Holy See has repeatedly recommended a special status for the city that is internationally guaranteed so that no party can appropriate it.” Nevertheless, Bishop Shomali is realistic: “international law will not solve the problem of Jerusalem without a real coexistence and genuine reconciliation between those who live there. In this sense, religious leaders have a key role in promoting reconciliation. And the bishop added to his remarks: “Israelis and Palestinians who seek a political solution to the conflict that divides Jerusalem must realize that this city has issues that go far beyond their national interests, however legitimate they may be”.