PEACE IN THE HOLY LAND AND THE FUTURE OF CHRISTIANS

VATICAN CITY, DEC 14, 2001 (VIS) - Late yesterday afternoon, Holy See Press Office Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls released the following declaration on the meeting presided over by the Pope in the Vatican on the theme: "Peace in the Holy Land and the Future of Christians."

Participating in the meeting were Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano and his collaborators, the cardinals responsible for various dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the heads of the different Catholic communities in the Holy Land, the presidents of various episcopal conferences and the pontifical representatives of that region.

Below are some extracts from the declaration:

"Attention was principally given to the presence of Christians in the Holy Land, as well as to the defence and the promotion of their rights, remembering in particular the two Accords undersigned with the Holy See, respectively by the State of Israel in 1993 and by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 2000.

"The participants reaffirmed the desire of the Church, in the Holy Land and in the entire world, to continue in the commitment to reconciliation and peace, through religious dialogue with her Hebrew and Muslim brothers. A guarantee was given of a similar commitment to continuing the collaboration offered by numerous Catholic organizations of the churches throughout the entire world, which have - for some time and thanks to the generous and untiring work of their members - been bringing trust and hope to those peoples.

"As regards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was observed that the two peoples directly concerned and their leaders must mobilize their energies in search of new and peaceful paths, which may resolve a conflict which has already lasted too long. At the same time the need was emphasized to respect International Law and the agreements already reached, in order to assist a return to the negotiating table. The involvement of the international community was considered a necessary initiative for helping both groups (Israelis and Palestinians) to renounce hatred and the spirit of vendetta. Peace between the two peoples, in fact, can only come about if the law and fairness are respected regarding certain fundamental questions: the security of the State of Israel, the birth of a State for the Palestinian people, the evacuation of the occupied territories, an internationally-guaranteed special statute for the most sacred parts of Jerusalem, and a fair solution for the Palestinian refugees. All of this must come about in the framework of what is already laid down in the stipulated agreements and in United Nations Resolutions. On this matter, the participants made a ringing appeal to the religious heads of Judaism and Islam for them to collaborate in assisting the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in their efforts for justice, for peace, and against violence.

"Finally, the concern of the entire Christian community was expressed regarding the authorization by the Israeli government for the construction of a mosque in proximity to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The building of a mosque in that place would risk being considered a provocation and is seen as a grave lack of respect for the feelings of Christians and for a place of prayer rich in profound spiritual meaning for their faith.

"The Christians of the entire world ... in spiritual union with (Christians of the Holy Land), send forth an urgent invitation to end the hostilities, to resume negotiations and to make a commitment to restoring the Holy Land's true character as a cross-roads of peace and fraternity."