AN APPEAL FROM THE CHURCH OF JERUSALEM

by Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza

[Ordinary of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston]

Texas Catholic Herald November 6, 1998

Almost two thousand years ago, St. Paul appealed to the young Churches to be mindful of the needs of the mother Church of Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16, 1-4). Recently a new plea for help was voiced by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, at a symposium of Catholic Bishops' Conferences on the Question of Jerusalem held on October 26-27 in the Holy City. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark and I represented the United States Bishops. Father Drew Christianson, S.J., from our staff was one of the organizers of the symposium.

His Beatitude, Patriarch Sabbah, expressed a grave concern about the political future of Jerusalem and the future of its small Christian community. He said that "except for the Holy See, there is a certain silence among the Churches which worries us. Therefore, we say than an action, a louder voice is needed now, for the security of Jerusalem and for her peace, and the security of the Church of Jerusalem.

The agreements reached by Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the Wye Plantation last month, are reasons for hope that a just peace will come to the region if the accord is implemented. However, it is generally acknowledged that a realistic solution to the problem of Jerusalem must be reached before there can be a lasting peace and true security for Israelis and Palestinians. Since both claim Jerusalem as their capital, any exclusive claim renders a bilateral discussion very difficult. The participants in the symposium acknowledged the duty of "all Christians together with people of good will" to collaborate in searching for creative solutions to the complex problems facing the two peoples and the three religions of the Holy City.

In a communique issued at the end of the symposium the bishops said: "Today Jerusalem is at a crucial time in her modern history. Decisions taken in these days and those in the months ahead will influence the conditions of life in Jerusalem for the future. This becomes especially urgent as we approach the Great Jubilee of the year 2000."

One of the participants was Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States. He presented the Holy See's continuing concern about "the question of Jerusalem." Archbishop Tauran made it clear that the "political dimension of Jerusalem regarding territorial control," (he was referring to East Jerusalem), must be a bilateral discussion between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. However, the Holy See has an intense concern about the resolution of this question because of the sacred places which are holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians. The Holy See clearly supports the United Nations' Resolutions which consider East Jerusalem as illegally occupied by the Israelis.

While the Holy See desires no direct involvement in the discussions about the political and territorial claims, Archbishop Tauran minced no words about the duty the Church has to speak out on the moral dimension of these claims and the human rights violations which arise from the unresolved political question. The Holy See's competence is to remind the disputing parties to resolve the controversies peacefully on the principles of justice and charity and within the international legal framework.

There are several controversial issues which one speaker referred to as roadblocks to peace, and which he viewed as violations of human rights. Among the most serious, the expanded Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and the confiscation of land and the demolition of Palestinian houses in the West Bank, and the Israeli control over water allocation and water rights. We were told that the average Israeli consumes 379 cubic meters annually, while a Palestinian averages only 107 cubic meters. This severe disparity of allocation of water between neighboring villages has the attention of human rights organizations.

There are other serious roadblocks to peace that the Palestinian Authority must resolve. These refer mainly to terrorist activity, and especially the continuing destruction of lives and property that are attributed to the militant Islamic Hamas. The failed attempt last week to destroy a busload of Israeli children in Gaza is an example of the worst form of terrorism which can quickly cause the unraveling of the progress towards peace which began at Oslo and reached a significant level with the accord at Wye Plantation. The Palestinian Authority must quickly delete from its constitution the destruction of Israel. Security for Israel, which is an understandable condition for peace, demands greater vigilance by the Palestinian Authority.

Peace in the region also depends on the resolution of the "Jerusalem question." It is a city inhabited by two peoples and three religions. In this sense it is unique and its peace rests on being shared by all. Patriarch Sabbah said, "To reach a position of stable peace, each one of its children, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians, and Moslems, should enjoy the same freedom, same dignity and same duties and rights. No one should feel himself as guest or stranger in his own city. No one should be put in the position of asking protection from any one else... Once the question of Jerusalem is settled, the peace process will go smooth."

Archbishop Tauran ended his address with a plea that the international community not fail its responsibility to keep the "Jerusalem question" before the powers of the world: "Let us remember Jerusalem, let us recall its essential nature, its vocation and the love which people have for it, let us help the world and those who wild power in it, to remember Jerusalem and to understand that for its sake it should not be impossible to make it definitively a place of meeting, of harmony and of peace."

Members of the three religions which have their origins in Jerusalem have a special bond with the Holy City, and in a real sense have an obligation for its future as a city of peace and justice for all its citizens, and for free access to its sacred places. The words of the psalmist will haunt us if we fail to heed the appeal from the Church of Jerusalem to help support a special status for the Holy City, given its pluralistic character and religious importance, that is guaranteed by the international community: "Let my tongue cleave to my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!" (Ps. 137,6).