Holy City is Mother of All Churches

Letter to the Patriarch, the Auxiliary Bishops, the priests and deacons,
the men and women religious, and the faithful of the Patriarchal Diocese of
Jerusalem for Latins

Pope John Paul II
November 28, 1997

1. As the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 approaches, my
thoughts turn again to the Holy Land and to Jerusalem, "Mother of all the
Churches". It was in this region, where Christ's words resounded and the
great events of the Redemption occurred, that the first Christian community
came into being and has continued to live down the centuries without
interruption.

The multifaceted presence of Catholic communities with varied traditions and
of other Churches which are not in full communion with the Catholic Church
makes us understand the importance of Jerusalem to all Christians and their
love in turning to her.

2. Catholics there are like a small flock, but they are no less active in
their witness to the Good News. Strengthened by the love of Christ and the
solidarity of the universal Church, they form a community both one and many.
Historical events brought trials which only the faith of many of Christ's
disciples could overcome; at the same time, they have permitted the
formation of a crossroads of cultures and a diversification of rites which
are proving a treasure and an inspiration.

3. Today I am particularly addressing the Latin community in the Holy Land.
It is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its reorganization by Pope Pius
IX, who at the time appointed a residential bishop, Giuseppe Valerga, as
Patriarch of Jerusalem for Latins. He arrived in Jerusalem on 17 January
1848 and immediately begin his ministry with praiseworthy zeal. It was he
who was responsible for opening the first patriarchal seminary, which has
formed many priests, Bishops and Patriarchs, and even today is the heart of
the Diocese.

This decision, dictated by the Successor of Peter's special pastoral
attention, ensured the stability of the ministry which until then had been
carried out by the Latin-rite religious working in the region. The latter,
by their sacrifices, devotion and prayer, laid the solid foundation of the
many parish activities which currently take place in the Patriarchal
Diocese.

Through its distinguished Pastors and institutions, your Diocese has always
sought to be faithful to its vocation, even in a context which throughout
its 150-year history has experienced profound social, political and
religious change. Today the Latin Catholic faithful who now live not only in
Jerusalem but also in the Palestinian Territories, the State of Israel, the
Kingdom of Jordan and Cyprus belong to this Diocese, which extended over the
region then called Palestine (cf. Apostolic Letter Nulla celebrior, n. 3).
In the Holy Land, in addition to the faithful who are predominantly
Arabic-speaking, the Diocese also has a small but important Hebrew-speaking
community.

With strength and courage your Diocese has shown itself worthy of the
special privilege of helping to preserve and protect the Holy Places of the
Redemption. Indeed, it has worked with the Franciscan Fathers' Custody of
the Holy Land in fulfilling the special mandate officially entrusted to it
since the 14th century by Pope Clement VI: to care for the Christian shrines
and offer assistance to pilgrims there.

4. Jerusalem, crossroads of peace: this is the mysterious vocation of the
Holy City in the history and geography of salvation; this vocation is
becoming that of the whole region and involves all believers, Jews,
Christians and Muslims.

The fact that Latin Catholics and those of the Eastern Churches live
together in the same territory in different ways is particularly indicative
of the Church's catholicity. This makes it possible fully to appreciate the
divinely revealed heritage of the universal Church (cf. Orientalium
Ecclesiarum, n. 1), which has been preserved and grows in the life of the
Catholic Churches of the East and West. Their diversity does not harm her
unity (cf. ibid., n. 2), but indeed constitutes a treasure for the whole
Church. Indeed, fidelity to their own traditions permits a sincere return to
the sources through which the Holy Spirit renews each particular Church and
works for a profound commitment with all the Churches.

5. Contact with Christians who are not in full communion with the Apostolic
See makes possible a sincere and real mutual exchange of joint acts of
charity, which are an eloquent testimony of their reaching out to one
another. It is indeed true that, in the land where the Lord suffered and
rose again to gather the dispersed children of God,the duty to pray and to
work for unity is more pressing, if the fullness of the Gospel message of
salvation is to shine radiantly in the eyes of those who do not share our
faith in Christ, the Messiah and Son of God. This witness leads one to think
that any commitment to rapprochement between the Churches in charity is the
realization of a concrete project of mutual goodwill and represents a
significant response to the interior movement of Christ's Spirit. The Lord
invites all believers to bear common witness to their faith, especially in
these lands where harmony among children belonging to different Christian
communities can be seen.

Evidence of this cooperative effort, harmony and dialogue, which extends far
beyond the Latin Patriarchal Diocese, also comes to us from the ties that
the latter maintains with the region's ecclesial bodies: the Assembly of
Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, the Conference of Latin Bishops of the
Arab Regions, the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East, the Council of
Churches of the Middle East. Your diocese makes a special contribution to
them and receives fraternal support, by sharing its concerns and problems,
which are often common or similar.

This commitment made in Christ's name can only encourage at all levels,
always and everywhere, relations of mutual esteem, understanding and
cooperation with our brothers and sisters who belong to other Christian
Churches. In the Encyclical Ut unum sint on the he ecumenical commitment, I
had occasion to draw attention to the demands of cooperation and shared
witness: "Relations between Christians are not aimed merely at mutual
knowledge, common prayer and dialogue. They presuppose and from now on call
for every possible form of practical cooperation at all levels: pastoral,
cultural and social, as well as that of witnessing to the Gospel message"
(n. 40; cf. Apostolic Letter Orientale lumen, n. 23).

6. By its presence in the same territory as the Islamic and Jewish
communities, and through the exchanges it has with them, the Latin community
has been prepared over time to understand the importance of interreligious
dialogue in the spirit destined and recommended by the Second Vatican
Ecumenical Council. Daily life presupposes continuous contact with believers
of other religious traditions, for the human, spiritual and moral
development of peoples. It is obvious that respectful dialogue and joint,
fraternal collaboration among all society's members can be a vigorous appeal
for this same understanding to be achieved in other countries.

Regarding the ties with those who belong to the Jewish religion, it should
be recalled that Jews and Christians have a common heritage which links them
spiritually (cf. Nostra aetate, n. 4). Both are a blessing for the world
(cf. Gen 12:2-3), to the extent that they work together so that peace and
justice prevail among all people and all individuals and do so in fullness
and in depth, according to the divine plan and in the spirit of sacrifice
which this noble project can demand. They are all called to be conscious of
this sacred duty and to fulfil it, through honest and friendly dialogue and
by collaboration for the benefit of man and society; I am certain that this
readiness to do God's will for the world will also be a blessing for our
different communities and enable us to cry out with the psalmist: "Steadfast
love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each
other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will
look down from the sky" (Ps 85[84]:10-11).

7. In the dialogue of life and joint work with the followers of Islam, an
enrichment and mutual knowledge are acquired which are necessary for human
solidarity, for fraternal understanding, for everyday peace and for the
vitality of the society which all are called to build together. The attitude
of Christians is not the result of a particular interest or strategy. It
logically flows from the Gospel message in which Christ invites us to regard
every man as a brother. I have already stressed how important it is for us
all to be convinced that "each person is unique in God's eyes. Each one
ought to be appreciated for who he is, and, consequently, respected as such.
No one should use his fellow man; no one should exploit his equal; no one
should condemn his brother. It is in these conditions that a more human,
more just and more fraternal world will be able to be born, a world where
each one can find his place in dignity and freedom" (Address to Young
Muslims, Casablanca, 19 August 1985, n. 6; L'Osservatore Romano English
edition, 16 September 1985, p. 7).

8. Led by the Spirit and faithful to human values, rich in the exchange of
gifts with the Eastern Catholic communities, with the other Christian
brethren and with all your fellow citizens of other religious traditions,
you Latin Catholics will be able, with your pastors' help, to face the
serious trials still imposed on you each day by the political and social
situation. Actually, the majority of the Holy Land's inhabitants are
thirsting for justice and peace and, until this thirst is quenched, they are
in danger of feeling deep frustration and helplessness. I am also turning to
all people of goodwill who live in Jerusalem and throughout the Middle East
region: hope must never be lacking, nor the courage to seek for peaceful
coexistence in justice and security. "It is God himself who asks every
individual to have the courage of brotherhood, dialogue, perseverance and
peace!" (Address to the Members of the Palestinian Authority, Castel
Gandolfo, 22 September 1997; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 24
September 1997, p. 1).

9. I am certain that, renewed in the Spirit and faithful to your baptismal
promises, you, the Latin Catholics of the Holy Land, can continue to honour
your vocation. It is a question of listening to the Lord's call and of not
being afraid to answer it despite everything, by a firm commitment: to
persevere in your faith in Christ, to witness to the Lord "in deed and in
truth" (1 Jn 3:18), in simple joys, in suffering and in your daily problems.
It is there that all who in various ways make the Good News visible and
concrete will find strength and energy: in their daily work, in their
service to society, in education, health care or charitable aid, as well as
in the delicate involvement on behalf of justice and peace.

The threefold dimension of harmony, charity and dialogue marks the specific
vocation to which this particular Church must respond today. This message I
am addressing to her is intended especially to be an encouragement and
exhortation to continue the part that the Catholics of the Holy Land have
played since 1995, when they initiated a special period of reflection, of
renewal in faith and of active presence in their social milieu. Such a
commitment draws its strength and motivation from Christ's words spoken in
this land itself as he traveled it, "preaching the Gospel of the kingdom and
healing every disease and every infirmity" (Mt 4:23); words of life and
love; words of consolation, hope and strength.

The many worthy institutions in your Diocese are and must continue to be at
the service of all, without distinction, and especially at the service of
the poorest and those who are suffering in body and soul. May God support
the efforts o fall the Diocese's laity and may the Spirit's active presence
help them always to seek constant cooperation with their pastors! May
Christ's love spur all consecrated persons in the Diocese to proclaim the
Gospel under the leadership of the Patriarch and the Bishops, wherever the
Lord has called them to give witness to him: in contemplative communities,
in pastoral activities, in schools, in charitable works, in hospitality to
pilgrims, in institutes for study and international meetings!

10. Jerusalem is a place of holiness and a preferred destination for
pilgrimages. Therefore, the Latin Patriarchal Diocese and its bishops,
priests, religious and faithful are a reference point for pilgrims coming to
the Holy Land. The latter seek the hospitality they need for prayer and for
venerating the Holy Places, but they also wish to find a living and active
Church.

This service to the universal Church requires an even greater commitment as
the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 approaches. For this
occasion, "one thing is certain: everyone is asked to do as much as possible
to ensure that the great challenge of the Year 2000 is not overlooked, for
this challenge certainly involves a special grace of the Lord for the Church
and for the whole of humanity" (Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 55). The
well-known complexity of the situation in the Holy Land requires appropriate
preparations, especially in the structures that provide hospitality to
pilgrims. But spiritual reflection and prayer will be the true and most
important preparation.

In this period your diocese is especially in harmony with the universal
Church and is preparing to receive everyone who, physically or sometimes
only spiritually, would like to be a pilgrim in the Holy Land. As you know,
I too would like to be a pilgrim with them all, like Pope Paul VI, who
wanted "personally to honour, in the Holy Places where Christ was born,
lived and died, and, having risen, ascended into heaven, the first mysteries
of our salvation: the Incarnation and the Redemption" (Address of Pope Paul
VI for the close of the Second Vatican Council, 4 December 1963).

11. I entrust this mission of the Diocese, which for centuries has taken
special care of the Holy Places, to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin
Mary, Daughter of Zion and Queen of Palestine.

With these sentiments, I impart a special Apostolic Blessing to the
Patriarch, to all the Pastors and to the faithful of the Patriarchal Diocese
of Jerusalem for Latins.

From the Vatican, 28 November 1997.