SYMPOSIUM OF PRESIDENTS AND DELEGATES OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS' CONFERENCES ON JERUSALEM

A Summary of Events

For two days, October 26 and 27, 1998, presidents or delegates from several bishops' conferences and of the unions of episcopal conferences of Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia, invited cardinals, and the members of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, have met at the invitation of His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, at the Latin Patriarchate, to reflect on the question of Jerusalem.

Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States, presented the position of the Holy See on Jerusalem. Next the participants heard His Excellency Metropolitan Timotheos give the perspective of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. His Beatitude Michel Sabbah presented the Memorandum of Patriarchs and Heads of Christian Communities in Jerusalem, "On the Significance of Jerusalem for Christians" issued in November, 1994.

Other points of view were presented by Mr. Faisal Husseini, Mr. Hayim Ramon, Mr. Harry Hagopian and Father Majdi al-Siryani. A delegation of seven participants, headed by H.B. Patriarch Michel Sabbah, visited Tuesday, October 27, 1998, with Israeli President Ezer Weizman. Another meeting is set for tomorrow, Wednesday, October 28, with Palestinian National Authority President Yassir Arafat. The symposium closed with the celebration of Mass in commemoration the twentieth anniversary of the pontificate of His Holiness Pope John Paul II at the Notre Dame Center of Jerusalem.

Conscious of their responsibilities to shed light on the question of Jerusalem, to inform public opinion, and prepare pilgrims to visit the Holy Land with a new awareness, and to form bonds of solidarity with the local Church, the participants have agreed to publish the following communique Final Communique

1- Aware of our responsibilities towards the Holy City, and responding to the invitation of the local Church of Jerusalem, and in communion with her, we wish to offer our contribution to the peace of the Holy City for the good of all its inhabitants and of all who love her, Jews, Christians and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis. Our only aim is to reach a stable peace in Jerusalem. In this task we wish to collaborate with all the Churches of Jerusalem.

2- Jerusalem, the Holy City for the three monotheistic religions, is of unique value for the region and for the whole world. Thus, Jerusalem is and ought to be a universal symbol of fraternity and peace.

3- Conscious of the unique significance of Jerusalem and bearing in mind the responsibilities which stem from her unique vocation, before God and before humanity, we find it fitting that the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faithful work together, with sincerity and in mutual trust, so that this city may truly be able to fulfill its divine calling: a place of encounter and reconciliation among religions and peoples.

4. For Christians, as for Jews and Muslims, Jerusalem is a city of special religious reference. For Christians, in particular, Jerusalem is sacred as the place where Jesus, the Word and Son of God, lived, suffered, died on a cross, and rose from the dead, bringing to completion the work of our redemption. The descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day marked the birth of the Church which spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, so that down the centuries Jerusalem has been cherished throughout the world as "the Mother Church." Thus, the Holy City is always in our prayers as we await the final fulfillment of all the promises of God for a new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven where God will dwell with humanity.

5. For two thousand years, a living Christian community has been the bearer of the memory and the promise of the Holy City. Today, through all the changes and vicissitudes of history, this Christian community continues to dwell and worship in Jerusalem, and is deeply committed to continue to bear witness to the life, death and resurrection of Christ around the Holy Places where these mysteries were enacted. As they live in fidelity to this commitment, members of that community can rely on the solidarity of the universal Church.

6. During these days of reflection, we have re-affirmed the duty of all Christians together with other believers and people of goodwill to strive to find a solution to the many problems facing the peoples and believers of the Holy City. Today Jerusalem is at a crucial time in her modern history. Decisions taken in these days and those to be taken in the months ahead will influence the future conditions of life in Jerusalem. This becomes especially urgent as we approach the Great Jubilee of the year 2000.

7. Jerusalem, the city of three religions, is also home to two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, and is the heartland of their respective national aspirations. Negotiations between the State of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, with the support of the international community, will shape "a final status" for Jerusalem. It is incumbent on the believers of the three religions, out of the love and hope they bear for her, and on the community of nations, because of the unique and universal character of the Holy City, to share their thoughts and expectations for the future of Jerusalem. Decisions will be made by political leaders but the concerns and hopes of believers must also be included in the pertinent negotiations.

8. We have also re-affirmed that the uniqueness and holiness of the most sacred parts of Jerusalem require a special statute which recognizes the rights of all her inhabitants and of her three religious communities. Active communities of Jews, Christians and Muslims should enjoy true freedom of conscience and religion, including full access to the Holy Places, and their right to carry out their own religious, educational and social activities. Such a statute should also guarantee the sacred character and the universal cultural heritage of the city. Free access to Jerusalem should be guaranteed to all, local people and pilgrims, friends and opponents. Finally, this special statute should be supported by international guarantees.

9- Therefore, conscious of the words of the Holy Father, "Jerusalem is that place where, more than any other, the dialogue between God and humanity was realized," we support the position of the Holy See and the Memorandum of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem signed and published by them in November, 1994.