"RELATIONS WITH ISLAM HAVE IMPROVED"
Statements by Vatican Secretary for Relations with States

25-Feb-2000 -- ZENIT News Agency

VATICAN CITY, FEB 25 (ZENIT).- Yesterday Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran,
Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, was interviewed by the
Egyptian newspaper "Al-Ahram" ("The Pyramids"), during which he stated
that John Paul II's visit to the land of the Pharaohs, in addition to
its spiritual significance, offers "an occasion to review the role of
the Church and of the Catholic community." The Archbishop regarded the
Holy Father's meeting with President Mubarak as decisive.

In regard to the Pope's meeting with the highest Sunni Muslim
authority, Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque and University, the
French Archbishop believes that it has reflected a "sincere and
constructive interest in the dialogue between Islam and Christianity."
It was an important moment to "clarify to everyone that faith in God
is not a factor for division but rather an important instrument for
the edification of a continual relationship of fraternity."

The Pope also met Coptic-Orthodox Patriarch Shenouda III. Archbishop
Tauran is certain that good fruits will come from this meeting for the
ecumenical dialogue, as it allows for "additional concrete steps in
the road to unity" of Christians.

The Question of Israel

At the meeting, the thorny question of Jerusalem was addressed. Israel
believes that the Holy City must be the one, undivided capital of its
State, while Palestinians claim this zone, which has been recognized
as theirs by U.N. international resolutions. Archbishop Tauran
emphasized that Jerusalem must be "a world symbol of fraternity and
peace." The Vatican "is very interested in the religious and cultural
dimension of the Holy City, as it has special value for the faithful
of the three religions and is the patrimony of the whole of humanity."
Given that its political and religious dimensions "go beyond the
legitimate national interests of the two peoples," the Vatican
requests that it be given special international status, hoping, in
addition, that "the most sacred places of the city can be safeguarded,
in order to impede one part or religion from claiming it solely for
itself."

Relations with Arab World

The Vatican has just become an Observer of the Arab League (by
exchanging ambassadors), and has come to a basic agreement to regulate
relations of the Church with the future State of Palestine. Questioned
by a reporter about the Vatican's great interest in developing
relations with the Arab States, in spite of the reduced number of
Catholics in these countries, Archbishop Tauran replied: "the Vatican
had diplomatic relations with some Arab States, following a long-
established tradition, especially with those States that were
characterized by a long-standing Christian presence." The Vatican
"wants to establish diplomatic relations with all the countries to
guarantee the rights of Christian communities living in them."

The Archbishop attributed much of the progress made in relations with
the Arab States to John Paul II himself. Thanks to him, Islam can
regard Catholics as a "moral force" and not as a "hostile part," with
whom "it is possible to establish a dialogue and develop common values
to build a better world."

end.