Vatican Views Jerusalem and the Middle East Peace Talks

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Vatican Views Jerusalem and the Middle East Peace Talks

Arab-Israeli peace talks initiated last October in Madrid have not yet touched upon a crucial issue in the century-old conflict in the Middle East: the status of Jerusalem and its Holy Places.

So far the Vatican has been left out of the multilateral negotiations. Catholic officials in Rome point up the importance Pope John Paul II gives to this issue by quoting his apostolic letter Redemptionis Anno of April 20, 1984. There the pontiff declared that a lack of effort to arrive at a satisfactory solution to the status of Jerusalem would "only compromise further the longed-for peaceful and just settlement of the crisis of the whole Middle East."

To address papal concerns, 20 Catholic scholars and clergy have met twice in Bari, Italy, on Dec. 13 and 14, 1991 and on May 11 and 12, 1992 to define the Catholic position regarding the status of the walled section of the City of Jerusalem. Both meetings were organized under the aegis of the Europe-Near East Centre (ENEC), established in 1990 by Italian Catholic clergy and laity to promote cooperation between Europe and the Middle East.

The Bari group suggested that the Vatican should participate in the multilateral talks dealing with regional issues, and possibly in the third stage of the peace process, which has not yet been defined.

"The Holy See, because of its immediate relationship to all local Catholic communities throughout the world and because of the universality of its spiritual, religious, and moral mission, has the right to participate in any regional issue compatible with its proper role," the Bari group declared. Its communique after the December meeting called also for European Community participation. Some EC member states (France, Italy, Spain and Belgium) are parties to treaties still in force guaranteeing Christian rights in the Holy Land.

Addressing the absence of diplomatic relations between the Holy See, Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan, the Bari group stated in its December communique that "it is not the lack of diplomatic relations which hinders the resolution of questions, but the lack of resolutions to these questions which hinders the full development of relations [between the Vatican and Israel]."

Among contentious issues that must be solved if the Vatican is to recognize Israel are the status of such Holy Places of Christianity as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre within Jerusalem's walled city. Over the past 20 years the Vatican on several occasions has expressed its distress at Israeli attempts to "Judaize" Jerusalem by building settlements in and around the city, and at attempts to abrogate the acquired historical rights of the Christian and Muslim communities in Jerusalem. …