Catholic bishops in Middle East call for an end to Israeli occupation

By Ecumenical News International
2 Nov 2010

Catholic bishops from the Middle East have urged the United Nations to take steps to end Israel's occupation of Arab territories to enable a "two-State" solution for the region - writes Luigi Sandri.

"The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security," the 185 bishops said in an "An Appeal to Safeguard the Faith" issued on 23 October 2010 after a two-week meeting at the Vatican.

"The State of Israel will be able to enjoy peace and security within their internationally recognised borders," they said. "The holy city of Jerusalem will be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim."

However, a church source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told ENInews on 28 October that efforts by the Holy See to promote a "just peace" between Israel and Palestinians might become more difficult following the synod.

On 23 October, while presenting the conclusions of the synod to media, the US Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros criticised Israel for using biblical statements about the "Promised Land" to justify the removal of Palestinians from their land.

"Sacred Scripture should not be used to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestine," said Bustros.

Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon responded to the criticism by saying that the synod had been "taken hostage by an anti-Israeli majority".

However, the director of the Vatican press office, the Rev Federico Lombardi, described the synod's results as being very positive, though he added that "only texts" approved by the assembly should be understood as its message.

In a homily to mark the end of the bishops' gathering, Pope Benedict XVI urged prayers for peace in the Holy Land. "We must never resign ourselves to the absence of peace. Peace is possible. Peace is urgent," he stated.

The church source told ENInews that the bishops' gathering might create difficulties for Vatican policy in the Middle East. "The problem is that the Pope, while taking into account the Israeli point of view, cannot ignore synod deliberations and the sensibility of Christian Arabs."

One proposal from the meeting called for the return of Palestinian refugees and special status for holy places in Jerusalem.

After the 1967 Six Days War, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, previously under Jordanian rule, where the main holy places for Jews, Christians and Muslims are located.

Referring to Jews, the message of the gathering stated, "The same Scriptures unite us; the Old Testament, the Word of God is for both you and us. We believe all that God revealed there, since he called Abraham, our common father in the faith, father of Jews, of Christians and of Muslims".

Still, the document continued, "Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable."

In a section directed to followers of Islam, the synod stated, "We say to our Muslim fellow-citizens: we are brothers and sisters; God wishes us to be together, united by one faith in God and by the dual commandment of love of God and neighbour".

The Rev Nikola Eterovic, the General Secretary of the synod, said that in the 17 countries of the Middle East represented at the Vatican assembly, there are 356 million people, including 20 million Christians, of whom 5.7 million are Catholics.

The members of the synod included Oriental-rite Catholic bishops - such as Maronite, Melkite, Armenian, Syrian, Coptic and Chaldean leaders - as well as Latin-rite bishops.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

[Ekk/3]

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