“Here there will not be peace while all the parties in the conflict attribute to themselves all the reasons and reflect all mistakes on the other side. Peace starts when we become sincere, I mean when we acknowledge that there is something bigger than our point of view, and when we get involved by recognizing everyone’s responsibilities. This is a city chosen by God to bring Peace to all mankind, but people are betraying this gift. Pray for Jerusalem, for here is the key for living together for the whole world.”
The Nuncio of the Holy See in Jerusalem: launching pilgrimages in order to help Christians to stay in the Holy Land. “There won’t be peace while all the parties in the conflict attribute to themselves all the reasons and reflect all mistakes on the other side.”
Translation from Italian: Fr. Emil Salayta – Latin Patriarchate – Jerusalem
“Here there will not be peace while all the parties in the conflict attribute to themselves all the reasons and reflect all mistakes on the other side. Peace starts when we become sincere, I mean when we acknowledge that there is something bigger than our point of view, and when we get involved by recognizing everyone’s responsibilities. This is a city chosen by God to bring Peace to all mankind, but people are betraying this gift. Pray for Jerusalem, for here is the key for living together for the whole world.” On the terrace of the Apostolic Delegation, which is on the Mount of Olives, offering a wonderful panorama of the Holy City, Msgr. Pietro Sambi speaks with a bitter realism of the difficult moment through which the Holy Land is going, but without giving up: one must continue to hope, and Christians can play a strategic role in bridging all parties in the conflict. But their immigration from the land where our Lord Jesus was born should be stopped.
Is peace destined to stay a dream in the Holy Land?
It is still a distant target, at the end of a way with some fundamental difficulties to solve: International borders recognized and guaranteed by the presence of solid international entity that would overpass reciprocal differences between Israelis and Palestinians; solving the issue of the Israelis colonies- which is an objective obstacle to forming a Palestinian State- and the Palestinian refugees of 1948; sharing water resources, a vital issue at the edge of the desert; and finally, the problem of a special status for Jerusalem. People are fed up with the ongoing tensions and conflicts, a situation that produces a precarious economy and uncertain future for both parties. Two examples in recent days: an Israeli mother told me about her fear with which she sends her two children to school in two different busses with a reasonable certitude that at least one will be saved from any suicide bombing. And a Palestinian family who woke up at night with an Israeli bulldozer demolishing their home as retaliation for an attack.
Do the withdrawal plans from Gaza proposed by Sharon represent a turning point?
Before expressing any judgment of its efficiency one must wait to see it happen. Sharon is already in a minority in the Knesset, and will be even more so if the Labors join with the majority to replace members of the Likud who disagree with the Prime Minister. Now everything is stopped, for we are at the vigil of the Jewish feasts, after which there will be a political understanding, and if Sharon does not have a clear majority he will go for anticipating elections. In this case the plan is a dead word.
The Christian community represents now only 2% of the Israeli population and immigration doesn’t seem to end…
The real reasons why one immigrates are the political and economical instability, and the absence of any prospects. That iss why one must work for a stable peace that would guarantee independence for Palestinians and security for Israelis. Christians are squeezed in between Jews and Moslems, but their presence is essential: they have vital relations with both communities, they witness a concept of life where human dignity is in the center, they can bridge defending a logic of reconciliation which would help put an end to the spiral of retaliation. Their weakness is a dry loss for all.
Concretely, what should be done to help them stay?
Relaunching pilgrimages is the most important resource. After the 28 of September, 2000, date of the start of the second Intifada, the Jewish world demonstrated huge solidarity toward Jews of Israel, and Muslims did the same in regards to the Muslims here, but Christians, who used to come in numerous numbers to visit the Holy Places, now disappeared. Fear blocked pilgrimages, although through my seven years spent here I have never heard that any pilgrim ever faced problems. For some months now there has been some recovery, but still too little. Coming over even for some days helps the Christians to overcome the complex of minority in extension, to reaffirm their right to live together, to feel the caring attention of the bigger family to which they belong, and this stimulates the economic growth of regions with an economy dependent on religious tourism. Besides, the presence of people who pray, sing, share, and travel in regions where even the air is impregnated with hatred, is a contribution to loosen the tension and to bring bricks for building peace. Of course, financial donations help: Schools, scholarships, medical care, sponsorships. The wall produced many needs for medical centers and pastoral centers since communities were divided. Money is needed, but nothing is more efficient than the physical presence of the pilgrims.
How did the negotiation sessions between the Holy See and the Israeli government, held in the last days in Jerusalem, go?
There are two very positive elements: catching on the discussions after a year-long gap and the registered progress in three days. Still there are important aspects to agree upon, therefore there would be a need for more meetings before reaching final document.
The Israeli ambassador to the Holy See foresees concluding by the end of the year.
I am not worried about the timetable; the content must be clear, adequate to the demands of the daily life of the communities, that won’t allow contestations.
To what extent is the issue of visas of the religious pending, on which issues were raised by the behavior of the Israeli authorities, in particular for those coming form the Arab World?
Well most of the Catholic religious obtained their visas. Still we need to form a mechanism to avoid going through this every year to renew these residencies, if we need to submit to this huge process. There must be written laws introducing real automatic process.
A year ago the Vatican nominated Jean-Baptiste Gourion bishop for the pastoral care of Catholics with Hebrew background. How are the relations with this particular component of the community?
Quite a number of Jews converted, especially during the Second World War, touched by the love witnessed by Christians who exposed their lives to save them. Also there was an other phenomena: one million two-hundred thousand immigrants from the former Russian Republic came, one fifth of the Israeli population, 40 % of them are not Jews. Some belonged to the Orthodox church, the majority were raised in atheism, but coming here and breathing the Holy Land atmosphere, they felt the birth of a religious desire. To who knocks one must open, to who asks to be helped one must offer an answer. In short, there is a two year long preparation to baptism for adults. But without any fear, here proselytism is out of question.