Also Expresses Concern for Christians in Holy Land

Benedict XVI says Israel will be a "shining example of conflict resolution" on the day when the peoples of the Holy Land live in peace in two independent, side-by-side states.

The Pope affirmed his hopes for Mideast harmony when he received in audience today Israel’s new ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy.

The Holy Father expressed his "cordial good wishes on the occasion of Israel’s celebration of 60 years of statehood." He also affirmed that Israel and the Holy See share numerous areas of mutual interest. "The holy cities of Rome and Jerusalem represent a source of faith and wisdom of central importance for Western civilization, and in consequence, the links between Israel and the Holy See have deeper resonances than those which arise formally from the juridical dimension of our relations," the Pontiff said.

Christians’ status

Benedict XVI expressed his concern at "the alarming decline in the Christian population of the Middle East, including Israel, through emigration."

"Of course, Christians are not alone in suffering the effects of insecurity and violence as a result of the various conflicts in the region, but in many respects they are particularly vulnerable at the present time," he said.

"Christians in the Holy Land have long enjoyed good relations with both Muslims and Jews," the Pope continued. "Their presence in your country, and the free exercise of the Church’s life and mission there, have the potential to contribute significantly to healing the divisions between the two communities."

With Palestine

Turning his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Benedict XVI affirmed: "The Holy See recognizes Israel’s legitimate need for security and self-defense and strongly condemns all forms of anti-Semitism. It also maintains that all peoples have a right to be given equal opportunities to flourish.

"Accordingly, I would urge your government to make every effort to alleviate the hardship suffered by the Palestinian community, allowing them the freedom necessary to go about their legitimate business, including travel to places of worship, so that they too can enjoy greater peace and security. Clearly, these matters can only be addressed within the wider context of the Middle East peace process."

Quoting from the Book of Isaiah, the Holy Father said that "when all the people of the Holy Land live in peace and harmony, in two independent sovereign states side by side, the benefit for world peace will be inestimable, and Israel will truly serve as ‘light to the nations,’ a shining example of conflict resolution for the rest of the world to follow."

Holy See relations

The Pontiff also spoke about relations between the Holy See and Israel.

"Much work has gone into formulating the agreements which have been signed thus far between Israel and the Holy See, and it is greatly hoped that the negotiations regarding economic and fiscal affairs may soon be brought to a satisfactory conclusion," he said. "I know that I speak on behalf of many when I express the hope that these agreements may soon be integrated into the Israeli internal legal system and so provide a lasting basis for fruitful cooperation.

"Given the personal interest taken by Your Excellency in the situation of Christians in the Holy Land, which is greatly appreciated, I know you understand the difficulties caused by continuing uncertainties over their legal rights and status, especially with regard to the question of visas for church personnel. […] Only when these difficulties are overcome, will the Church be able to carry out freely her religious, moral, educational and charitable works in the land where she came to birth."