“Let us work together to replace despair with HOPE, fear with human SECURITY and humiliation with DIGNITY”


This morning as moderator it is my task to form a framework for the questions and answers which can be asked of the panel in a few moments. I have put the framework into six categories. The first will be a brief overview of the demography of the situation of the Christians in the Holy Land. The second topic will be the wall. The third topic will be the visa problems which the religious are experiencing in the Holy Land. The fourth topic will be diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel. The fifth will be Jerusalem, the hometown of Christianity, and the sixth topic will be “There’s enough blame to go around for everybody.”

This morning as moderator it is my task to form a framework for the questions and answers which can be asked of the panel in a few moments.  I have put the framework into six categories.  The first will be a brief overview of the demography of the situation of the Christians in the Holy Land.  The second topic will be the wall.  The third topic will be the visa problems which the religious are experiencing in the Holy Land.  The fourth topic will be diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel.  The fifth will be Jerusalem, the hometown of Christianity, and the sixth topic will be “There’s enough blame to go around for everybody.” 
I begin by citing a statement of the Apostolic Nuncio to the State of Israel and the Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who was speaking on 5 April in the year 2004.  He was talking about pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and he made the following statement –
“I am pained when I think that this is the land chosen by God to give an enlightening message to all humanity, a message of love of life, of brotherhood and peace.  However, the message going out to everybody from the Holy Land now is a message of violence, destruction, and death.”  He continued, “Peace is not a defeat for anybody.  Peace is a victory for human dignity and the spirit of God within us.” 
 So it was in this framework of our Holy Land that I introduce a few facts to you in hopes that this will bring some ideas to your mind as we go into our question and answer session in about 15 minutes. 
Some interesting facts. 
The State of Israel has 8,300 square miles and the State of New Jersey has 7,836.  They are approximately the same size.  New Jersey has 8 million people, Israel has about 6.5 million people.  If you were to take the density of population in square kilometers, there are 340 per square kilometers in New Jersey and in Israel 270.  It is less densely populated than the State of New Jersey.  Now going a little bit further to the Gaza and the West Bank – the square mileage of that particular area in terms of kilometers is 5,997 which compares very favorably to the State of Delaware, which is 5,328 or 2,057 square miles.  In Delaware there are 650,000 in population.  In the West Bank and Gaza, there are roughly 2.8 million people, so their density in the West Bank is 480 per square kilometers, in Gaza it is 2,803 whereas in Delaware it is 112.  In terms of the Christian population of the State of Israel, in Israel there are roughly 5 million Jews, one million Muslims, 131,000 Christians, 101,000 Druze and about 150,000 others. 
In the West Bank and Gaza, of its population of 2.8 million, there are roughly 300,000 Israeli settlers in those territories.  There are only 49,700 Christians out of the population of 2.8 million.  If you put the entire area together out of 9.5 million people in the birthplace of Christianity, there are roughly 180,000 Christians.  These Christians are Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholics, Protestants, Syriacs, Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians and Maronites. 
In the City of Jerusalem, our hometown, in 1944 there were 29,350 Christians.  Today it is somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000.  That’s the birthplace of Christianity.  We will see a little bit about that in a moment. 
The Wall. 
Called by the Palestinians the “apartheid wall”, called by the Israelis the “security fence”, it is more than just a wall.  It is actually a division between political lines.  It is roughly over 400 miles long.  In other words, it could go up and down the State of New Jersey three times and have some left over to give you an order of magnitude.  It is being built mostly on Palestinian lands.  In some places the barrier is a concrete, a sound-type barrier that we have on our highways ranging from 25 to 30 feet tall.  Around it are electronic censors, electric fences, barbed wires, and security roads, so the planting of a wall is not just a simple thin barrier of a couple of feet.  It takes, of course, an area of multiple feet in some cases over 100 feet and in other cases more than that where the security roads also have a road for the settlers to travel on. 
The problem that results from the wall is rather incredible because it is a barrier between nations.  You must go through a checkpoint in order to get from one place to the other.  This, you will see, will lead to several problems.  You must have the necessary documentation to go back and forth across the barrier of the wall.  One of the things that does is it produces unemployment because people cannot get from the Palestinian side to the Israeli side to their jobs, and in some cases some Palestinian farmers cannot get to their farm because the wall has gone down the middle of a road that they used to cross, but now instead of being able to go across the road from their home to their farm, they must go several kilometers down the wall to a checkpoint to come back and go up the other side to go to their own farm.  Unemployment in the West Bank is at 60%, Gaza 80%. 
The education of people.  When you have to go through a security barrier of passport control does not allow freedom of movement.  But yet this year for some bazaar reason at Bethlehem University, which my congregation operates for the Palestinians, we have the highest enrollment ever since 1973, and also we have the largest Christian enrollment ever (35%).  35% of the students at this pontifical university are Christians.  You can guess what the other 65% are.  Also with medical services, if you have to go through a security wall and checkpoint, and you are a woman ready to deliver a child, and it takes you two or three hours to get through a checkpoint, what happens?  Children are often delivered in the ambulances, some unfortunately delivered dead. 
The wall was condemned by the International Court of Justice. a report that was developed by the request of the Security Council of the United Nations.  When it was brought up as a resolution for the Security Council, the condemnation was vetoed by the United States.  The Israeli High Court to bring balance to the situation actually condemned portions of the wall as working undue hardships on the Palestinians and required the state to redirect the wall, so it would no longer cause these hardships, the one in particular, the one of the farmers being trapped on one side and their farm on the other.  Representative Henry Hyde, a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, wrote a letter to President Bush asking that the construction of the wall be stopped because of the problems it was producing within the Christian community (a.)  Trying to get to work.  (b.)  Getting educated and (c.)  Having access to the shrines in Jerusalem.  The Holy See endorsed the findings of the committee in The Hague, the International Court of Justice. 
I want to read to you again so that you will realize that there is a balance that comes to all of these situations a statement by Uri Avnery who writes for the Ha’aritz newspaper in the State of Israel.  He is opposed to the wall, and he is talking about the inhabitants of a village called a-Ram, east of the wall.  They will not be completely cut off from Jerusalem, but also from the townships and villages to their west, their relatives, their schools which thousands of their children attend, their cemetery and their places of work.  A small part of a-Ram remains outside the wall, and it will be cut off from the main part of the town in which they live.  In other words, the wall is going right through the middle of the town, but this is only part of the story.  The wall, or in some places a barrier, consisting of a fence, trenches, and roads will complete surround a-Ram from all sides.  The sole access from this walled-in area will be a narrow bridge connecting it with the adjacent area to the east consisting of several Palestinian villages which will be surrounded by another barrier.  The enclave will have a narrow exit to the Ramallah enclave.  Through this it will be possible for a person from a-Ram to reach Ramallah, God willing, by the round about route of some 30 kilometers (that’s again 24 miles) instead of the ten-minute walk that it used to take before the wall was built.  When the wall is built, you have to go where the holes are in the wall in order to get through the wall.  So they will have to travel roughly 24 miles to make a journey that took 10 minutes before the wall was built. 
The European bishops’ conferences from several European countries and Australia as well as American bishops went to the Holy Land in the early part of this year, 15 January, and they produced a letter entitled, “The Holy Land, Not Walls But Bridges”.  This was based on the statement of the Holy Father on 16 November 2003 where he said, “The Holy Land does not need walls, but bridges.”  Many of the things which I have reviewed for you are in the letter which the U.S. bishops and the European bishops had prepared. 
One of the negative elements in that letter is the visa situation.  Of course, you have never heard about the visa situation because it is not something that is very prominent in the newspapers.  The situation is simply that religious who are moving in and out of the Holy Land must go through Israel to get to the West Bank and Gaza.  In order to go into Israel, one must have a visa, so you have a situation for the religious, and this should not come as a surprise to you, most of the religious who are working in Palestine are Arab religious from Syria, from Lebanon and from Egypt because if you are dealing with an Arab-speaking population, it is only logical to have Arab-speaking religious.  Of course, the Arab-speaking religious have trouble getting to their work because they need a visa to go in and out of Israel. 
Let me read to you from a report from Father Robert Fortin, the rector of St. Peter in Gallicantu, in Jerusalem on 30 March 2004, and I quote referring to the issue of visas,
“On March 15th in Tel Aviv, a Polish Franciscan whose visa was expired was stopped on the street, taken for an illegal immigrant, arrested and jailed for several hours.  His visa had not yet been renewed because of the backlog of pending Franciscan visas.  Some weeks ago at the Canyon Shopping Mall a 78 year old nun forced out of her car in which she was riding, put up against the wall, physically checked and verbally abused.  Her visa had expired.  At Betinina checkpoint another sister showed the soldier her documents telling him that her visa was being processed at the ministry.  She even produced the receipt to prove she had paid the 145 shekel registration fee.  He took her papers, threw them in her face and sent her back to her convent.” 
Equally troubling is the inhumanity of it all.  In recent times, an American religious in Bethlehem had to go to St. Joseph’s hospital in Jerusalem.  He was not allowed to leave Bethlehem.  His visa had expired.  Also there have been several cases of Arab religious not being able to visit their families upon the death or illness of their parents or siblings such as the case of a Jordanian religious whose father is seriously ill, of the Syrian religious whose father had died, of the Lebanese sister whose brother had died.  If they were to leave the country, they would not be allowed back.  Along the same lines another Palestinian sister who was born in Bethlehem but who lived a good part of her life in Jerusalem and held an important position in a congregation is the bearer of a valid Jordanian passport and a laissez-passer on which visas have been regularly affixed in the past.  For the last year and a half, she has been requesting a visa without success.  She fears going to Bethlehem to visit her elderly mother who is very sick.  Bethlehem and Jerusalem are five miles apart.  She cannot even visit her dying mother. 
Then you have the problem of the laypeople, who work in the Church institutions.  They too need visas to go from Israeli into Palestine.  Objections continue to be raised regarding who constitutes church personnel.  Members of secular institutes, commission lay staff members and volunteers without whom most of these institutions could not operate are sometimes refused a visa. 
The profile developed by the apostolic nuncio and submitted to the Ministry of the Interior specifies that anyone who has been given an official mission by the Church or by any of its institutions is to be considered Church personnel.  For the Catholic Church this means by any one of the institutions listed in the legal personality agreement that was signed by the Holy See and the State of Israel on November 10, 1997.  Certification of a given person as Church personnel must indeed be reserved to the official of the Church, not to the government of Israel. 
And then of course you have the runarounds.  A few priests and sisters whose visas are pending submitted their applications as far back as September 2002.  Others, the vast majority, six to eight months ago, still others within the last two or three months.  In a good number of cases, the applicants have been getting the runaround.  They are systematically told to come back in a few weeks or in a few months or told the same thing to come back again and again.  In some instances, the fee of the new Israeli shekel of 145 must be paid when they return for a new appointment, so they have paid several times.  Every time they go back they have to pay a new fee. 
Happily the Holy Father and the Holy See in speaking with the Interior Minister Avraham Poraz on 14 September have raised this issue, and there has been some improvement in the issuing of these visas, which literally hold the work of the Church hostage to the whim and fancy of the Interior Ministry of Israel. 
Jerusalem is our hometown.  Jesus was presented in the temple.  We know he went there to discuss with the elders.  He drove the money lenders from the temple.  He preached in the temple.  He cured in Jerusalem in the temple grounds.  He offered the first Mass.  The very first Mass was offered in Cenacle.  Where?  In Jerusalem.  He prayed on the Mount of Olives.  He was betrayed on the Mount of Olives.  He was scourged.  He died on Golgotha.  He rose from the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre.  All in the City of Jerusalem. 
Mecca is the birthplace of Islam.  Hebron, where Abraham lived, that is the birthplace of Judaism.  Yes, we know that Abraham went to Mount Moriah to offer Isaac in sacrifice.  He did come to Jerusalem, but his home base and his place of burial is in Hebron 30 kilometers south of the City of Jerusalem. 
Jerusalem indeed is a city that was conquered by David roughly 1,000 B.C., however, the kingdom of Israel, which only lasted for himself and his son Solomon, only lasted for about 80 years.  So only 80 years was the City of Jerusalem the capital of Israel.  Because when Rehoboam and Jeroboam took over from Solomon they split the kingdom into the kingdom of Judah and the tribes of the North.  Ironically, the Crusader Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem also lasted only about 88 years.  So twice in history Jerusalem has been a capital, once under David and Solomon and once under the Crusaders, each ruling from that kingdom city, capital, for about 1,000 years. 
His Eminence Cardinal Tauran speaking on 13 September at the Vatican made the following statement. 
“There cannot be peace in the Middle East if we forgo equitable settlements of the Jerusalem issue.  The entire international co munity should pursue involvement in safeguarding the city and the universal value it stands for.  On its part the Vatican is not submitting juridical solutions which are best left to the experts. 
His Eminence continued,
“We must stop Jerusalem turning into a collection of rocks and sanctuaries for pilgrims to visit.  The Church is deeply concerned at the migration of Christians.  The sanctuaries must be imbued with people, live communities, schools, hospitals, craftsmen.  The pope wishes Jerusalem and its various religious communities to set an example in solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by a pacifying bond between Arabs and Israelis, between Jews, Christians and Muslims.  There is little other precedent in international law for such a strong interconnection between religious and political issues, and Jerusalem is a good example on three counts.  No one religion can claim supremacy in that city.”  The City of Jerusalem is the patrimony of all three religions for one reason or another whether it was Mohammed ascending to heaven, whether it was Jesus Christ rising from the dead, or whether it was the temple that was built by Solomon, or the temple that was built Herod. 
45 to 47% of the world’s population are Christian, and it is the hometown for over 2 billion Christians, 1.3 billion Muslims and roughly about 15 million Jews.  The City of Jerusalem is the hometown of Christianity. 
I say in conclusion that there is enough blame to go around.  One of the things that I do early every morning is that I get on the internet and I read Israeli newspapers, and the first one I read is Ha’aritz.  The other day 27 September there was a headline in Ha’aritz, “Priests Brawl Over Door in the Holy Sepulchre”.  Okay?  Monday’s fight broke out during a procession of hundreds of Greek Orthodox worshipers commemorating the 4th century of the pilgrimage of St. Helena, mother of Constantine, to Jerusalem.  Tradition says that during the trip Helena found the True Cross on which Jesus had been crucified.  Church officials speaking on conditions of anonymity say that at one point the procession passed the Roman Catholic chapel and the priest from both sides started arguing on whether the door should be closed or open.  Riot police broke up the fight.  Witnesses said that after the brawl the procession continued.  Looking at the Catholic News Service recording this same event (and this will give you a little bit of insight into how news services handle stories), the Catholic News Service says on the other hand, in the latest confrontation Greek Orthodox monks attacked Franciscan monks egged on by Patriarch Ireneos who demanded that the bronze door of the Franciscan Chapel of the Apparition adjacent to the main church of the Holy Sepulchre be closed during the procession on 27 September, the procession of the Holy Cross.  A videotape of the incident shows a handful of Franciscan monks and Israeli police holding off a large angry mob shouting and pushing the Greek Orthodox monks and pilgrims as each was trying to reach the door to close it.  A Greek Orthodox nun is seen clutching a cross in her waving hand and shouting frantically that the door should be closed.  One Israeli policeman can be heard shouting this is a holy place.  While the monks in front pushed and shouted, the pilgrims and monks in the back continued to sing and pray. 
There is enough blame to go around.  We Christians are not at all Christian.  We have another headline from Ha’aritz the other day, “Armenian Archbishop Quits Over a Spat With a Yeshiva Student”.  This is probably something you have never heard of before.  The Armenian archbishop in Israel, Nourhan Manougian, was questioned under warning by police yesterday after he slapped a Yeshiva student during a procession marking the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the Old City of Jerusalem.  The archbishop slapped the student after the latter had spate at the Cross the Armenians were carrying and at the archbishop himself.  Here’s a little paragraph down number 3 –
“Religious Jews among them Yeshiva students customarily spit on the ground as a sign of disgust at seeing the Cross.  The Armenians who live adjacent to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City suffer from this phenomenon more than any other sect in the Old City.” 
So in the name of God, we have Yeshiva students spitting on the archbishop and on the Cross.  We have monks fighting in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  So I say, “There is enough blame to go around.”  I hope that these few facts that I have given you, these few little pieces of information are sufficient to engage us in questions, but I would like before we start with the questions to have either of the panelists make a comment on something I might have left out.  Maybe they would like to add to what I had to say. 

2016-10-24T07:31:24+00:00 December 3rd, 2004|Categories: News|