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The Most Sacred Treasure

Statement of the Papal Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, regarding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, November 15, 1988.

Mister Chairman,

In other committees and in the General Debate of the 43rd Assembly speakers have reviewed the events of a year full of hope and rich in promise – a year that saw the end to bloodshed in certain conflicts, significant progress toward ending others, and some thaw in even the longest-standing and most bitter international controversies.

Sadly, however, this spirit of peace has not affected the Middle East.

The Middle East is a region for which believers in the three monotheistic religions feel a strong kinship. As His Holiness Pope John Paul II said earlier this year to a group of Jewish representatives: “The matter of peace, especially in the Holy Land, in Israel, in Lebanon, in the Middle East, concerns us all intimately. These are the regions with which we have deep ties on a biblical, historical, religious, and cultural level” (Discourse to representatives of the Jewish community in Austria, June 24, 1988).

The Catholic Church has sought to express that kinship for the last 40 years by peaceful and constructive action, primarily through the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. This agency administers its own projects and coordinates the aid to Palestinians provided by other Catholic agencies in Europe and North America, such as Misereor, Missio, Caritas, Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and others.

A greater part of the Catholic commitment to the Middle East is made through Church-run primary and secondary schools and the Bethlehem University, as well as through Church-sponsored libraries in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. Other manifestations of the Church’s concern are its support for clinics serving mothers and babies, as well as institutions for the blind, the deaf, and for infants with birth defects. The Church’s presence is also felt in the various refugee camps.

The Church has always supported the work of UNRWA, both by seeking in practical ways, when feasible, to collaborate on joint projects and by making a symbolic pledge annually, a pledge which was increased last year and will be increased again this year.

While the Church has concentrated on offering spiritual, social, and material aid to those in the Middle East, it has not ignored the demands of all peoples in that region that their human and civil rights be respected.

Repeatedly the popes have reaffirmed the right of Israel to exist within secure, internationally recognized borders. They have condemned and deplored the unspeakable neo-paganism of the Nazi genocide. They have called on all peoples to recognize the terrible wrong of the Shoah and take a solemn oath that such an unspeakable crime never he allowed to happen again.

At the same time they have reaffirmed with equal insistence the right of another people, the Palestinian people, to their homeland as well.

Every initiative of the Holy See regarding the Middle East has to he understood as an attempt to seek the recognition of equal dignity for the Jewish people in the State of Israel and for the Palestinian people. As Pope John Paul II has pointed out to the representatives of the Jewish communities in the United States of America and to those in Austria, “The Jewish people have the right to a homeland like any other nation, according to international law. The same goes also for the Palestinian people, many of whom are homeless and refugees. By a common readiness of understanding and compromise, solutions can be found which lead to a just, comprehensive, and lasting peace in this area. If only forgiveness and love are sown in plenty the weeds of hate cannot grow; they will be smothered. To remember the Shoah also means to oppose every germ of violence and to protect and promote with patience and perseverance every tender shoot of freedom and peace…” (Papal speech to Austrian Jewish representatives, June 24, 1988).

The germs of violence are afflicting all in Israel, both Jews and Arabs. The Church suffers with the Palestinians who have raised two generations in refugee camps and have endured broken bones, detention without trial or formal charges, and even the deaths of several hundred people. The Church suffers as well with the Jews, whom His Holiness Pope John Paul II has called “our elder brothers.” It deplores the tension under which they are living and the terrorism which is an illusory solution to problems and simply continues the spiral of violence, while striking indiscriminately at the innocent.

But the Church also recognizes, in the words of His Holiness Pope John Paul II, that “while leading a concerted and firm action to ban terrorism from the human race, it is necessary, by negotiation, to seek before it is too late, to get rid of everything as far as possible that would hinder the satisfying of the just aspirations of peoples.”

“In particular,” concluded the Holy Father, “do we not find here the noose of injustice that must be untied to arrive at a just and equitable solution of the entire question of the Middle East?” (Papal speech to the Vatican Diplomatic Corps, January 11, 1986).

We appeal to all parties to substitute dialogue and courageous creativity for violence in seeking solutions. As the pope said earlier this year, “Above all it is necessary that we promote a constructive dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims so that the common faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob becomes effectively fruitful in the search for mutual understanding and fraternal living without violating the rights of anybody” (Speech to Austrian Jews, June 24, 1988).

The Holy See has followed with interest the signs of goodwill which have been shown recently, and prays that they might lead to the realization of hopes, and also to a fresh approach to long-standing questions.

We hope as well that dialogue will lead very soon to the reopening of schools on the West Bank, of Arab universities, and of the Church-run Bethlehem University, which has been closed for all but one day since October 29 of last year. Reports that teaching in the homes and distribution of home assignments have been forbidden orally by the military governor in Bethlehem must be troubling to all who view education as a human right and a path to peace and understanding for all peoples.

Mister Chairman,
In this context of dialogue and creative solutions, the Holy See wishes to stress again its call that particular consideration be given to the future of the City of Jerusalem.

In a conversation with journalists in Rome last February, Pope John Paul II said of the City of Jerusalem: “It is a sacred capital, a Holy City, and as such it is linked, it pertains, even in a moral sense, to at least the three monotheistic religions: certainly to Judaism, to the Islamic religion, and to Christianity” (L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, February 1, 1988).

We restate once again our call that Jerusalem’s unique and unparalleled character as the Holy City of three major religions be protected by an internationally guaranteed statute. Such a statute should guarantee equality of rights and treatments to the three religions regarding worship and access to their holy places. It should include, moreover, guarantees for the three religious communities peacefully to pursue the spiritual, cultural, civic, economic, and other activities necessary to their existence (cf. Statement of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, December 3, 1979).

It is the hope and prayer of the Holy See that the City of Jerusalem, once accorded and guaranteed a special status by the international community, may rise to its full potential as a city of peace and reconciliation dedicated to the worship of God and the harmony of the human family.

Finally Mister Chairman, it must be said that the most sacred treasure in all the Holy Land are the peoples of all faiths who live there and call themselves God’s children. May all of God’s children be awarded their true dignity and guaranteed the human right to live in freedom and peace.

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

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