The aim of this encounter is to become aware that there is a christian
question of Jerusalem. In the frame of the conflict between Israelis and
Palestinians, it seems that only Judaism and Islam are in confrontation.
In fact Jerusalem has also a christian dimension, hence our responsibility
as Christians and as Church to deal together with the question..
The present moment is historical because the question of Jerusalem
is open and the future of the city is still to be decided, and with it
the future of the christian presence in Jerusalem. In this situation we
cannot neglect our responsibilities as christians towards the holy city.
As christian living community in Jerualem, we know that we are not
forgotten. On the contrary we are a matter of concern and solidarity
from the part of many Churches and in many aspects. Therefore I would seize
this occasion to express my gratitude and that of my brothers in the different
Churches of Jerusalem towards the Churches of the world for their fraternal
and sincere solidarity.
However in what regards the political future of the city and from which
depends the future of the christian community, put aside the Holy See and
few Bishops' Conferences, there is a certain silence which worries us.
Therefore we say that an action, a louder voice is needed now, for the
security of Jerusalem and for her peace.
We wanted this meeting to be simply a shared reflection on various aspects
of the question. This sahring is for us a support and will give us a new
light and inspiration in order to be more faithful to our responsibilities
for our own good but also for the good of the universal Church.
The memorandum of the Patriarchs and Heads of Christian Churches in
In Jerusalem we are thirteen heads of Churches, Catholic, Orthodox
and Protestant. On November 1994 we reached a common vision and signed
a common document containing a vision and some principles for a solution
for the question of Jerusalem.
I would like now to present this memorandum which was entitled "The
significance of Jerusalem for Christians"
The Memorandum gives, first, basic characteristics, historical
and religious, indicating the christian significance of Jerusalem. Then
it gives some necessary elements for any possible solution.
1. Importance of Jerusalem for Christians
1.1 The document begins by recognizing the importance and holiness
of Jerusalem for the three religions. Then it insists upon its importance
and holiness for Christians in particular and on the permanence of Christian
presence in it since 2000 years: “For almost two thousand years, through
so many hardships and the succession of so many powers, the local Church
with its faithful has always been actively present in Jerusalem. Across
the centuries, the local Church has been witnessing to the life and preaching,
the death and resurrection of Jesus-Christ, upon the same Holy Places,
and its faithful have been receiving other brothers and sisters in the
faith, as pilgrims, residents or in transit, inviting them to be reimmersed
into the refreshing, ever living ecclesiastical sources. That continuing
presence of a living Christian community is inseparable from the hsitorical
sites. Through the living stones the holy archeological sites take on life”
1.2 Along centuries, historic rights have obtaiend for different
local Churches. These are now defined and stated by the Statu Quo, which
is to be respected by any political power.
1.3 The christian attachment to Jerusalem is based on the Holy
Scripture, both on Old and New Testament.
1.4 Jerusalem is a center of spirituality and pilgrimage.
It became soon a source of spiritual and deep significance: it is the image
of the Church, the New Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12 and 12:2) “This holy city is
the image of the new creation and the aspirations of all peoples, where
God will wipe away all tears and “there shall be no more death or mourning,
crying or pain, for the former world has passed away” (Rev 21:4 Mem 6).
1.5 Therefore Jerusalem is the heart and spiritual homeland of
every christian living until today in Jerusalem or around it, or anywhere
in the world. It is the city where every thing has started, where God has
sent His Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, Messiah and Saviour of all. In Jerusalem
christianism was born. Every christian, every Church is born in Jerusalem.
The words of the Psalm apply exactly to that spiritual but real birth and
belonging: “Every one was born there” (Ps 86:5).
2. Jerusalem holy city and place of living
2.1 Jerusalem, holy city for local Christians, is also the mother
city for them as people. It is the place of living their daily practical
concrete life with all its needs, difficulties, and struggles, as persons
and people. These two aspects are essential and inseparable: holy city
and place of living.
The memorandum says: It is “their native city where they live,
hence their right to continue to live there freely, with all the rights
which obtain from that” (Mem 10), similar in that and equal to all citizens,
without any distinction or discrimination. These rights are general and
concern their contribution in all institutions and public life of the state;
they are also special and concern the Church as religious institution,
with all its requirement for its religious and spiritual development and
growth; this spiritual growth being the source of their force and contribution
in the civil and public life.
2.2 Again, as for the religious aspect, the Memorandum does not
forget the others. For the civil aspect also, Christians recognize to all
believers, Moslems and Jews, same rights and duties, and share with them
in claiming these rights, in any status which the city will have following
the decision of all its children.
3. Relation of the Local Church with the Universal
3.1 The whole Church, born in Jerusalem and hence scattered throughout
the world, remained present in it through the local Church, composed today
of various local Churches, Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. Altogether,
we are the mother Church and altogether we are a small Church. As Jesus
was, we are still today, small and a sign of contradiction. The mother
Church is still a suffering Church, so that through the same way of cross,
the resurrection will be achieved in it, resurrection to love those among
whom we are small, resurrection to share in the building of the earthly
Jerusalem and in the preparation of the heavenly one.
3.2 The Church of Jerusalem, though small, remains an important
element in any remodeling of the region. Her role does not consist only
in her own survival, but to enliven with her message of universal salvation
all new creation in the region. This Church means the believers and as
such it is a part of the land and the people; therefore its role is important
in the search of reconciliation and peace, based on justice and equal dignity
for all. The importance of the role of the local Church obtains also from
its relation with the universal Church.
3.3 As local Christians, we are aware that Jerusalem belongs to
us for two reasons, religious and civil, while all Christians of the world
have concern in Jerusalem on religious grounds only. We are aware as well
that we have the duty and the right to welcome in Jerusalem all Christians
of the world and to serve them in their pilgrimage and in their faith relation
to the same Mother city. We are aware also to be strong and big by our
communion with the universal Church.
This relation betweem local Churches and Universal Church is
a normal and vital one, and it is conform to the nature of the Church.
If it is well understood and well lived, it cannot lead to any contraditction
between the double relation to the Universal Church and to the nation or
to one’s own people.
Therefore Christianism in Jeruslem has two dimensions: local and
universal. Each one of these two components completes and supports the
other. Through the local Church the presence of the universal Church is
guaranteed. The local Church is the host and the servant of the universal
Church. On the other side, the small local Church becomes big and efficient,
not only through the incessant coming of pilgrims, but also through the
regular and continuous support of the universal Church.
4. Two peoples and three religions in Jerusalem
4.1 The two peoples are the Palestinians and the Israelis. Palestinians
are Moslems and Christians. Local Christians are Palestinians. They are
an integral part of the Palestinian society and belong to their own people,
to its history and culture, just as every faithful, christian, moslem or
jewish, everywhere in the world, belongs to its people, to its history
and culture. This fact is to be stressed upon because some have the tendency
to consider Christians in the Holy land as solely christians, without any
incarnation within a people, just as a religious ethnic community, which
survived along centuries and is now an erratic and strange body among modern
political entities. Christian Palestinians are Palestinians; they belong
to their people and are part of its hopes and sufferings.
4.2 The three religions are judaism, christianism and islam.
Absolutely speaking, the three religions have to relate equally to the
city in what regards political, civil and religious rights and duties
of their believers. “In the name of religion, each of the three religions
has an equal right to be present in the land and to have access to it in
order to be able to practice its faith. But the political rights of
one or another of the three religions, or of any of the faithful” (LP 4,
p.54) depends from international law, based on historical and legitimate
5. Future of Jerusalem
5.1 Jerusalem, along centuries, was always governed by one political
power corresponding to or supported by one religion. Therefore it had remained
along centuries a source of war. Exclusivism nourishes wars and hostility,
today and tomorrow, as it was in the past. Exclusivism from any side, political
or religious, will harm the identity of the city and the harmony among
all those who are concerned, all its sons and daughters.
The political future of Jerusalem depends from its two dimensions,
religious and political. Having three religions and two peoples, Jerusalem
should be shared by all these.
To reach a position of stable peace, each one of its children,
Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Moslems, should enjoy same
freedom, same dignity and same duties and rights. No one should feel himself
as guest or stranger in his own city. No one should be put in the situation
of asking for protection from any one else. For all of us, children of
Jerusalem, despite national and religious differences, our future
is to be one family of the Holy Land. Many purifications and rectifications
have to be done in order to reach this stage.
5.2 Jerusalem divided or unified
Presently Jerusalem is divided, despite its political and military
unification. The two peoples are deeply separated by the conflict, obvious
in the facts and the hearts of both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians.
Therefore the question to be asked is: How to reunify Jerusalem today?
Jerusalem is important as geography, as shrines, holy places and stones.
But the living people in it, Palestinians and Israelis, are as much
important. Its geographical unity is important; but the human unity of
its two peoples is as much important. Today, this human unity does not
exist. Therefore the question is: how to realize this human unity?
5.3 Free access to Jerusalem
Jerusalem is first of all the spiritual capital for the two peoples
and for the three religions. Therefore the city should remain always, in
any circumstance of war and peace, accessible to all. Jerusalem should
be above all hostilities and wars. Historic experience shows that it is
impossible for any government to isolate any of its towns from general
security measures. Therefore borders are closed in time of war in face
of all enemies and opened for friends only. This happened and happens until
today regarding the holy city: Jerusalem was in the past and is today opened
to all friends all over the world, and closed, for security reasons, to
Ways should be found so that Jerusalem remain open to all without
exception. The system of security should adapt to that priority: Jerusalem
is first of all a spiritual capital for the three religions, and not only
for believers coming from all over the world, but also for those
believers who are Palestinians and live few miles away of Jerusalem.
5.4 Special status
Therefore Jerusalem requires a special status, given its pluralistic
character and its religious importance. The memorandum of the Patriachs
says: “In order to satisfy the national aspirations of all its inhabitants
and in order that Jews, Christians, and Muslims can be at home in Jerusalem
and in peace with each other, represetnatives from the three monotheistic
religions, in addition to local political powers, ought to be associated
in the elaboration and application of such a special statute.” (Memo 14.1)
The guiding principle in this elaboration is to give Jerusalem
a definitive stability, so that it will never become again a source of
war between peoples and religions.
This fact requires its citizens who are its governors and the
guardians of its holy places, to give it a special status which will be
conform to its dignity and holiness, in all circumstances of peace or war.
In our hands God has put a city he has chosen and made unique among all
cities in the world. Therefore it needs a unique status which will distinguish
it from all cities of the world, and put it above all security circumstances.
This local special status, once given to Jerusalem by its own citizens,
should have the support and the guarantees of the internaitonal community.
When Israelis and Palestinians will agreee on this vision, when
believers of the three religions will agree on this vision, they will have
made a historical and decisive step, which will introduce the region and
the world in a new hsitoriacal phase.
The question of Jerusalem is a political and a religious question.
Both aspects cannot be separated. Believers in Jerusalem are also citizens.
Holy places and place of living a daily life, these are two inseparable
aspects of Jerusalem. Therefore the question of Jerusalem is also the question
of the poor and the oppressed in Jerusalem, who have waited and still wait
for peace and security.
The current changes on the ground undertaken in Jerusalem by
the Israeli authorities, the withdrawal of the Identity Cards of the Palestinians
of Jerusalem, have paralyzed the peace process and discouraged hopes for
reconciliation. It is now high time that the question of Jerusalem
be put as top priority to be discussed first. Once the question of Jerusalem
is settled, the peace process will go smooth.
Religious leaders have a role to play, a reconciliatory role,
not the role of exclusivist extremism. Jerusalem today is a disputed city,
because of its sanctity and religious character. All three concerned religions
agree that this city is the city of God and of His Prophets. The way shown
by God to believers is not war, although we find human history full of
religious wars, although we find the spirit of war even in Holy Scripture,
in its human and linguistic expression. Despite that, the commandment of
God to humankind is: kown each other, love each other and collaborate for
the good of all.
The Catholic Churches and Bishops' Conferences have to share in
this responsibility towards the city of Jerusalem. This responsibility
has two aspects, the first regarding the present and future shaping of
Jerusalem, because as we have said, Jerusalem question is also a christian
question. The second, regards the future of Christians themselves in Jerusalem
to be helped face the daily difficulties coming from the present political
Catholic efforts, as it happened until now, especially from the
Holy See, were also attentive to other Christian Churches in Jerusalem,
informing them of any step taken by the Catholic Church. This is
also an aspect which we recommend, the coordination and consultation with
all our brothers in the Churches of Jerusalem.
I hope that through our sharing in these two days we will come
to express clear ways how to bear this responsibilty towards the holy city
+ Michel Sabbah
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
Jerusalem, 26 octobre 1998