The Holy See
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 Thursday, 13 December 2001


Venerable Brothers,

Welcome to the Vatican! I warmly greet everyone present in the name of the Holy Father John Paul II.

Going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, the good samaritan met only one suffering man. Today, on that same road we meet many brothers who are suffering from a conflict that shows no signs of abating, but seems to be worsening. It is our duty to take responsibility for these our brothers and help them to get back on their feet.

Peace is possible and a duty

Certainly, we are first of all obligated to cooperate in the re-establishment of a climate of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, reminding the Parties concerned that it is possible, it is necessary to live in the same region, with equal rights and duties.

And this work of peace has always been kept up, throughout these sorrowful years, by the whole Church and especially by the Apostolic See, who has not ceased repeating: "Peace is possible, peace is a duty, progress and peace walk together". The theme of the next World Day of Peace is more than ever eloquent:  "No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness".

During his Visit to the Holy Land, during the Great Jubilee of 2000, the Pope did not stop proclaiming the Gospel of reconciliation to all the Parties involved, reminding them of their responsibility. He repeated it in his contacts with the Israeli and the Palestinian authorities, reminding everyone that the only solution is for the two peoples to live together, as children of the same Father who is in heaven.

However, the purpose of our meeting is to concentrate on an aspect less known to international public opinion:  the destiny of Christians in the Holy Land.

Christians in the Holy Land

The statistics show that Christians are few, due to continual emigration caused by the harsh living conditions. According to the data published by the Central Office of Statistics of our Secretary of State, on 1 January 2000 there were 117,000 Catholics in Israel and the Palestinian Territories out of a population of 6.1 million inhabitants. We know besides that there are a considerable number of other Christians, primarily of the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate. Overall the Christians make up about 3 per cent of the population. Obviously, however, they have rights equal to the other citizens and they ask to be helped to carry out their mission within civil society. The majority are of Palestinian origin, and a very small number of Jewish origin.

It is right to think of them at this time indistinctly, knowing well that their problem is inseparable from the wider problem of peace in the Holy Land.

Certainly, the Christians live in a characteristic religious context and it is necessary to examine how to help them in their dialogue with the Jewish world and the Islamic one. Many suffer and so we must consider how to help them practically to have a house, a job or an adequate education for their children.

To defend and promote the Christian presence in the Holy Land the Holy See has signed two Agreements:  the Fundamental Agreement with the State of Israel (30.12.1993) and the Basic Agreement with the Palestinian Authority (15.2.2000) which lay the basis for the juridical recognition of Catholics and their institutions.