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The Holy See and Israel: Building Bonds and Promoting Peace.

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Peace is Possible.

I just finished dining at the exquisite Hotel Dan Panorama buffet in my home of Haifa. One of the managers is a Catholic born resident of this wonderful city. His family came to Haifa nearly one hundred and fifty years ago from Italy. We talked about the recent headlines which referred to a proposed visit by Pope Francis in March of 2014. The purpose of this post is to inform the readers about the history of relations between The Holy See and Israel and some of the efforts to strengthen bonds between Rome and Jerusalem.

Relations between Judaism and Catholicism have experienced centuries of tension, strife, misunderstandings, and, sadly often, hatred and violence. The nature of communications between Israel and The Vatican has been no exception.

The state of Israel was reborn in 1948 after a prolonged and, at times, agonizing wait. Two thousand years in exile and often great suffering had taught us that Judaism cannot exist, let along flourish, until we have returned to our eternal homeland. “Next Year in Jerusalem” has been on the lips and in the hearts of my people for centuries.

The Vatican resisted the establishment of both a Palestinian and Jewish homeland in the years of The British Mandate for a variety of reasons:

The Vatican wanted control of the holy places to be in the hands of neither group. The strains between Islam and Christianity already existed and some followers of Jesus still saw Judaism as contradicting their faith. I have come to understand the passions associated with these sites during my six years in Israel. I am still thrilled each time that I visit Jerusalem which has been the bastion of my faith for three thousand years.

Jerusalem was a primary focus of those in Rome.

At the time of the proposals that culminated in the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine of 1947, the Vatican, the Italian and the French governments, continued to press their own legal claims on the basis of the former Protectorate of the Holy See and the French Protectorate of Jerusalem. The world body made the city an international entity.

Formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel were only established in 1993 after the adoption of the Fundamental Accord by the two States. This was more than forty years after the rebirth of the Jewish homeland. The years between 1948 and 1993 saw the interests of the Catholic Church in Israel were looked after by the Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Custodian of the Holy Land, all of which continue to function.

Papal Meetings, Visits, and Historic Changes

Pope John Paul II: Diplomacy for a New Millennium

In 1964, Pope Paul VI traveled to Jerusalem on an unofficial visit. His visit was the first of a Holy See to the Jewish State. The event lasted just eleven hours and was for the purpose of supporting followers of Catholicism in the region. The trip was applauded by the international community. Though the Vatican did not yet officially recognize the State of Israel at that time, the Pope did agree to meet with the Israeli president.
The visit was hailed by media throughout the world as a groundbreaking step in international diplomacy. Unlike the previous visit of Paul VI, this one had official status. In addition to visiting Christian holy sites, John Paul II visited the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. The Holocaust is always in the hearts and souls of Jews throughout the world. We must never forget the loss of six million of our brethren. Their only crime was to pray in a Synagogue or come from such a background.

The visit of John Paul II in 2000 cast the relationships between the Holy See and Israel in a new light.

Pope John Paul II arrived in Israel March 21, 2000, for a historic five-day visit. During his trip he visited the holy sites of the three major religions and met with Israel’s political leaders and Chief Rabbis. The trip focused on religion, but the Pope also touched on political issues. He blessed Israel, expressed support for a Palestinian homeland and apologized for sins committed by Christians against Jews. Sadly, many Jews still judge our Christian friends on the basis of acts that occurred long ago and by a minority of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Israelis view our nation as primarily a political entity. The Vatican of course is the spiritual center of Catholicism. The difference in perspectives in this respect can often create tension between the Vatican and Israel.

The Pope’s confrontation with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust excited the gratitude and admiration of Jews worldwide.

It the first time that any Pope had visited these sites that is central to Judaism. He left a prayer note at the Western Wall in accordance with Jewish custom, and this note was later enshrined at Yad Vashem.

The Papal visit of 2009
Without doubt, a positive highlight of Ratzinger’s Papacy was the May 2009 visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Gestures that could mean upgrading relations with Israel were taken into account prior to his trip. Before entering Israel, the Pope made an unexpected gesture in his speech on Arab-Muslim soil on Mt. Nebo invoking Moses, the Promised Land and its link to the chosen people. Moreover, on the same occasion he stressed the inseparable link of Christianity to the Jewish people while invoking their common heritage of the Tanach (OT) and their common tradition of pilgrimage.

Pope Benedict XVI was the first chief pontiff to make a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus Christ, tackling one of the most controversial issues in Christianity. I have rarely suffered this injustice but friends and family have endured this type of attack. Hopefully, people of all backgrounds will learn from this great leader and practice “The Golden Rule”. I was in Haifa during this historic event and was thrilled as were many Israelis by this wonderful act by a great leader.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis began his papacy with an expression of friendship towards the people of Israel when he met with Israeli president Shimon Peres at the Vatican on April 30, 2013. During a meeting with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin on June 6, 2013, the Pope announced it was his intention to visit Israel, but did not specify a date. His has promised the world to continue efforts to promote friendship and justice between our faiths.

“I would like to underline that the problem of intolerance must be faced in its entirety,”… “When any minority is persecuted and marginalized on account of its religious beliefs or ethnic origin, the good of society as a whole is placed in danger, and we must all consider ourselves affected.” Quote by Pope Francis on topic of religious intolerance.

Religious intolerance and lack of unity has been a primary source of conflict and war since the beginning of time. The Golden Rule should be a guide to followers of the major faiths and is an integral part of their teachings. In my opinion, Catholicism is making sincere efforts to promote peace and brotherhood throughout the world.

I urge everyone to learn about the efforts of The Focolare, to promote interfaith dialogue in the Middle East and throughout the world. During the past six years, I have been blessed to participate in many interfaith events with The Focolare in Israel. They have included a monthly study session in both the Old and New Testaments. We enjoyed interfaith youth sports events in both Haifa and Caesarea. There was a concert at The Technion in Haifa in the spring of this year. Youth from Israel, Palestine, and several nations shared these wonderful and inspiring activities. Below are some examples of their efforts to promote unity. I feel so blessed to consider these people to be my friends.

For further information, please view these websites:
www.waysofpeace.com
http://www.unitedworldproject.org/en/
United World Project – home
www.unitedworldproject.org
Kampala, August 2011From the 10th to 13th May 2013, the little town…
http://www.run4unity.net/2012/en/terra-santacesarea2/ run4nity Caesaria
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jhF6oRrbRU run4unity Haifa
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DaJoxj63Es Interfaith retreat in 2010 in Northern Israel
http://www.focolare.org/area-press-focus/en/news/2013/10/25/premio-…

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My documentary showing a side in life in Israel/Palestine that will amaze you!

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Please view my documentary about my life in Haifa since I immigrated to this wonderful city in 2007. It has earned its title of “The City of Peaceful Coexistence”. 
Leaders throughout the world support these efforts.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws6kaH0EDUw

The Ways of Peace in Israel

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Is peace in this region possible? I wish that the answer was a certain yes. There are efforts made by tens of thousands of Jews, Christians, Muslims and others in our area to achieve this goal. I urge everyone to learn about the efforts of The Focolare, the largest Catholic outreach movement in the world to promote dialogue in the middle east. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others live together pretty well in my home of Haifa. I ask the readers to view the websites listed below.

waysofpeace.com

האם שלום במזרח התיכון אפשרי? הלוואי והתשובה לכך היתה חיובית באופן מוחלט. ישנם עשרות אלפים של יהודים, נוצרים, מוסלמים ואחרים באזורנו שעושים מאמצים גדולים להשיג את המטרה הנעלה הזו. אני ממליץ לכולם ללמוד על העבודה הנפלאה שעושה ארגון הפוקולר – ארגון הסיוע הקתולי הגדול ביותר .בעולם – לקדם דיאלוג במזרח התיכון

http://www.unitedworldproject.org/en/

Photo: Last few days in Haifa and Akko