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:
United World Project – home
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


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



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.


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


Photo: Last few days in Haifa and Akko

Guest Blogger- David Prosser

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A guest post – introducing my colleague writer David Prosser

I would like to introduce my colleague writer David Prosser, who has kindly received my invitation to share a post in the blog:
Born in 1951 David Prosser led a perfectly normal life until inheriting a manorial title aged 40. Though he didn’t become independently wealthy overnight as he’d hoped, he did find his responsibilities changed and his outlook had to broaden exponentially.
 :David writes
 I worked in Local Government for most of my working life but was forced to retire when ill health took its toll. Now having to spend much of my life indoors and unable to communicate easily with people face to  face, I was able to establish good contacts over the Internet and devoted myself, amongst my other fundraising activities, to raising enough money to build a school on Uganda for the street children. Those orphaned and left with no-one to care for them. (Baron) Cornelius von Berenberg Gossler has given up his life of privilege in Germany to devote to these children with his beautiful Ugandan wife Loy. I was fortunate to be able to bring in enough promises to build the school, dormitories and a clinic outside the village of Loy’s tribe.
Other projects took my time also. Not least a friendship site (The Buthidars) to cover the world which would allow friendship to flourish despite differences between people by ignoring the religion that would generally keep them apart. We also had on hand voluntary advisers for people with problems like arranged marriages. Peace in the world is a possibility if there are enough examples shining out, and for the sake of our children we need this.
One day a friend on the net asked me ‘how my day had been’ and I responded in the form of a diary entry. She liked it and asked for more which I did for about a week. Then she suggested it would make a good book. I was very dubious about that but decided to give it a go by doing a chapter a day as though completing a diary and asking my wife to read them overnight. If I heard laughter coming from her room I knew I was OK. Eventually my first book was born called ‘My Barsetshire Diary’.  At 60 I was an author!
Two more books have followed since then, one a self indulgent bit of fun in the form of a prequel which has me as a poor man’s James Bond.  Such fun to write and it got me some lovely reviews.
More recently I joined Gather.com as an alternative social network to Facebook. I was lucky enough to meet Earl Shugerman who told us all about his move to Israel and offered flying tours around the place with his splendid writing. One thing that especially caught my eye was the story of a town where, though the rest of us see as the warring factions, people actually live together at peace. Haifa is the city of peaceful coexistence. It’s heartwarming and leaves me full of hope. Earl has a part to play in all this by letting us know how it will be shared. I hope you enjoy his story as much as I have and will share his new site.

Building Bridges for Peace in Haifa, Israel

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I immigrated to Israel five years ago from The United States at the age of fifty nine. I can think of no nation or place anywhere that has more spiritual significance than “The Land of Canaan” It is the birthplace of the three major faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is the place where King David wrote the 23rd psalm, where Jesus of Nazareth promoted ideas and values that have changed humanity. In the Quran, the inspired scripture that Muhammad brought to the Arabs, venerates the great prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It speaks of Solomon’s “great place of prayer” in Jerusalem, which the first Muslims called City of the Temple.

Haifa is the home of the Tomb of Elijah the Prophet considered one of the holiest and most venerated shrines to Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze alike.

Haifa is a city dotted with gardens. The most prominent is at the world center of the Baha’i religion, with the tombs of the Bab (Mirza Muhammad Ali) and Abbas Efendi, son and successor of the founder of the abor.faith, Bahá’u’lláh. The presence of the Baha’i, for so long persecuted in various Middle East countries, is evidence of the tolerant social fabric of this city. The greatest challenge facing this small and brave nation is to promote the values of peace in an area filled with strife and hatred. “The Golden Rule” is a common link in the three major faiths that can and will draw us together to promote Shalom and Salaam. It is happening in Haifa the city of peaceful coexistence.

I have been blessed to participate in many interfaith efforts in the past five years to promote peace through dialogue in Haifa.This holiday season I rejoiced to participate in several activities in Haifa to promote harmony. My favorite was an interfaith sports event hosted by the local Muslim Ahmadiyya school in the Kabbabir community in Haifa.

 On Wednesday, Dec 19th, 2012, between Hanukkah and Christmas, 50 teens: Israeli Jews and Muslim got together in Games for Peace organized by a new association called GESHARIM LETIKVAH: BRIDGES FOR PEACE- HEALING THE WORLD BY BRINGING HEARTS TOGETHER.
The new President of the association, Prof Jesse Lachter emphasized on what is the motto and core value of this new NGO: “Love Builds Bridges”.
 Reform Movement Rabbi Dr Edgar Nof started the games by reciting a Prayer for Peace. Then the teen girls played a basketball game for peace, while the teen boys play soccer. The Jewish children came from the Open School in Haifa with their teacher Ya’ir Shachar. The game referee was Manar principal of the Ahmadiyya Muslim School in the Kabbabir neighbor of Haifa. Previous to every game the teens shook hands, and everybody wins by promoting Peace in Israel and by bringing hearts together. Imam Muhammad Sharif declared that their slogan is “Love for all, Hatred for none”. The Ahmadiyya are a world wide movement of more than one hundred million followers dedicated to peace and universal brotherhood. Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav has gone so far as to call them “Reform Arabs.” Most of the two thousand Ahmadis in Israel live in Kabbabir, they are leaders in the business, cultural and most importantly spiritual areas of our community.
 “You don’t hear about us because we don’t throw rocks at buses,” stated on Ahmadi leader. “We believe that nothing can be achieved through hatred and hostility.”
 All the kids said at the end of the games that it was too short and that they want to meet again. We have planned more activities for the spring. Below a Rabbi and Imam build bridges for peace.