Today the new ambassador from Israel to the Holy See presented his letters of credence to Pope Benedict. After congratulating Israel on its 60 years of statehood, the Pope surveyed the difficulties faced by Christians in the region and called for the Israelis to work for a peaceful resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
Mordechay Lewy, the new ambassador of Israel to the Holy See, was received by the Holy Father this morning and extended "cordial good wishes on the occasion of Israel's celebration of 60 years of statehood.”
There are several areas of cooperation between Israel and the Church, given the shared Judeo-Christian heritage, the Pope said, pointing to humanitarian concerns and combating racism.
Dialogue between the two faiths has yielded fruit already, such as "the cultural and academic exchanges that are taking place between Catholic institutions worldwide and those of the Holy Land," Benedict XVI said.
"The holy cities of Rome and Jerusalem", he added, "represent a source of faith and wisdom of central importance for Western civilization, and in consequence, the links between Israel and the Holy See have deeper resonances than those which arise formally from the juridical dimension of our relations."
Pope Benedict then addressed, "the alarming decline in the Christian population of the Middle East, including Israel, through emigration." He observed that "of course Christians are not alone in suffering the effects of insecurity and violence as a result of the various conflicts in the region, but in many respects they are particularly vulnerable at the present time."
Invoking the "the growing friendship between Israel and the Holy See," Benedict XVI expressed the hope that "ways will be found of reassuring the Christian community, so that they can experience the hope of a secure and peaceful future in their ancestral homelands, without feeling under pressure to move to other parts of the world in order to build new lives.”
Beyond the consideration of friendship between the Church and Israel, the Holy Father said that Christians are able to help foster better relationships between Jews and Muslims. "Christians in the Holy Land have long enjoyed good relations with both Muslims and Jews. Their presence in your country, and the free exercise of the Church's life and mission there, have the potential to contribute significantly to healing the divisions between the two communities," he said.
The Pope also waded into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict saying, "I do realize that the difficulties experienced by Christians in the Holy Land are also related to the continuing tension between Jewish and Palestinian communities.”
While recognizing “Israel's legitimate need for security and self-defense” and strongly condemning “all forms of anti-Semitism,” Pope Benedict XVI insisted that all people “be given equal opportunities to flourish.”
“Accordingly, I would urge your government to make every effort to alleviate the hardship suffered by the Palestinian community, allowing them the freedom necessary to go about their legitimate business, including travel to places of worship, so that they too can enjoy greater peace and security,” he said.
Recalling the peace negotiations in Annapolis, the Holy Father said that he prayed “that the hopes and expectations raised there will not be disappointed. ... When all the people of the Holy Land live in peace and harmony, in two independent sovereign states side by side, the benefit for world peace will be inestimable, and Israel will truly serve as 'light to the nations', a shining example of conflict resolution for the rest of the world to follow."
The meeting between with Mr. Lewy concluded with the Pope raising the issues of property taxes on Church lands and buildings in the Holy Land and the continuing uncertainties over Christians’ legal rights and status, especially with regard to the question of visas for church personnel."
"Only when these difficulties are overcome, will the Church be able to carry out freely her religious, moral, educational and charitable works in the land where she came to birth," Benedict XVI said.