Thursday, February 28, 2008

Vatican to Israel: "It is a question of life or death"

"The Palestinian question could jeopardise the Pope's visit to Israel" says the Nuncio.

by Manuela Borraccino
Rome - February 26, 2008

The Vatican has warned Israeli officials that the Holy See will not sign an agreement that cannot be sustained locally. The warning came during the last plenary meeting Dec. 13, aimed at resolving a key treaty between Israel and the Holy See.

That's according to Archbishop Antonio Franco, the Apostolic Nuncio in Israel (who is also the Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, as well as Apostolic Nuncio in Cyprus) during a recent visit through Rome. Speaking to, the archbishop said he was "not making any forecasts" on the duration of the negotiations on tax and property of the Church in Israel, but stressed that both parties were working "with a great deal of good will" and there was progress because "the State of Israel is showing great understanding". But he added it was essential the negotiators understand "it is a question of life or death", because the "very survival of the Church of the Holy Land" is at stake.

Your Excellency, according to some of the participants, the last meeting in Jerusalem is alleged to have ended in stalemate. Was that really the case?
I can say that on the Israeli side, there was a certain disappointment because the Vatican delegation did not immediately accept the two proposals on tax exemption put forward by Israel. In my opinion, however, this did not bring the talks to a standstill or represent a backwards step. On the contrary, I would say that progress is being made, especially in understanding the concrete situation. The Holy See is not asking for privileges. We are asking, in the name of the Catholic Church, that the rights enjoyed until now by Christians resident in that very special land are implemented. And this is being asked because it is a question of life or death. If the Catholic communities in the Holy Land have to be subject to the obligations of taxes they will gradually disappear because they live exclusively on what they receive from the universal Church. Local resources are reduced to a minimum and this structure has to be maintained, not just the Holy Places but also the presence of a Church which was born there and which has real difficulties to survive.

What reaction have you had from the Israeli authorities on these considerations?
I think that really understanding what is at stake in these talks is already progress. Naturally, conditions will have to be reached which are satisfactory for Israel, but also for the Christians living there. Otherwise, the agreement will not be signed because this would mean exposing the Christians in the Holy Land to an unsustainable situation. I said this clearly at the last two meetings: the Holy See cannot sign an agreement that cannot be sustained locally. Until now, the Church has been living as it has always lived: with tax exemptions. And we must acknowledge that the State of Israel really intends to find a solution that is acceptable to both sides.

But if an agreement were not to be reached, what does the Holy See intend to do?
An agreement has to be found because we are not at loggerheads. Everybody realizes the importance and the value of the Christian presence, including the Israeli authorities. Therefore, we have to reach harmony between the different forces in the field. Recently, for example, on the question of visas, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Meir Shitrit, insisted: "We want the Christians to stay in Israel." And we replied, "Fine, very good, but if you want them to stay, then you also have to smooth out the practical difficulties they encounter." I have to say that there is real collaboration to find solutions that are satisfactory for both.

Church institutions, for the time being, do not pay taxes, from which they were exempted before the birth of the State of Israel or before Israel ruled otherwise?
Exactly. The notices of payment arrive, and we regularly send them back with a note from the Nunciature. For the time being, they [the churches] are not paying taxes thanks to the Fundamental Agreement, because this established that an agreement had to be reached on tax and economic matters. Until this is reached, there won't be any new taxes.

The Pope has said on several occasions that he would like to visit the Christians who live in Israel and Palestine. Do you think he will?
It is our hope that one day he can come and I am sure that it will be a beneficial visit for everyone. But what I am repeating continuously to our opposite numbers is that the Pope must be able to come in a relaxed atmosphere. If our Christian Catholic communities live in a situation of real difficulty and in a permanent state of tension, this makes the Pope's visit more difficult because there has to be a more serene atmosphere. Insofar as practical problems are resolved, and progress is possibly made on the Palestinian question - the fundamental problem which is at the basis of all the others - a climate is created and the foundations are laid for a journey by the Pope.

Apparently, where Jesus Christ gave his life, his vicar is afraid to go...


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home