Vatican Nuncio in Holy Land says dialogue is local Church's great 'challenge'

"This year we have noted a much more positive attitude [on the part of the Israeli government]. At Easter and at Christmas, more permits were granted than in the past and many of the faithful were also able to leave Tel Aviv, which previously was prohibited."

By Marta Petrosillo

NEW YORK—In wake of the arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication on the Sea of Galilee, the Vatican’s diplomatic representative to the Holy Land said the local Church faces a significant challenge in pursuing dialogue with factions in the Jewish community that appear to outright reject Christianity.

 To "transform a shared home into a family, through dialogue, that is the challenge" for the Church in the Holy Land, said Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, the papal nuncio in Israel and apostolic delegate for Palestine, in an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Referring to the June 18 attack on the Church of the Multiplication, the prelate said: "Such actions are a cause of great bitterness to us, since—although it is not shared by the majority of the population—they express an attitude of closure, of refusal to accept the presence of those who are different from them.”

Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto.jpgSmall.jpg

Regardless, he stressed, the Christian community is continuing to pursue the path of dialogue—dialogue among Christians, and dialogue with Jews and Muslims. "This is what Pope Francis is constantly recalling us to—to educate ourselves and others to dialogue." Reconciliation, he suggested, would encourage members of the region’s already tiny Christian community not to emigrate.  

One possible hope for the future be the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community, which has grown rapidly in recent years, thanks to the presence of the children of Catholic migrant workers in Israel. "This is a new and beautiful reality, to which we must pay careful attention and which may in future play a fundamental role,” the archbishop said.

Asked about the wall that seals off the West Bank from Israel proper and the usually difficult process involved in Palestinian Christians seeking access to holy places in Israel, the prelate noted a a greater openness on the part of the Israeli authorities. "We are against the walls, but it has to be said that this year we have noted a much more positive attitude. At Easter and at Christmas, more permits were granted than in the past and many of the faithful were also able to leave Tel Aviv, which previously was prohibited,” he said.

Holy Land Christians are also hopeful about the spotlight put on the accord between the Holy See and the Palestinian state. "This agreement will provide us with a legal guarantee. In Palestine, the Christian community enjoys freedom of religion and worship. However, from now on, this freedom will not merely depend on the goodwill of whoever is in government—rather it will be a right recognized by the state, which is now officially committing itself for both the present and the future of the Church,” Archbishop Lazzarotto said.

For several years now ACN has been helping to promote dialogue between the various different religious communities in the Holy Land, notably through its support for the Al-Liqa Centre for interreligious research in Bethlehem, whose goal is to promote a deeper dialogue among Christians, Muslims and Jews. Last year, ACN gave some $20,000 in support of the work of the center. ACN has also supported the activities of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR), which seeks to promote closer relations between Christians and Jews through educational programs. Most recently, ACN helped the JCJCR with a grant of $48,000.

ACN photo: Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto

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