On December 13, the diocese of Jerusalem released a joint statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem who underscore their concerns with rising acts of violence against Christians in the Holy Land. They ask for dialogue, for greater protection for Christians throughout the Middle East, and also for a special cultural heritage area for Christians in Jerusalem.

It was entitled Statement on the Current Threat to the Christian Presence in the Holy Land.**

“Throughout the Holy Land,” starts the statement, “Christians have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups. Since 2012 there have been countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives. These tactics are being used by such radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.

“We acknowledge with gratitude,” it continues, “the declared commitment of the Israeli government to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land and to preserve the Christian community as an integral part of the tapestry of the local community. As evidence of this commitment we see the government’s facilitation of the visit of millions of Christian pilgrims to the holy sites of the Holy Land. It is therefore a matter of grave concern when this national commitment is betrayed by the failure of local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies to curb the activities of radical groups who regularly intimidate local Christians, assault priests and clergy, and desecrate Holy Sites and church properties.”

The statement ends with a request: “In accordance with the declared commitment to protect religious freedom by the local political authorities of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, we are requesting an urgent dialogue with us the Church Leaders, so as to: 1. Deal with the challenges presented by radical groups in Jerusalem to both the Christian community and the rule of law, so as to ensure that no citizen or institution has to live under threat of violence or intimidation, and 2. Begin dialogue on the creation of a special Christian cultural and heritage zone to safeguard the integrity of the Christian Quarter in Old City Jerusalem and to ensure that its unique character and heritage are preserved for the sake of well-being of the local community, our national life, and the wider world.”

On Tuesday, Israel responded.

The Israeli embassy to the Holy See today released a press communiqué from Lior Halat, spokesperson for the Israeli minister of foreign affairs in response to the statement by leaders of Christian Churches of Jerusalem:

“The accusations that appear in the statement by church leaders are baseless and distort the reality of the Christian community in Israel.

”The Christian population in Israel – including in Jerusalem Dash enjoys for freedom of religion and of worship, is constantly growing, and is part of the unique fabric of Israeli society.

”Since the day it was established, the State of Israel has been committed to freedom of religion and worship for all religions, as well to ensuring the freedom of access to holy sites.

”The statement by church leaders in Jerusalem is particularly infuriating given their silence and the plight of many Christian communities in the Middle East suffering from discrimination and persecution.

”Religious leaders have a critical role to play in education for tolerance and coexistence, and church leaders should be expected to understand their responsibility and the consequences of what they have published, which could lead to violence and bringing harm to innocent and bring harm to innocent people.

“The State of Israel wishes all Christians in the Holy Land and across the world a merry Christmas and a happy new year.”

** (Statement on the Current Threat to the Christian Presence in the Holy Land. – The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (


Here is a link to the lengthy but very interesting press conference held aboard the papal plane last night as it brought Pope Francis, his entourage and members of the media back to Rome from Africa at the end of the Pope’s three-nation, six-day visit. Many a media summary has been offered of the Pope’s answers to questions on the plane, and a careful reading of this Vatican news report can be helpful in separating the wheat from the chaff.


Barely resting up after his return to Rome last night from a six-day trip to Africa – his fourth to that continent – Pope Francis presided at the weekly general audience in a sun-splashed St. Peter’s Square this morning. As is traditional upon returning from an apostolic voyage, the Pope dedicated the general audience catechesis to a summary of that trip. (photo Vaticannews)

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,” he began, “Last night I returned to Rome from my apostolic journey to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius. I went as a pilgrim of peace and hope to share the message of Christ as the true foundation of fraternity, freedom and justice in our world.”

He noted that, “in Mozambique, I encouraged the authorities to work together for the common good, the young to play their part in building up their country, and bishops, priests and religious to give a generous ‘yes’ to God. In Madagascar, I shared my hope that people there, with their traditional spirit of solidarity, will be able to contribute to a future of development, combined with respect for the environment and social justice. I also encouraged many contemplative nuns, bishops, priests, religious and young people to respond generously to God’s call.”

Then, speaking of his penultimate day in Africa, Francis said, “in Mauritius, a land of diverse cultures, I expressed to all my appreciation for their efforts to foster harmony between different groups. The Gospel at our final Mass reminded us how the Beatitudes – the identity card of Christ’s disciples – are the source of peace and hope. Let us pray that, from the seeds sown during this visit, God will bring forth abundant fruit for the people of Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius.”

Interestingly enough, according to a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, since 1980 the Catholic population in Africa has risen by 238%, the largest growth anywhere in the world.


A communiqué this morning from the Israeli Embassy to the Holy See announced that “Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See Oren David was at this morning’s weekly general audience at which he met with Pope Francis and presented a stamp jointly issued by the Israeli philatelic service and the Vatican Post Office to mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations. The stamp depicts the church of Saint Peter and the synagogue of Capernaum in Galilee, an image that well represents the close ties between Judaism and Christianity and between the state of Israel and the Holy See. On this occasion Ambassador David invited Pope Francis to visit Capernaum and the holy places of Galilee.”

(JFL: On June 15, 1994, the Holy See established full diplomatic relations with Israel, setting up an apostolic nunciature in Tel Aviv, and naming Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo as the first apostolic nuncio or ambassador.)


A fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and Israel was signed in Jerusalem on December 30 1993:

Action on some of the provisions involving taxes, visas for Catholic workers and other issues are still pending on the part of Israel. Below are a few pieces that give some background on the state of relations between the Holy See and Israel.


“Today, 15 November, the Holy Father Francis received in audience His Excellency Mr. Reuven Rivlin, President of the State of Israel, who subsequently met with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by H.E. Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

“During the cordial discussions, which took place around the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, the positive relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel were evoked and, with regard to the state authorities and the local Catholic communities, the hope was expressed that suitable agreements may be reached in relation to some issues of common interest.

“Mention was made of the importance of building greater mutual trust in view of the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians so as to reach an accord respecting the legitimate aspirations of both peoples, and of the Jerusalem question, in its religious and human dimension for Jews, Christians and Muslims, as well as the importance of safeguarding its identity and vocation as City of Peace.

“Finally, attention turned to the political and social situation in the region, marked by different conflicts and the consequent humanitarian crises. In this context, the parties highlighted the importance of dialogue between the various religious communities in order to guarantee peaceful coexistence and stability.”



President Reuven Rivlin met with Pope Francis in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City on Thursday morning, and thanked the pontiff for his support in the fight against antisemitism on behalf of Israel and world Jewry.

“Your absolute condemnation of acts of antisemitism and your definition of such acts as anti-Christian are a significant step in the ongoing fight to stamp it out,” said the president.

Rivlin also discussed the controversy between the Jerusalem city government and church over municipal property taxes. “The State of Israel has full freedom of worship for all religions in all holy places,” Rivlin said.

In February, the municipality announced its intention to start collecting taxes from properties owned by churches that are not prayer houses. The municipality notified the Finance, Interior and Foreign ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office that it will start collecting NIS 650 million in tax from 887 properties. It said that until February it had refrained from such tax collections because the state did not permit it.

The move outraged churches based in Jerusalem, which in a rare protest closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The audience was Rivlin’s second with Pope Francis. Their first meeting, also at the invitation of the Pope, took place in 2015.

The president and his wife Nechama received an official welcome to the Vatican, reviewing the Pontifical Swiss Guard in their traditional uniforms.


The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land released a statement on 2 November responding to the Nation State Law of 19 July 2018 passed by the Israeli Knesset.

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp (vaticannews. November 5)

It is out of a “spirit of dialogue” that the Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land speak out in a statement responding to the “issue of the Nation State Law passed by the Israeli Knesset on 19 July 2018.

We are all citizens
The legislation at issue limits the promotion and protection offered by the State of Israel to “Jewish citizens of the State of Israel”. In direct response to this, the Bishops write:
“We must draw the attention of the authorities to a simple fact: our faithful, the Christians, our fellow citizens, Muslim, Druze and Baha’i, all of us who are Arabs, are no less citizens of this country than our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

The Bishops also draw attention to the ongoing tension arising from the definition of Israel’s democracy being both “Jewish” and “democratic”. It is the Jewish majority who determines what this means, while the Arab minority experiences the discrimination caused by the imbalance of the “Jewish” element over the “democratic”. An ongoing struggle to “protect the rights of all citizens, to guarantee as much as possible the values of equality, justice and democracy” received a milestone victory with the 1992 passage of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, the statement says.

Legal discrimination
Recent passage of the new Nation State legislation “is a blow to these values”, the statement continues. Now there is a “constitutional and legal basis for discrimination” because “Jewish citizens are to be privileged over and above other citizens”. In addition to “seriously downgrading the standing of the Arab language”, the law ignores “Palestinian Arabs, other major religious communities, Christians and Muslims as well as Druze and Baha’i”.

Demand for equality
The statement continues with a declaration that the above-mentioned groups “demand to be treated as equal citizens.” In addition, equality must incorporate civic, ethnic, and religious identities. This demand is based on the fact that “Jerusalem and the whole of this Holy Land is a heritage we share with Jews and Muslims, Druze and Baha’i, a heritage we are called upon to protect from division and internecine strife”.

Call to rescind the law
In conclusion, the Bishops “call on the authorities to rescind” the law since it is contradictory to both the humanistic and democratic basis of Israeli legislation and international law. Thus all can be assured that the “State of Israel seeks to promote and protect the welfare and the safety of all its citizens”.

There are 25 signatories to the statement, representing the Latin, Armenian, Melkite, Chaldean and Maronite Churches, as well as the representatives of men and women religious serving in the Holy Land.


Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in New York on October 18 addressed a UN Security Council debate on the Middle East and the Palestinian question.
By Robin Gomes (vaticannews)

The Holy See has reiterated its unwavering support for a fair, durable and early solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through the resumption of negotiations aimed at reaching a Two-State solution, with Israel and a Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security within internationally-recognized borders.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See Permanent Observer to the United Nations in New York made the call in an address on Thursday to a UN Security Council debate on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian question.

Legitimate aspirations of both peoples

While expressing grave concern over facts on the ground, the Vatican diplomat called on both sides to demonstrate wisdom, responsibility and the political will to reach a historic peace agreement that would meet the legitimate aspirations of both peoples.
“Persevering dialogue based on good will ,” he said, “must replace inflammatory rhetoric, violence and conflict.” “Innocent civilians must never be the target of terror or overwhelming military actions,” he stressed.

Noting that states in and outside the Middle East have exacerbated the Israeli-Palestinian discord and the intra-Palestinian divisions for their own interests, Arch. Auza urged these states to rather facilitate and sustain the peace process.

“Status quo” for Jerusalem status

The status of Jerusalem has been a painful issue between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state, whereas Israel has declared the whole city to be its “united and eternal” capital.

At the UN, Arch. Auza reiterated the Holy See’s support for the historic “status quo” of Jerusalem, in line with UN resolutions, rejecting any unilateral measure aimed at changing it.

He asserted the Holy See stand that the Holy City be a place of convergence and peace and that the followers of the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam be guaranteed free and unhindered access to the Holy Places.
Palestinian refugees

The Holy See official also expressed serious concern over the dire humanitarian situation of Palestine refugees. Arch. Auza urged that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), that is providing some 5.6 million Palestine refugees with the most basic human needs, be allowed to function fully in order to prevent the situation from worsening. (from October 19)

ANGLICAN, CATHOLIC LEADERS ASK ISRAEL TO PROTECT HOLY SITES IN JERUSALEM – VATICAN MUSEUMS RELEASE BOOK ON ETHICS OF CONSERVATION : God, who cannot be outdone in generosity, still uses you and me to help our brothers and sisters.


Joint Statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols about recent events in Jerusalem

(March 5, 2018) – The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols have called on the Israeli Government to protect the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem.

In a joint letter to the Israeli Ambassador to London, Mark Regev, the two faith leaders expressed their deep concern at the events unfolding in Jerusalem of unprecedented, punitive and discriminatory taxation of Christian Institutions and their fears that this dispute could inflict longterm damage on relations between the two communities.

The letter stated that, “they threaten to cause serious damage to the Christian presence in Jerusalem, to Christian families, and to the Christian institutions, including hospitals and schools, which serve many of the poorest people, regardless of their background.

“It is our view that the measures being pressed in Jerusalem and in the Knesset are a clear and evident threat to the status quo. These violations of historic agreements risk undermining prospects for peaceful coexistence between communities, at a time of already heightened tensions.”

The two Archbishops are praying for the peace of Jerusalem and have urged the Israeli government to address this crisis as a matter of urgency and immediately enter dialogue with the local Churches to find a resolution.


The Ethnological Materials Laboratory of the Vatican Museums has released a new book entitled “Ethics and Practice of Conservation: Manual for the conservation of ethnographic and multi-material assets”.

Available in English, Italian, and Spanish, the Vatican Museums’ new book on the ethics and practice of conservation is the result of nearly a century of experience at the Anima Mundi Ethnological Museum.

“Ethics and Practice of Conservation: Manual for the conservation of ethnographic and multi-material assets”, edited by Stefania Pandozy and Mathilde De Bonis, also contains a rich collection of photographs.

The images succeed in showing the ethics underlying the conservation practice of Vatican experts.

The Anima Mundi Ethnological Museum was set up by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and is one of the few in the world to preserve testimonies and artistic artifacts, and spiritual traditions of all peoples.

The new book details 16 study cases of conservation efforts performed upon objects including prehistoric flints, a piece of Japanese armor, a Polynesian reliquary, Chinese paintings, a wampum belt, and artworks made of Amazonian feathers.

(JFL: You’ll really want to click on this link to view the accompanying video:



Pope Francis, upon learning of the death overnight of former Israeli President Shimon Peres, sent the following telegram to current Israeli President Reuven Rivlin:

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of His Excellency Shimon Peres, and I wish to convey to you and to all the people of Israel my heartfelt condolences. I fondly recall my time with Mr. Peres at the Vatican and renew my great appreciation for the late President’s tireless efforts in favour of peace. As the State of Israel mourns Mr. Peres, I hope that his memory and many years of service will inspire us all to work with ever greater urgency for peace and reconciliation between peoples. In this way, his legacy will truly be honoured and the common good for which he so diligently laboured will find new expressions, as humanity strives to advance on the path towards enduring peace. With the assurance of my prayers for all who grieve, especially for the Peres family, I invoke the divine blessings of consolation and strength upon the nation. FRANCISCUS PP.”

Pope Francis met President Shimon Peres in 2014 during his three-day trip in late May to Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.A month later, he welcomed Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to the Vatican and together they planted an olive tree in the gardens. The pontiff met Peres again in September 2014 in the Vatican. Peres’ term as presidemnt had ended in July of that year-

The closest I ever was to former Israeli President Shimon Peres was on December 29, 2008 when I attended the reception he offered at his residence for the heads of the Christian Churches in Israel. This is a yearly event for the exchange of New Year’s greetings between the president and the religious leaders.




At the time, I was in Bethlehem at the Jacir Palace Hotel for a 10-day visit over the Christmas period. On the 29th, I had gone to Jerusalem with a pastor friend of mine in Beit Sahour, Fr. Faysal, who had business at the Latin Patriarchate. There was the usual stop at the Israeli checkpoint (Bethlehem is in Palestine), documents were shown, questions were asked and the car was examined from top to bottom. We were okayed to pass through and I spent the day at the Patriarchate before going to President Peres’ home.




Just last Monday evening in the Vatican, Pope Francis met with members of the World Jewish Congress.