Jerusalem (Agenzia Fides) - The local governments that currently control the Holy Land are urged to "initiate a dialogue" among themselves and with the Churches and ecclesial communities present there, in view of the creation of a "special area" of cultural protection with the goal of "safeguarding the integrity of the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem" and "ensuring that its unique character and heritage are preserved for the good of the local community, our national life and throughout the world". This unprecedented request-proposal also contains the appeal made by the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches of the Holy Land in view of Christmas, focused on the "current threats" to the Christian presence in the lands where Jesus Christ was born, died and rose.
The request seems to echo, in more attenuated terms, the proposals outlined in the past also by Vatican diplomacy, which foreshadowed as convenient the definition of an "internationally guaranteed Statute" for the historic part of the Holy City, which would anchor the protection of the Holy Places at an international level and their accessibility to believers from all over the world, to preserve them also from unilateral initiatives and "fait accompli" that may be pursued and implemented by individual States or local political entities.
The new pronouncement of the Patriarchs and heads of the Churches and ecclesial communities of the Holy Land acknowledges "with gratitude" the commitment made by the government of Israel to guarantee a safe life for Christians in the Holy Land, preserving their presence as an essential component of the local Community "tapestry". As evidence of this commitment - the heads of the Churches recognize - we see the government's facilitation of the visit of millions of Christian pilgrims to the holy sites of the Holy Land. At the same time, the pronouncement of the representatives of the local Christian communities recalls the "innumerable attacks" suffered by churches, monasteries and representatives of the clergy by "radical groups". Desecrations and assaults perpetrated with the clear aim of "expelling" the Christian presence from Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The spiritual and cultural character of the individual historic districts of Jerusalem - recall the Heads of the Churches of the Holy Land - "should be protected, and is already recognised in Israeli law with respect to the Jewish Quarter. Yet radical groups continue to acquire strategic property in the Christian Quarter, with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence, often using underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics to evict residents from their homes".
The Heads of the Churches of the Holy Land also recall that Christian pilgrimage from all over the world bring "great benefits to Israel's economy and society", and cite a recent report from the University of Birmingham, according to which the flow of Christian pilgrims and tourists "contributes $ 3 billion to the Israeli economy". Furthermore, the local Christian community, while small and decreasing in number, provides a disproportionate amount of educational, health and humanitarian services in communities throughout Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.
Precisely on the basis of these premises, the Heads and Patriarchs of the Churches of the Holy Land ask the political authorities of Israel, Palestine and Jordan to begin an "urgent dialogue" with them to address the emergency represented by the aforementioned "radical groups" and to discuss on the "creation of a special cultural area relating to the Christian heritage". In order 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". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 15/12/2021)