The Holy Father expressed these convictions today when he presided over a meeting in the Vatican on "The Future of Christians in the Holy Land." The meeting was attended by five Catholic representatives of the region, members of the Roman Curia, and presidents of bishops´ conferences especially interested in the area.
"Unfortunately, we are meeting at a time that I do not hesitate to describe as dramatic, both for the populations that live in those dear regions, as well as for our brothers in the faith," the Pope said.
"The latter, in fact, seem to be crushed by the weight of two different extremisms that, notwithstanding the reasons that fuel them, are disfiguring the face of the Holy Land," he added.
In this context, Christians, and particularly their pastors, have the "important task to continue to be witnesses of the presence of the love of God in those lands, and bearers of the message in areas of Muslim and Jewish majority," John Paul II explained.
The presence of the presidents of the bishops´ conferences of the United States and Canada, as well as of the episcopal councils of Europe and Latin America, "testifies that in this difficult task, you are not alone: the entire Church is with you," the Pontiff concluded.
The next speaker was Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, who emphasized the work being done by the Holy See to "cooperate in the re-establishment of a climate of peace between Israelis and Palestinians."
In this connection, Cardinal Sodano stressed that the Apostolic See insists "above all, on the need for a truce and renewal of negotiation between the parties, unfortunately, abruptly interrupted a year ago."
The cardinal lamented the exodus of Christians, who feel obliged to leave because of the "harsh conditions of life."
The secretary of state quoted statistics showing there "are 117,000 Catholics, between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, in a population of 6.1 million inhabitants."
All Christians taken together are not more "perhaps, than 3% of the population. The majority are of Palestinian origin, and a very reduced number of Jewish origin," Cardinal Sodano added.
"It is necessary to examine how to help them in their dialogue with the Jewish and Islamic world; many suffer and need concrete help," the cardinal continued.
Given the above, the Vatican has signed agreements with the state of Israel (1993) and the Palestinian Authority (2000) which lay the basis for the juridical recognition of Catholics and their institutions, Cardinal Sodano noted.
Among the speakers at the daylong meeting were Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem; Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states; Cardinal François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.