Prelate: Jerusalem Can't Belong to Just One State

Scholars Consider Unique Mission of Holy City

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By Chiara Santomiero
 
ROME, OCT. 12, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Nothing less than religious liberty can be accepted for Jerusalem, says an auxiliary bishop of the Jerusalem Patriarchate.

Bishop William Shomali affirmed this Friday at a seminar in Rome on Jerusalem and international law. The seminar was scheduled to coincide with Sunday's inauguration of the synod on the Middle East, under way in the Vatican through Oct. 24.

"Jerusalem cannot belong to one state," the bishop said. "It will resist all monopolization and will continue to be a microcosm in which all religions have the same rights, regardless of the numbers. Nothing less can be accepted than parity and religious liberty."

The seminar was sponsored by Italian Catholic Action and other foundations. It was inspired in Benedict XVI's affirmation of the "universal vocation" of the Holy City during his visit there in May 2009.

"Jews, Muslims and Christians alike call this city their spiritual home," the Pope said on that occasion. "How much needs to be done to make it truly a 'city of peace' for all peoples, where all can come in pilgrimage in search of God, and hear his voice, 'a voice which speaks of peace.'"

Intertwined

Cesare Mirabelli, an expert in canon and ecclesiastical law from Rome's Tor Vergata University, spoke about religious liberty as a prerequisite to peace.

"All the conventions on human rights guarantee religious liberty but there is no agreement that imposes it specifically, proof that it is a very delicate matter," he said.

"Although the right to religious liberty is the first to be affirmed among the fundamental rights, it is, in fact, violated," continued Mirabelli. This can happen, he said, in "obvious and violent ways in some countries," but also "in a more subtle way when the religious dimension is erased from public life and its manifestation is not allowed."
 
"As in all liberties, when the liberty of one is violated the liberty of all is violated," he added.

Safeguarding history

In the case of the Holy Land, Mirabelli reflected, the presence of the three monotheistic religions is significant. Their common presence, he said, "is not translated into a loss of identity, but into mutual respect and tolerance, guaranteeing to each one that he can not only live in the Holy Land, but that he can live there as a believer."

And the plight of Christians in the Holy Land affects Christians around the world, Mirabelli affirmed, since "not only the political options are at stake, but also the safeguarding of that history of faith contained in the sacred testimonies."

Father David Jaeger, professor of canon law and expert in Church-state relations in the Holy Land, clarified that religious liberty is "not indifference or relativism: it means that no one can pressure an individual in this connection."

A requisite to guarantee religious liberty, he added, is "the secularity of the state, which all religious communities have the task of safeguarding."