Vatican´s Position Vis-à-vis Russian Orthodox and Also the Holy Land

Interview with Archbishop Tauran, Secretary for Relations with States

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ROME, APRIL 24, 2002 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- At the start of John Paul II´s pontificate, the Vatican had diplomatic relations with 84 countries. Today that figure stands at 172, with two more countries soon to be announced.



The figures alone attest to the scope of the Vatican´s diplomatic activity. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, addressed this topic Tuesday at the Catholic University of Milan. Here, he talks about the current critical points of Vatican diplomacy.

Q: What concrete initiatives have been taken following the expulsions from Russia of Bishop Jerzy Mazur of the Diocese of St. Joseph in Irkutsk, in eastern Siberia, and Father Stefano Caprio, parish priest of Holy Rosary Church in Vladimir and Ivanovo?

Archbishop Tauran: We have expressed our protest to the Russian authorities for whom Mazur and Caprio are persona non grata. Why? This is a violation of international commitments on the level of religious liberty, which Russia has also made its own.

Q: The two expulsions were decreed by public authority. However, it is difficult not to place them in the framework of the critical relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. If this is the case, what can be done?

Archbishop Tauran: Our protest and distress do not lessen the degree and depth of our understanding.

We are well aware of what the Orthodox Church suffered during the long years of the Soviet regime: isolation, oppression, martyrdom. These are sufferings that, in particular, have profoundly marked Russian Orthodoxy. Because of this, I say: The Holy See has no animosity toward the Orthodox Church. On the contrary, we are happy to be able to help her grow.

Q: Another very critical point is the Holy Land. What is the Vatican´s position?

Archbishop Tauran: I repeat: There are two peoples with equal rights. The Israelis with the right to security; the Palestinians, a land and state. No right should prevail over another.

It is absolutely necessary that the force of law prevail over the law of force. I repeat this with great conviction in these days, in which yet again contempt for life and armed violence are taking an entire region, perhaps beyond its borders, to the abyss.

Q: What steps should be taken to unite peace and justice again in the Holy Land?

Archbishop Tauran: Withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, respect for U.N. resolutions, the involvement of the international community, and the recognition of an international juridical statute for the holy places.

Q: The latter, a topic that is again of very great importance, following the invasion of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem by 200 Palestinians.

Archbishop Tauran: The entry of those armed men is a violation of a holy place. However, the problem will not be resolved by force.

The Vatican has proposed the establishment of an Israeli-Palestinian bilateral commission to address the question. More generally, we can see, as history teaches, that guarantees diminish when the protection of holy places is entrusted to only one national authority.

This is why we again ask that the international community be the guarantor of places loved by Jews, Muslims and Christians -- loved by faithful of the whole planet.

Q: In your address, you explained that the defense of life and the family is one of the new fields of the Vatican´s international action. How can this commitment be integrated in the construction of the European Union, where there are states, like Holland, for example, which legalize practices such as euthanasia?

Archbishop Tauran: We encourage the European episcopates to know how to help peoples to become aware of the challenges, and political leaders to make the right decisions, in the perspective of a plan of society that is respectful of human dignity and freedom and of natural morality.