Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home


VATICAN, residence of the *pope, who is the ruler of Vatican City in Rome.

The Vatican and Zionism

Theodor Herzl was the first Zionist leader to understand the political importance of the Catholic Church in the Middle East. He also realized the necessity for Zionists to come to terms with the Church and gain its support or at least try to neutralize its influence. The Vatican wished to safeguard Catholic rights in the holy places, and therefore Herzl was ready to propose an extraterritorial status for the holy places when he was received by the nuncio in Vienna, Msgr. Antonio Agliardi, on May 19, 1896, a short time after the publication of his book The Jewish State. Herzl repeated the idea of extraterritoriality to Secretary of State Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val on January 22, 1904, but Merry del Val answered that the holy places could not be regarded as entities separate from the Holy Land. On January 25 Herzl was received by the pope, *Pius X, who told him: "We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem but we could never sanction it. The Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people. If you come to Palestine and settle your people there, we will have churches and priests ready to baptize all of you."

During World War I new realities were changing the political situation in the Middle East. The Vatican was aware at a very early stage of the secret *Sykes-Picot Agreement dividing the region between France and Great Britain and putting the central part of Palestine under an international regime. France had been for centuries the protecting power for Catholics in the Ottoman Empire, but the Holy See hinted that the Vatican would not be averse to British patronage of the Holy Places. This is what Sir Mark *Sykes heard on April 11, 1917, from Msgr. Eugenio Pacelli, undersecretary for extraordinary affairs at the Secretariat of State, and a few days later from Pope *Benedict XV himself.

Following the advice of Sykes, Nahum *Sokolow of the Zionist Executive in London met Msgr. Pacelli on April 29, 1917, and Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Gasparri on May 1, and was received by the pope on May 4, 1917. Pacelli wanted clear geographical boundaries acceptable to the Vatican to be demarcated, while Gasparri wanted the Church to have a "reserved zone" that would include Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Tiberias, and Jericho. The pope said: "The problem of the holy places is of extraordinary importance for us. The sacred rights must be protected. We will settle this between the Church and the Great Powers. You must respect those rights to their full extent."

Sokolow could well understand that the Holy See had clear territorial claims on the central part of Palestine. Furthermore the Holy See would not accept a solution giving extraterritorial status to the holy places, and would in any case negotiate with the Great Powers, not with the Zionists.

Despite the content of these talks, the Zionists were impressed by the positive manner of the Church's representatives. On the basis of Sokolow's reports Dr. Chaim *Weizmann could announce to a Zionist conference in London on May 20, 1917: "We have assurances from the highest Catholic circles that they will favor the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine and from their religious point of view they see no objections to it and no reason why we should not be good neighbors." Nothing could have been further from the truth. By "good neighbors" the pope probably meant that the Vatican would maintain a presence in the central area of Palestine that was to be internationalized, while the Zionists would remain outside of it in the bordering areas.

At the end of the year 1917 two events dramatically changed the situation of Palestine: the Balfour Declaration of November 2, and the conquest of Jerusalem by British troops on December 9.

Cardinal Gasparri clearly expressed opposition to a Jewish state in Palestine when he said on December 18, 1917, to the Belgian representative, Jules Van den Heuvel: "The transformation of Palestine into a Jewish state would not only endanger the Holy Places and injure the feelings of all Christians, it would also be very harmful for the country itself."

A few days later, on December 28, the pope expressed his fear to De Salis, the British representative, that Great Britain might hand Palestine over "to the Jews to the detriment of the Christian interests."

In January 1919 the Peace Conference met in Versailles (France) but the Holy See was not admitted to it. The reason was that Italy had included Article 15 in the secret London Treaty, excluding the Vatican from the future conference, since the question of Rome was still open between them. On March 10, 1919, the pope convened a secret consistory in the Vatican and said that "it would be a terrible grief for us and for all Christians if infidels [in Palestine] were placed in a privileged and prominent position; much more if those most holy sanctuaries of the Christian religion were given into the charge of non-Christians." As Gasparri explained some days later to the Belgian representative: "The danger that we most fear is the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. We would have found nothing wrong in Jews entering that country, and setting up agricultural colonies. But that they be given the rule over the Holy Places is intolerable for Christians."

Three cardinals visited Palestine in those years: the British Francis Bourne, the Italian Filippo Giustini, and the French Louis Ernest Dubois. In January 1919 Cardinal Bourne sent a letter to the British prime minister and to the foreign secretary, writing that Zionism had not received the approval of the Holy See, and if the Jews would "ever again dominate and rule the country, it would be an outrage to Christianity and its Divine founder." In October 1919 Cardinal Giustini cabled the pope from Jerusalem asking for his intervention "to prevent the reestablishment of Zionist Israel in Palestine." Cardinal Dubois was reported in March 1920 to have said that Jewish immigration to Palestine and the establishment of a Zionist state should not be permitted. On July 20, 1920, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Msgr. Luigi Barlassina, also published a pastoral letter strongly protesting against the Great Powers' decision to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine. He added: "Let Palestine be internationalized rather than someday be the servant of Zionism."

On May Day 1921, the Jewish workers in Jaffa organized a celebration and parade in the streets. The Arabs attacked them and about 50 Jews and the same number of Arabs were killed and many hundreds injured. Instead of condemning the aggressors, the Osservatore Romano (the Vatican daily) explained a few days later that the Bolsheviks had infiltrated Palestine thanks to the Zionist Organization. The paper also raised the question of whether the Bolshevik Revolution was coordinated with Zionism or whether Zionism had raised a Bolshevik viper in its bosom.

A few days later Pope Benedict XV attacked Zionism in his allocution to the cardinals of June 13, 1921. He said that the Jews were given a "position of preponderance and privilege in Palestine"; that their activity is meant "to take away the sacred character of the Holy Places"; he admitted that no damage should "be done to the rights of the Jewish element" but "they must in no way be put above the just rights of the Christians."

Pope Benedict XV died in January 1922 and a month later, a new pope was elected, assuming the name *Pius XI. Dr. Weizmann, the leader of the Zionist Organization in London, met Secretary of State Cardinal Gasparri on April 2, 1922. Gasparri did not hide his antagonism to Zionism and gave voice to a series of objections to the draft text of the Mandate over Palestine concerning religious rights, the recognition of the Jewish Agency, and Article 14 on a commission for the holy places. Weizmann learned on this occasion that the Vatican's opposition to the Mandate would take the form of an official memorandum submitted to the League of Nations.

During Weizmann's second meeting with Cardinal Gasparri on April 20, 1922, Gasparri said that Zionist colonization work caused him no anxiety, but added: "It is your university that I fear."

On May 15, 1922, Cardinal Gasparri sent an official note to try to stop, at the very last moment, the assignment of the Mandate to Great Britain. The note sent to the League of Nations stated that the Holy See cannot agree to "the Jews being given a privileged and preponderant position in Palestine vis-à-vis the Catholics" or to "the religious rights of the Christians being inadequately safeguarded." The Holy See also opposed the recognition of the Jewish Agency, and the favoring of immigration and naturalization of Jews. Nevertheless a few weeks later, on July 22, 1922, the League of Nations approved Great Britain as the mandatory power and included the Balfour Declaration in the Preamble to the Mandate. The Vatican finally accepted the British Mandate as the lesser evil.

In the 1920s the Vatican opposed Zionism for a variety of reasons. They believed the Zionists were antireligious, that Zionist immigration would sweep the Christians out of Palestine and destroy the Christian character of the country, and that the Jews were causing radical changes in the traditional life-style of the local population and damaging moral values. During this period the Vatican was strongly opposed to Jewish statehood in the Holy Land. In August 1929 the Arabs attacked the Jewish quarters in Hebron, Safed, and other places. The daily Osservatore Romano, rather than blaming the Arabs for the attack, wrote that it was "the politics of Zionism, and not the religion of Israel, which lay at the root of the trouble."

In 1936 the Arabs started the Great Arab Rebellion which resulted in many acts of violence against the Jews. The British government sent the *Peel Commission, which published its proposal for partition in 1937, and on August 6 the Vatican sent a verbal note in which it expressed its objection to the principle of partition and requested that all Holy Places be included in the British zone.

In October 1938 the Osservatore Romano wrote that "only one of the two races which contended the hegemony in Palestine can live in the country." Along the same lines of thought, Msgr. Domenico Tardini, the Vatican undersecretary of state, told a British diplomat in 1938: "There was no real reason why [the Jews] should be back in Palestine. Why should not a nice place be found for them, for instance, in South America?"

In May 1939 the British government published the MacDonald White Paper, considered to be a betrayal by Weizmann. Land regulations prohibited or restricted land sales, Jewish immigrants were limited to 75,000 during the next five years and later would be subject to Arab consent. An independent Palestinian state would be created at the end of a transition period of 10 years.

The Osservatore Romano remarked with satisfaction that "the White Paper denied the historical basis of the Zionist claims."

During World War II, while the Holocaust was already raging and hundreds of thousands of Jews were being killed by the Nazis, anti-Zionist attitudes prevailed among Vatican diplomats.

Msgr. Domenico Tardini wrote in March 1943 that the Holy See "has never approved the project of making Palestine a Jewish home." Cardinal Maglione, secretary of state, wrote in May 1943 to his apostolic delegate in the United States, Cicognani, that it would not be difficult "if one wants to establish a 'Jewish Home,' to find other territories [than Palestine] which could better fulfill this aim, while Palestine, under Jewish predominance, would bring new and grave international problems."

Cardinal Maglione wrote in the same month that "Catholics would be wounded in their religious sentiments and would rightly fear for their rights if Palestine became the exclusive property of the Jews."

In August 1944 the secretariat of state of the Holy See wrote that they regarded Palestine "not as a Jewish home or a possible Arab home but also as a Catholic home and Catholic center."

On April 10, 1945, while the war was still going on in Europe, Moshe Shertok (later *Sharett) of the Jewish Agency was received by Pope *Pius XII. He hoped for the "moral support" of the Catholic Church for "our renewed existence in Palestine." But he did not receive any support; on the contrary the Holy See started a campaign for the internationalization of Jerusalem, supported by France. The Vatican considered Zionism to be an enemy, only suitable as a springboard for a new alliance between Christians and Moslems in Palestine.

In 1947 Great Britain decided to renounce the Mandate and to deliver the Palestine issue over to the United Nations. On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly approved Resolution No. 181 on the partition of Palestine and the creation of a corpus separatum for Jerusalem and its environs. The Holy See avoided interfering in the vote, probably in order not to jeopardize the internationalization of Jerusalem. The war that the Arab states opened against the State of Israel, and which made null and void the project of internationalization, started even before the state was proclaimed.

The Vatican and the State of Israel

The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 ran counter to certain theological ideas in the Catholic Church according to which the Jews were condemned to remain homeless because of the crime of deicide. Some believe that the Holy See did not oppose the partition plan of the United Nations in 1947 because it included Jerusalem in an international "corpus separatum." Pope Pius XII wrote three encyclicals on the question of the Holy Land. The first one, Auspicia quaedam of May 1, 1948, expressed hope "that the situation in Palestine may at long last be settled justly and thereby concord and peace be also happily established."

In the second, In multiplicibus, of October 24, 1948, the pope said that "it would be opportune to give Jerusalem and its outskirts, where are found so many and such precious memories of the life and death of the Savior, an international character which, in the present circumstances, seems to offer a better guarantee for the protection of the sanctuaries. It would also be necessary to assure, with international guarantees, both free access to Holy Places scattered throughout Palestine, and the freedom of worship and the respect of customs and religious traditions."

In his third encyclical, In redemptoris nostr, of April 15, 1949, Pope Pius XII advocated giving "to Jerusalem and its surroundings a juridical statute internationally guaranteed" and appealed that all rights of the Catholics "should be preserved inviolate."

Some Catholic states opposed the acceptance of Israel in the United Nations on May 11, 1949, because Israel had "failed to carry out the full internationalization scheme" for Jerusalem. The dispute on the war damages to churches and other properties in Israel was solved satisfactorily for the Holy See in 1955 when Msgr. Antonio Vergani received the final compensation for war damages to Catholic institutions. But even the name of the State of Israel was omitted by the Osservatore Romano in 1955 when a visit of the *Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to the Vatican was described as that of "Jewish musicians of fourteen different nationalities." The coronation of Pope *John XXIII in 1958 was attended by Ambassador Eliyahu *Sasson as a "special delegate of the State of Israel." This, it was later claimed by the Vatican, proved that the Holy See did recognize the State of Israel even if it did not establish normal diplomatic relations.

On January 5, 1964, *Paul VI became the first pope to visit Israel. He said in Megiddo, where he entered Israel: "We are coming as pilgrims, we come to venerate the Holy Places; we come to pray." He ended his speech with the Hebrew words "Shalom, shalom." But Paul VI never addressed President Shazar by his title; even when he sent a telegram with his thanks, it was sent to Tel Aviv, not to Jerusalem, the residence of the president of the State of Israel. Every effort was made to stress the non-recognition of Israel by the Holy See.

The Ecumenical Council Vatican II approved in 1965 an important declaration, Nostra Aetate, modifying the accusation of deicide and stating: "True, authorities of the Jews… pressed for the death of Christ; still what happened in His passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living nor the Jews of today." The text was influenced by politics and it was watered down because of the violent protest of the Arab states.

After the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967, Pope Paul VI, on June 26, 1967, recalled that he had done his best "to avoid at least to Jerusalem the suffering and the damages of the war" and that he was very saddened by the conditions of the Palestinian refugees, and said that "the Holy City of Jerusalem should remain for ever a town of God, a free oasis of peace and prayer, with its own statute internationally guaranteed."

Thus the old formula for seeking the internationalization of Jerusalem and its environs was changed into one that spoke of an "internationally guaranteed statute."

In July 1967 Msgr. Angelo Felici, undersecretary for extraordinary affairs at the Vatican Secretariat of State arrived in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Levi *Eshkol. The pope in his allocution of December 23, 1968, had spoken of his wish to see "an internationally guaranteed agreement on the question of Jerusalem and the Holy Places."

On October 6, 1969, the pope received the Israeli foreign minister, Abba *Eban, and discussed the question of "the refugees, the holy places, and the unique and sacred character of Jerusalem."

On December 22, 1969, the traditional Christmas wishes for the Arab refugees and the special mention of the Christian communities in Palestine expressed a new preoccupation. "They have diminished and they are diminishing, the faithful of Jesus in that blessed earth," said the Pope. This was the first time that the pope had expressed publicly his concerns about the diminishing number of Catholics in the Holy Land, a preoccupation would manifest itself time and again in his subsequent speeches.

In January 1972, Deputy Secretary of State Msgr. Giovanni Benelli visited Israel and had several talks with Minister of Finance Pinḥas *Sapir, and Minister of Justice Ya'akov Shimshon *Shapiro on the question of the sale of the Notre Dame de France building to the Hebrew University. The assumptionist had sold the monastery but according to the Vatican the sale had to be considered null and void because Canon Law required authorization by the Vatican. A hearing in an Israeli court in Jerusalem was curtailed by the Israeli government's decision to cancel the sale, but no reciprocal gesture of goodwill was made by the Holy See. The Vatican transformed the building into a modern hotel and for years refused to pay municipal taxes "for services rendered." Finally, in 1987, the Vatican consented to pay the Jerusalem municipality a token sum.

On December 22, 1972, in his customary allocution to the Holy College on the eve of Christmas, the pope criticized "situations without a clear juridical basis, internationally recognized and guaranteed," referring to Jerusalem, where also the followers of Christ "must feel themselves full 'citizens.'" He spoke also of the sons of the Palestinian people waiting for years "for an equitable recognition of their aspirations, not in opposition to but in necessary harmony with the rights of other peoples."

On January 15, 1973, Israeli Prime Minister Golda *Meir was received in a private audience by Pope Paul VI. It was the first official visit of this kind, and therefore an important one. The final communiqué recalled the suffering of the Jewish people; the pope in his humanitarian mission was interested in the Arab refugee problem and the problems of the Christian communities living in the Holy Land, while in terms of his religious mission he expressed concern about the Holy Places and the universal and holy character of Jerusalem.

At the end of the same year, after the Yom Kippur War, during which Israel was attacked by Syria and Egypt, the pope dedicated most of his yearly message of December 21, 1973, to the cardinals, to the Middle East. He expressed his approval of the Peace Conference convening on that same day in Geneva, but considered it incomplete in terms of representation, referring probably to the nonparticipation of the PLO. The Holy See was ready "to offer cooperation … in agreements that would guarantee to all parties concerned a calm and secure existence and the recognition of respective rights." The pope spoke of the hundreds of thousand of Arab refugees "living in desperate conditions"; even if their cause "has been endangered by actions that are repugnant to the civil conscience of people and are in no case justified, it is a cause that demands human consideration and calls with the voice of abandoned and innocent masses for a just and generous response."

On December 9, 1974, Msgr. Hilarion Capucci, the Greek Catholic archbishop (melkite) of Jerusalem and vicar of the Patriarch Maximos, was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment; he was found guilty of smuggling arms and explosives for the Fatah organization from Lebanon into Israel, exploiting his diplomatic immunity. Some years later, on November 6, 1977, President Ephraim *Katzir, in response to a personal letter from the pope, commuted the sentence and Archbishop Capucci was immediately released. The written promise of the pope that Msgr. Capucci would not "bring any harm to the State of Israel," i.e., would no more indulge in political activity, was not respected and the prelate participated in many propaganda meetings organized by the PLO after regaining his freedom.

The foreign minister of Israel, Moshe *Dayan, was received in private audience by the pope on January 12, 1978. The pope stressed again his concerns about the question of Jerusalem, stating that the "well-known solution proposed by the Holy See for Jerusalem could satisfy the unique and religious character of the city." The Israeli side stressed what had been done "to guarantee the protection of the Holy Places of all religions and free access to them."

Paul VI died on August 6, 1978. His successor was Pope John Paul I, who had been patriarch of Venice and as such had good relations with the Jews. He died suddenly on September 28, 1978.

The new pope, *John Paul II, was born in Poland, so that for the first time in centuries the pope was not an Italian. An Israeli delegation participated in the funeral of the previous pope and the coronation ceremony of the new pope, whom it invited to visit Israel.

The permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations made a declaration on Jerusalem on December 3, 1979, in which he explained the meaning of a "special statute internationally guaranteed" for Jerusalem. The content of this statute would include two orders of guarantees: parity for the three religious communities regarding freedom of worship and access to the Holy Places; and equal enjoyment of rights by the three religious communities, with guarantees for the promotion of their spiritual, cultural, civil, and social life, including adequate opportunities for economic progress, education, and employment.

Pope John Paul II spoke about the State of Israel on October 5, 1980, in Otranto, saying: "The Jewish people, after tragic experiences connected with the extermination of so many sons and daughters, driven by desire for security, has established the State of Israel. At the same time, the painful condition of the Palestinian people was created, as a large part of it were extirpated from their land."

Yitzhak *Shamir, Israeli minister for foreign affairs, was received on January 7, 1982, by the pope, who stressed the importance of the Palestinian question, which should find a solution "taking into account also the problem of security for the State of Israel." The pope also spoke about "a just and agreed solution for the question of Jerusalem," a center for the three religions. Shamir emphasized the concessions made by Israel in order to reach the peace agreement with Egypt and his concerns about the arms race in the area and the serious problem of terrorism.

On September 15, 1982, the pope received Yasser *Arafat, who had just been forced to abandon Beirut, giving him a political victory after a military defeat.

Pope John Paul II dedicated an Apostolic Letter, "Redemptionis Anno," on April 20, 1984, to the question of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The pope wrote: "Jews ardently love [Jerusalem] and in every age venerate her memory, abundant as she is in many remains and monuments from the time of David who chose her as the capital, and of Solomon who built the Temple there. Therefore they turn their minds to her daily, one may say, and point to her as the symbol of their nation."

After explaining why Jerusalem is holy also to the Christians and the Moslems, he recalled the Holy See's appeals for an adequate solution. He said: "Not only the monuments or the sacred places, but the whole historical Jerusalem and the existence of religious communities, their situation and future cannot but affect everyone and interest everyone."

Shimon *Peres, then prime minister, was received by the pope on February 19, 1985, and for almost an hour discussed the peace process. It was clear that Peres would not press for the establishment of normal diplomatic relations nor extend a formal invitation to the pope to visit Israel, leaving the initiative to the Holy See. Seemingly in the conversation with Secretary of State Casaroli there was a discussion on the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian question.

In the "Notes," a Vatican commentary to Nostra Aetate published in 1985, there is reference for the first time to the State of Israel. In this statement issued on the 20th anniversary of Vatican II declaration, Christians are invited to understand the religious attachment of Jews to the State of Israel, but "the existence of the State of Israel and its political options should be envisaged not in a perspective which is itself religious, but in their reference to the common principles of international law."

This was the way to overcome the theological obstacle to the recognition of Israel.

John Paul II was the first pope to visit a synagogue when on April 13, 1986, he went to Rome's Great Synagogue. In his speech he spoke of the Jews as "our elder brothers," a characterization that was changed in 2004 to "our dearest brothers."

In September 1987, when Jewish leaders were received in Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, sources close to the pope said that there was no longer any theological obstacle to full relations with Israel. This can be seen as an outgrowth of the line adopted in June 1985 denying that there was any temporal link between the Jewish people and the State of Israel. While such a view might serve to overcome theological obstacles, at the same time it denies the spiritual basis of Zionism and seeks to separate the Jews in the Diaspora from the State of Israel.

On April 10, 1989, Renato Martino, permanent observer at the UN, said: "For us the Holy Land is our homeland, our country of origin; Jerusalem is the Church hometown. The Holy See is not only interested in preserving the archaeology, artifacts and architecture of the historical Christian communities, but also those communities themselves. The lack of diplomatic relations does not imply denial of the existence of the State of Israel. That such recognition exists is clear from the constant contacts."

On January 25, 1991, during the first Gulf War, the Holy See published a long document on the issue of diplomatic relations with Israel. It stated that the lack of diplomatic relations is certainly not due to theological reasons, but to juridical ones. The three main juridical difficulties were the presence of Israel in the occupied territories, Israel's annexation of Jerusalem, and the situation of the Catholic Church in Israel and in the administered territories.

On March 6, 1991, Pope John Paul II, closing the synod of bishops from the Middle East, said: "We have spoken of the Holy Land where two peoples, the Palestinians and that of the State of Israel, have been engaged in conflict for decades; the injustice of which the Palestinian people is a victim demands engagement by all men."

After the opening of the Madrid Peace Conference in November 1991, Msgr. Michel Sabah, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, emphasized that the Holy See had not been invited to attend, saying: "The invitation we were waiting for did not arrive." Probably the Holy See understood that without establishing normal diplomatic relations with Israel it could not be associated with the peace process, where perhaps the status of Jerusalem could be discussed. As they themselves were engaged in a dialogue with Israel, the Arabs could not very well reproach the Holy See establishing a bilateral permanent commission with Israel in July 1992 to discuss outstanding questions and normalize relations. The status of Jerusalem, a multisided question, was not discussed there.

After the meeting between Prime Minister Yitzhak *Rabin and Chairman Yasser Arafat at the White House on September 13, 1993, the Holy See decided to sign a Fundamental Agreement with Israel. It was signed by Msgr. Claudio Maria Celli and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Yossi *Beilin on December 30, 1993. Only after the Cairo Agreement between Israel and the PLO, on May 4, 1994, did the Holy See agree to an exchange of ambassadors. It also signed an accord in November 1997 on the juridical status of the Church and Catholic institutions in Israel, which grants the Church autonomy to handle its affairs while respecting Israeli laws.

In a detailed exposition in a Jerusalem lecture on October 26, 1998, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, secretary for relations with states, presented the Holy See's position on Jerusalem. Tauran stated that the Holy See cannot accept any distinction between the question of the Holy Places and the question of Jerusalem. The Holy See is present "to ensure that it does not become, as is the situation today, a case of manifest international injustice. East Jerusalem is illegally occupied. It is wrong to claim that the Holy See is only interested in the religious aspect or aspects of the city and overlook the political and territorial aspect… Any unilateral solution or one brought about by force is not and cannot be a solution at all… There must be equality of rights and treatment for those belonging to the communities of the three religions found in the city… the simple 'extraterritoriality' of the Holy Places would not suffice… The Holy See believes in the importance of extending representation at the negotiating table."

On March 9, 1999, Msgr. Tauran described the main reasons of disagreement with Israel: "It must also be recognized that relations between the Holy See and the Jewish world – above all with the State of Israel – have hardly been helped by the failure to resolve the Palestinian problem, the lack of respect for certain UN Security Council Resolutions and duly concluded international agreements, without forgetting the annexation by force of a part of the City of Jerusalem."

On April 27, 1999, Foreign Minister Ariel *Sharon was received by Pope John Paul II. Sharon thanked the pope for his efforts in combating antisemitism and his relations with the Jews. "Israel will warmly welcome and ensure the security of the pilgrims who will come, including, first and foremost, the 'First pilgrim,' the Pope."

In December 1999, another item of disagreement between the Holy See and Israel was the project of building a new mosque in Nazareth just in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation.

The Catholic Church under the guidance of Msgr. Michel Sabah, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, reacted strongly to the government's authorization to build the mosque. Msgr. Sabah succeeded in closing down the Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem for two days in protest and managed to create a united front with other Christian communities. Sabah also accused the Israeli government of fomenting tension between Christians and Moslems, an accusation promptly re-echoed by the Holy See's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls. Some years later the Israeli government withdrew the authorization and the mosque was not built.

The official visit of Pope John Paul II to the Holy Land in March 2000 was undoubtedly an historical event. John Paul II arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, where he was formally received by President Ezer *Weizman and Prime Minister Ehud *Barak on March 21, 2000. He visited the two chief rabbis, Israel Meir *Lau and Eliahu *Bakshi-Doron, at Hechal Shlomo in Jerusalem, and the president of the State in his official residence in Jerusalem on March 23, 2000.

The pope said to President Weizman: "Mr. President, you are known as a man of peace and a peacemaker. We all know how urgent is the need for peace and justice, not for Israel alone but for the entire region." On the same occasion the pope added: "It is my fervent hope that a genuine desire for peace will inspire your every decision."

There were two other highlights to the pope's visit to Israel: the encounter in Yad Vashem on March 23 with Holocaust survivors from his home town and the visit to the Western Wall. The Pope said at Yad Vashem: "Only a godless ideology could plan and carry out the extermination of a whole people." Thus all the responsibility fell upon a "godless ideology," unrelated to or even in opposition to the Church. Already in March 1998, the Holy See, in the document "We Remember: a Reflection on the Shoah," had stated: "The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its antisemitism had its roots outside of Christianity."

In a crevice of the Western Wall, following the Jewish custom, the pope inserted on March 26 a note which reads: "God of our fathers, / you chose Abraham and his descendants / to bring your Name to the Nations: / we are deeply saddened / by the behavior of those / who in the course of history / have caused these children of yours to suffer, / and asking your forgiveness / we wish to commit ourselves / to genuine brotherhood / with the people of the Covenant."

This text is identical to that included in a ceremony of forgiveness in Rome on March 12, 2000, but it lacks the preamble in which the Church asked forgiveness from the Jews. Without the preamble, the Jews are not expressly mentioned.

In his meeting with Yasser Arafat in Bethlehem, the pope offered him 14 sea shells representing the 14 stations of the Way of the Cross and explained that this was a way to symbolize the Passion of the Palestinians. So again the pope made the comparison between the suffering of the Palestinians and those endured by Jesus.

In his speeches in Israel, the pope drew a parallel between antisemitism and anti-Christianity several times. Upon his arrival in Tel Aviv he said: "Christians and Jews together must make courageous efforts to remove all forms of prejudice. We must strive always and everywhere to present the true face of the Jews and Judaism as likewise of Christians and Christianity." Two days later at Hechal Shlomo, before the two chief rabbis, he said: "We must work together to build a future in which there will be no more anti-Judaism among Christians nor anti-Christian sentiment among Jews." At Yad Vashem the pope repeated: "No more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews."

This convenient symmetry between Jews and Christians is not supported by history.

During his visit in Israel the pope sent a letter protesting the approval given by the Israeli authorities to the building of the Nazareth mosque. This was a rather rare and strong act of censure.

On April 1, 2002, some 200 armed Palestinians entered one of the most important shrines and holy places in Christianity, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem – marking the place where Jesus was born – and remained inside until May 12, holding hostages. The Osservatore Romano wrote on April 2, 2002: "Palestinian terrorism is only a pretext," because the true objective of Israel is "to profane with fire and iron the land of the Resurrected." Msgr. Tauran, of the Secretariat of State, said that the Holy See's position included "an unequivocal condemnation of terrorism," "disapproval of the conditions of injustice and humiliation imposed on the Palestinian people, as well as reprisals and retaliations, which only make the sense of frustration and hatred grow."

Pope John Paul II in his Angelus message of August 11, 2002, said: "From 1967 till today, unspeakable sufferings have followed one upon another in a frightening manner: the suffering of the Palestinians, driven out of their land and forced, in recent times, into a state of permanent siege, becoming as it were the object of a collective punishment; the suffering of the Israeli population, who live in the daily terror of being targets of anonymous assailants. To this we must add the violation of a fundamental right, that of freedom of worship. In effect, because of a strict curfew, believers no longer have access to their places of worship on the day of weekly prayer."

Archbishop Renato Martino, permanent observer to the United Nations, wrote on November 2, 2002: "The Holy See renews its consistent call for internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and conscience of its inhabitants, in order to safeguard the special character of the City and of the sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims."

On November 16, the pope said: "In this context I repeat my firm condemnation also of every terrorist action committed recently in the Holy Land. I must at the same time affirm that, unfortunately, in those places the dynamism of peace seems to have stopped. The building of a wall between the Israeli people and the Palestinians is seen by many as a new obstacle on the road toward peaceful coexistence. In effect, the Holy Land needs not walls but bridges! Without reconciliation of the souls, there cannot be peace."

In autumn 2003, Msgr. Jean-Baptiste Gourion was named auxiliary bishop of the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem for the pastoral care of the Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel. The Holy See named on May 15, 2004, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa as the new custos of the Holy Land. He had studied modern Hebrew in Jerusalem at the Hebrew University and was general assistant to Msgr. Gourion. Some observers saw in both appointments a sign of good will toward Israel.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Silvan *Shalom was received by Pope John Paul II on December 11, 2003.

In June 2004 Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, archbishop of Milan, was the first bishop ever to be received in the Knesset and delivered a speech.

Pope John Paul II died in 2005 and was replaced by Benedict XVI, the German-born Joseph Ratzinger. The new pope began his pontificate with a visit to the Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne, the oldest in northern Europe, and spoke out there against "new signs of antisemitism," thus following the line of his predecessor. In 2006 he visited Auschwitz.


S.I. Minerbi, L'Italie et la Palestine, 19141920 (1970); idem, The Vatican and Zionism (1990); A. Kreutz, Vatican Policy on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, The Struggle for the Holy Land (1990); S. Ferrari, Vaticano e Israele dal secondo conflitto mondiale alla Guerra del Golfo (1991); G. Rulli, Lo Stato d'Israele (1998); M. Mendes, Le Vatican et Israël (1990).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.