The Christian Significance of Jerusalem
Comments by Patriarch Michel Sabbah on the Memorandum of the Patriarchs

Christian Presence for 2000 years

1. Introduction

Jerusalem is holy for three religions, Judaism, Christianism and Islam. In holiness all three religions should meet and lead their believers towards the adoration of God in spirit and truth. So far, unfortunately, religious leaders of the three religions all together did not meet and did not talk. Political measuresand positions have the lead, based on a vision of security and fights which should be helped and completed by a common and authentic religious position.

2. The Memorandum of the Patriarchs

The Memorandum of the Patriarchs and Christian Heads of Jerusalem on the Christian Significance of Jerusalem was published in November 1994. The memorandum gives, first, basic characteristics, historical and religious, indicating the Christian significance of Jerusalem. Then it gives some necessary elements for any possible solution. The definitive and concrete solution remains the task of both political leaders and specialists. Main elements of this memorandum are:

2.1 It recognizes the importance and holiness of Jerusalem for The three religions

2.2 It insists upon its importance and holiness for Christians in particular and on the permanence of Christian presence since 2000 years: ‘For almost two thousand years, through so many hardships and the succession of so many powers, the local Church with its faithful has always been actively present in Jerusalem. The centuries, the local Church has been witnessing to the life and preaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus-Christ, upon the same Holy Places, and its faithful have been receiving other brothers and sisters in the faith, as pilgrims, residents or in transit, inviting them to be re-immersed into the refreshing, ever living ecclesiastical sources.That continuing presence of a living Christian community is inseparable from the historical sites. Through the living stones the holy archaeological sites take on life” (Memo 9).

2.3 The Christian attachment to Jerusalem is based on the Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testament: “Through the Prayerful reading of the Bible, Christians recognize in faith that the long history of the people of God, with Jerusalem as its centre, is the history of salvation which fulfils God’s design in and through Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ” (Mem 6).

“In the Gospels, Jerusalem rejects the Sent-One, the Saviour; and he weeps over it, because this city of Prophets, that is also the city of the essential salvific events, has completely lost sight of the path to peace” (Luc 19.42) (Memo 6).

In it was accomplished the mystery of Redemption, in it Jesus taught, died on the Cross, resurrected in glory from the dead and ascended to heaven. In it, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, and sent them to proclaim the good news of salvation to Jerusalem and to the whole world.

2.4 Jerusalem is a center of spirituality and pilgrimage. It became soon a source of spiritual and deep significance: it is the image of the Church, the New Jerusalem (rev. 3:12 and12:2) “This holy city is the image of the new creation and the aspirations of all peoples, where God will wipe away all tears and “there shall be no more death or mourning, crying or pain, for the former world has passed away” (Rev.21.4) (Memo 6).

‘The pilgrimage slowly developed an understanding of the need to unify the sanctification of space through celebrations at the Holy Places with the sanctification in time through the calendared celebrations of the holy events of salvation (Memo 8).

2.5 Consequently to what was previously said, we can affirm that Jerusalem is the heart and spiritual homeland of every Christian living until today in Jerusalem or around it, or anywhere in the world, It is the city where everything has started, where God has sent His Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, Messiah and Saviour of all. In Jerusalem Christianism was born. Every Christian, every Church is born in Jerusalem. The words of the Psalm apply exactly to that spiritual but real birth and belonging: “Everyone was born there” (Ps 86:5).

3. Local Church of Jerusalem and its relation with the Universal Church

3.1 The Church born in Jerusalem, and hence scattered all over the world, remained present in it through the local Church, composed of various local Churches, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. Alltogether, we are the mother Church and alltogether we are a small Church. As Jesus was, we are still today, small and a sign of contradiction. The mother Church is still a suffering Church, so that through the same way of cross, the resurrection will be achieved in it, resurrection to love those among whom we are small, resurrection to share in the building of the earthly new Jerusalem and in the preparation of the heavenly one.

3.2 The Church of Jerusalem, though small, remains an important element in any remodelling of the region. Her role does not consist only in her own survival, but to enliven with her message of universal salvation all new creation in the region. This Church indeed is a part of the land and the people; therefore her role is important in the search of reconciliation, of peace, justice and love.

3.3 As local Christians, we are aware that Jerusalem belongs to us for two reasons, religious and civil, while all Christians of the world have concern in Jerusalem on religious grounds only. We are aware as well that we have the duty and the right to welcome in Jerusalem all Christians of the world and to serve them in their pilgrimage and in their faith relation to the same Mother city.

This relation between local Churches and the Universal Church is a normal and vital one, and it is conform to the nature of the Church. If it is well understood and well lived, it cannot lead to any contradiction between the double loyalty to the Church and to the nation.

Therefore Christianism in Jerusalem has two dimensions: local and universal. Each one of these two components completes and supports the other. Through the local Church the presence of the universal Church is guaranteed. On the other side, the small local Church becomes big and efficient, not only through the incessant coming of pilgrims, but also through the regular and continuous support of the universal Church.

3.4 Local Christians are Palestinians. Few thousands are expatriate residing in Jerusalem and The Holy Land, most of them consecrated and Church people, men and women, belonging to the various Churches.

Local Christians, as everywhere in the world, belong to their own peopleto its history and culture, just as every people in the world. This fact is to be stressed because there is a tendency all over the world to consider Christians in the Holy Land as solely Christians, without any incarnation within a people, just a religious ethnic community, which survived along centuries and is now an erratic and strange body among modern political entities. Christian Palestinians are Palestinians; They belong to their people and are part of its hopes and sufferings.

4. Jerusalem holy city and place of living

4.1 The importance of Jerusalem for local Christians should be considered in that perspective: it is the holy city for them as Christians. It is also the mother city for them as people, and it is the place of living their daily practical concrete life with all its needs, difficulties and struggles, as persons and nation. These two aspects are essential and inseparable: holy city and place of living.

The memorandum says: It is their native city where they live, whence their right to continue to live there freely, with all the rights which obtain from that” (Memo 10), similar in that and equal to all citizens, without any distinction or discrimination. These rights are general and concern their contribution in all institutions and public life of the state; they are also special and concern the Church as religious institution with all its requirements for its religious, and spiritual development and growth.This spiritual growth being the source of their force and contribution in the civil and public life.

4.2 Christians recognize to all believers, Moslems and Jews, same rights and duties, and share with them in claiming these rights, in any status which the city will have, as decided by its own children.

4.3 Jerusalem is a holy city for all Christians, local and worldwide. Therefore freedom of access should be guaranteed as already mentioned. The local Church should be rendered able to welcome the universal Church in its needs, concerning pilgrimage, worship and studies. Political authority should guarantee the required freedom for that.

4.4 Historic rights of different local Churches as defined and stated by the Status Quo should be respected by any political power.

5. Future of Jerusalem

5.1 Two nationalities and three religions.

The future of Jerusalem depends from its two dimensions, religious and political. On the political level, two nationalities, Israeli and Palestinian,are present and have political rights in the city. On the religious level: three religions, Judaism,

Christianism and Islam have religious rights, and require from both political entities to guarantee religious freedom for all believers, local and universal,

Exclusivism from any side, political or religious, will harm the identity of the city and the harmony among all those who are concerned, all its sons and daughters. Jerusalem cannot be merely Israeli or merely Palestinian, neither merely Moslem norChristian or Jewish. It should be shared by all.

To say: Jerusalem is only Christian is a cry of war.

To say it is only Jewish Moslem is also a cry of war.

In past history, in all its periods, Jerusalem the hand of one political power corresponding to or supported by one religion. Therefore it was always a source of war. Exclusivism nourishes wars and today and tomorrow, as it was in the past.

To reach a position of stable peace, each one of its children, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Moslems, should feel at home and should enjoy same freedom and same duties and rights. No one should feel himself as guest or stranger in his own city. No one should be put in the situation of asking for protection from anyone else, and no one in his own home and city is willing to be only the guest or submitted to another. For all of us, children of Jerusalem, despite national and religious differences, our future is to be one family of the Holy Land. Many purifications and rectifications have to be done in order to reach that stage.

5.2 Jerusalem divided or unified?

Talking about the future of Jerusalem, two distinct questions are involved, political sovereignty and the free access to the holy city.

Five components are in Jerusalem, two nationalities and three religions. Does that mean that Jerusalem must be divided again?

Presently Jerusalem, despite its political unification, is divided in two populations, still deeply separated by the conflict, visible in the facts and in the hearts of both populations, Jewish and Palestinian. The question to be asked now is rather: How to reunify the city?

The answer: by dividing it politically it will be reunified. The Israeli part will be Israeli and capital for Israel, the Palestinian part will be Palestinian and capital for Palestine. The two parts of the city, Israeli, Palestinian, as a whole, could have a common and coordinated local administration. Divide Jerusalem in order to reunify it: this is what is needed now, in order to achieve peace and reconciliation its two peoples and three religions.

5.3 Special status

Therefore Jerusalem requires a special status, given its pluralistic and religious importance. The Memorandum of the Patriarchs says: “In order to satisfy the national aspirations of all its inhabitants, and in order that Jews, Christians and Muslims can be “at home” in Jerusalem and at peace with one another, representatives from the three monotheistic religions, in addition to local political powers, ought to be associated in the elaboration and application of such a special statute” (Memo 14/I)

The guiding principle in this elaboration is the following: to give Jerusalem a defintive stability, so that it will never remain a source of war between peoples and religions. For that, the five components of the city (three religions and two peoples) must be taken into consideration. If one of these five elements is neglected no stability would be reached, no peace and no reconciliation.

Then the memorandum says: “Because of the universal significance of Jerusalem, the international community ought to be engaged in the stability and permanence of this statute. Jerusalem is too precious to be dependent solely on municipal or national political authorities, whoever they may be. Experience shows that an international guarantee is necessary” (Memo 14/2)

This fact requires its children, who are its governors and the guardians of its dignity and holy character, to give it a special status which will be conform to its dignity and holiness, in all circumstances of peace or war. In our hands God has put a city he has chosen and made unique among all cities in the world. Therefore it needs a unique status which will distinguish it from all cities of the world, and put it above all security circumstances. This local special status given to Jerusalem should have the support and the guarantees of the international communty

When Israelis and Palestinians will agree on this vision, when believers of the three religions will agree on this vision, they will have made a historical and decisive step, which will introduce the region and the world in a new historical phase.

5.4 Free access to Jerusalem

Jerusalem is first of all the spiritual capital for both parties and for the three religions. Therefore the religious part of the city should remain always, in any circumstance of war or peace, accessible to all. Jerusalem should be above all hostilities and wars. Historic experience shows that it is impossible for any government to isolate any of its towns from general security circumstances. Therefore boarders are closed in time of war in face of all enemies and opened for friends only. This happened and happens until today regarding the holy city. Jerusalem is today opened to all friends all over the world but closed, for security reasons, in face if its children and the nearest to it in Palestinian towns and villages.

Ways should be found so that Jerusalem remain open to all without any exception. The system of security should adapt to that priority: Jerusalem is first of all a spiritual capital for the three religions, not only for believers coming from all over the world, but also for those believers who are Palestinians and live near Jerusalem

6. Position of the Holy See

As Patriarch of Jerusalem, and as one of the local Churches of Jerusalem, I have given my vision for the question of Jerusalem. You would be interested also to hear about the position of the Holy See and the Catholic universal Church. On the occasion of a Moslem Christian Conference upon Jerusalem, in Beyrouth on June 1996, organized by the MECC, and at the request of the MECC, the Holy See published a document in which it precised its position about the question. The following is largely quotations form the above mentioned document.

6.1 ‘There exists a territorial problem relative to Jerusalem. The Holy See has always insisted that this territorial question should be resolved equitably and by negotiations”. It is said in the Fundamental Agreement signed by Israel and the Holy See (par.2 art. 11): “The Holy See is solemnly committed to remaining a stranger to all merely temporal conflicts; which principle applies specifically to disputed territories and unsettled borders… but it maintains in every case the fight to exercise its moral and spiritual teaching-office”. According to that, “The Holy See, is not concerned with the question of how many square meters or kilometres constitute the disputed territory, but it does have the right – a right which it exercises- to express a moral judgment on the situation

“It is obvious that every territorial dispute involves considerations, such as the right of national communities to self-determination, the right of communities to preserve their own identity, the fight of all people to equality before the law and in the distribution of resources, the right not to be discriminated against by reason of ethnic or religious affiliation, etc”.

“The attitude of the Holy See with regard to the territorial situation of Jerusalem is necessarily the same as that of the international community. The latter could be summarized as follows: “the part of the City militarily occupied in 1967 and subsequently annexed and declared capital of The State of Israel, is occupied territory, and all Israeli measures which exceed the power of a belligerent occupant under international law are therefore null and void. In particular, this same position was expressed and is still expressed by resolution 478 of the United Nations security Council adopted on 20 August 1980 which declared the Israeli ‘basic law” concerning Jerusalem to be ‘hull and void” and which invited countries with Embassies in Jerusalem to move them elsewhere”

6.2 “1’here is however a further aspect of Jerusalem which in the Holy Seets view goes well beyond the simple territorial aspect: this is the religious dimension” of the City, the particular value which it has for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers who live there, and for Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers throughout the world. It is a question here of a value which must be considered as having a worldwide and universal character: Jerusalem is a “treasure of the whole of humanity”.

6.3 Internationalization and international guarantees.

With a view to safeguarding the universal character of a City already claimed by two peoples (Arab and Jewish) and held sacred by three religions, the Holy See supported the proposal for the internationalization of the territory, the ‘corpus separatum’ called for by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181(11) of 29 November 1947.

The Holy See at the time considered the “corpus separatum“as an adequate means, a useful juridical instrument, for preventing Jerusalem from becoming a cause and arena of conflict, with the resulting loss of an important aspect of its identity (as in fact subsequently happened and continues to happen).

In the years that followed, although the objective of internationalization was shown as unattainable, the Holy See continued to call for the protection of the Holy City’s Identity. It consistently drew the attention to the need for an international commitment in this regard. It called for “an internationally guaranteed special statute”. ‘It is my hope, says the Pope, that the international community will offer to the political partners most directly involved the juridical and diplomatic instruments capable of ensuring that Jerusalem, one and holy, may truly be a crossroads of peace.”

The document concludes with the following consideration: “In effect, the territorial and religious dimensions of the problem, although often separated in order to facilitate proper and thorough discussions of the situation, are interrelated. They are such that a political solution will not be valid unless it takes into account, in a profound and just manner, the religious needs present in the City”.

7. Conclusion

7.1 I would like to recall, first, that Jerusalem, in these days, is not merely a political or a merely theoretical question to be treated in local and world forums; it is a human problem, it is an open wound with human daily sufferings.The cry of the poor in Jerusalem must be heard.

7.2 Second, it is high time to say now: Jerusalem first. The question is so capital and so sensitive, That it should be discussed first and have its adequate, definitive and stable solution. Enough time has by now elapsed since the Madrid conference and the Oslo accord to prepare and to educate the public opinion, Israeli and Palestinian. In these moments we witness rather a go back to extremist irreconcilable positions on the part of the Israeli government. Extremism and exclusivism are seeds of war and non-reconciliation.The majority of the Israelis and the Palestinians want real peace and real coexistence. These two majorities should speak and act.

7.3 Third, Jerusalem is holy for three religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianism. This fact should educate every believer in Jerusalem to recognize, to accept and to live in the same holy city of Jerusalem with other believers. In order to do so, true believers should educate themselves to have a better knowledge of the essence of their own religion. Religion cannot be an agent of war. True religion is an invitation to reconciliation, mutual respect and love. This endeavour to recognize and accept the other should lead all believers of the three faiths to a common ideal of holiness. It is on that deep level of holiness that the unity of the city could only be built. This religious endeavour towards the essence of religion which is holiness in mens’ relation with God and with each other should direct all political measures taken by all political leaders in Jerusalem

+ Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch