Pope receives new Israeli Ambassador

 Yesterday the Holy Father received the Letters of Credence of Mordechay Lewy, the new ambassador of Israel to the Holy See. Addressing the diplomat in English, Benedict XVI expressed his "cordial good wishes on the occasion of Israel's celebration of 60 years of statehood. The Holy See joins you in giving thanks to the Lord that the aspirations of the Jewish people for a home in the land of their fathers have been fulfilled, and hopes soon to see a time of even greater rejoicing when a just peace finally resolves the conflict with the Palestinians". The Pope also highlighted areas of mutual interest shared by the Holy See and the State of Israel, highlighting how "Judeo-Christian heritage should inspire us to take a lead in promoting many forms of social and humanitarian action throughout the world, not least by combating all forms of racial discrimination". He also referred to "the cultural and academic exchanges that are taking place between Catholic institutions worldwide and those of the Holy Land" and recalled how dialogue between Jews and Christians "is bearing much fruit and needs to be continued with commitment and generosity. "The holy cities of Rome and Jerusalem", he added, "represent a source of faith and wisdom of central importance for Western civilization, and in consequence, the links between Israel and the Holy See have deeper resonances than those which arise formally from the juridical dimension of our relations". Turning to consider the question of "the alarming decline in the Christian population of the Middle East, including Israel, through emigration" the Holy Father observed that "of course Christians are not alone in suffering the effects of insecurity and violence as a result of the various conflicts in the region, but in many respects they are particularly vulnerable at the present time". Invoking the "the growing friendship between Israel and the Holy See", Benedict XVI expressed the hope that "ways will be found of reassuring the Christian community, so that they can experience the hope of a secure and peaceful future in their ancestral homelands, without feeling under pressure to move to other parts of the world in order to build new lives. "Christians in the Holy Land have long enjoyed good relations with both Muslims and Jews. Their presence in your country, and the free exercise of the Church's life and mission there, have the potential to contribute significantly to healing the divisions between the two communities". "I do realise that the difficulties experienced by Christians in the Holy Land are also related to the continuing tension between Jewish and Palestinian communities. The Holy See recognizes Israel's legitimate need for security and self-defence and strongly condemns all forms of anti-Semitism. It also maintains that all peoples have a right to be given equal opportunities to flourish. Accordingly, I would urge your Government to make every effort to alleviate the hardship suffered by the Palestinian community, allowing them the freedom necessary to go about their legitimate business, including travel to places of worship, so that they too can enjoy greater peace and security. " Clearly, these matters can only be addressed within the wider context of the Middle East peace process", said the Pope and, recalling the recent negotiations at Annapolis, indicated that the Holy See "prays that the hopes and expectations raised there will not be disappointed. ... When all the people of the Holy Land live in peace and harmony, in two independent sovereign states side by side, the benefit for world peace will be inestimable, and Israel will truly serve as 'light to the nations', a shining example of conflict resolution for the rest of the world to follow". Pope Benedict also mentioned negotiations on economic and fiscal matters between the Holy See and Israel. "I know that I speak on behalf of many when I express the hope that these agreements may soon be integrated into the Israeli internal legal system and so provide a lasting basis for fruitful co-operation", he said. Finally, referring to the situation of Christians in the Holy Land and "the difficulties caused by continuing uncertainties over their legal rights and status, especially with regard to the question of visas for church personnel", he concluded: "Only when these difficulties are overcome, will the Church be able to carry out freely her religious, moral, educational and charitable works in the land where she came to birth". Source: VIS

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