ROME – Bishops from the Middle East who were summoned to Rome by the pope
demanded on Saturday that Israel accept UN resolutions calling for an end to its
“occupation” of Arab lands.
In a final joint communique, the bishops also
told Israel it shouldn’t use the Bible to justify “injustices” against the
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The bishops issued the statement at the close of their
two-week meeting, called by Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the plight of
Christians in the Middle East amid a major exodus of the faithful from the
The Catholic Church has long been a minority in the largely
Muslim region but its presence is shrinking further as a result of war,
conflict, discrimination and economic problems.
“The Holy Scriptures
cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of
the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands,”
Monsignor Cyril Salim Bustros, Greek Melkite archbishop of Our Lady of the
Annunciation in Boston, Massachusetts, and president of the “Commission for the
Message,” said at Saturday’s Vatican press conference.
cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged
Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen
people – all men and women of all countries have become the chosen
“Even if the head of the Israeli state is Jewish, the future is
based on democracy.
The Palestinian refugees will eventually come back
and this problem will have to be solved,” the Lebanese-born Bustros
Mordechay Lewy, Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, told The
Jerusalem Post that Bustros, in saying that Jesus nullified God’s covenant with
the Jewish people, was “returning to successionist theology, contradicting
Second Vatican Council teaching and Pope Benedict himself – who has welcomed the
return of Jews to their ancient homeland.”
“Also,” added the ambassador,
“by inviting all Palestinian refugees to return and denying Israel’s right to
define itself a Jewish state – the only such in the world – he is regressing to
hard-line positions that deny Israel’s right to exist.”
meeting, several bishops blamed the Israeli- Palestinian conflict for spurring
the flight of Christians from the Middle East – a position echoed in their final
paper. While the bishops condemned terrorism and anti-Semitism, they laid much
of the blame for the conflict squarely on Israel.
They listed the
“occupation” of Palestinian lands, Israel’s West Bank security barrier, its
military checkpoints, “political prisoners,” demolition of homes and disturbance
of Palestinians’ social and economic activities for making life increasingly
difficult for Palestinians.
They said they had “reflected” on the
suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live and on the status of Jerusalem,
a city holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims.
“We are anxious about the
unilateral initiatives that threaten its composition and risk to change its
demographic balance,” the bishops said in a joint statement.
on the international community to apply UN Security Council resolutions adopted
in 1967, which called on Israel to withdraw from Arab land conquered in the Six
Day War that year.
“The Palestinian people will thus have an independent
and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security, while
Israel will be able to enjoy peace and security,” they said.
“Appeal to the International Community” the bishops expressed “hopes that the
two-state solution becomes a reality and not only a dream.”
calls for “taking the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of
the different Arab territories” as well as “an end to the consequences of the
deadly war in Iraq” and promotion of “basic public freedoms” and “sovereignty"
Violence, terrorism, religious extremism, racism,
anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism and Islamophobia are all condemned, while “the
religions” are called upon “to assume their responsibility to promote dialogue
between cultures and civilizations in our region and in the entire
AP contributed to this report.