Founder: Mideast Reconciliation Is Sign of New Era

Israeli, Palestinian Politicians Continue Dialogue

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BARCELONA, Spain, OCT. 5, 2010 ( The founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio is affirming that although reconciliation in the Middle East is difficult, once accomplished it will be a sign of a new era.

Andrea Riccardi stated this at the 25th International Meeting of Prayer for Peace, an annual gathering held as a continuation of the first interreligious and intercultural meeting called in 1986 in Assisi by Pope John Paul II

The three-day meeting, promoted by the Sant’Egidio Community, ended today in Barcelona. This year’s event focused in a particular way on the situation in the Middle East, with the theme «Coexistence in a Time of Crisis: Family of Peoples, Family of God.»

In an address Sunday, Riccardi noted that «reconciliation in that region, in Israel’s security, in the disarming of the violent and terrorists, in a homeland for the Palestinians, is difficult but will be the prophetic sign of a new era for the world.»

He added that «a solution must be achieved without concealing the difficulties.»

The opening ceremony included interventions from Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, Israel’s minister of information and Diaspora, and Mahmoud Al-Habash, minister of religious affairs of the Palestinian National Authority.

The Israeli minister said that «peace cannot be hostage of men of arms» and that «good walls do not make for good neighbors.»

The Palestinian minister expressed the hope that «Israel will grasp the outstretched hand» because «the way for peace is clear and now we must apply the method of dialogue.»

Desire for peace

Both politicians expressed their desire to attain peace before an audience of more than 350 political and religious authorities, among them the president of Montenegro, Filip Vujanovic; the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, and the Egyptian minister for religious affairs, Mahmoud Hamdy Zaqzouq.

The dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian ministers continued on Monday, in one of the numerous conversations taking place at the meeting.

They both condemned the violence against sacred books and synagogues and mosques, lamenting Sunday’s attack on a mosque in the West Bank.

«Those who attack mosques do so against all prophets, Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed, and against the God of the Qur’an and of the Torah,» stressed Al-Habash.

For the Palestinian minister, the relationship with Gaza is an exclusively internal problem that «will be resolved when the limits of the Palestinian state are defined.»

He added that dialogue will be possible between Hamas and Fatah, as has been the case within every political community.

The Israeli minister pointed out, instead, that «we cannot sign with the Palestinian Authority and not ask ourselves what will happen with Hamas in Gaza.»

Edelstein also explained that he was opposed to the withdrawal from Gaza «because he feared a recrudescence of violence, but we must work for the young generations, so they won’t be ensconced in hatred.»

The Israeli minister praised the dialogue fostered in Barcelona by the Sant’Egidio Community and said that, if progress is to be made, there must be no fear of talking about the problems such as the refugees and Jerusalem.

Papal link

The meeting began on Sunday morning with a Mass presided over by the archbishop of Barcelona, Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach.

The homily was given by Russian Orthodox Exarch Philaret of Byelorussia, who was part of a large delegation of the Moscow patriarchate. 

Cardinal Sistach said that in times of crisis «we can be tempted to be drawn by discouragement, as if we said: we propose peace but conflict prevails.»

The Orthodox and Catholic leaders pointed out the way of dialogue and faith to address the difficulties of the contemporary world in which conflict and skepticism prevail.

During the Mass, a message from Benedict XVI to the meeting participants was read.

Cardinal Sistach noted that this global summit of religions and cultures is tied to the visit the Pontiff will make to Barcelona next month. 

In a press conference preceding the peace gathering, the cardinal affirmed, «Meeting here during these days is a family of peoples, which is the family of God, and it is something much desired by Benedict XVI, as is the dialogue between religions.»

[With the contribution of Patricia Navas]
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