Zion Evrony, Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, shares his thoughts with ZENIT on recent events in the region and the Pope’s upcoming visit, May 24-26.
ZENIT: What is your view on the attacks of vandalism on holy sites in Jerusalem?
Evrony:The Christian community in Israel enjoys full freedom of religion and worship. Israel respects and protects religious freedoms and grants full religious rights to people of all faiths, not a common practice in the Middle East. Israel guarantees religious freedoms that allow millions of Muslims and Christians to visit and pray in their Holy Sites in Jerusalem. Today Jerusalem is an open city for all faiths with religious tolerance and diversity.
The recent acts of vandalism against Christian’s sites are acts of few extremists and they do not represent the policy of the government or the feelings of the majority of Israelis. They were condemned by political and religious leaders. The security forces are making an effort to find those who are responsible and a special police unit was established for that purpose. When the criminals will be found I am sure they will be judged and punished.
ZENIT: Are you concerned about security during the visit?
Evrony: All the relevant authorities in Israel – the President’s office, the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Police, the security services – are involved in the organization of this visit and preparing it in full coordination with the Vatican to guarantee the security of the Pope. He will be safe and secure in Israel.
ZENIT: How important will Pope Francis’ trip be for the people of Israel?
Evrony: The visit of Pope Francis in Israel is of great historic importance. It is another milestone in the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish People and between Israel and the Holy See. This is the fourth papal visit and third that includes many official elements which make it a kind of tradition. I am certain that the visit will further strengthen our relations with the Holy See.
ZENIT: How will this apostolic voyage to Israel differ from Pope Benedict XVI’s?
Evrony: The visit of Pope Benedict XVI in May 2009 was very successful and, following in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II, it included many official elements: meetings with the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Rabbi, a visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Western Wall.
Pope Francis’ visit is shorter. However, it is of great importance because it is his first visit outside Italy, considering that the one to Brazil was a decision of his predecessor.
I think his visit in Israel symbolizes his desire to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and is also a reflection of his deep and strong friendship towards the Jewish people.
ZENIT: What do you hope to be achieved from the Pope’s visit?
Evrony: I believe the visit will have a significant impact:
• It will strengthen the relations between Israel and the Holy See and will contribute to the relations between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church;
• It will promote Christian tourism to Israel;
• It will promote interfaith dialogue and understanding between the three monotheistic religions.
ZENIT: What is your assessment of the recent history of Israel-Holy See relations?
Evrony: This year we mark twenty years since the signing of the Fundamental Agreement, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See. In the last 2,000 years Christians and Jews have traveled a long way — from rejection and denial, to recognition, dialogue, and friendship of today. This shift has taken place as a result of confluence and interplay of theological and political changes. The relations today are good and based on mutual trust.