VATICAN CITY, NOV. 15, 2002 (Zenit.org).- By proclaiming forgiveness, Catholics make a decisive contribution to peace in the Holy Land, Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, said.
The German archbishop, acting as John Paul II’s envoy, visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories this week. While there, he donated $400,000 to Catholic communities, as an expression of the Pope’s support for Catholics living “between two fires” in the violence-torn territories.
War and profound economic crisis are forcing the Catholics of the Holy Land into exile, Archbishop Cordes explained. Yet, he added that by preaching and witnessing to forgiveness and love, Catholics in the region are a concrete sign of reconciliation for their Jewish and Muslim brothers.
This is often shown through the charitable works promoted in the region by institutions such as Caritas, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Greek-Melkite Patriarchate, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine.
Cor Unum, which Archbishop Cordes heads, encourages and co-ordinates Catholic aid institutions worldwide.
The presence of Catholics is decisive, that the sacred places of the Holy Land may not become dead stones, he said.
“People give life to a place. And in the case of the holy places, it is necessary that those who look after them and visit them understand their meaning. If Jesus’ tomb is turned into a simple museum, if the death and resurrection of Christ is no longer celebrated there, it becomes dead, petrified history,” the archbishop continued.
There are also 300 Catholics of Jewish origin — Israelis whose contribution is recognized by the State of Israel, whose Parliament (Knesset) recently honored the Abbot of the Benedictine Olivettano monastery for promoting relations between Christians and Jews, Archbishop Cordes noted.
The archbishop explained to ZENIT that Catholic charitable aid focuses primarily on Palestinians, not for reasons of discrimination, but because the needs of the Palestinian population are enormous.
“Palestinians have no access to health care. Their infrastructure lacks hospitals, insurance, and pensions; hence, Palestinians have more needs,” he said. Beyond this, Palestinians are in great need of the “spiritual elements: freedom and hope. They feel they are in prison. The lack of freedom of movement robs one of the joy of living. I don’t know how many permissions are needed just to go out,” the archbishop said.
At the same time, “I understand that Israel cannot remove its controls because, if it did, the risk of suicide bombings would rise. So there is little hope of resolving the situation,” Archbishop Cordes added.
Given this dead end, the archbishop said it “is necessary to inform President Bush,” as the “United States has the possibility to exercise its influence,” he emphasized.
“The government of Israel must follow what the United States says, although Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu try to go beyond what Washington indicates,” he continued.
At present, while preparations are underway for elections both in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Archbishop Cordes noted that there is hope that there will be no attacks, as suicide bombings would simply radicalize the vote of the right in Israel.
Archbishop Cordes urged Catholics to return on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, both as a sign of solidarity and to reactivate the economy.
“We have been there and we did not feel we were in danger. Television only shows the attacks, but such events are not representative of ordinary life,” he said. “There must be a change in the image of the Holy Land, so that people will return. When I was leaving Jerusalem, everyone said to me: ‘Where are you going? It’s dangerous!’
“But that image is created by the attacks. It’s not like that. We have seen groups of pilgrims, and I hope that the pilgrims will return for Christmas.”