Update: Pope concerned by U.S. move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Following reports that U.S. President
Donald Trump planned to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Pope
Francis expressed his concern that such a move would further destabilize the
Middle East.

Pope Francis said he could not “keep silent about my
deep concern” for Jerusalem and urged respect for “the status quo of
the city in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United

The pope spoke at the end of his weekly general audience
Dec. 6, the same day President Trump was expected to announce his decision to
move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made
during his presidential campaign.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had made
the same promises during their campaigns, but once in office, they did not
carry through with the move, citing its potential negative impact on
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Trump, on the other hand, seemed prepared to announce the
move, drawing warnings from Middle Eastern and European leaders that
overturning the United States’ long-standing policy would further complicate
peace negotiations.

According to Vatican Radio, the pope received a telephone
call from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Dec. 5 regarding President
Trump’s plan to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

The conversation was “part of a series of contacts made
by the president of the Palestinian National Authority after his conversation
with Donald Trump during which — according to Abbas’ spokesman — the U.S.
president announced his intention to move the American embassy,” Greg
Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Vatican Radio.

The Vatican supports a “two-state solution” for
the Holy Land with independence, recognition and secure borders for both Israel
and Palestine.

At the same time, the Vatican consistently has called for a
special status for Jerusalem, particularly its Old City, in order to protect
and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In his appeal, Pope Francis said, “Jerusalem is a
unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims who venerate the holy
places of their respective religions, and has a special vocation to

Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has seen as separate
issues the need for a special status for the city and questions over the
political sovereignty or control of Jerusalem. The political question, it has
insisted, must be the result of negotiation.

The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its
central importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians explains why, while
recognizing the state of Israel, no nation has its embassy in the holy city.

“I pray to the Lord that this identity would be
preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East
and the whole world and that wisdom and prudence would prevail, to avoid adding
new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel
conflicts,” the pope said.

Before the audience, Pope Francis met with religious leaders
from Palestine attending a meeting sponsored by the Pontifical Council for
Interreligious Dialogue.

Dialogue, the pope said, takes place at every level,
especially “in our families, in our religious communities, between
different religious communities, and also in civil society.”

However, a key condition for dialogue is mutual respect and
a commitment to strengthen that respect “for the sake of recognizing the
rights of all people, wherever they happen to be,” he said.

“Dialogue is the source of greater mutual knowledge,
greater mutual esteem and cooperation in the pursuit of the common good, and
generous cooperation in ensuring that those in need receive all necessary
assistance,” Pope Francis said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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