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The Significance of Jerusalem for Christians

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On Monday, 14 November 1994, the heads of the Christian communities in Jerusalem met in solemn conclave to discuss the status of the Holy City and the situation of the Christians there, at the conclusion of which, they issued the following declaration:

Jerusalem, Holy City
Jerusalem is a city holy for the people of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Its unique nature of sanctity endows it with a special vocation: calling for reconciliation and harmony among people, whether citizens, pilgrims or visitors. And because of its symbolic and emotive value, Jerusalem has been a rallying cry for different revived nationalistic and fundamentalist stirrings in the region and elsewhere. And, unfortunately, the city has become a source of conflict and disharmony. It is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab disputes. While the mystical call of the city attracts believers, its present unenviable situation scandalizes many.

The Peace Process
The current Arab-Israeli peace process is on its way toward resolution of the Middle East conflict. Some new facts have already been established, some concrete signs posted. But in the process Jerusalem has again been sidestepped, because its status, and especially sovereignty over the city, are the most difficult questions to resolve in future negotiations. Nevertheless, one must already begin to reflect on the questions and do whatever is necessary to be able to approach them in the most favorable conditions when the moment arrives.

Present Positions
When the different sides involved now speak of Jerusalem, they often assume exclusivist positions. Their claims are very divergent, indeed conflicting. The Israeli position is that Jerusalem should remain the unified and eternal capital of the State of Israel under the absolute sovereignty of Israel alone. The Palestinians, on the other hand, insist Jerusalem should become the capital of a future State of Palestine; although they do not lay claim to the entire modern city, but envisage only the eastern, Arab part.

Lessons of History
Jerusalem has had a long, eventful history. It has known numerous wars and conquests and has been destroyed time and again, only to be reborn anew and rise from its ashes like the mythical phoenix. Religious motivation has always gone hand in hand with political and cultural aspirations and has often played a preponderant role. This motivation has often led to exclusivism or at least to the supremacy of one people over the others. But every exclusivity or every human supremacy is against the prophetic character of Jerusalem. Its universal vocation and appeal is to be a city of peace and harmony among all who dwell therein.

Jerusalem, like the entire Holy Land, has witnessed throughout its history the successive advent of numerous new peoples: people from the desert, the sea, the north and the east. Most often the newcomers were gradually integrated into the local population. This was a rather constant characteristic. But when the newcomers tried to claim exclusive possession of the city and the land, or refused to integrate themselves, the others rejected them.

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Tags: Middle East Christianity Jerusalem Pilgrimage/pilgrims