DAILY CATHOLIC FRI-SAT-SUN February 12-14, 1999 vol. 10, no. 30
NEWS & VIEWS
ISRAELI BISHOP SEES KEY ROLE FOR MELKITE CHURCH WHILE U.S. CHURCH LEADERS PROTEST CONFISCATION OF PALESTINIANS' RESIDENCY CARDS
VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- "We cannot allow the Melkite Catholic Church to die in the Middle East." Those were the words of Archbishop Pierre Mouallem of Akka, Israel, an archdiocese which includes Haifa, Nazareth, and Galilee.
Archbishop Mouallem, who has headed the Akka archdiocese since October 1998, was in Rome this week to meet with Pope John Paul II. His appointment to that post by the Melkite synod was initially opposed by the government of Israel, which feared that the new archbishop was overly sympathetic to Palestinian causes.
The Melkite prelate, however, insisted that his Byzantine-rite Catholic Church is frequently misunderstood-- by fellow Catholics as well as by Israelis. As he put it, "we are Catholics of the Byzantine- rite, Arabs without being Muslims, Israelis without being Jews." The net result, he lamented, is that "we are misunderstood by all sides at the same time!"
The Eastern Catholic churches have a special role to play in dialogue with the Orthodox world, Archbishop Mouallem said. He suggested that since they represent the same liturgical tradition--even if they are of different communions--Eastern Catholics and Orthodox can draw closer to one another. He added that they should not be content with theological dialogue alone, but should work toward "concrete signs of reunion." One such sign, he suggested, would be an agreement to celebrate feast days together. "The Muslims laugh at us when we celebrate Easter on different days," he observed.
In a related story out of Washington D.C., the Israeli government's practice of confiscating the residency permits of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem is "an infringement upon the rights of all Palestinians, Christian and Muslim," according to a letter to the Israeli ambassador to the United States co-signed by three U.S. church leaders.
The letter to Ambassador Zalman Shoval was signed by Archbishop Spyridon of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Archbishop Khajag of the Armenian Church in America, and Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference. The heads of numerous other religious denominations in the United States endorsed the letter.
"We call upon the government of Israel to safeguard their [Palestinians'] rights, to rescind these deleterious policies, to restore identity cards that have been confiscated, and to refrain from further confiscation," the U.S. church leaders said.
The objections of the three U.S. prelates lends support to a similar call made October 19 by their counterparts in Jerusalem. In a letter to the Israeli Interior Minister, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Diodoros I, Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Torkom Manoogian, and Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah said that "although some of these confiscations have been justified legally, we feel that this issue constitutes a serious practical dislocation of the Palestinian population within Jerusalem."
According to a September 1998 report by B'tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, confiscations of residency permits of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have increased dramatically. In the years 1987 through 1995, confiscations averaged 36 per year, with a high of 96 in 1995. From 1995 to 1996, however, the number of confiscations jumped more than 700 percent to 689, and has remained close to that level since.
"We offer you our support in your protest to the government of Israel," the U.S. church leaders said in notifying the Patriarchs of their letter to Ambassador Shoval. "We share your concern for the alarming increase in the confiscation of East Jerusalem identity cards from Palestinians."
All the Church leaders expressed their concerns about the dwindling presence of the Christian community in Jerusalem as a consequence of the confiscations.
"With this acceleration in the confiscation of identity cards, we must remind you that what impacts Palestinians in general doubly impacts Christian Palestinians in particular," the Patriarchs of Jerusalem said in October.
The letter to the Israeli Ambassador from the U.S. hierarchs also
noted that "the churches in the Holy City of Jerusalem are not composed
only of stones, but more importantly are communities of faithful,
worshipping believers. Any further diminution of their numbers or
weakening of their vitality is a matter of great concern to churches
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NEWS & VIEWS