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Carrying Forward a Mideast Vision

Interview With Father David Jaeger

AUSTIN, Texas, AUG. 31, 2006 (Zenit) - Pope John Paul II had a vision for the Church in the Middle East that must be remembered, says Middle East expert Father David Jaeger.

The Franciscan priest, new director of The Church and Israel Public Education Initiative, adds that if this vision is to be made a reality, "it is necessary to implement the Fundamental Agreement."

In this interview with AsiaNews, the Israeli Franciscan comments on the formation of the new initiative that will seek to educate the American public on Vatican-Israeli relations.

* * *

Q: It is now 14 years since the Fundamental Agreement was signed. How much has it been implemented so far?

Father Jaeger: The answer to this must be a complex and a cautious one. As is well known -- based on the Fundamental Agreement -- the Holy See and Israel signed on Nov. 10, 1997, a second significant treaty that was meant to guarantee recognition by the state of Israel the legal personality of the Church, and of all Church bodies, from patriarchates to official associations of the lay faithful.

This was a very positive and hopeful development. It should likewise appear positive and reassuring that both agreements have been ratified and have entered into force on the international plane -- on March 10, 1994, and Feb. 3, 1999, respectively.

However, it must be admitted that neither agreement has been made into Israeli law, and specifically, most of all, that the Fundamental Agreement itself -- in spite of the many years that have passed since its signature and ratification -- has not been made into Israeli law.

Even more perplexingly, the government itself -- as is well known by now -- has officially informed Israel's Supreme Court that it did not recognize the Fundamental Agreement as binding.

This has made the agreement useless in practice, since the Church and Catholic organizations cannot rely on it in their day-to-day dealings with the state and society.

Notwithstanding the disillusionment that this has caused, we hope to inspire Catholics not to give way to despair, not to abandon John Paul II's vision as mere utopia, but instead to continue to support its preservation and implementation with determination, hope and courage.

When all is said and done, the Catholic community in Israel cannot hope to survive meaningfully into the 21st century on the basis of an imprecise and unstable legal and social status that was out-of-date already in the 19th century!

Q: How does the Fundamental Agreement concern the universal Church?

Father Jaeger: The Christian presence in Israel, and throughout the Holy Land, is far from being simply a local Church, it is also a representation, as it were, of all the world's Christians who rightly regard the Holy Land as their spiritual homeland.

This presence has therefore been historically guaranteed by a series of international treaties with the former Ottoman Empire, and by international resolutions, which have, in effect, recognized its uniqueness and its consequent need for special safeguards.

The process of negotiations and agreements, started by the Fundamental Agreement -- and as yet unfinished -- is meant also to reconfirm and consolidate those earlier guarantees, in today's terms.

This is a powerful additional reason for Christians everywhere to be more fully informed of this process, and to support it with conviction and perseverance.

Q: Why do you first and foremost address the United States?

Father Jaeger: The United States is Israel's closest and most influential friend, and Americans, including American Catholics, are overwhelmingly well-disposed toward the Israelis and interested in Israel. Israelis know that and appreciate it.

Therefore, support by Americans for the normalization and development of Church-state relations in Israel is especially likely to be well-received in Israel. Americans should be able to persuade Israelis that faithfulness to Israel's agreements with the Catholic Church will truly be to the benefit of both the Church and Israel.

This is our approach. We hope that Americans, when properly informed of the hopes and needs of the relationship between the Church and Israel, will pro-actively make a positive contribution to this relationship.

We intend to address all Christians, since the development of the relationship between the Church and Israel should, in effect, interest and benefit all those who believe in Christ.

Indeed I am looking forward to opportunities to cooperate with Jewish communities and organizations, and have already done so. American Catholics and Jews have an exceptionally close, friendly and collaborative relationship, which can turn out to be extremely significant in the context of the Church and Israel.

Making a special reference to the United States, however, does not mean that we fail to put a high value on the possible role of Europe and Europeans.

Many Europeans may now also be in a position to speak to Israel, and it may, therefore, be no less fruitful to extend our organization's modest activity to Europe as well.

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Keywords

Middle East, Conflict, War, Jaeger, Islam, Christian

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