Cardinal: Holy Land at critical stage
Mar 15, 2006
The Holy Land is at a critical moment in its history following the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections and preceding March 28 Israeli elections, said Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.
(Catholic News Service, 3/13/2006) Jerusalem – "There is the sense that this is a very crucial moment, and it will require an enormous amount of wisdom and courage and prayer because there are so many intangibles we just don't know," Cardinal McCarrick told Catholic News Service March 10, the final day of a three-day visit to the Holy Land.
The Washington cardinal said both elections could "very significantly change the equation" of keeping the peace in the Holy Land.
The elections also may make it more difficult for the U.S.-backed "road map" -- designed for a permanent, two-state solution for Israeli-Palestinian peace -- to move forward, he said. The cardinal said the U.S. Catholic Church is committed to the road map, developed in 2003.
Despite the challenges during this time of transition, the United States needs to be dedicated to a two-state solution that gives Israel "recognized borders and freedom from terrorism" while at the same time giving Palestinians a "viable and peaceful state," he said.
"Unquestionably, our country has a lot on its plate right now, but I believe the commitment the president made to the road map is a most important and essential one, and we still believe we have to follow (it) and encourage our government not to give up," he said.
"Our reaction to Hamas has always been that it is impossible to deal with someone who wants to drive you out," he added. "I am optimistic that now that Hamas is leading the government we will be able to see some change in that policy."
In turn, he said, the U.S. government should not react hastily to the new leadership of Hamas, a militant Islamic group, but should wait to see how leaders proceed once the new government is formed. But whatever happens, he said, humanitarian assistance is "absolutely necessary to avoid a human tragedy in the Palestinian territories."
Cardinal McCarrick was in the Holy Land to visit with Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency. He arrived in the area following a March 7 visit to Amman, Jordan, with King Abdullah II -- whom the cardinal referred to as "my friend" -- for further discussions about the Amman Message, a 2004 declaration recognizing the common principles of eight traditional schools of Islamic religious law.
The Amman Message is a "very good step" in dialogue and an important message to bring to people of faith, the cardinal said.
During his stay in Jerusalem, the cardinal met with Israeli President Moshe Katzav and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the U.S. consul general, Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem, other Catholic leaders, representatives of the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Palestinian researchers.
Cardinal McCarrick, a member of the CRS board, visited a CRS kindergarten project in Bethlehem, West Bank. He also celebrated Mass at a parish in the West Bank village of Aboud.
He said the local Catholic community is worried about its future, and he noted that the population has "diminished extremely" since he was last in the Holy Land about five years ago. When he last visited, he said, he had hoped that when he returned certain issues would be resolved, but he noted in this visit the situation has become more difficult because of the Israeli separation barrier, a system of fences, trenches and walls designed to stop Palestinian terrorist attacks.
"One of our hopes is that what has been presented as temporary security protection will just be that when negotiations achieve final borders and that the fence will never be unreasonably or unjustly used for confiscating property," he said.
The barrier is one of the reasons cited for the decline in the Catholic population, he noted, and while it may have seemed necessary to the Israeli authorities, it seemed "harsh and unreasonable to those who have lost property." If completed as planned, the barrier were stretch nearly 400 miles and restrict the movements of 38 percent of residents of the West Bank.
The cardinal pointed specifically to Bethlehem as an example of a city whose lands have shrunk significantly because of Israeli security measures, causing many of the local businesses to close.
"I obviously worry about the economy of that very important town which always had a large Christian population," he said.