TWO significant visits have taken place during the past ten days. Last week, Fr Pierre de Contenson, OP, Secretary of the Vatican Cornmission for Judaism, went to Israel; and this week, the Mayor of Jerusalem, Mr Teddy Kollek, came to London.
The former announced an important change of attitude i on the part of the Holy See towards Israel in that there is no longer a desire to see Jerusalem made an "international city." Sought instead are international guarantees to safeguard religious shrines in the Holy Land. Inasmuch as such safeguards already exist, the whole development represents great hope for the future. Fr de Contenson added, however, that Vatican recognition for the State of Israel was still being withheld. He nevertheless went out of his way to state that the increasingly frequent contacts between Israel and the Vatican amounted to "a kind of recognition." He reiterated the Holy See's general policy of not recognising a country until its boundaries were fixed by sonic general international agreement. As already pointed out in this paper, a notable exception to this policy has long been made in the case of Ireland. The practical reason for Vatican non-recognition of Israel is fear for the fate of the many Christians, mostly Arab Christians, in the Arab countries. This corresponds with the Vatican's policy, now closely associated with the name of Archbishop Casaroli, of maintaining good relations with countries — including Iron Curtain ones — with large Catholic populations. There is a further reason, a theological one, why the Church does not feel able to accord diplomatic recognition to the modern State of Israel. It is an unofficial, and indeed unadmitted, reason, tracing its origins to traditional theological attitudes towards Jewry and the belief that the successful emergence of "Eretz Israel" — the Land of Israel — would run counter to deeply entrenched beliefs as to the unworthiness of the Jewish race who were supposedly condemned ever to wander dispersed through the earth. By opting for the winning (Roman) side after the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 of the Common Era, the sub-Apostolic age incorporated a justifying antiSemitic note into its first teachings and Gospel writings. Exacerbated by such landmarks as six notorious sermons delivered by St John Chrysostom in the fourth century, this note persisted and fed on itself until modern times. At long last it is being thrown off, notably because of some historic words spoken by Pope John XXIII; but enough of the myth remains to leave incomplete any efforts by the Vatican, so far, to re-establish truly Christian relations with Jewry, particularly in Israel, and more particularly still in Jerusalem itself. That city could meanwhile have no more personable "ambassador" to our shores than its gifted and popular Mayor, Mr Kollek, one of whose hosts in London was Canon Peter Schneider of the Rainbow Group, who wrote in a recently published pamphlet: No one has the right to ask Jew or Arab to leave Jerusalem, No one has the right to ask Israel to relinquish her sovereignty over Jerusalem, but if — given that, as the climax of a peace settlement — some form of Jewish-Arab power-sharing could be achieved, then the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem might indeed become one.
Such sentiments link up with those expressed yesterday by Bishop Hugh Montefiore of Kingston-upon-Thames in welcoming this year's Festival of Islam as an opportunity for better understanding between Christian, Muslims and Jews.
"Perhaps it is necessary to have been in close contact with the Nazi holocaust to understand at any depth the close link in Judaism between the People and the Land", the Anglican Bishop declared. And he went on to explain that the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany had produced a study, "Christians and Jews", in which there was a clear assertion that although Jews had always lived in the Diaspora as well as in the Land of Israel the full realisation of Jewish life was always bound up with the Land.