The Vatican's view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets too little attention from Catholics in the United States. With that in mind, here are some comments Pope Benedict XVI made on Monday as he welcomed the new Israeli ambassador to the Holy See with a request that more be done to help Christians remain in the Holy Land:I do realize that the difficulties experienced by Christians in the Holy Land are also related to the continuing tension between Jewish and Palestinian communities. The Holy See recognizes Israels legitimate need for security and self-defence and strongly condemns all forms of anti-Semitism. It also maintains that all peoples have a right to be given equal opportunities to flourish. Accordingly, I would urge your Government to make every effort to alleviate the hardship suffered by the Palestinian community, allowing them the freedom necessary to go about their legitimate business, including travel to places of worship, so that they too can enjoy greater peace and security. Clearly, these matters can only be addressed within the wider context of the Middle East peace process.Benedict pointed to the difficulty church workers have in getting visas, adding, "Only when these difficulties are overcome, will the Church be able to carry out freely her religious, moral, educational and charitable works in the land where she came to birth." It was a diplomatic way of saying that religious freedom is being violated as a result of an Israeli policy.The statement again reflects the Vatican's sense of urgency on this. For if the violence between Israelis and Palestinians persists, the Holy Land will be virtually devoid of a Christian presence.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.