International Affairs, Peace & Human Security

WCC Press Release, 10 January 1994

The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches welcomed the signing of the peace accords between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in September 1993, calling upon all parties directly or indirectly involved to offer their cooperation for the successful fulfilment of the aims of the accords. Recent developments in relations between the Vatican State and the State of Israel could be regarded as further progress in the Middle East peace process.

Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar)

While it is not the general practice of the WCC to comment on the activities of the Vatican as a state which maintains diplomatic relations with sovereign nations, it is appropriate to respond to inquiries on this agreement given its potential implications for ecumenical and interfaith relations.

It is our understanding that the question of the future status of Jerusalem will be a subject of continuing discussions between the Vatican and the State of Israel. The World Council of Churches and its member churches, especially those living and witnessing in the region, will be following these discussions with considerable interest.

The long-standing position of the ecumenical movement with regard to the status of Jerusalem is that this city's importance for the three great monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, cannot be overestimated. Each has Holy Places there to which pilgrims have come for centuries, and which are symbols of their peoples' deep attachments to this "City of Peace."

Jewish, Muslim and Christian participants in a colloquium on the "Spiritual Significance of Jerusalem," convened jointly last May by the WCC, the Lutheran World Federation, the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue underscored this point, affirming "that this Holy City holds universal spiritual significance to all for whom the ultimate truth is the God of Abraham."

The WCC position was restated by the Central Committee in its "Statement on Jerusalem," adopted in August 1974:

"Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem and neighbouring areas belong to the greatest extent to member churches of the WCC, specifically the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches, and are also of concern to other Christians.

"But the question of Jerusalem is not only a matter of the protection of the Holy Places, it is organically linked with living faiths and communities of people in the Holy City. Any proposed solution as to the future of the Holy Places in Jerusalem should take into account the legitimate rights of the churches most directly concerned, (including) the rights and needs of the indigenous peoples of the Holy City."

All future agreements on Jerusalem must be approached as part of the comprehensive Middle East peace process, since they will affect directly the lives of religious communities not only in Jerusalem, Israel and the Occupied Territories, but also those elsewhere in the region and beyond. In the present historical context and in a geographical area like the Middle East, religious and political dimensions of questions like the status of Jerusalem are virtually inseparable. Rightly approached, in consultation with all those involved, these agreements could make of this city a living symbol of the potential of religious communities to live together in harmony. But decisions taken in unilateral ways or according to narrow national or religious interests would have potentially serious political implications for the success of an overall peace settlement.

The status of Jerusalem has been, and will continue to be a subject of discussion in bilateral dialogues between WCC member churches and the Roman Catholic Church and in the formal dialogues between the WCC and that church. How the State of Israel approaches the issue will also determine for many groups in and beyond the region the degree to which it truly seeks to build a solid base for peace. The WCC hopes that both parties will respect the full range of rights of faith communities and peoples directly affected as they move to the formalization of their relations.

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