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Palestianian religious leaders meet with pope amidst tensions over status of Jerusalem

HO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO / AFP
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It is "always a joy" to build bridges of dialogue, and "a special joy" to do so with Palestinian officials, says Pope Francis.

Today, as tensions are high over the status of Jerusalem, Pope Francis received at the Vatican a committee of religious leaders from Palestine, working to establish a working group with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

For the Catholic Church, said the Supreme Pontiff, it is “always a joy” to build bridges of dialogue, and “a special joy” to do so with Palestinian officials.

Indeed, he explained, for Christians, the Holy Land is “the land par excellence of the dialogue between God and humanity.” This dialogue, culminating in the Angel Gabriel’s annunciation to the Virgin Mary, continues in a “singular way” with Christ, “Word of God.”

The head of the Catholic Church has therefore welcomed this desire to strengthen the bilateral dialogue between the Holy See and Palestine, in order to promote better mutual understanding and esteem. Indeed, he insisted, the “first condition” of dialogue is mutual respect.

This search for the common good, said the pope, will help all the groups in Palestine, and in particular the small Christian community, diminished by emigration. In his speech, the Successor of Peter thanked Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, for his work in favor of the Christians of Palestine.

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Here is the text of the pope’s address:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to receive your Delegation, hosted by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. You have come to the Vatican to explore ways for creating a permanent Working Group for dialogue between the Council and the Palestinian Commission for Interreligious Dialogue.

For the Catholic Church, it is always a joy to build bridges of dialogue with communities, individuals and organizations. It is certainly a particular joy to do so with Palestinian religious and intellectual leaders.

The Holy Land is for us Christians the land par excellence of dialogue between God and mankind. The culmination of that dialogue took place in Nazareth between the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, an event to which the Koran also makes reference. That dialogue continues in a unique way between Jesus and his people, in representation of humanity as a whole. Indeed, Jesus is the Word of God and his speaking to men and women is, in the words of one Muslim exponent, “the dialogue of God with humanity”.

Dialogue takes place at every level: with ourselves through reflection and prayer, in our families, in our religious communities, between different religious communities, and also in civil society. The primary condition of that dialogue is reciprocal respect and a commitment to strengthening that respect, for the sake of recognizing the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be. Dialogue is the source of greater mutual knowledge, greater mutual esteem and cooperation in the pursuit of the common good, and generous cooperation in ensuring that those in need receive all necessary assistance.

It is my hope that your consultations may help to open a space of sincere dialogue for the benefit of all the members of Palestinian society, and the Christian community in particular, given its small numbers and the challenges it faces, especially with regard to emigration. I am conscious of the kindness that the Authorities of the State of Palestine, particularly President Mahmoud Abbas, have shown to the Christian community, acknowledging its place and its role in Palestinian society.

Upon all of you I invoke abundant blessings, and I offer my prayerful good wishes of peace and prosperity for the Palestinian people, for the Holy Land, and for the entire Middle East, which is so dear to me and to the Catholic Church.

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