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Monday, June 2, 2003


VATICAN CITY, JUNE 2, 2003 (VIS) - Oded Ben-Hur, the new ambassador of the State of Israel to the Holy See, presented his Letters of Credence this morning to the Holy Father, who told him "your presence today is a testimony to our common desire to work together to build a world of peace and security, not only in Israel and the Middle East, but in every part of the globe, for all peoples everywhere."

"This is a task," he went on, addressing the diplomat in English, "which we undertake not alone but with the whole international community: indeed, perhaps unlike any time in the past, the entire human family today feels the urgent need to overcome violence and terror, to expunge intolerance and fanaticism, to usher in an era of justice, reconciliation and harmony among individuals, groups and nations."

"This need," underscored the Holy Father, "is probably nowhere more acutely felt than in the Holy Land. There is absolutely no question that peoples and nations have the inherent right to live in security. This right, however, entails a corresponding duty: to respect the right of others. Therefore, just as violence and terror can never be an acceptable means for making political statements, neither can retaliation ever lead to a just and lasting peace. Acts of terrorism are always to be condemned as true crimes against humanity. Every State has the undeniable right to defend itself against terrorism, but this right must always be exercised with respect for moral and legal limits in its ends and means."

John Paul II noted that "like other members of the international community, ... the Holy See is convinced that the present conflict will be resolved only when there are two independent and sovereign States. As I said earlier this year to the Diplomatic Corps: 'Two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, are called to live side by side, equally free and sovereign, in mutual respect. It is essential that both parties give clear signs of their determined commitment to bring this peaceful coexistence about.

"Of course, the many issues and difficulties raised by this crisis must be dealt with in a fair and effective manner. Questions concerning Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements, for example, or the problem of setting territorial boundaries and defining the status of the most sacred places of the City of Jerusalem need to be the subject of open dialogue and sincere negotiation. By no means should a decision be made unilaterally. ... Nor should real or apparent failures lead partners in dialogue and negotiation to be discouraged."

Pope John Paul pointed out that the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel was reached ten years ago which lead to the establishment of full diplomatic relations. "I am pleased." he added, "that an accord also appears close at hand regarding related fiscal and economic matters." He expressed "the fervent hope that this climate of cooperation and friendship will allow us to deal effectively with other difficulties that the Catholic faithful in the Holy Land face on a daily basis. Many of these problems, such as access to Christian shrines and holy sites, the isolation and suffering of Christian communities, the dwindling of the Christian population due to emigration, are in some way connected to the current conflict but should not discourage us from seeking possible remedies now, from working now to meet these challenges."

The Holy Father dedicated closing remarks to his Jubilee Year pilgrimage to the Holy Land, noting that it was "a pilgrimage of hope: the hope that the 21st century will lead to a new solidarity among the peoples of the world, in the conviction that development, justice and peace will not be attained unless they are attained by all."


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