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British Archbishops call on Israeli Government to protect holy sites in Jerusalem

By Ann Marie Foley - 08 March, 2018

Inside the church of the Holy Sepulchre

Two archbishops have called on the Israeli Government to protect the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem.

The Church of England Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, have written a joint letter to the Israeli Ambassador to London, Mark Regev, expressing deep concern at what they call “unprecedented, punitive and discriminatory” taxation of Christian Institutions.

The letter stated that “they threaten to cause serious damage to the Christian presence in Jerusalem, to Christian families, and to the Christian institutions, including hospitals and schools, which serve many of the poorest people, regardless of their background.” The archbishops fear that the dispute over tax could inflict long term damage on relations between communities.

“It is our view that the measures being pressed in Jerusalem and in the Knesset, are a clear and evident threat to the status quo. These violations of historic agreements risk undermining prospects for peaceful coexistence between communities, at a time of already heightened tensions,” states the letter. The two Archbishops also stated that they are praying for the peace of Jerusalem, and have urged the Israeli government to address this crisis as a matter of urgency and immediately enter dialogue with the local Churches to find a resolution.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Justin Welby.

The Status Quo, or ‘statu quo’ as it is also called in the Holy Land, refers to the relations between the Christian communities of the Holy Land with the governments of the region. Status quo applies to the Christian communities’ position as regards to their ownership and rights within the sanctuaries – both alone and in conjunction with other rites within the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem.

On 25th February 2018, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, highlighted that the intention to impose municipal tax on Churches contradicts the historical position between Churches and civil authorities over the centuries. They explained that the civil authorities have always recognised and respected the great contribution of the Christian Churches, which invest billions in building schools, hospitals, and homes, many for the elderly and disadvantaged, in the Holy Land. They declared that imposing taxes on Churches both undermines the sacred character of Jerusalem, and jeopardises the Church’s ability to conduct its ministry in that land on behalf of its communities, and the world-wide Church.

The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches made a formal request to the Municipality to retract their statement of intent to impose taxes, and ensure that the status quo which was sanctioned by sacred history is maintained and the character of the Holy City of Jerusalem is not violated. The declaration was signed by thirteen Heads of Churches and Christian communities present in Jerusalem.

Back on 6th December 2017, at a general audience Pope Francis made an appeal for wisdom and prudence to prevail over the status quo of Jerusalem as the US President was about to declare recognition of the Holy city as the capital of Israel.

Speaking after his catechesis to the crowds in the Paul VI Hall during the weekly General Audience, the Pope said, “I would like to make a heartfelt appeal for everyone’s commitment to respect the city’s status quo, in conformity with the pertinent United Nations Resolutions”. The Pope described Jerusalem as unique city which is “Holy for Jews, Christians and Muslims, who venerate the Holy Sites of their respective religions.”

The Pope said Jerusalem has a special vocation for peace, and prayed that its identity be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East, and the whole world.

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