What the Holy See told the UN about Middle East Christians

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The Middle East needs peace, human rights, and the continued presence of Christians, a leading Holy See diplomat told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday.

“Christian communities have existed for over two thousand years in that region and have peacefully coexisted with the other communities. The Holy See urges the international community, through the Security Council, not to forget them,” Monsignor Simon Kassas, interim chargé d’affaires of the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations, said July 25.

“The Holy See believes that the rule of law, including respect for religious freedom and equality before the law based on the principle of citizenship and regardless of one’s race, ethnic origin or religion, is fundamental toward the achievement and maintenance of the peaceful and fruitful coexistence among individuals, communities and nations in the whole region and beyond,” he continued.

Msgr. Kassas spoke in an intervention during the U.N. Security Council's open debate on “The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question.”

He voiced the Holy See’s regret at the loss of lives and property in wars and conflict in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. In these places “the dramatic humanitarian situation calls for renewed commitment by all to arrive at a political solution to these conflicts.”

The diplomat said Pope Francis “deeply appreciates the tireless efforts of those toiling to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria.”

“He encourages all actors to work toward a Syrian-led political process leading to a peaceful and inclusive transition,” the monsignor said, stressing the benefits of a peaceful settlement that will restore stability, allow for the safe return of refugees and others who are displaced.

Peace in Syria will also create an environment for effective counter-terrorism efforts and maintain “the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian state.”

Turning to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, Msgr. Kassas said the Palestinian question is debated four times a year and this debate sometimes sounds like “broken records,” but this will continue until a solution is found. He added: “notwithstanding the multiple challenges facing the Middle East today, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process cannot be allowed to slip out of the top priorities of the international community and this council.”

The Holy See voiced support for a two-state solution in which both the Israel and a Palestinian state exist side-by-side “in peace within internationally recognized borders.”

“For this process to happen and succeed, Israelis and Palestinians must agree on substantial steps to lower tensions and de-escalate the violence on the ground,” Msgr. Kassas said. This includes refraining from actions, including actions regarding settlements, that contradict their stated commitment to a negotiated solution.

He cited Pope Francis’ exhortation to pray for peace and to promote a culture of non-violence so that everyone can bequeath “a culture capable of devising strategies of life, not death, and of inclusion, not exclusion.”

All Palestinian factions must show “a united political will” and work together to address their people’s needs, Msgr. Kassas told the U.N.

“A united Palestinian front would prove the commitment of the Palestinians to a peacefully negotiated settlement and would be key to the economic prosperity, social cohesion and political stability of a Palestinian State,” he said.

“We must also not forget Jerusalem, a city sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims,” the diplomat continued, adding, “The historical status quo of the holy sites is a matter of profound sensitivities.”

Msgr. Kassas reaffirmed the Holy See’s support for “for a comprehensive, just and lasting solution” regarding Jerusalem and reiterated the importance of internationally guaranteed special status that ensures religious freedom of all its inhabitants and “the secure, free and unhindered access to the Holy Places by the faithful of all religions and nationalities.”

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