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From Jerusalem to the Ends of the Earth - The Challenge of Peace for Jews, Christians and Muslims
We have met together because we are all believers, children of one father, Abraham. We are meeting in Jerusalem so that our common roots may be reinvigorated in this city, at once unique and universal, eternal and modem, real and ideal.
Jerusalem! Jerusalem! It is easy to praise you with he harp of David, yet difficult to understand you as you are in all the fullness and complexity of your vocation.
We need a better understanding of what it means for the three families of Abraham to belong to Jerusalem. Each one's claim differs from those of the others, yet all are equally valid. The Jew is at home there geographically and historically. From the foundation of the city he is there in the depths of his biblical history; he is there in the depths of his heart; it impregnates his entire life. "May my right hand wither if I forget you, Jerusalem" (Ps.137:6) When the Jewish people, exiled and dispersed, cried out from Seder to Seder: "Next year in Jerusalem", their identity was developing both spiritually -and historically. The tragic beauty of the Jewish faith is to be seen at the Western Wall of the Temple.
For Christians, Jerusalem is the birth-place of their faith; in the Temple Jesus taught the Gospel of love; in the Cenacle he broke the bread of the New Covenant and on Golgotha he gave his life, ascended into Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit of Pentecost upon the Church of the Apostles. Jerusalem is the place where the calamitous claim of history was broken and life overcame death. For the Muslim Jerusalem is the Holy Place where the Prophet, on his way from Mecca astride his winged mare, had the mystical experiences during which he ascended at night and spoke with Abraham, Moses and Jesus. It is also the sanctuary where, at the final exodus, the remnant of the faithful will assemble on the esplanade of the El Aqsa mosque. Above all Jerusalem is the place where the last trumpet will be sounded for the three religions, calling to life Jews, Christians and Muslims.
However, it is not to the holy places alone that the three faiths are attached. They transcend them to envelop the whole city with its prophetic vocation. The language of prophecy alone can do justice to Jerusalem; it is the only language that truly reveals God's plan for her. For Abraham's descendants Jerusalem is both prelude and foretaste of the peace and beatitude to come. All have a claim on her but nobody's claim is exclusive. We do not possess her; she possesses us. She is unencumbered by possessions or by authority; in her each of us must abandon human loyalties to be totally given to the only loyalty that counts - loyalty to God.
Jerusalem can no longer remain torn apart by divisions that are more unendurable here than anywhere else. The city bears the scars of age-long conflicts whose wounds are not yet healed. We must purify ourselves and allow our memories, ravaged by rivalry, conquest and revenge, to be reconciled. According to the vision of Isaiah, Jerusalem must rediscover peace and become the place of true fraternal understanding for all the children of Abraham. This harmony is much more than mere tolerance or a resigned and half-hearted attitude of mutual support. At the very heart of descent from Abraham is the commitment to love the other in all his/her difference. The name of Abraham himself, founder of our religious dynasty, is sometimes in danger of blurring the features which distinguish each of us from the others in our adoration of the one only God. It is more difficult for us to live together in Jerusalem than for different generations to share the same house, for there must be peace at the heart of each one of our three families. We must prove that we are capable of sanctifying Jerusalem by creating peace within its walls, thus opening it up to all nations.
In its deepest sense the peace of Jerusalem does not impose itself It calls for much imagination, calculated daring and true faith. It is the fruit of conversion of mind and heart and of an education that is sensitive to the smallest incidents of daily If justice and truth are not the same there for all, they are neither justice nor truth and there will never be lasting peace. To live in Jerusalem means to live there in unconditional peace. Pope John Paul never ceases to beg for this peace, especially in the Apostolic letter of 20 April 1984, consecrated to this city which should be "a place of peace where all the peoples of the Middle East can meet'.
"To live in Jerusalem" is to translate its mystery into a message of peace for all the world. Only true believers in a God of mercy can take up the challenge hurled by the Goliath of the nuclear age at David, whose sling contains only little stones polished by the torrent of the Spirit of Forgiveness.
In order to "go up to Jerusalem" each person must undertake to become a pilgrim of peace. Two weeks ago I was in Sarajevo visiting the Rabbi, the Orthodox priest and the Rais-el Wema. Two years earlier under the bullets we had shared a triduum of reflection and prayer. When I told them I was going up to Jerusalem for our meeting their faces lit up at the thought of this unique city whose very name promised a vision of Peace. At Sarajevo I was able to understand better than ever before the responsibility for peace shared by all the children of Abraham. To them God has entrusted his holy city as their heritage, a heritage conferring duties rather than rights. Our task as makers of peace is to be undertaken with that passion in every sense of the word, which will give to our encounter all its impetus and all its seriousness.
0 Jerusalem, chosen by God before all other cities, of you each one of us can say "This is my mother, of you we are all born. Around you all can dance and sing: All find their home in you" (Ps.87).
0 Jerusalem "Well-built city, city one with itself". In the words of David's psalm I call down peace upon you:
"Peace inside your city walls!
Prosperity to your palaces!
Since all are my brothers and friends I say: Peace be with you!" Ps.122
Peace! Shalom! Salam!
Cardinal Roger Etchegaray is the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace - Paper given in Jerusalem at a meeting organised by the St. Egidio Community of Rome, in August 1995