12/18/2008, 00.00
VATICAN - ISRAEL
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Holy See-Israel delegation speeds up work ahead of pope's visit to Holy Land

by Arieh Cohen
The next round of meetings has been scheduled: four in just three months, after years of inaction. The date of the plenary assembly has been moved up, and everything will be completed before May of 2009, when Benedict XVI is expected to arrive in the Holy Land.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The permanent bilateral commission between the Holy See and the state of Israel today concluded its plenary meeting at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem, and decided on a packed schedule of meetings, leading to hopes that some conclusion might be reached before the probable visit of Benedict XVI to the Holy Land in May of 2009.

In the statement released at the end of today's meeting, it is affirmed that "the working-level Commission will hold meetings on 15 January, 18 February, 5 March and 26 March." This is rather unusual, if one considers that the dialogue has been proceeding at a very slow pace for about 10 years, and for almost 5 years (from 2002-2007) has been at a halt. The plenary meeting - which according to custom should have been held in June of 2009 - was also moved up. The statement says that "it was agreed to hold the next Plenary meeting on 23 April 2009," and that the packed agenda is intended to demonstrate the commitment of the two delegations to "accelerate the talks and conclude the agreement at the earliest opportunity."

In ecclesial circles in the Holy Land, this sudden hurry of the mixed commission is seen in connection with the desire to reach some result before the expected visit of Benedict XVI to the Holy Land. Although the Vatican has not yet confirmed or denied this, in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan it is thought that the pope will arrive in the Holy Land in the first half of May.

As in previous statements, the one released today also speaks of "an atmosphere of great cordiality and good will"; of work aimed at "achievement of the mutually desired accord" and of exchanges "significant and helpful" for "both sides." For almost 10 years, the Church and the state of Israel have been trying to reach an agreement to reconfirm the historical tax exemptions for the Church, and to agree on rules for the protection of Church property, especially the holy sites.

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