10/28/2004, 00.00
DOSSIER EUROPE – HOLY LAND
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Custodian of Holy Land asks European leaders to come to Jerusalem

Father Pizzaballa would like to see a single European representative in the Middle East with the power to put pressure on Israelis and Palestinians to talk and reach peace.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – A European constitution is "something good", Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custodian of the Holy Land, told AsiaNews. Speaking about tomorrow's official signing ceremony in Rome of Europe's constitution, he said that it was a positive step that Europe can be present in the Middle East as a single political and economic actor with one plenipotentiary that can put pressure on both Israelis and Palestinians to reach peace.

Father Pizzaballa hopes that "a unified Europe will be able to have its say on how the Middle East evolves." The Custodian acknowledges that "European governments are absent" when it comes to protecting the region's Christian minority, but "being so closed geographically to Europe [and its Churches] is a great thing".

Here is the interview Father Pizzaballa gave AsiaNews.

What do you think of the signing of the European constitution?

It is certainly something positive. Europe getting its own charter is an historic event that comes after so many years of work. There are some elements of this constitution that leave a lot to be desired, but this aside, the fact that there is a constitutional document is something good.

Several commentators were unhappy with the fact that the constitution does not have any explicit reference to the continent's Christian roots. Do you think this omission can have negative repercussions on the relations between Europe and predominantly Muslim Middle East?

I hope not. I too was surprised by this omission. I can't understand how one can be afraid of one's history. I hope that it won't matter but it is too early to know. Only the future will tell.

Is the birth of a European polity important for the Middle East?

Europe and the Middle East have always had close ties and the signing of the European constitution is very important. Relations between the two have not always been easy and reaching a common European approach on the Middle East is a positive step. I hope that a unified Europe will be able to have its say on how the Middle East evolves.

What would you like to see European governments do vis-à-vis the peoples of the Middle East?

They should play a greater political role in the peace process between Israel and Palestine. They should also take a more united approach to economic issues. This would favour more joint development plans in the region.

What important symbolic step could European leaders take vis-à-vis the Middle East?

They could all come here. I wish there could be a diplomatic representative, a single plenipotentiary representing Europe that would have the power to put pressure on the governments of the two peoples to reach peace.

France was once seen as the protector of Christians in the Holy Land. Do Christians in the Middle East feel that Europe is helping them?

Currently, Christians in the Holy Land are receiving help from Churches throughout the world, including those of Europe. Being so closed geographically to Europe is a great thing. Governments are a bit absent but this stems from political choices made in Europe such as the separation of state and religion. Our consolation comes from the solidarity Churches express through the help and support they give us. (LF)

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