Olmert to tell Pope about Israel’s high regard for Catholic Church, says Israeli diplomat
Israel’s ambassador to Holy See tells AsiaNews PM’s visit to Benedict XVI and Secretary of State is important as bilateral talks between Israel and Holy See resume in Jerusalem. The Cenacle on Mt Zion and holy sites around the Sea of Galilee remain sticking points.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s visit to the Vatican tomorrow is meant to show the Holy See Israel’s high regard for the Catholic Church and stress the importance of its presence in Israel as an “element that contributes to moderation, peace and dialogue,” Oded Ben Hur, Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, told AsiaNews on the eve of Mr Olmert’s visit to Italy and the Vatican. The Israeli prime minister is scheduled to meet Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican Secretary of State Card Tarcisio Bertone tomorrow.

“I can say that on our prime minister’s agenda the meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Bertone, the secretary of state, will especially include this topic: the importance we assign to the presence of Catholic Churches in Israel as “an integral part of social life in Israel and as an element that always contributes to peace, moderation and dialogue.”

In recent days far right  Israeli TV channel Arutz Sheva accused Olmert of going to the Vatican to return property on Mt. Zion to the Church, namely the ancient Franciscan monastery including the Cenacle, which is located above a section occupied by a Jewish group which believes it to be King David's tomb.

“Handing over the Cenacle to the Catholic Church is not on our Prime Minister’s agenda,” the ambassador said. It was all rumours, he explained, caused by Israeli extremists.

According to some sources, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak had promised to hand over the Cenacle to the Church to Pope John Paul II during his historic visit to Israel in March 2000.

Whatever the case, it has been known for quite a while that the issue is on the agenda of the Joint Holy See-Israel Commission. In fact, the Joint Commission is scheduled to meet tomorrow in Jerusalem to iron out some issues relating the 1993 Fundamental Agreement which has not yet been implemented in Israel.

In the meantime, concern is growing in Israel over Christian holy sites in Galilee as Israeli authorities plan to build a trail around the Sea of Galilee open to tourists. Officials from the Shrines of the Primacy of Peter at Tabgha and Peter’s house in Capernaum and others along the shores of the lake are concerned that the trail may go over their land disturbing pilgrims at prayer and perturb the monastic life of local religious communities.

“Plans for the trail are just preliminary,” Ben-Hur said. “I can assure you that the utmost consideration for the holy sites will be given. If difficulties cannot be solved, we shan’t build it. Today we are quiet aware of and sensitive to the needs of the Church.”