It is a remarkable blessing that almost every year I am able to visit Jerusalem, the world’s spiritual capital and the mother church of all Christians. Usually I am accompanying pilgrims to the holy places where Christians mark the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Do I feel that I am visiting the capital of Israel when I am there? My thoughts about Jerusalem are primarily biblical rather than in terms of the nation-state. Consequently, I think about Jerusalem as the national and spiritual home of the Jewish people, toward which biblical history has looked since Abraham. It was there that King David ruled over the united kingdom three millennia ago, and that King Solomon built the temple, the house of prayer for all peoples.
Should Jerusalem be recognized as the capital of the modern state of Israel, as President Donald Trump did today? I believe that there should be a modern state of Israel. I believe that it should be in Zion, in the biblical Land of Israel, with proper recognition of other peoples who live there. I believe that its capital is obviously Jerusalem. That is what Israel declares its capital to be, and generally we recognize the capitals that nation-states choose for themselves.
Should Jerusalem be recognized as the capital of the modern state of Israel?
I am sympathetic to the argument that after the wars of 1948 and 1967 it was wise not to prejudge the outcome of potential peace agreements by recognizing the status of Jerusalem. But it has been fifty years now since Jerusalem was united under Israeli sovereignty, Israel will always identify Jerusalem as its capital, and not recognizing those facts diplomatically has not evidently advanced the prospects for peace. So the recognition by the United States of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel strikes me as both defensible and anticlimactic.
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, but it is not a city only for Jews. The rights of Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, must be recognized, de jure and de facto. Arabs whose rights have not been respected have a legitimate grievance. Such grievances, it should be noted, have received sympathetic hearings at the Israeli supreme court.
Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people as its capital, but it simultaneously belongs to the spiritual patrimony of the entire human race. The particularity and universality of Jerusalem reflects the particularity and universality of the vocation of Abraham, the one we Catholics call our “father in faith” during the Holy Mass. The call of Abraham was both to be the father of a great nation – the chosen people – and to be a blessing for all nations.
Particular and universal is the reality of Jerusalem, which means that it must be both the particular capital of a specific people, as well as a city open to the pilgrims of the world. That is why the Holy See’s position for decades has been rather far-sighted, namely that Jerusalem’s universal character needs to be recognized and guaranteed by some form of international instrument. Recognizing the particular does not preclude formalizing the universal.
Jerusalem simultaneously belongs to the spiritual patrimony of the entire human race
The diplomatic ramifications of the American decision remain to be seen. Yet it seems to me that, from both a historical and religious point of view, we ought to give as much credence to the psalms – which we Catholic priests pray five times daily – as we do to UN resolutions. They are replete with testimony about the centrality of Jerusalem, confirmed by the Hebrew prophets and the Christian gospels. That is not to argue that the modern state of Israel should be coterminous with biblical Israel, but to acknowledge that it is historically and religiously impossible for Jerusalem not to be the capital of a Jewish state. What is historically and religiously necessary therefore ought to be diplomatically possible.
What should Canada do? Proceed with caution, but proceed. It should be kept in mind that Canada can hardly present itself as a model of respect for indigenous peoples if it cannot recognize the obvious capital of the most important indigenous people on the planet, the chosen people in the promised land.
I think every pilgrim who visits Jerusalem repeatedly hears at some point the venerable rabbinic saying: “When God created the world, He gave ten portions of joy to the world and nine were given to Jerusalem; He gave ten portions of beauty to the world and nine were for Jerusalem; He gave ten portions of suffering to the world and nine were for Jerusalem.”
So it has been and so it is. In the words of a biblical prayer that all can offer, Jew, Christian and Muslim, Israeli and Arab: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!