Most of World Church Leaders Cool to Pope Paul’s Proposal on Jerusalem

Pope Paul’s proposal for international controls over all of Jerusalem and its religious shrines has drawn a negative reaction from most world church leaders. Israel controls both New and Old Jerusalem after its victories in the recent war.

A survey of Protestant and Orthodox clerical leaders by The New York Times indicated that while most churchmen did not oppose the papal idea in principle, most of them also felt that it was inappropriate for religious groups to endorse a specific plan at this time.

The Rev. Eugene Carson Blake, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, one of these interviewed, said in Geneva that the status of Jerusalem and the holy places was basically a political question and that religious interests could be raised only after there was “political agreement.” Other prelates interviewed included Archbishop Ieronymos,the new Archbishop of Athens; the Rev. Constantine Koser; Archbishop Iskovos, the Greek Orthodox Primate of North and South America; and Archbishop Athenagoras, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul.

The religious leaders indicated concern that all faiths have access to the holy places. Some indicated that any practical means of reaching this goal, including firm guarantees already offered by the Israeli Government, would probably be acceptable. Archbishop Ieronymos said he would welcome “any solution which would absolutely insure a peaceful atmosphere around the holy places and their removal from national antagonism.”

The Rev. Koser, Brazilian Minister-General of the Fransiscan Order of Friars Minor, which looks after Christian shrines in the Holy Land, endorsed the papal appeal but stressed he would be satisfied with adequate Israeli guarantees of access for all faiths. Archbishop Iskovos said he favored international control, arranged “with the Israeli Government’s consent and cooperation.” Last June 9 he sent a telegram to U.N. Secretary-General U Thant asking the United Nations to consider such control.

Dr. Blake, speaking for 223 Protestant and Orthodox denominations, said he favored some kind of supervisory committees “of all the religious interests” for the holy sites but he said that eliminating “the human suffering resulting from the refugee situation” in the Middle East was a more important problem at the present time. A representative of the Anglican church in London said the church did not have any official opinion on the question.

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