Political Overtones Seen in Church Leaders’ Visits to Jerusalem

Jerusalem is playing host to two foreign church leaders and while their visits to the Holy City are primarily of a religious nature, the political overtones are not lost on Israeli officials. Vazken I, head of the World Armenian (Catholic) Church, was personally greeted by Mayor Teddy Kollek and representatives of the Religious Affairs Ministry at Jaffa Gate yesterday, The other visitor is Metropolitan Philaret, the Russian Orthodox Archbishop of East Berlin and Central Europe, who is heading a Russian Orthodox delegation from the Soviet Union.

Their visits are unconnected. They are, however, the latest in a growing number of officials of various Christian churches to come to Jerusalem in recent months to visit the various shrines and meet formally with local officials. These visits are viewed by Israelis as a manifestation of the Christian world’s special interest in any possible solution to the knotty problem of Jerusalem’s future political status.

HOPES RUSSIAN PILGRIMS WILL VISIT ISRAEL

Mayor Kollek warned recently that the Christian world’s interest in Jerusalem was enormous and that it was important for Israel to get across the message that the holy places of all faiths were protected and freely accessible within its territory. As far as the present visit is concerned, both church leaders will have an opportunity to witness personally how inter-faith accord works in the Israeli capital. Philaret attended services today at the Russian Church which were also attended by the Greek Orthodox Bishop, Constantine. The prayers were recited in Russian, Greek and Arabic. He and Vazken are scheduled to visit mosques, to meet with the Chief Rabbis and Religious Affairs Minister and visit the Yad Vashem.

Philaret made one remark of a political nature today. He expressed optimism over the prospects of renewed diplomatic relations between Israel and the Soviet Union and told Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry officials that he hoped there would be a flow of Russian pilgrims to Israel.

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