JERUSALEM (Jan. 5)
John Cardinal O’Connor seemed to indicate here Monday, after an informal meeting with Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, that he thought Vatican-Israel relations could develop in the future.
The New York Archbishop, on the final day of his visit to Israel which began Thursday, breakfasted with Peres at the latter’s home. Pressed by reporters afterwards on Vatican-Israel relations, he remarked: “I have found, contrary to disappointment I found in New York, I found here that the Foreign Minister is open to an extraordinary number of possibilities.”
He did not elaborate on the “possibilities” but said “My understanding is that until the Holy See is satisfied that those concerns (regarding the status of Jerusalem and its holy places) can be appropriately resolved, it will maintain its current position.”
The Vatican’s position not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital put considerable strain on the Cardinal’s visit. He would not meet with Israeli leaders in official capacity at their offices here. He stressed repeatedly that his hour-long meeting with President Chaim Herzog at the Presidential residence Sunday evening and his breakfast with Peres Monday morning were strictly private and unofficial.
At the same time, he apologized profusely to the Israeli people and government for the constraints imposed by Vatican policy.
THE NATURE OF THE MEETING
Peres, for his part, implied that the nature of his meeting with O’Connor was in the eyes of the beholder. “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and it makes no difference if anybody recognizes that fact or not,” he said. “And if someone comes to me and says I am coming to you as a private individual — so what? Does that make me a private individual?”
He said his hour-long talk with O’Connor covered a wide range of issues, including the situation in the Middle East.
The Cardinal, who wore plain clerical garb on his visit to Peres, as he did when he called on Herzog the previous evening, said, “I was primarily returning a very friendly, courteous visit which the Foreign Minister, when he was Prime Minister, made on me when he was in New York… I say publicly that I consider Mr. Shimon Peres a friend and am just delighted that we had this opportunity. I had hoped, from the beginning, that I would be able to return that call, as he was the one who invited me to Israel.”
O’Connor was referring to Peres’ visit to him at his residence in New York last October, when the invitation to come to Israel was extended.
Following their breakfast meeting, O’Connor went to the Gaza Strip where he toured churches and the offices of refugee relief groups supported by an organization he heads in New York. He also visited recent immigrants from Ethiopia living in villages in the Negev. The prelate will fly to Rome Monday night. Earlier, he summed up his visit for reporters. “I think I have a much clearer understanding for my own personal reflections, of the problems that have impinged upon the potential of formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel,” he said.
Of his impressions of Israel, O’Connor observed that he had “met a number of Israeli people, a number of officials of the government, very informally. I have been deeply impressed by what seems to be their sincerity. I hope I have conveyed a very clear impression of affection and respect, and indeed, love for the Jewish people and for Israel.”