VATICAN CITY – The Holy See and the Arab League have agreed to work together to promote peace and justice in the world, the Vatican said Friday, after a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the league’s secretary-general.
In a separate meeting, Amr Moussa and the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, signed a memorandum of understanding between both sides, a Vatican statement said.
“During the cordial meetings, emphasis was placed on the importance of the agreement, which is intended to foster increased cooperation between the parties with a view to promoting peace and justice in the world. Particular importance was given to the role of intercultural and interreligious dialogue,” the Vatican statement said.
The meetings allowed for an “exchange of view on the international situation, especially in the Middle East, and on the need to find a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the other conflicts which afflict the region,” the Holy See said.
The pope travels to the Middle East next month on a Holy Land pilgrimage. Benedict will visit Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Benedict’s envoy to Egypt, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, told Vatican Radio that besides appreciating the pope’s interest for peace and development in the region, the Arab League “takes into account also the situation of Christians in Arab countries.”
The Vatican has long shown concern for the Christian minorities in the Middle East.
As part of its interest in looking after its flock in the Holy Land, the Vatican and Israel have held periodic talks over several years to resolve long-standing differences over tax and property matters.
The Holy See and Israel said in a joint communique that a session between both sides in Jerusalem on Thursday yielded “meaningful progress” toward resolving these differences.
The latest meeting of the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission was characterized by “great cordiality” and a spirit of cooperation, the statement said.
Without describing the progress made, it said both sides want to reach agreement as soon as possible and will meet again next week at Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic ties in the early 1990s, but they still must resolve the status of expropriated church property and tax exemptions.
On wider issues, tensions between both sides have sometimes marked their relations. Earlier this year, Benedict’s lifting of the excommunication of a bishop who had denied the Holocaust caused anger among Jews as well as Catholics and others worldwide. Last month, the pope made an unusual public acknowledgment of Vatican mistakes of turmoil caused by his reaching out to the renegade, ultraconservative prelate.
The Vatican has said that Benedict did not know that the British-born bishop was a Holocaust denier.