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Archbishop clarifies synod remarks condemned by Jewish organizations

November 12, 2010

Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, the Melkite Greek Catholic bishop of Newton (Massachusetts), has clarified remarks made during an October 23 press conference presenting the final message of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.

Archbishop Bustros was quoted as saying, “The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands,” adding, “we Christians cannot speak of the 'promised land' as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people-- all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.” The archbishop’s remarks were condemned by Jewish organizations.

Archbishop Bustros told Jihad Watch:

During the press conference which was held at the end of the Synod, I presented this message in my role as president of the commission that drafted the message. I was then asked by a journalist: "What do you mean by this sentence: 'Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable'?" I answered: "Israel cannot use the Biblical concept of a promised land to justify its occupation of Palestinian territory and the expulsion of Palestinians who have been living there for centuries. We Christians cannot now speak about the Promised Land for the Jewish people. With Christ the Promised Land became the Kingdom of God": Jesus referred to this land in His sermon on the mount and gave it a spiritual interpretation: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God... Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land." (Mt. 5:3.5)

In my answer I was thinking in particular of Jewish settlers who claim their right to build on Palestinian territory by saying it forms part of biblical Israel, the land promised by God to the Jews according to the Old Testament. I also warned against the risk of Israel becoming an exclusively Jewish state, with a consequent threat to the 1.2 million Muslim and Christian Arabs living in Israel. The Synod is acknowledging the separation between religion and politics, in stating that recourse to the Bible cannot be used to justify political events: "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." (Mt. 22:21)

As a Christian, and especially as a Middle-Eastern Christian-- and this is the unanimous opinion of the Middle-Eastern Christians, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants-- I see that the concept of the Promised Land cannot be used for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians. The creation of the State of Israel in 1948-- after the resolution of the UN in 1947 regarding the partition of Palestine which was under the British mandate between Arab and Jews-- is a political issue not a religious one. It is a fact of history like other facts: Jews who were persecuted in Europe and suffered the horrors of the Shoah decided to come to Palestine and build a country for their own. They chose Palestine because of the memory of the Jews who lived there 2000 years ago. They came in great numbers; a war arose between them and the Arabs living there, and they won the war; hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to leave their homes and flee to the surrounding Arabic countries: Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Some of the Israelis based their return on the Old Testament theme of the Promised Land. But this does not mean that God is behind their return and their victory against the Arabs …

As for the idea of the chosen people, it is clear, according to Christian theology and especially to St. Paul, that after Christ there is no longer one particular chosen people! With Christ and in Him all men and women of all countries are called to become children of God and unite in one body, the Body of Christ.

Now in the Israeli-Palestinian issue we are in presence of two opposed religious extremist ideologies: from one part extremist Jews who say that Palestine is the Promised Land given to them by God, and that they cannot give up any part of it to the Arabs; and from the other part extremist Muslims who say that Palestine is a Muslim land given to them by God during the Arabic conquests, and that they cannot give up a part of it to the Israelis. With these two opposed religious ideologies it is impossible to find a compromise in order to reach a lasting peace.

The message of the Synod for the Middle East takes a moderate position and clearly advocates, regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the two-State-solution … Then the message explicitly condemns all kinds of violence and religious extremism … By dialogue only-- a dialogue which requires compromises from both sides, not by war, and especially not by a war based on religious assumptions-- can the Holy Land reach a just and lasting peace.


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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Nov. 13, 2010 9:34 PM ET USA

    Ge 17.8 RSV "And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." There may be prudent reasons for not supporting Israel in the current settlements dispute, but flatly saying "nullified by Christ" when the text says "everlasting" is not good theology and not good for diplomacy.

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Nov. 13, 2010 8:35 PM ET USA

    Archbishop Bustros spoke the truth. He does not hate the Jews (nor do I), but it is a truth of Christian revelation that the Old Covenant has been superseded by the New Covenant and that the State of Israel -- while it does have a right to exist -- does not have the right to take land from its neighbors especially by invoking a covenant which has been superseded as its justification for doing so. That some Christians in this country (the dispensationalists and others) claim this is abominable.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Nov. 12, 2010 7:27 PM ET USA

    Well spoken Archbishop Bustros! I agree with richardols3892 as I have seen the bellicose attitude toward the Palestinians by Evangelicals who subscribe to premillenial dispensationalism. It has been the driving force behind our nation's foreign policy in the middle east.

  • Posted by: Mike in Toronto - Nov. 12, 2010 7:06 PM ET USA

    Abp. Bustros' statement that "[t]his promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people -- all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people” is flat against Church teaching. He needs to read the Gospel(s), Lumen Gentium, Nostra Aetate and the (Roman) Good Friday liturgy re the status of "the Jews" in the eyes of God Almighty, Who made His *Everlasting* Covenant with these His chosen people. Ven. John Paul II knew this and taught us well on this reality.

  • Posted by: richardols3892 - Nov. 12, 2010 2:33 PM ET USA

    There are few things that annoy me more than Evangelicals unconditionally supporting and excusing any sort of Israeli aggression against the Moslems and Christians with the excuse that it's the land irrevocably promised to the Jews of the Old Testament and by extension to those of today.