Liverpool alumnus speaks of Vatican diplomacy in the Middle East

Archbishop Paul Gallagher
Archbishop Paul Gallagher

A senior Vatican prelate who was educated by the Jesuits in Liverpool has called for Jerusalem to be given “special status on an international level”, saying that interreligious dialogue and education are crucial for peaceful co-existence in the region.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who is now Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See's Secretariat of State, was a student at St Francis Xavier’s College in Woolton, Liverpool, which was founded by the Society of Jesus in 1842, in association with Stonyhurst College, and remained in its trusteeship until 1974. In an interview with Vatican Insider, Archbishop Gallagher has been speaking about the service of education and peace in the Holy Land, notably through supporting schools and universities where Muslims and Christians study together in a tangible dynamic of interreligious dialogue.

“In the current context, we all know how much interreligious dialogue is essential,” he told Vatican Insider’s François Vayne. “In particular, it is crucial to educate towards a serene dialogue and co-existence to ensure a durable peace for the generations to come. The educational efforts which enable both young Christians, who already come from diverse ecclesial realities, as well as young people from other religions, to grow up together, to learn, to share and to evolve in a dynamic of harmony, are the true seeds of hope. Without doubt these efforts do not make the headlines, but they lay the foundations for the future and already witness to true fraternity in diversity.”

A sacred and universal cityJerusalem: a sacred and universal city. Credit: Pixabay

Archbishop Gallagher says that the peace process between Israel and Palestine entails recognition of the fundamental needs of individuals and peoples. “For many decades, the conflict in the Middle East has not ceased to cause suffering, doubt, lack of understanding, division and isolation,” he says. “Time only worsens the situation and its wounds. Yet stability and peace must necessarily lie in justice, the recognition of the rights of each person and the security of all. The two States solution has presented itself for a long time as the best remedy to the conflict and to guarantee a future and a stable peace for the people who are directly affected. It is based on safety, justice and the rights found at the heart of the internationally recognised borders.”

Regarding the status of Jerusalem, Archbishop Gallagher reiterated its importance as the sacred and universal city for the three monotheistic religions, not simply as a cultural centre. And he also spoke of the use of pontifical diplomacy concerning the migrants and refugees of the Middle East. “As you know, the plight of the refugees is an object of particular attention for Pope Francis,” he said. “He has often expressed his concern for these people through concrete signs and gestures. The Holy See is committed on a diplomatic level in favour of the peace process in the Middle East and for the resolution of problems which are at the origin of migrations.

“At the same time, the Catholic Church is engaged in aiding refugees and migrants in numerous ways. Through the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which supports and coordinates the initiatives of different Catholic organisations and charitable associations, the Holy See looks to respond notably to the concrete needs of refugees present in numerous countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Cyprus and Egypt, without mentioning, of course, the aid brought to the populations of Syria and Iraq who live in dramatic circumstances.”