The Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands on the site where Jesus, according to Christian belief, was crucified, buried and resurrected. This church, considered to be one of the most significant and holiest churches in the world, has been an important site for Christian pilgrims since the 4th century.
While the visit by Pope Francis to Israel in May 2014 was officially described as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he participated in two events bearing both historic significance and importance for the future: the Pope met with the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I); and placed a wreath at the gravesite of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, another indication of the strengthening ties between Israel and the Vatican, and between Judaism and the Catholic Church.
The three previous papal visits to Israel were made by Pope Paul VI in 1964, Pope John Paul II in 2000 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.
The establishment of full diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See (as per the terms of the Fundamental Agreement signed in Jerusalem in 1993) was a significant step in the historic process of the Catholic Church's changing attitude toward Judaism and the Jewish people. The first public expression of this change was the Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time"), the declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, published by the Second Vatican Council in I 1965. The year 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of that declaration, which was realized and strengthened through productive dialogue, meetings and cooperation.
In the Fundamental Agreement signed by Israel and the Holy See, the parties noted "the unique nature of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people..." and committed to "appropriate cooperation in combating all forms of anti-Semitism and all kinds of racism and of religious intolerance, and in promoting mutual understanding among nations, tolerance among
communities and respect for human life and dignity", and to "the peaceful resolution of conflicts among States and nations, excluding violence and terror from international life".
Additional commitments related to preserving the status quo of the holy Christian sites, issues surrounding freedom of religion, pilgrimage to the Holy Land and more.
In November 1997 an agreement defining the status of the Catholic Church in the State of Israel was signed in Jerusalem.
Zion Evrony, Ph.D.
Ambassador of Israel to the Holy See