ROME— People at the grassroots in countries in conflict, from Syria to Venezuela, want peace rather than words, says Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who, as the Vatican’s Secretary of State, serves as Pope Francis’s top diplomat.
“If tension goes up, it becomes necessary to avoid escalation of the conflict,” he said. “[But] the underlying problem is always the same: Political will is required.”
Solutions, he said, speaking particularly but not exclusively of the Middle East and Jerusalem, are possible and viable. The opportunity to respond with concrete proposals that can really resolve issues is there, he said, but “unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of will” from those involved to each sacrifice something in the “formula of compromise.”
“From Syria to Venezuela,” the “cry of the people, of the poor, must be taken into account. Often we’re deaf to the cries coming from the grassroots, the population who with a loud voice are calling for peace.”
Those responsible, Parolin said, must open themselves to this cry, instead of gambling with their lives. “It’s not about the petty games [giochetti] of international politics, here we’re talking about giving concrete responses.”
Speaking about the current state of the crisis in Venezuela, Parolin said that it doesn’t represent a “failure” for the efforts of the Holy See, because the Vatican’s diplomacy is “one of peace. It has no power interests, whether political, economic, or ideological.”
He also said that at Francis’s request, the Vatican’s diplomatic efforts have been “proactive and not reactive,” always trying to contribute. What matters, he said, is “to try.”
Regarding Venezuela, he said, “there can be a variety of opinions, but what matters is to try to give practical solutions based on the situation, taking into consideration the real situation of the people and the well-being of all, which must come first.”
Parolin’s remark came in an interview with Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, on the occasion of the 800th Anniversary of the ‘Pardon of Assisi’, a feast marked Aug. 1-2 which commemorates the establishment of a plenary indulgence for all who pass through the chapel where the Franciscan order was founded.
When asked about which global conflict worries him the most, Parolin said “there are many, and among these, there certainly is the Middle East, that is always very much an active concern of the Holy See.”
The solution here, he said, is to “engage in a permanent peace.”
A recent flareup of the conflict took place in Jerusalem, a key city for Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Several holy sites are governed by what is known as the “Status Quo,” an arrangement guaranteed by the Ottoman government in the 18th and 19th centuries laying out who controls aspects of seven sites in Jerusalem and two sites in Bethlehem.
In July, after Israel unilaterally installed metal detectors in the area surrounding the Temple Mount after two police officers were killed, a crisis broke out, leading to several other deaths. The machines have since been dismantled, and the pope and the Vatican have appealed for moderation.
Monsignor Simon Kassas – the Chargé d’Affaires of the Vatican’s mission to the United Nations – said in late July that Jerusalem needs an “internationally guaranteed” special status, in order to ensure the freedom of religion of the city’s inhabitants, “as well as the secure, free and unhindered access to the Holy Places by the faithful of all religions and nationalities.”
In his interview, published on Thursday, Parolin said that the Holy See considers Jerusalem to be “unique and sacred for Hebrews, Christians, and Muslims” and that the Vatican’s criteria and conditions on this matter have long been known.
These include Jerusalem being recognized as “a place of citizenship for all faithful, for it to be an ‘open city’ in the sense that it recognizes religious freedom and the rights of all, and that these be respected.”
Parolin also said that an international statute passed in 1947 to protect the religious and historic character of the city and the free access to everyone to the sacred sites is still valid, saying that to his knowledge, no other possible solution capable of resolving the problems and tensions has been proposed.
“The manifestations of violence we saw tell us that the problem must be resolved at an international level,” he said.
Talking about Colombia, which last year signed a peace accord to end a decades-long civil war, Parolin said that beyond the technical formulas of the accord, the country needs a profound reconciliation so that it can have a solid base on which to build “the path of peace.”