Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican, Oded Ben-Hur, said goodbye to a group of friends at a reception at his residence Monday night. He’s returning soon to Jerusalem after more than four years in Rome, and among those gathered to bid farewell were the Vatican’s coordinator of Catholic-Jewish dialogue, Cardinal Walter Kasper, and Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni.
Ben-Hur’s tenure has been troubled by the failure of Israeli and Vatican negotiators to nail down agreements on the juridical and financial status of the Catholic Church in Israel. Last month, the former nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, raised more than a few eyebrows when he said relations between the Vatican and Israel were better before full diplomatic ties were established in 1994.
On the diplomatic Richter scale, Archbishop Sambi’s comments registered between 7 and 8 – the “can cause serious damage” category.
Making a toast on Tuesday, Ben-Hur offered his own perspective. Those who feel disappointed about the slow pace of negotiations, he said, should remember that the 13 years of diplomatic relations are practically nothing, “an iota,” compared to the 2,000-year history of Catholic-Jewish relations. Real dialogue like this takes time to mature, he said.
“So please don’t give up hope — we’re serious about this,” he said. He even promised to keep working in favor of the agreements after he returns to Israel.
For the moment, Ben-Hur is still on the job, and he’ll be shuttling between Rome and Jerusalem until his replacement is named. He and his Vatican counterparts were flying to Jerusalem this week for yet another round of talks on the legal and financial questions. On Wednesday, the group was to meet in a high-level plenary session, which has raised hopes somewhat higher than usual, according to one Vatican official.
Was an accord finally on the horizon?
“Miracles have happened before in the Holy Land,” the official said.
PHOTO: Oded Ben-Hur, Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, is pictured in a 2005 file photo. (CNS/Paul Haring)