Area: 20,700 sq. km.
Neighbouring countries: Lebanon to the North, Syria, West Bank (Palestinian Territories) and Jordan to the East, Egypt and Gaza (P. Territories) to the West
Capital City: Jerusalem (including East Jerusalem), but not recognised by UN.
Other Cities: Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Tiberias, Beer-Sheva, Haifa
Ethnic groups: Jews, Arabs, Others
Languages: Hebrew and Arabic (official), English
Currency: New Shekel of Israel
Member of: UN EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and WTO (World Trade Organization)
(De Agostini, Jan. 2008)
The State of Israel was proclaimed on the 14th May 1948, as a result of a UN resolution (1947) making provision for the division of Palestine into two States, one Arab and one Hebrew.
Israel is a parliamentary Republic which has no written Constitution. The legislative power is held by the National Assembly (Knesset), with 120 MPs elected for 4 years. The Knesset elects the President of the Republic for a mandate of 5 years. The Prime Minister is elected directly by the people, but must be approved by the Knesset.
The population is about 7.5 million (UN Statistics 2008). The Christians (mainly Catholics) are about 2%. (Statistical Yearbook of the Church 2008 and Dossier of the French Episcopal Conference on the Synod for the Middle East)
Relations with the Holy See
With the “Fundamental Agreement"signed on the 30th December 1993, the Holy See has fully recognised the State of Israel with the establishment of diplomatic relations on the 14th June 1994, on the basis Israel’s commitment to recognise, with a new bilateral treaty, the acquired rights of the Church in the Holy Land, regarding the legal and fiscal aspects and property, obtained in the centuries prior to the creation of the State of Israel (1948). The negotiations are still going on in order to reach an agreement on these points.
The Apostolic Nuncio is Mgr. Antonio Franco, tit. archbishop of Gallese, also Nuncio in Cyprus and Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine.
NAZARETH (Nazareth in Hebrew signifies “flowering"; An-Nasira in Arabic)
The city is like an amphitheatre on the first mounts of Galilee and its altitude is between 350 and 495 metres. It is the biggest Arab city of Israel and the most important one of Galilee of which it is the administrative centre. There are about 40 thousand inhabitants in the old town, Christians and Muslims, and the municipality is Arab. On the nearby hills, there is a settlement started in 1948, Nazareth ‘Illit (High), whose population is made up of Jewish settlers (30 thousand), having a separate administration. The site of the city goes back to the Bronze Age, but its importance comes from the Gospel events (Annunciation, Hidden life of Jesus, Expulsion from the Synagogue). In the 1st century, Nazareth was inhabited by Jews and Christians of Jewish origin, with the relatives of Jesus who were leaders of the Church. Their houses were transformed into places of worship, and this is still the case today. In the 5th century, came Christians from the Nations. The Jews of Nazareth joined the Persians of Khosrow II in destroying churches and monasteries. But after the victory of the Byzantine Heraclius (629), they were expelled from the city. With the Arab invasion, after a brief period of tolerance, things got worse. Tancred, Prince of Galilee, rebuilt the Christian places of worship.
Conquered by Saladin in 1187, Nazareth was given back to the Christians in 1240. In 1263, Baibars destroyed the churches and monasteries. The town remained in a state of poverty for over 400 years, with a small population of Muslims. In 1650, the Emir of Mount Lebanon and Prince of Galilee, Fakhr Al-Din II, gave to the Franciscans the site of the Annunciation. (In 1799, Napoleon was a host in the New House of the Friars Minor). Nazareth hosts every year about a million visitors, half of the foreigners in Israel. The main street of the city, called the “Flower of Galilee", is named after Paul VI, a reminder of his pilgrimage there on the 5th January 1964.
BASILICA OF THE ANNUNCIATION
The Franciscan church of 1730 contained the grotto-house of the Holy Family in a crypt under the main altar; after its erection as parish, it was enlarged in 1877, then demolished in 1959 to make way for the new church. The present Basilica, still unfinished, received Paul VI’s visit; the consecration of the church occurred on the 25th March 1969, on the feast of the Annunciation, in presence of Cardinal Garrone.
Designed by architect Giovanni Muzio, the building is in concrete with local stone covering. The main façade has right above the statue of Christ Redeemer; under it are the Annunciation scene and the four Evangelists. The Southern façade is devoted to Mary as an adolescent. Inside, there are two churches one on top of the other, with a central opening through which one can see the grotto-house of the Holy Family: the church below is in the style of crypts, leading to the grotto and the 17th century Franciscan altar with the inscription “verbum caro hic factum est"; the church above is dedicated to the exaltation of the Virgin, Mother of God made man. The big central mosaic is by Salvatore Fiume, with various mural paintings depicting the Marian devotion of the main sanctuaries in the world (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, England, Ethiopia, France, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Taiwan, United States, Venezuela). The cupola, 55 metres high, ends as a torch while it has the form of a palm tree inside. The pavement that unites the two churches is of polychrome marble, resuming in eight inlaid pictures the Teaching of the Church on Mary: Mother of God, Assumption into Heaven, Virginity, Immaculate Conception, Universal Mediation, Perfect Holiness, Royal Dignity, Spiritual Maternity.
BENEDICT XVI TO THE BISHOPS OF CELRA – CONFERENCE OF LATIN BISHOPS OF THE ARAB REGION: Nevertheless, it is essential to give firm support and encouragement to those who choose to remain faithful to their homeland in order to prevent it from becoming an archaeological site deprived of ecclesial life
BENEDICT XVI TO THE AMBASSADOR OF ISRAEL, ON THE OCCASION OF THE PRESENTATION OF HIS CREDENTIALS: The fraternal dialogue that is conducted on an international level between Christians and Jews is bearing much fruit and needs to be continued with commitment and generosity...
APOSTOLIC JOURNEY OF THE POPE IN THE HOLY LAND