Religion must rise above politics in Jerusalem, says Father Nicodemus | Middle East | News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 15.02.2018

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Middle East

Religion must rise above politics in Jerusalem, says Father Nicodemus

Father Nicodemus of the Catholic Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem has told DW how he feels religion shouldn't be mixed with political strife. He also shared his thoughts on bringing peace to the city.

It is a monastery that even German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel raves about. "I am pleased that Dormition Abbey's urgently needed renovations have been incorporated into the coalition agreement," he recently told DW. "The Abbey in Jerusalem is close to my heart, and the study program there is an outstanding example of understanding between denominations and religions in a truly difficult environment." Father Nicodemus Schnabel is the prior of the German-speaking Benedictine Abbey. Germany's Federal Foreign Office is involved in his project, Peace Responsibility of Religions.

DW: Father Nicodemus, you met Foreign Minister Gabriel a few days ago. Can you describe why you believe the topic of peace in religion is so important?

Nicodemus Schnabel: This subject is highly relevant and is becoming increasingly important, particularly because many conflicts are veiled in religious justifications. In many conflicts, you suddenly hear religious arguments. I believe that all religious leaders, irrespective of religion, must be challenged to make clear what religion really stands for.

How do you address the tension between religion and politics in the Holy Land?

Religions must make sure that they are not drawn in to choosing sides in conflicts. Religion is a counterpart to politics. The holy scriptures, be it the Koran, Talmud or especially the Bible, were created in such a way that it's difficult to derive a concrete policy from the text. They are not simple instruction manuals. It is a violation of the holy scriptures if you take them literally.

Abbey of Dormition in Jerusalem

The Abbey of Dormition is one of the most noteable churches in Jerusalem

Ten weeks ago, US President Donald Trump sparked global controversy, and inflamed tension in the Middle East, with his announcement he would move his country's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. How has this changed things between the religious representatives in Jerusalem?

Here too, it's important to make a clear distinction between religion and politics. Ultimately, a politician presented his reasoning here, using a religious line of argument. But, and this is extremely interesting, this has challenged many monotheistic religious representatives to say again: "No, politics doesn't work like this. You can't just say: Boom, that's what the Bible says, that's how we do it."

Read more: PLO recognition threat on Israel posturing or hard-line diplomacy?

Trump has challenged civil society, to which religions belong, to take a clear position again. And something really exciting happened, which hasn't happened so often. The leaders of the 13 long-established Christian churches in the Holy Land, representing 50 denominations, which together serve the 2 percent Christian minority in the country, came together to write an ecumenical letter to Trump. And they asked the fundamental question: What is going to help this city achieve peace, reconciliation, dialogue and justice?

How do you see a way forward?

There are no easy answers for Jerusalem. The Holy See, that is, the Catholic Church, has for decades held onto what I believe to be a visionary solution. I am a great supporter of this approach, which says that Jerusalem is too important to reduce the questions regarding the city's future in a narrow-minded nationalistic manner. The old town is really a "corpus separatum," a separate area that should be internationalized, and whose ownership cannot be narrowed down to a purely nationalistic issue.

This is the magic of this city with its incredibly long history, which is sacred to three great world religions. How boring would Jerusalem be if it were purely Jewish, purely Muslim, purely Christian. The magic of the city would be gone.

Father Nicodemus Schnabel is the prior of the German-speaking Benedictine Dormition Abbey on the edge of the old town of Jerusalem. Almost 20 monks belong to the convent. The Latin name Dormitio serves to remind Christians that Mary passed away at this spot.