NEW YORK — Vatican concern for Jerusalem's holy places is tied to the Church's concern for communities with a living connection to those places, said a Vatican official who is the Church's equivalent of foreign minister.

Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, secretary for relations with states, said in a lecture in New York Oct. 23 that attempts to separate access to holy places from the broader questions related to the status of Jerusalem were “unacceptable to the Holy See.”

The holy places gain meaning from their place in an environment that is not only geographical but also involves communities, and without the dynamic aspect of these communities, the holy places as static entities could become “mere museums or tourist attractions,” he said.

“For this reason, the Holy See is not only concerned with the religious aspect of the city,” he said. “It also has the right and duty to concern itself with the political and territorial aspect insofar as this remains unresolved, or even, more, when it becomes a cause of conflict, injustice, violations of human rights, fear or insecurity for its people.”

Archbishop Tauran said the political aspect of the situation “becomes an obstacle for the free expression of faith.”

“Hence, with regard to the question of Jerusalem, the Holy See has always maintained that this question cannot and should not be reduced simply to one of unimpeded access to the holy places,” he said.

The Vatican official was in New York for the 50th anniversary observance of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. He delivered the lecture to members of the Eastern Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, an order that traces its history to 1099 and the knighting of members in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Pope Piux IX reorganized the order at the time of the establishment of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem in 1847, and the order's work in the Holy Land includes a special commitment to aid the patriarchate.

Following the lecture, Archbishop Tauran celebrated a Mass for the order at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, and in his homily spoke of the Catholic community in the Holy Land, and the “particular interest” in its members as successors of “the first Christian communities founded by Jesus and his apostles.”

The Vatican seeks to preserve the status of the city as “a religious center” that is “unique and pre-eminent in the history of humanity,” Archbishop Tauran said.

Maintaining this character of the city requires recognizing that the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities serving as guardians of their respective holy places are part of a “living fabric,” he said.

Archbishop Tauran reiterated the Vatican's call for a “special internationally guaranteed statute” for Jerusalem.