A Liminal Church

Refugees, Conversions and the Latin Diocese of Jerusalem, 1946–1956


The history of the Palestine War does not only concern military history. It also involves social, humanitarian and religious history, as in the case of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jerusalem. A Liminal Church offers a complex narrative of the Latin patriarchal diocese, commonly portrayed as monolithically aligned with anti-Zionist and anti-Muslim positions during the “long” year of 1948. Making use of largely unpublished archives in the Middle East, Europe and the United States, including the recently released Pius XII papers, Maria Chiara Rioli depicts a church engaged in multiple and sometimes contradictory pastoral initiatives, amid harsh battles, relief missions for Palestinian refugees, theological reflections on Jewish converts to Catholicism, political relations with the Israeli and Jordanian authorities, and liturgical responses to a fluid and uncertain scenario.

The pieces of this history include the Jerusalem grand mufti’s appeal to Pius XII to support the Arab cause, the Catholic liturgies for peace and international mobilization during the Palestine War and Suez crisis, refugees petitioning the patriarch for aid, and Jewish converts establishing Christian kibbutzim. New archival collections and records reveal hidden aspects of the lives of women, children and other silenced actors, faith communities and religious institutions during and after 1948, connecting narratives that have been marginalized by a dominant historiography more focused on military campaigns or confessional conflicts.

A Liminal Church weaves diocesan history with global history. In the momentous decade from 1946 to 1956, the study of the transnational Jerusalem Latin diocese, as split between Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Cyprus, with ties to diaspora and religious international networks and comprising clergy from all over the world, attests to the possibilities of contrapuntal narratives, reintroducing complexity to a deeply and painfully polarized debate, exposing false assumptions and situating changes and ruptures in a long-term perspective.

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Maria Chiara Rioli, PhD (1984), is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellow at the universities of Ca’ Foscari in Venice and Fordham in New York. She was formerly project manager of the ERC Open Jerusalem project directed by Vincent Lemire.
List of Figures and Map
Note on Transliteration

Introduction: From Jerusalem to the Archives

Prologue: Nostalgia for an Invented Past and Concern for the Future: the Latin Diocese of Jerusalem from Its Reestablishment to the Second World War (1847–1945)

1 Palestine and Transjordan in Transition (1945–47)

2 Into the Breach

3 A “Wounded” Diocese: the Patriarchate of Refugees

4 After 1948: the Difficult Mediation

5 The Association of Saint James and the Foundation of a Hebrew-Christian Church in Israel

6 Between Rome and Jerusalem

7 Cults and Politics in the Shadow of Holy Places

8 1956: a Hinge Year

Epilogue: Opening a New Phase: Toward the Second Vatican Council and the 1967 War

Conclusion: From the Archives to Jerusalem
All interested in Middle Eastern history, especially in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and anyone concerned with religious history, especially the history of the Catholic Church.
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