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The Conference "Holy Places and Religious Institutions: Comparative Legal and Religious Approaches - Italy, Balkans, Israel, Palestine"  has been held in Rome on December 10-11, 2008 organized by Catholic University of America (CUA) and LUMSA University Rome. It was sponsored by : Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Foundation Interreligious Intercultural Education - IFIIE and Private Wealth Management - Deutsche Bank.

Conference speakers expressed the need for legal experts to come up with a clear and common definition of what a holy site is, relying on the help of theologians and philosophers. To this effect, participants raised the issue whether a site may be enduringly holy or whether certain contingent events may compromise its ‘holiness'. Also, it was suggested to replace the term "holy" - most commonly said of a person, or a prophet - with the term "sacred", more suited to refer to a place: be it a monument, a building or a natural site carrying, for objective, or historical reasons, a special religious significance.

Another common thread has focused around the connection between the legal protection of holy sites and the respect of the right to religious freedom of all believers. In this respect, religious, state and international laws have all been recognized to play an important role. International Covenants and Agreements (i.e. the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1972) are especially important where the ownership of a holy site is contended by more that one religious institution. Like in the case of the Holy Sepulchre, or the Temple Mountain, in Jerusalem.

The Conference will be soon followed by another meeting in Jerusalem, which will take place on December 18th. In the future, IFIEE, CUA and LUMSA University will hold separate sessions to delve into the issue more specifically from the standpoint of one religious tradition, or one state legislation. The scope will be to come up with solutions and ideas to share with political leaders in the different areas of the world affected by tensions around the legal property of holy sites.

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