JERUSALEM, March 14 (RNS) -- Pope John Paul II's historic visit to the Holy Land a year agohelped end a long history of mistrust and misunderstanding between Christians andJews around the world, according to Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the head of theVatican's ecumenical office.

But there is little the Vatican can do to bridge the current gulf ofmistrust and suspicion between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land until apolitical settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is achieved, Cassidy saidin a speech here Tuesday, marking the anniversary of the pontiff's visit.

Cassidy made his comments at a symposium sponsored by the InterreligiousCoordinating Council in Israel.

``We are terribly concerned about what is happening here,'' said Cassidy, theoutgoing president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unityand head of its Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews.

``What we don't know is how we can help people to solve the problem,'' he added.``If two people are having a fight, you can't help them unless they stop fighting.If you get in the middle you get hit by both sides. Our assessment is that at thismoment we cannot bring the groups together.''

Yet, Cassidy said, probably no other Catholic figure has presided over such arevolution in Jewish-Christian relations as has John Paul II.

Reviewing the milestones, Cassidy cited the pope's landmark 1986 visit to Rome'smain synagogue, the 1998 Vatican document on the Holocaust, ``We Remember,'' theVatican's 1993 recognition of the state of Israel, and the pope's own prayer forforgiveness for the injustice suffered by Jews at the hands of Christians, recitedin St. Peter's Square just prior to last year's trip to the Holy Land.

But the most poignant symbol of the changing relationship, as Cassidy describedit, was the pope's visit to the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, on the finalday of his visit.

``This visit symbolized the humility of the church,'' said Cassidy. ``Bystanding there, he transformed the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. It was a direct reversal of history.''

Cassidy rebutted claims that the aftermath of the pope's visit had been aletdown for many Jews because of the Vatican decision to advance the beatificationsof 19th century Pope Pius IX, who raised a Jewish child taken from his family as a Catholic, and Pope Pius XII, who has been criticized for hisactions during the Holocaust.

``I realize the misunderstanding that exists with regards to thosebeatifications but one has to realize that we haven't gotten to the point where wecan agree on everything,'' Cassidy said.

Cassidy said he also hoped the new committee of Jewish and Catholic scholars whoare studying selected excerpts from the Vatican's World War II archives wouldalso help relations between the two faith communities. The committee is charged withexploring the church's record during the Holocaust.

``The problem is that while the Jews would like to see things done yesterday, inthe Vatican they like to see things done in eternity,'' Cassidy quipped.

As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Cassidy said reflections on the pope'svisit a year ago should only strengthen current aspirations for peace betweenIsraelis and Palestinians. To underline his point, Cassidy quoted a Jan. 6, 2001papal letter, which said: ``I received an extraordinary welcome, not only from themembers of the church but also from the Israeli and the Palestinian communities.Thinking back to the mood of those days, I cannot but express my deeply felt desirefor a prompt and just solution to the still-unresolved problems of the holy placescherished by Jews, Christians, and Muslims together.''

Yet while Vatican officials seem to believe a political solution to theIsraeli-Palestinian conflict will have to precede any thaw in relations betweenlocal Christians, Jews and Muslims, the church remains involved in low-profileefforts and quiet diplomacy aimed at bridging the gulf, Cassidy said.

Cassidy's own two-day visit to Israel is part of that effort, said MonsignorPietro Sambi, the Vatican's diplomatic representative to both Israel and thePalestinian Authority.

``My impression is that there is a big premise among Israelis and Palestiniansthat peace is no longer possible, dialogue is no longer possible,'' observed Sambi.``Visits like this one are part of an effort to infuse the situation with somehope.''