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PILGRIMAGE TO THE HOLY LAND - May 8-15, 2009

Ultimo Aggiornamento: 20/07/2009 14.18
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Jerusalem prelates urge media
not to overlook true aims
of the Pope's pilgrimage -
they give assurances that
papal security is not at risk

Translated from
the Italian service of

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May 5, 2009


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Before a large crowd of journalists and newscameramen, the Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco; the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Mons, Fouad Twal; his Vicar, Mons. Marcuzzo; and Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, held a news conference to update the media on preparations for the Pope's visit to the Holy Land.

Correspondent Robnerto Piermarini reports:


"We invited you because, as newsmen, you have a mission: to present this visit to the world to the best of your ability, understanding the specificity of this papal pilgrimage, which will be an unending prayer the search for unity and peace in this land that has been so tormented."

This is the spirit in which Benedict XVI would like his visit to be seen, according to Mons. Franco and Mons. Twal at a news conference held today in the Notre Dame Center of Jerusalem.

In particular, Mons. Twal conceded that the papal trip could be instrumentalized in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been an explosive political situation for the past six decades.

Nonetheless, the Pope wished to visit a Palestinian refugee camp - the Aida camp near Bethlehem - to immerse himself in the reality of life for thousands of Palestinian refugees who are often neglected by teh international community.

Mons. Twal said that the local church in Gaza has requested travel permits for 250 Christians to travel to Bethlehem for the Pope's Mass
in Bethlehem, but so far, only 100 permits have been issued.

A journalist asked, "Why isn't the Pope going to Gaza?"

Mons. Twal explained that the Gaza Catholics represent only a tiny minority compared to the 15,000 who live on the West Bank, of whom 11,000 so far have been given permits to transit Israeli territory in order to attend a papal event.

On the question of a possible security risk to the Pope in Nazareth, Mons. Marcuzzo gave assurances that there is no reason for concern, because the protests reported in recent days came from a fringe group of extremists who have now been isolated by Israeli security.

he said, the Pope will use the Popemobile at the Mass on Mount Precipice in Nazareth.

The prelates were also asked about the report that Israeli President Shimon Peres has recommended giving the Catholic Church control over some of the most important Christian holy sites in Israel.

"This has been the object of long-standing consultations," Mons. Franco said, "but there is nothing conclusive yet."

About the Pope's visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where a photogallery displays Pius XII in the Hall of Shame, Mons. Franco said Pope Benedict XVI never once linked his visit to Yad Vashem with the controversy, since his visit was a sign of respect and a homage to the victims of the Holocaust.

Mons. Marcuzzo called on the media not to forget the primarily pastoral and spiritual significance of the Pope's pilgrimage. He said that the Pope would face specific themes at various stages of the pilgrimage" in Jordan, the Church; in Nazareth, issues about life; in Jerusalem, peace and reconciliation; and in Bethlehem, the family.

Finally, Mons. Franco recalled the Pope's words at the Regina caeli last Sunday, when he underscored that he was visiting the holy places to confirm and encourage Christians in the Holy Land, going as a pilgrim for peace who wishes to re-emphasize the need for dialog and reconciliation.


Here is a translation of Piermarini's interview with Mons. Twal:

MONS. TWAL: We await the Holy Father with joy, with hope, with enthusiasm - we consider him a sign of Providence who is coming to pray with us, for all of us, for peace for all the inhabitants of the Holy Land.

He is a father who will begin with encouraging the faithful in Jordan and will then proceed here.

We need to have a big heart and not limit ourselves to little things, to ill will. On the contrary, we should reciprocate his beautiful gesture in coming to see us with our hospitality and courage.


Mons. Twal, at the Regina caeli on Sunday, the Pope said he was coming, among other objectives, to encourage the Christians of the Holy Land in facing the considerable difficulties of their daily life. What are these difficulties? You have spoken about 'the calvary of the [Palestinian] Christian communities".
You only have to go to Bethlehem or to Nazareth to see it: all the checkpoints one must go through, the wall which Israel has put up along the border( with Palestinian territory)...

[One must note that all these 'difficulties' - inconveniences, really - are not directed against Palestinian Christians in particular, but against all Palestinians, as legitimate security measures on the part of Israel in defense of its own people. Unfortunate but necessary measures.

Just imagine what the situation would be if the conditions were reversed and Palestinians had the economic and military power that Israel has: they would not just put up a wall against Jews - they would not allow them on the land at all and drive them into the sea, as their leaders have often expressed!]


It is difficult for Palestinians to go to the airport, we have problems getting visas, there is the problem of reunifying families who life in East Jerusalem and those who are in Ramallah. And there was the destruction of homes [in the last Israeli offensive in Gaza].

[They Palestinian Christians surely realize that the Catholic Church itself as an institution is officially persecuted, in effect, by the state of Israel, in overt ways that the Israelis cannot do against Christians as individuals and as a community, much less against the Muslims who life in Israel.]

That is the Calvary for Palestinian Christians, but we must not forget that after Calvary comes the Resurrection. We look forward to the Resurrection and should not linger on Calvary.


Do you suffer about the slow but gradual emigration of Christians away from the Holy Land?
Of course, we suffer. At present, we have barely 10,000 Christians in Jerusalem - Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants combined - compared to 250,000 Muslims and 550,000 Jews.

But the Christians must realize that their presence here is a mission, they have to accept the obstacles and not give up in the face of these difficulties. This is the Holy Land - here we have the roots of our religion.


Is everyone - Jew, Christian, Muslim - aware of the Pope's visit?
Everyone is aware. Just as we are aware that we are 'constrained' to live together, and so, we should be able to live together peacefully.


How does this visit shape up in the ecumenical sense?
Beautifully. One of the Pope's events [his encounter with leaders of other Christian Churches and confessions] will take place at the residence of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem to underscore this.

We have had good relations with the various religious communities in Jerusalem. Once in a while, there may be an incident [the perennial squabbling among the various churches that share the custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre], but in the overall context of the Holy Land, we should not over-dramatize these.


Is it difficult to have courage for peace in the Holy Land today?
Not at all. We must restore to the Holy Land its vocation of holiness. Rather than fighting over territorial rights, we should be committed more to encouraging reconciliation, forgiveness, brotherly charity, holiness. We need all of that, and working for it is our courage.


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The photos I added above to illustrate the above story from Vatican Radio actually came from the site of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. which has changed its look from when I first started visiting it in April. From this, which I find has an archaic charm:
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to this, very streamlined, to go with a new contemporary layout and more efficient site organization:
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www.lpj.org/

MORE ABOUT THE NEWS CONFERENCE

It also adds more information about that press conference, in a French report translated here:


Mons. Twal: Above all, this is a pastoral visit. But one cannot forget its political dimension.
Mgr Marcuzzo: Since the Pope first expressed his desire to visit the Holy Land, it was always the pastoral aspect that was the most important. That is why there is a theme attached to each of the important places: in Jordan, the Church; in Jerusalem, peace; in Bethlehem, life; and in Nazareth, the family... The logo for the visit, which says TU ES PETRUS, stresses the pastoral content of this visit.

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On the visit to the Aida refugee camp
Mons. Franco: With this visit, the Pope wants to show 'a gesture of solidarity, as John Paul II did when he came here. For Benedict XVI, it will be occasion to meet the people who suffer more than others as a consequence of the experience here.

To a newsman who asked where the ceremony would be held in Aida, he replied: "From the very beginning, it was always planned to hold the ceremony in the courtyard of the UNESCO school." [Israel had said that for security reasons, it would not allow the Aida ceremony to take place from a stage that the Palestinians had built right next to Israel's security fence.]


About the Christians of Gaza
Mons Twal: Since it is difficult for the Pope to go to Gaza [security arrangements would be impossible], then the Gazans will go to the Pope.
Mons. Franco: We asked for 250 permits for the Gaza Catholics who will be going to the Pope's Mass in Bethlehem, along with some Gaza Muslims. We have 286 Catholics living in Gaza City, so if we get the 250 permits, that would be great.


The Catholics of the West Bank
Mr. Abunassar: Eleven thousand permits were requested from the Israeli authorities for the West Bank Christians.
Mons. Twal: They were granted the permits for a period that began with Easter up to May 15, the last day of the Pope's visit.
[That seems very lenient of the Israelis - and the time period indicates that the travel permit does not apply only to going to Bethlehem for the Papal Mass.]


The Mass in Jerusalem
Fr, Pizziballa: The site can accommodate 5,00-6,000 persons. But we have received another 1,000 requests.
Mons. Franco: It would be sad if some do not come to the Mass because of fear. (Responding to a journalist who remarked that some Christians from outside Jerusalem may not want to come to Jerusalem for the Mass because of all the Israeli security checks,)


The Holy Places
Mons. Twal: The Holy Father is not coming to see the sites. He is here for the people. [A newsman asked which Holy Place was Benedict XVI's 'favorite'].

The situation in Nazareth
Mons. Marcuzzo: Almost everything is ready in Nazareth. We have started distributing the tickets for the mass at Mount Precipice. Some agitators had been distributing leaflets expressing hostility to the Pope;s visit to Nazareth, But that protest has been an isolated case. The townspeople have not responded. [In answer to a question on a threatening protest by some Muslim extremists.]


The LPJ site also has a clean copy of the official poster for the visit:

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The poster was designed for the Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land to welcome teh Holy Father 'in the name of all the children of Jordan, Israel and Palestine'.

The photo of the Pope underscores that he is coming above allas a pastor to confirm adn rnew the faith among the flock of Christ. The same aspect is underscored in the official logo which is based on a sculpture of Christ naming Peter to take care of his flock - the statue is found in Tabhga, a lakeside town in Galilee, which is also associated with the miracle of loaves and fishes.

The five Holy Places shown on the poster are the Holy Sepulchre in jerusalem; teh Church of the Nativity in bethlehem; the grotto of teh Annunciation in nazareth; the site of Christ;'s baptism in Bethany beyond the Jordan; and the city of Madaba in Jordan.

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Jordan's King Abdullah says
Pope's visit will be
a stimulus to peace

Interview by
Antonio Ferrari
Translated from
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May 5, 2009


Benedict XVI received King Abdullah and Queen Rania in Castel Gandolfo in September 2005.
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AMMAN - "I will be a pilgrim for peace".

Pope Benedict XVI's message to the peoples of the Holy Land was received with trepidation [WHY????] in the Jordan hospital, where on Friday, the Pope begins the most delicate and difficult mission so far in his Pontificate.

It will start in an atmosphere of good will and concord, but it may all go downhill from there. [How odd to begin a report in these pessimistic there!]

The four days (exactly the same number of days he will spend in Israel-Palestine) that will be spent by the head of the Catholic Church in the first Arab country he is visiting, are obviously laden with expectations, as expressed by the Pope himself in the words he has used to describe the themes of his visit: reconciliation, hope, and peace.

But Jordan's King Abdullah II, with royal discretion, says he will not speak in terms of expectations.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera before leaving for Egypt and Germany, the King said: "His Holiness is our guest. That being so, we in Jordan will not speak of expectations but rather of our best wishes that this spiritual journey will have full success".


Your Majesty, you have always said that your kingdom is a land of coexistence and tolerance, that it is the very symbol of brotherhood between Muslims and Christians.
It has always been our objective, and it is our constant commitment.

To welcome the Pope, as we did his predecessor in 2000, is for us a great honor adn reason to be proud.

On Sunday, for the Pope;s Mass, not only the Christians of Jordan will be there, but Christians from teh entire region. We expect that there will be pilgrims from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and, hopefully, from the West Bank.

It will be an event of great spiritual intensity and a sign of our common commitment to bring ever closer together the three great monotheistic religions which have their roots in this land.

As I said, teh Pope is our guest, so we do not speak of expectations. But his words will be a stimulus addressed to all of us to urge us to make haste along the road to peace.


Peace among the peoples or peace among the leaders?
In teh United states and in Europe, leaders feel as we do. Religious conflicts must be avoided, particularly fundamentalist ones. Jordan has always maintained that churches, mosques and synagogues should create 'a common world', and therefore, they have the great responsibility of avoiding conflicts among religions and peoples.

Look, in Israel, the people don't believe in the two-state solution because they think their own leaders do not believe in it. And in Palestine, it is widely believed that such a solution will never see the light of day. And yet, 85% of both Israelis and Palestinians support the need for a negotiated peace.

We all know that only by having two separate states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, can lead to peace. We have many reasons - serious ones - for concern. What Israel is doing about the settlements [Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory] and with the Muslims and Christian properties in teh Holy Land is not at all reassuring, but rather serious and dangerous.


What should be done then?
It requires courage, determination and a long-range vision. It is a time when the leaders concerned should really give peace an opportunity.


Benedict XVI is arriving at a particular time - there is a new American administration, and there seem to be hopes that peace negotiations may resume.
I recently met with both president Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. The US is clear about two things: that it is in their national interest to reach a two-state solution urgently, and that the steps must take place within an overall context that would include dialog between Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, Israel and the other Muslim nations [besides the dialog with Palestinians].

I believe Obama understands the regional context very well. If we cannot capitalize on these elements, then the risks will simply multiply.It is impossible to resume negotiations in a void.


Your Majesty, it appears Barack Obama availed well of your visit, drawing from your experience and knowledge of the region. He made his most significant statements about teh Middle East after meeting with you in teh White House.
We received a very warm welcome, and my conversation with the President was not subjected to a time limit. I met him before [when Obama visited teh Middle East during the presidential campaign] and he wants to reach a solution as soon as possible. [Good luck to him! So did Regan, Carter, Bush-1, Clinton adn Bush-2!] He is very hopeful. He will be meeting soon with the Palestinian President, the Egyptian President and the Israeli Prime Minister.

The extreme delicacy of the moment as well as the need not to waste any more time are equally clear. After these meetings, particularly the one with Netanyahu, then the United States will have a clearer strategy.


What do they intend? Is it the two-state solution under the Saudi plan of 2002 [in which the 97 Muslim nations will normalize their relations with Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal from all the territories they occupied after the 1967 War]?

Che cosa si aspetta? La soluzione dei due Stati e l'accettazione del piano sau­dita del 2002, che prevede la normalizza­zione dei rapporti con Israele di 57 Pae­si musulmani in cambio del ritiro da tut­ti i territori occupati nel 1967?
I would not presume to tell the United States what to do. But I do think that the possibility of finding an overall solution is in view. The two-state objective should be firmly in place within this year.

We have discussed this with the Us, we will continue to discuss it with the European leaders who share our hopes and fears.

If nothing of the sort happens in 2009-2010, then the risk will be very great indeed that the enemies of peace in the region [Iran?] will provoke greater tragedies.


If everything goes well. do you see a date when a negotiated peace could be reached?
We all know ti's dangerous to speculate on dates. But I think the will to reach a settlement would be clear pretty soon - without room for misunderstanding.

[From his mouth to God's ear, insh'Allah! But Netanyahu is more hawkish and less likely to concede anything than any of the previous Israeli leaders, and how can one trust Hamas whose charter clearly states its goal to 'eliminate Israel'?]

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Abdullah II of Jordan, born in 1962, and King since 1999, when his father Hussein died. The Hashemite royal dynasty was established after World War I when Abdullah I proclaimed himself king. [The Hashemites trace their origin to a great grandfather of the prophet Mohammed and therefore consider themselves to be direct descendants of the prophet]. In 1999, Abdullah II married Rania al Yasin, a Palestinian born in Kuwait. They have four children.


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Here's a religious 'perspective' about the first stage of the Pope's pilgrimage. It is the transcript (provided) of a videoclip from H20, a multimedia and multilingual Catolic news resource that I haveneglected to tap since it was set up a year ago::


Jordan ‘not a transit route’
to Israel for Pope

[IMG]http://i601.photobucket.com/albums/tt96/MARITER_7/h2O.jpg[/IMG]
www.h2onews.org/


Jordan has witnessed three papal visits in its modern history: Pope Paul VI visited Jordan in 1964, Pope John Paul II in 2000, and now Pope Benedict XVI will begin the apostolic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Jordan.

But Jordan is not a transit route, but rather a sacred destination -- a state with a living Christian community.

Everyone is anticipating Benedict XVI's visit to the Holy Land. What is its significance? What are its objectives? What would be its impact and consequences to the situation in the Middle East?

In this interview, the official spokesman to the media on behalf of the Catholic Church in Jordan and editor of abouna.org Catholic website speaks about the importance of the Holy Father's visit to Jordan.

"The Pope's visit is important from many points of view. First, to confirm the Christian presence in Jordan. We have, thank God, a good number of Christians from various denominations of Christianity -- the majority belong to the Orthodox Church -- and there is also the Catholic Church, which has, in all branches, more than eighty or ninety thousand Catholic citizens.

"But the Pope is not only coming for Catholics, but also to unite Christians. Secondly, there is a formal relationship between Jordan and the Vatican since 1994 and these relations have been described as good and friendly.

"This year, 2009, we celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Jordan and the Holy See, a relationship that is destined for further cooperation to build peace, especially since Jordan is a moderate voice in the peace process in the Middle East, particularly in the two hot spots: Iraq and Palestine.”


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'Jerusalem welcomes
this peacemaker'


by SHIMON PERES
President of Israel
Exclusive to and
translated from

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Issue for May 10, 2009


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In the name of the State of Israel and my own, I wish to express the sentiment of participation with which we look forward to the visit of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.

It will be a privilege to welcome him with a word which is one of the most frequently used in the Hebrew language but which expresses at the same time the most profound aspiration of our people: SHALOM! Peace!

The story of Abraham's descendants has known bitter conflicts, wars in the name of religion, intolerances, prejudices and persecutions.

It is time to build bridges of understanding, reciprocal respect adn reconciliation in order to overcome ancient divisions and allow peace to prevail in a dialog among nations, and for inter-religious dialog to become rooted more strongly.

This is a noble purpose and it is our duty to invest in the future of the young generations and those of the future, to teach them that all men have equal rights, and that equality of rights includes the right to be different.

The visit of His Holiness Benedict XVI is a significant step towards the construction of such bridges. He is coming as the Good Shepherd, the symbol of moral values and the voice of conscience, and his message of peace and tolerance will be heard by all his flock and by all of us.

His words will give strength to our hopes for the future, not only for the relationship among the different religions, but also for those among the peoples and the cultures of the region.

Jerusalem welcomes this peacemaker with open arms. It was in the Holy City, where the prophets of Israel set up a universal code of peace, brotherhood, tolerance and love of fellowman, in the very land where Jesus left the imprint of his footsteps.

We offer His Holiness the mantle of our hospitality and we will give him a welcome with all our warmth.

Pope Benedict XVUI will be in Israel, homeland of teh Jewish people, built upon the indestructible foundation of teh Bible and animated by a people who have contributed significantly to the development of mankind in fields such as science, technology, medicine, culture and the arts.

Sixty years have elapsed sine Auschwitz but we still have not reached a place that is completely secure. Anti-Semitism, negationists who deny the Holocaust, the politics of terror, and the appeals to destroy our people and state continue to threaten us.

But despite all this, and despite the wars which we were constrained to wage and the threats that continue against us, we continue to to search for peace and we have not given up hope of seeing the day when our dream will be realized and, together with our children, we shall be able to live securely and in peace.

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the Holy Land is for our hearts a supplement of hope in the fact that our prayers will be answered.

In his mission of peace, tolerance and faith, may His Holiness bring his entire flock to follow his pilgrimage to our region, a trip of solidarity and hope that is capable of lifting the spirit.

I join in the prayers for peace of the people of Israel and anticipate the joy of giving the Pope a welcome of the peace.

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I do not know if President Peres was aware, when he wrote this piece, that the motto
Benedict XVI chose for this pilgrimage was from Matthew:

'BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS FOR THEY SHALL BE CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD'(Mt 5,9)
which appears on the cover of the Missal prepared by the Vatican for the visit:

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About President Peres, there is now a clarification about what he really prposed about the Christian Holy Sites whose status remains the subject of engotiations between the Vatican and Israel:


Israeli, Vatican officials deny reports
about control of holy sites

By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service


JERUSALEM, May 6 (CNS) -- Israeli and Vatican officials denied reports that Israeli President Shimon Peres had asked the government to relinquish sovereignty over several holy places as a gesture of good will for Pope Benedict XVI.

Reports abounded in the Israeli press in early May claiming internal discord between Peres and officials from the Tourism and Interior ministries after the President allegedly had urged them to yield key Christian holy sites to the Vatican.

"What was published was taken out of context," a spokeswoman for the President's office said May 6. "The Israeli media published it as if the President was asking to give up sovereignty over holy sites, and there is a great distance between that and the reality."

The spokeswoman said Israel already has pledged to the Vatican that it will not confiscate land around six Christian sites for any sort of national development purpose such as the widening of roads.

She said Peres had asked the ministries, as a gesture of good will before the Pope's May 8-15 trip to the Holy Land, to confirm the pledge and to speed up the negotiations.

The holy sites mentioned include the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth; Gethsemane in Jerusalem; Capernaum, which served as Jesus' home base during his Galilean ministry; Tabgha, where Jesus called several of his apostles to follow him; Mount Tabor, believed to be the site of the Transfiguration; and the Cenacle, the site of the Last Supper and the Pentecost descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles.

Archbishop Antonio Franco, papal nuncio to Israel, said the reports were a "big mess, a confusion of things."

"I don't know where they got their confusion but I regret the wrong message was given," Archbishop Franco said in answer to a question about the report at a May 5 press conference about Pope Benedict's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories following his three-day visit to Jordan.

"Honestly, we are working in good faith in trying to face different aspects of Catholic faith and Catholic life in Israel. We are still negotiating. To say this or that is simply the wrong message."

Legal and fiscal issues remained unresolved following the signing of the 1993 Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Vatican, despite its stipulation that an agreement had to be reached on remaining matters within two years. Bilateral permanent working commissions have been meeting since 1999 to try to resolve the differences.


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GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 5/6/09

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At the close of his multilingual greetings at the General Audience, the Holy Father delivered a special message in English to the Peoples of the Holy Land whom he will be visiting soon:

My dear friends, this Friday I leave Rome for my Apostolic Visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. I wish this morning to take the opportunity through this radio and television broadcast to greet all the peoples of those lands.

I am eagerly looking forward to being with you and to sharing with you your aspirations and hopes as well as your pains and struggles. I will be coming among you as a pilgrim of peace.

My primary intention is to visit the places made holy by the life of Jesus, and, to pray at them for the gift of peace and unity for your families, and all those for whom the Holy Land and the Middle East is home.

Among the many religious and civic gatherings which will take place over the course of the week, will be meetings with representatives from the Muslim and Jewish communities with whom great strides have been made in dialogue and cultural exchange.

In a special way I warmly greet the Catholics of the region and ask you to join me in praying that the visit will bear much fruit for the spiritual and civic life of all who dwell in the Holy Land.

May we all praise God for his goodness. May we all be people of hope. May we all be steadfast in our desire and efforts for peace
.


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I disagree with Magister's title because the Pope is not going to the Holy Land to 'win over' Christians - he's going to 'confirm and encourage them in the faith'. It is up to them if they are willing to be so confirmed and encouraged. It is not within his power to improve their living conditions with a prayer and a blessing.


The Pope's toughest job in the Holy Land:
Winning over the Christians


The Israelis invited him, the Muslims are in favor of his visit.
But not his own faithful in the area: most of the opposition to his trip has come from them.
The reasons for the rejection. And the unknowns.

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ROME, May 6, 2009 – The Sunday before leaving for the Holy Land, in a Saint Peter's Square overflowing with faithful, Benedict XVI said in a few words what the aim of his trip will be:

With my visit, I intend to strengthen and encourage the Christians of the Holy Land, who must face numerous difficulties on a daily basis.

As successor of the apostle Peter, I will communicate to them the closeness and support of the entire body of the Church.

Moreover, I will be a pilgrim of peace, in the name of the one God who is Father of all. I will bear witness to the Catholic Church's efforts on behalf of those who strive to practice dialogue and reconciliation, in order to reach a stable and lasting peace in justice and mutual respect.

Finally, this trip cannot help but have significant ecumenical and inter-religious importance. From this point of view, Jerusalem is the city-symbol par excellence: it is there that Christ died in order to gather together all of the scattered children of God.


From these words – reiterated at the general audience on Wednesday, May 6 – it can be gathered that in order to promote peace and dialogue among the peoples and religions in the Holy Land, the pope is relying first of all on the Christians living there.

A bold wager. It's not only that Christians has been reduced to a tiny minority in the region, less than 2 percent of the population, which is mainly Jewish and Arab.

It must also be kept in mind that the Christians in the area have been the most skeptical in reacting to the announcement of the Pope's trip. Many of them, including priests and bishops, have said that his visit is inopportune.

It has taken a great deal of effort to smooth over this front of rejection. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, has confirmed this in an interview: the reasons of the opponents were even explained to Benedict XVI in person.

The main concern of the opponents was that the Pope's trip – in part because of his extremely positive stance on religious dialogue with Judaism – could be to Israel's political advantage. [A very selfish and most un-Christian attitude. It's more unworthy even than Bishop Williamson's mild Holocaust engiationism!]

Benedict XVI firmly stood his ground. For its part, Vatican diplomacy did all it could to pacify the opposition.

This explains, for example, the benevolence that the Vatican showed toward Israel's arch-enemy, Iran, during and after the controversial Geneva conference on racism: a benevolence that many observers judged as disproportionate. ['Benevolence' is hardly the word for it - it's Realpolitik: why antagonize anyone unnecessarily? Even Israel (and the Pope's usually reliable Jewish detractors in Rome] did not squawk over the Vatican's well-grounded decision not to boycott eh Geneva conference on racism, which did come out with a fair and not remotely anti-Israeli conclusive declaration on the second day of the meeting when there were still three days remaining of it!]

It may also explain the silence of the Vatican authorities and the Pope himself on the treacherous hanging of the young Iranian woman Delara Dalabi in Tehran. {I must confess I never heard of this case before! In the United States, the emphasis has been on the Iranian-Japanese American journalist who has been convicted by Iran of spying.]

In cases of this kind, publicized all over the world, the Holy See almost always raises its voice in defense of the victims of human rights violations: but this time, it decided to remain silent.

***

It must be noted that Iran, in turn, is treating the Holy See with unusual benevolence. [Again, hardly genuine benevolence, since Iran has been trying to instrumentalize seeming good relations with the Vaticna in its campaign for world opinion!]

Receiving the new apostolic nuncio to Tehran, Archbishop Jean-Paul Gobel, in April of last year, President Ahmadinejad called the Vatican a positive force for justice and peace in the world.

Shortly afterward, he sent a high-level delegation to Rome, headed by Mahdi Mostafavi, a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed, the president of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization in Tehran, and a former foreign minister: one of Ahmadinejad's trusted men and "spiritual advisers," with whom he meets "at least twice a week."

The Iranian delegation and an authoritative Vatican delegation held a closed door meeting from April 28-30, on the theme "Faith and reason in Christianity and Islam," which concluded with a meeting with Benedict XVI.

There is a tiny Catholic community in Iran, which is subjected to smothering supervision. This also helps to explain the "realism" demonstrated by Vatican diplomacy in this and other Muslim countries. Discretion is believed to be more effective than open denunciation in order to save what can be saved.

For example, the Vatican has stigmatized Ahmadinejad's repeated anathemas against the existence of Israel only once, and in veiled form. It did this in a statement from the press office back on October 25, 2005. Since then, silence.

But diplomatic "realism" does not explain everything. Ahmadinejad's anti-Jewish anathemas sound familiar to a significant portion of the Arab Christians living in the Holy Land. For them as well, the very existence of Israel is the cause of all evils.

It must be kept in mind that such thoughts do not circulate only among Arab Christians, but also among leading representatives of the Catholic Church who live outside of the Holy Land, and in Rome.

One of these, for example, is Jesuit Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian by birth, one of the Islamologists most respected at the Vatican, who two years ago, in a "decalogue" for peace in the Middle East, wrote:

[The root of the Israeli-Palestinian problem is not religious or ethnic; it is purely political.

The problem dates back to the creation of the state of Israel and the partitioning of Palestine in 1948 – following the persecution systematically organized against the Jews – decided by the great powers without taking into consideration the populations present in the Holy Land. This is the real cause of all of the wars that followed.

In order to remedy a grave injustice committed in Europe against one third of the world's Jewish population, Europe itself, supported by other powerful nations, decided to commit and committed a new injustice against the Palestinian population, which was innocent in the slaughter of the Jews.


[A view typical of those who only see the 'injustice' done to Palestinians but not the injustice done to the Israeli Jews. History can't be undone, and if the other Arab nations had shown towards Palestinians the accommodation that Jordan did (and continues to do) to them, assimilating them into Jordan as full citizens, rather than leaving them in refugee camps like all the other Arab nations did, the story might be very different.

Any modern history of the region known in colonial times as 'Palestine' (what is now Israel and Jordan, and parts of present Lebanon and Syria) shows that there were no 'Palestinian' people as such through the centuries, but a motley assortment of Muslim Arabs, who mostly never thought of themselves as 'Palestinians' but Muslims living under the British Mandate, and certainly never thought in terms of accommodating a single Jew on what was the historic Jewish homeland millennia before Islam came into being.

In fact up to the eve of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, it was the Israeli Zionists (champions since the 19th century of re-establishing the Jewish homeland on their historic territory) who kept using the name 'Palestine' for their homeland, as it was known at the time of Christ.

Perhaps the most striking historical fact that all pro-Palestinian liberals forget is that:

On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions, in favour of a plan to partition the territory [what was Palestine under the British Mandate] into separate Jewish and Arab states, under economic union, with the Greater Jerusalem area (encompassing Bethlehem) coming under international control.

Zionist leaders (including the Jewish Agency), accepted the plan, while Palestinian Arab leaders rejected, it and all independent Muslim and Arab states voted against it. Almost immediately, sectarian violence erupted and spread, killing over the ensuing months hundreds of Arabs, Jews and British.


It is estimated that some 300,00-350,000 Arabs living in the territory that would become the State of Israel were displaced by the hostilities and the overwhelming majority chose to leave the territory to settle in neighboring Arab countries. (These are those who now insist on the 'right of return' - except that the population explosion after three generations has made them large enough to overwhelm the Jewish population of Israel!)

The Ottoman Turks who held sway over the region for the longest time [1515-1917, with a 10 year hiatus in 1831-1841 when the Egyptians conquered and occupied it) did not call the area Palestine at all!

Palestine did not begin to be spoken of as a 'nation' - as in the two-state/two-nation solution - until the 1980s with the rise of Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) - since when the whole world, including almost all journalists and certainly all political leaders outside of Israel, speak about this Palestine as if it were a sacrosanct entity that had been there all along. As a concept it's not even three decades old.

And worse, to act as though Palestinians alone are 'victims' in this whole unfortunate situation. Why blame the Western nations now for the compromise solution that the UN eventually arrived at? The Arabs rejected the two-state solution offhand in 1947, and chose to engage Israel in four wars instead, each of which they lost ignominiously.]


Having said this, Fr. Samir maintains in any case that the existence of Israel is today a matter of fact that cannot be rejected, independently of its original sin. [What original sin? To want their own homeland on territory that was historically their homeland? It's bad enough that historic Judea - the region that gives them their name - and Samaria are now what is the Palestinian territory of the West Bank! This is also the official position of the Holy See, which has long been in favor of two states, Israeli and Palestinian.

Not only that. For Fr. Samir, the Arab Christians living in the Holy Land, although they are few in number, are "the only ones capable of promoting peace in the region, because they do not want to address the issue in religious terms, but according to justice and law." [The problem is there is only a handful of them in the epicenter of the political fault line - Israel and Palestine - and obviously, none in any position of political influence! Israel is an avowedly Jewish state, and the Palestinians are militantly Muslim.]

According to Fr. Samir, in fact, the Arab-Israeli conflict will not end as long as there is a religious war between Judaism and Islam. Only if it is brought back to its political and "secular" characteristics can it find peace. And the Christians are the ones best equipped for the task. [A commendable but very quixotic idea!]

***

On the eve of Benedict XVI's trip to the Holy Land, Fr. Samir expanded on these ideas about the role of Christians in the region in an interview with the Italian weekly Tempi.

He said, among other things:

Previously, the Nahdah, the Arab renaissance that took place between the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century was essentially produced by the Christians.

Now once again, a century later, the same thing is happening, although the Christians are in the minority in Arab countries. Today the 'new' elements in Arab thinking are coming from Lebanon, where the interaction between Christians and Muslims is the most lively.

Here there are five Catholic universities, in addition to the Islamic and state institutions. There are radio and television stations, newspapers and magazines of Christian origin, for which everyone writes, Muslims, secularists, Christians.

Today, the cultural impact of the Christians in the Middle East takes place through the means of communication: Lebanon has become the leading center for book publication in the entire Arab world, printing Saudi books, Moroccan...

The Muslims also understand that the Christians are the most active groups and the most dynamic cultural elements, as is often the case with minorities.

Christians in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries also have connections and contacts with the West, and for this reason their cultural role is fundamental.

Many Muslims, including authoritative leaders, in both Lebanon and Jordan, but also in Saudi Arabia, have stated this publicly: we do not want the Christians to leave our countries, because they are an essential part of our societies.


[Easy for them to say, but Fr. Samir's view is limited to Lebanon and Jordan, where undoubtedly, Christians have not been persecuted as they are in the rest of the Middle East other than some of the tiny Gulf states.]

To this optimistic picture, Fr. Samir naturally adds the caution that Christians are in danger almost everywhere in Muslim countries.

Beginning with Saudi Arabia, another country that the Holy See approaches from an impartially "realistic" stance, which culminated on November 6, 2007, with the welcoming of the Saudi king with full honors at the Vatican, avoiding any mention of the systematic violations of human rights in the country.

Returning to the Israeli-Palestine question, the role of Christians is seen more pessimistically by another leading expert on the region, the Custodian of the Holy Land, Franciscan Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa. In his view, today in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "Christians no longer count for anything, politically." [Have they ever, since the brief ascendance of the Crusaders? Christians have been marginal in the Middle East since Islam overwhelmed the region in the 7th century!]

Moreover, they are the most chilly in welcoming the Pope's visit, despite the fact that he put them first on the list of the reasons for his trip.

Benedict XVI has a tough job ahead of him in the Holy Land. More than the Israelis, who invited him, more than the monarchy of Jordan, which has thrown open the doors for him, he will first have to win over the Christians in the region.

[I continue to believe that Christians in the Holy Land should consider their situation the Cross they have to bear along with Christ, especially since they cannot change the political order in any way. Buddhists in Tibet and Burma, and Christians in India and most other Muslin countries, are perhaps under worse - because overt - persecution.

Christians are not 'persecuted' in the Holy Land - inconvenienced a great deal, yes, and in the case of the 286 Catholics who live in Gaza, they had to suffer along wither Muslim fellow Gazans a situation that was brought on the Palestinian terrorists to begin with! {God knows what persecutions they get at the hands of Hamas, though they neveer say anything about that!]

As Christians we ere taught that each of us has a cross to bear,as pur participation in the Cross of Christ. It is for each of us to bear it as best we can, with the sources and resources of Christian living.

The Pope's visit is an occasion for joy, a point of light in an otherwise bleak prospect. It is not right to place unrealistic political expectations on him. His trip is pastoral and spiritual, and it should be seen in that light.]



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Benedict follows John Paul's footsteps
in the Holy Land but times have changed

By VICTOR L. SIMPSON
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VATICAN CITY, May 7 (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI begins a weeklong tour in the Middle East on Friday, a self-described "pilgrim of peace" seeking to strengthen frayed ties with Muslims and Jews and give support to his beleaguered Christian flock in the region.

The trip is designed along the lines of Pope John Paul II's historic pilgrimage in 2000 to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, including stops associated with Biblical events and the life of Christ.

But the conditions for the German-born Benedict's visit are vastly different since the Polish-born John Paul, who grew up in the shadow of Auschwitz, stood at Jerusalem's Western Wall and left a handwritten note apologizing for anti-Semitism by Christians.

In his fours years in the papacy, Benedict has infuriated both Muslims and Jews, first with a speech linking the Prophet Muhammad to violence, then when he lifted the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop.

A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that seemed so near at the time of John Paul's visit has proven elusive. Benedict's trip was put in doubt by Israeli anger after a Vatican cardinal said earlier this year that the Gaza Strip during an Israeli military offensive resembled a "big concentration camp."

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the fact the trip is happening is in itself "a sign of hope" that the Pope can contribute to reconciliation in the Middle East.

"There were those after the Gaza conflict who wondered whether the trip would take place," the Rev. Lombardi told reporters this week.

The stop in Jordan will be Benedict's first visit as Pope to an Arab country, although he visited predominantly Islamic Turkey three years ago.

Addressing himself to Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians during his general audience Wednesday, Benedict said he shared their "aspirations and hopes as well as your pain and struggles. I will be coming among you as a pilgrim of peace."

While officials in Jordan and Israel are seeking to play down any controversy, differences remain.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, who is scheduled to greet Benedict upon arrival, said in an Italian newspaper interview Tuesday that he expected Benedict to be a force for peace.

But the country's powerful Muslim Brotherhood has demanded that Benedict apologize for his September 2006 speech in which he quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The Pope has already said he was "deeply sorry" over the reaction to his speech and that the passage he quoted did not reflect his own opinion.

Lombardi said the Vatican has made all possible clarifications, telling Associated Press Television News that "we cannot continue until the end of the world to repeat the same clarifications."

During his three-day stay in Jordan, Benedict is scheduled to meet with Muslim religious leaders at Amman's largest mosque — his second visit to a Muslim place of worship since becoming Pope in 2005.

He prayed in Istanbul's famed Blue Mosque, a gesture that helped calm the outcry over his remarks.

Benedict, who visited Israel three times before becoming Pope, faces a different set of issues in the Jewish state.

The Pope's forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism and acknowledgment of Vatican mistakes have softened Jewish anger over the bishop who denied the Holocaust. Benedict had lifted his excommunication along with three other ultraconservative prelates in a bid to end a church schism. Amid the uproar, the Church has not allowed the bishop to resume his duties as bishop. {Another display of ignorance - a persistent one: The excommunications were lifted but that has not at all regularized the illegal consecration of the four bishops that occasioned the excommunication.]

Lombardi said rabbis who recently visited the Vatican "were very happy and said that maybe some misunderstanding is a good occasion to have a better understanding."

Another sore point is the figure of World War II Pope Pius XII, whom Benedict has called a "great churchman." Jews and others say he failed to do all he could to stop the extermination of European Jews.

Benedict will meet with a group of Holocaust survivors at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial, though he will skip its museum, which houses a picture of Pius that has been criticized by the Vatican. The photo's caption says Pius did not protest the Nazi genocide of Jews and maintained a largely "neutral position."

Despite the dispute, Jewish leaders say Benedict, who served in the Hitler Youth corps as a young man [he was a teenager!] in Germany and then in the army before deserting near the end of the war, has an excellent record in fighting anti-Semitism. He has already visited synagogues in Cologne, Germany, and New York, and is expected at Rome's central synagogue later this year.

Rabbi David Rosen, one of Israel's leading voices in interfaith relations, portrayed Benedict as a good friend of the Jews and described differences with him as "an issue of style rather than an issue of substance."

Lombardi said Benedict will deliver all his speeches on the trip in English. This avoids any potential problem from his speaking in his native German, which could upset Holocaust survivors. [What a ridiculous statement! Why would he speak German in a place where the languages are Hebrew and Arabic? Englis happens to be itnernational lingua franca. Where does German come into the question at all in non-Germanophone countries?]

The Pope also has Christian interests to look after, particularly seeking to stem the exodus of Christians from their ancient communities in the Middle East because of war and economic hardships.

He is expected to meet in Jordan with Iraqi Christians, driven from their homeland by violence, and with representatives of the tiny Catholic community of Gaza when he stops in Bethlehem. Israel is expected to allow Gaza's Catholics to travel to the West Bank to celebrate Mass in the town of Jesus's birth.

"Today's world is truly in need of (God's) peace, especially as it faces the tragedies of war, division, poverty and despair," Benedict told a crowd Sunday in St. Peter's Square.


Associated Press writer Josef Federman contributed to this report from Jerusalem.


And here's something that Catholic prelates alreaday announced at the Jerusalem news conference the other day [See 5/5/ post from Vaticna Radioa dn the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on this page]:



Palestinians scrap plan
to host Pope near barrier

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RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 7 (AP) – An official says the Palestinian Authority has scrapped plans to receive Pope Benedict XVI next week on a stage near Israel's West Bank separation barrier.

Palestinians hoped receiving the Pope next to a towering cement wall and military watchtower inside the Aida refugee camp would highlight suffering under Israeli occupation.

Palestinian lawmaker Essa Qaraqie said Thursday that the location was changed to a U.N. school after military officials forbade them to erect the stage near the barrier.

The Pope's convoy will still pass near the wall.

Israeli officials accuse the Palestinians of politicizing the Pope's Holy Land visit.

Israel says the barrier is meant to keep out attackers. Palestinians say it's a land grab. [How cna it be a land grab if it is located on the boundary line, which it is? The Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory are a land grab, which cann ot be justified under any excuse!]


Palestinian plans for the Pope's visit
hit a wall in Bethlehem

By Ilene R. Prusher
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May 6, 2009


Bethlehem, West Bank - For weeks, laborers have been laying new tiles and leaders have been finalizing their plans for welcoming one of the most important visitors the Aida Refugee Camp has ever seen: Pope Benedict XVI, who will embark on a historic visit to the Holy Land next week.

But despite giving the stone amphitheater here a face-lift – with funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) – their plans to host the pope have hit a glitch, or to be exact, a wall.

The Vatican has informed Palestinian officials that the papal visit will be held at a nearby United Nations school instead of on the stage they were preparing for him, raising a wave of local ire. [The papal nuncio in Jerusalem said the other day the plan was always for teh pope to speak at the UN school.]

What's in a stage?

There is no other venue in the world with a backdrop quite like this one. It sits in the looming shadow of the West Bank separation barrier built by Israel, complete with a forbidding watchtower.

The massive concrete slabs here are painted with anti-Israeli graffiti, calls for Palestinian freedom, and a white patch on which the camp's community center sometimes screens films. From the point of view of Palestinians who live here, there is no vista which conveys their reality better than this one.

"We want to show the Pope the wall, and the big prison that the Israelis have put us in," says Samir Oudeh, head of the Popular Committee of Aida Refugee Camp, as he stands atop the long, narrow, open-air theater that hugs the wall. "This is our catastrophe, and we know that they don't want the world to see it."

Vatican officials made several visits here in recent weeks, but about a week ago, says Mr. Oudeh, he was informed that the Pope would speak in a nearby school – and not on the stage. "We learned later that the Israelis put pressure on the Vatican to change the venue," he says.

An Israeli official in Jerusalem rejects the claim that Israel interfered with the decision, but expressed approval of the Holy See's move to avoid "politicizing" the papal visit.

However, about a week ago, Israeli soldiers came and took pictures of the site and warned those working on it that the structure was illegal and could be torn down soon.

A youth who lives in the camp and works as a volunteer on the site describes their arrival. "The Israelis came and said, 'You're not allowed to continue this work.' They even took pictures of us and threatened to put us in jail if we continued,' " says Atieh Abu Akr.

Oudeh shows reporters photographs of Israeli soldiers filming the workers, and a copy of the stop-work order they left behind. The land here is designated as Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli military control.

The local welcome committee for the Pope, however, has decided to march on with their plans, setting the stage for a less-than-comfortable atmosphere on the eve of the visit. On Wednesday, workers were still busy preparing the site as if nothing had changed.

"As the official committee to welcome the Pope, we have decided that we will insist on finishing this area and welcoming the Pope here," says Oudeh. To his left, the wall blocks the view of the rolling landscape and of Rachel's Tomb of biblical fame. Nearby, ramshackle buildings overflow with people and laundry lines.

A UN study released Wednesday says that only 13 percent of Bethlehem land is available for Palestinian use, much of it fragmented. Moreover, 66 percent of the land is designated as Area C, where Israel retains control over building and planning, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found.

The residents, who number about 4,000, are disappointed. "Last night, we had a meeting in the camp, and when we told the residents that the Pope won't speak here, they were very angry," Oudeh says.

The frustration, local Palestinians say, is not just with Israel or the Vatican, but what they describe as the PA's acquiescence.

"If the PA agrees to this, there will be real disgust," says Abdelfattah Abusrour, who runs the Alrowwad Cultural Theatre and Training Center here. "But at the end of the day, the Pope will pass by here and the wall will be visible in every way. Even if he doesn't sit in front of it, they can't hide it."

The spokesman for the Vatican in Israel says there has been no change in venue, and that officials decided several weeks ago that the school was the most appropriate place for the Pope's address.

"The Holy Father will pass by the wall on his way in and out of Bethlehem, and regardless of where he will sit, the misery of the Palestinians will be known," says Wadie Abu Nassar. "It is a very sensitive matter there, but this issue was agreed on since the beginning. There are several factors no one can hide. First, that there is a wall. Second, the Palestinian refugees live in terrible conditions, and third, there's an occupation."

A spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry said that the papal visit should focus on bringing the religions together, not highlighting political issues.

"We believe that the choices the Vatican is making are the right ones," says Andy David, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. "This visit is intended to bring the three religions together to create an atmosphere of cooperation and send a message of peace. Trying to use the visit to emphasize disputes, we think, is not the right way to treat the Pope's visit."

[It is, of course, an obvious and deplorable attempt to exploit the Pope's visit. He is neither stupid or uninforemd. He knows about the Israeli security fence, and probably disapproves of it, but he is a state guest in Israel, and outside of elenentary courtesy considerations, he would not in any case lend himself to any cheap propaganda exploitation.

The UN findings on land use availabi8lity in Bethlehenm is distressing, but if existing agreements give the Israelis military control over most of Bethlehem, then that's the way it is, unfortunately. Palestinians surely do not expect Israel to voluntarily give up an agreement that has been in force for years; they would never do it if the shoe were on the other foot.]



Pope's visit boosts Jordanian
site of Jesus's baptism

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
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BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN, May 7 (Reuters) – When Pope Benedict stops to pray at a pool of still green water here on Sunday, his visit will bolster the case that Jesus was baptized at this spot on the east bank of the Jordan River.

The exact location is unclear and a rival spot across the narrow muddy river has long claimed to be the place where John the Baptist and Jesus met for the cleansing ritual.

But for over a decade now, Jordanian experts have unearthed ruins of ancient churches amid the tamarisk trees here and found early pilgrims' writings about the site. Christian denominations have begun building new churches for modern pilgrims nearby.

Rustom Mkhjian, assistant director of the Baptism Site Commission developing the area, said the archaeological evidence showed early Christians saw this as the true site.

"Why did they insist on building churches on this point?" he asked at an observation post on the wooded flood plain a short walk inland from the river. "The answer is clear. This is where Jesus was baptized."

The Pope, who tours Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories from May 8 to 15, will visit the site and lay cornerstones for two Catholic churches on higher ground nearby.

What's not done may be just as telling as what is. Benedict will not visit the rival site at Qasr al Yahud on the west bank. When Pope John Paul visited the region in 2000, he celebrated Mass at Bethany but slotted in a quick stop at Qasr al Yahud.

The Vatican nuncio (ambassador) in Amman, Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikat, said confirming the site's authenticity or not "was not the point of the Holy Father's visit."

But the local Catholic Church has joined Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, heads of world Lutheran and Baptist groups and several Orthodox leaders backing it. The star United States evangelical pastor Rick Warren recently joined in.

TOURISM AND HARMONY

Winning recognition for Bethany as the authentic baptism site is not simply a matter of local pride. It boosts Jordan's image as an important Holy Land pilgrimage site.

"Tourism accounts for 12 percent of our gross domestic product, and 25 percent of those tourists go to the baptism site," said a senior official in Amman who asked not to be named. "We want more tourists to come here."

Jordan's generous support in developing the site, offering land for churches and pilgrimage centers and trying to keep its dwindling Christian minority from emigrating also fits into a wider policy of fostering religious harmony here, he said.

Religion is not a divisive issue in this mostly Muslim country, but some analysts fear it could become one if the Christian minority, now down to about 1.5 percent, disappeared and Islam became a point of dispute in Jordanian politics.

"Christian-Muslim harmony is a national security issue," the official said. Keeping religious harmony helps maintain a social and political balance among majority Palestinians, minority tribes and other groups.

Christians are guaranteed nine percent of parliamentary seats, reflecting the size the minority once had. That level has dropped because of falling birth rates, regional instability and a higher education level that enabled many to emigrate.

WEST BANK CASE MUTED

Isolated in a closed military zone from 1967 to 1994, the Bethany baptism site was discovered in the late 1990s by experts heeding St. John's Gospel, which described the place three times as being "beyond the Jordan" rather than on the west bank.

Writings by pilgrims from the 4th to 12th centuries spoke of a stairway to the water and pillars holding up churches against occasional flooding. Excavations have uncovered the stairs, foundations of five churches and several other sites.

Floods and earthquakes destroyed those churches, but persistent rebuilding on the site and early pilgrimages there convinced the Jordanians this was the right location.

Palestinian Tourism Minister Khouloud Daibes, a Christian, told Reuters: "According to our religion, the whole river is a site of baptism, but for the past 2,000 years pilgrims have been coming to this site (on the west bank)."


I completely missed this April 30 column by John Allen which was on three subjects, leading off with LA Cardinal Roger Mahoney's thoughts about the future of Catholic ministry, and then coimmenting on the Pope's visit to the Abruzzo, before ending with the item about teh Holy Land trip. Much of it has been previously reported, and since then, some of the issues have been resolved even, one way or the other:


Headaches in the Holy Land
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April 30, 2009


I’ve written for the last couple of weeks about the multiple balancing acts Benedict will have to perform on his May 8-15 visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Reminders keep rolling in of the headaches awaiting the Pope.

Consider:

- Followers of Sheikh Nazem Abu Salim, a fiery Muslim preacher in Nazareth, have put up a large banner, right next to the famed Church of the Annunciation, condemning those who insult Muhammad -- an obvious reference to Benedict XVI’s 2006 speech in Regensburg, in which he cited a Byzantine emperor with nasty things to say about the founder of Islam.

(In a verse lifted from the Qur’an, the banner reads: “Those who harm G-d and His Messenger -- G-d has cursed them in this world and in the hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating punishment.”)

Given that Benedict XVI is scheduled to be in Nazareth on May 14, the anniversary of the declaration of the State of Israel, and that he’s planning to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that day, the situation seems particularly combustible.

An Israeli newspaper reported this week that Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, has counseled Benedict against using the partially exposed popemobile in Nazareth out of concern for potential threats.

- In Jordan, members of the Muslim Brotherhood have demanded a public apology from the pope for his Regensburg speech; otherwise, they’ve threatened to stage protests while the pope is in Amman. The Vatican’s position is that such an apology has already been delivered, and more than once.

- A petition on the Internet asking Benedict XVI to visit the Gaza Strip while he’s in the Holy Land has collected around 3,000 signatures, including several dozen Catholic priests, sisters, and brothers. (A couple members of the Community of Sant’Egidio initiated the petition, albeit on their own initiative.]

Privately, Vatican officials say that a visit to Gaza has not been seriously considered -- in part for reasons of security, and in part because it would likely become an occasion for anti-Israeli agitprop. The Pope will address the situation in Gaza, they say, while he’s in the region.

- Israeli and Palestinian officials are squabbling over the location of the stage for Benedict’s visit to the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem on May 13.

Palestinians want to put the stage immediately next to a large concrete wall that’s part of Israel’s security barrier in the West Bank, while the Israelis want it somewhere else.

Ostensibly it’s a dispute over permits and logistics, but the obvious political subtext is that the Palestinians want to make a statement about what they see as an illegitimate Israeli occupation. In the end, it may not matter, since locals say there’s no point in the camp from which the wall isn’t visible.

(One coincidence worth recalling: Benedict XVI will be in Bethlehem on May 13, which is not only the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, but also the anniversary of the 1981 assassination attempt against John Paul II.)

- A Jewish anti-missionary organization in Israel called Yad L’Achim has called on Benedict XVI to use his trip to appeal to Catholics worldwide for help in identifying Jewish children saved from the Nazis by being placed in Catholic homes, who were never told of their Jewish origins.

The group issued an open letter to Benedict, charging that the families withheld this information on instructions from Pius XII, the wartime pontiff whose alleged “silence” during the Holocaust has long been a source of friction in Jewish/Catholic relations.

- On Thursday, municipal officials in Jerusalem ordered the demolition of a two-story addition to a monastery and church owned by the Armenian Catholic church in the Old City. The addition had been built, church officials said, to house Vatican dignitaries visiting Jerusalem.

Some local Christian leaders charged that the demolition order is part of an Israeli effort to wipe out the Christian presence in the Old City, thereby “Judaizing” the area, and vowed to raise the issue with the Pope.

- Last week, Israel’s Tourism Minister, Stas Misezhnikov, publicly demanded that Benedict XVI not meet the mayor of Skahnin, a large Arab town inside Israel, at the end of his General Audience in Rome on April 29.

The mayor, Mazen Ghanaim, had planned to greet the pope, but Misezhnikov accused him of supporting terrorism, insisting that any acknowledgement from the Pope would be “in complete contradiction” with the spirit of his visit.

Arab leaders reacted angrily, charging that Misezhnikov’s comments are part of a racist campaign to paint Arabs in the country as fifth columnists. In the end, Ghanaim was notified that his tickets for the audience had been withdrawn.

Yet all is not heartburn in the run-up to the trip.

This week brought a story out of Bethlehem, for example, about a Muslim calligrapher named Yasser Abu Saymeh who was commissioned by the city’s mayor to prepare a copy of the Gospel of Luke for the Pope in traditional Arabic script.

While Abu Saymeh said he’d never before read the New Testament, he was struck by what the two faiths have in common, and said he comes out of the experience with a new commitment to “brotherly relations” between Christians and Muslims.

- Meanwhile, more than 100 rabbis, representing all the major branches of Judaism, are planning to take out an ad in Ha’Aretz, the oldest and most influential paper in Israel, welcoming the Pope and expressing support for his “mission of peace.”

The ad features a quote from Nostra Aetate, the document of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) on other religions, and directs readers to a web site where they can learn about what the rabbis call a “transformation” in Jewish-Catholic relations since Vatican II.

The idea for the ad came from American Rabbi Jack Bemporad, a Holocaust refugee from Italy and founder of the Center for Inter-Religious Understanding in New Jersey.




Mega-security for the Pope in Israel
By IAN DEITCH
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JERUSALEM, May 6 (AP) — Israel will deploy 80,000 security officers as part of "Operation White Cloak" — protecting Pope Benedict XVI when he visits the Holy Land next week, police said Wednesday.

The pontiff will visit Israel and the West Bank during his five-day tour that begins Monday.
Israeli police commissioner Dudi Cohen called the visit a "historic event that is very complex from a security aspect."

He said 80,000 security personnel will be deployed to secure the pope's tour, including 60,000 police officers. The rest will be secret service agents and soldiers, he said.

Pope Benedict XVI will be the second pontiff to make an official visit to Israel. His predecessor, John-Paul II, arrived in 2000 for a millennium year tour. Also, in 1964, Pope Paul VI crossed into Israel unofficially for a few hours.

Israeli and Palestinian officials are feverishly completing arrangements for the visit.

In Jerusalem, the pope will visit the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray, the Western Wall in the Old City; the Dome of the Rock, a main Muslim shrine, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial.

The pope will celebrate open air Mass in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.
Cohen said more than 30 thousand officers will be deployed in Jerusalem alone.

Briefing reporters about security plans, the commissioner said there were no specific intelligence warnings of attacks on the pope during his visit but noted, "terrorism is a reality Israel copes with all year round."

He said the security forces involved in "Operation White Cloak" have been training for months and will use new technology, but he refused to elaborate.

Police said they will close streets to traffic and tow cars parked along routes where the pope will be passing. For security reasons, the pope will use his famous "Popemobile" only for a short trip inside Nazareth on his way to Mass there, police said.

There are about 160,000 Christians in the Holy Land. About 110,000 of them live inside Israel, 50,000 in the West Bank and 3,800 in Gaza.

Police said more than 10,000 West Bank Christians will be given special travel permits to attend papal events. They said they are still considering whether Gaza Christians would be given access, because of concerns that the violent Islamic Hamas rulers of Gaza would try to exploit the permits to sneak militants into Israel.






A Popemobile to meet
Shin Bet's concerns

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The irrepressible Curt Jester ooffered this light touch when Israeli security officials warned two weeks ago that it would be better for the Pope not to use the Popemobile when he is in Nazareth because of extremist Muslim protestors. They have now been 'isolated' appropriately by the Shin Bet, and the Pope will use the Popemobile to move about in the Mass area at Mt. Precipice.

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INTERACTIVE MAP OF
THE PAPAL PILGRIMAGE



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The Italian service of Vatican Radio has an interactive map that will enable the viewer to see the geographical location and context of the places that the Holy FatHer will visit.

www.radiovaticana.org/it1/terra_santa/mappa_interattiva.asp

There is a map for each day of the trip, with numbers indicating where the events of the day will take place:

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RV's Italian service has also produced two dossiers on the pilgrimage - one specifically on Benedict XVI's pilgrimage, and the other one entitled 'The Magisterium of the Popes' presents an overview of the pilgrimages of Paul VI and John Paul II, with excerpts of the addresses and homilies they delivered there as well as upont heir return to Rome; and some texts of Benedict XVI, including the moumental lecture he delivered at the first Inter-Religious dialog on Jewish-Christian Relations in Jerusalem in 1994.

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'Summon one Simon who is called Peter' (Acts 10,5)


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The epigraph on the first volume is:
"Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." (Ex 3,5)
[God speaking to Moses]


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I really question the wisdom of Catholic prelates expressing their political judgment especially in matters as sensitive as the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and especially not when they involve the Pope! I think the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has spoken out of bounds in this interview where he makes a few totally gratuitous and even embarrassing statements. It is also given a strange title by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.


Trembling before the Pope
By Lily Galili
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Four days before Pope Benedict XVI embarks on his trip to the Holy and, the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, is one of the most worried people in the Middle East. In an exclusive interview with Haaretz yesterday, Twal concluded with a personal confession.

"The thing that worries me most is the speech that the Pope will deliver here. One word for the Muslims and I'm in trouble; one word for the Jews and I'm in trouble. At the end of the visit the Pope goes back to Rome and I stay here with the consequences."
[Is that any way for the head of a local Church to talk?]

In advance of the visit, in advance of the speech that will be delivered here, the local patriarchate sent the Vatican a document enumerating the bleak situation from its perspective with warnings of possible complications. All that remains for Twal is to pray that the words are heeded.

Twal's frank admission embodies all the difficulty of the position he holds. Even at the best of times, it is complicated for the important but shrinking Roman Catholic Church to navigate in this quarrelsome region between Jews and Muslims; it is immeasurably more difficult to do this in advance of the visit by Pope Benedict, from which all sides expect to benefit, when the visit is taking place such a short time after the bloody war in Gaza.

"The tension that the this war has left behind is making the necessary organization and coordination between the Israelis and the Palestinians even more difficult," said Twal, "but it is also making things difficult for me personally. During the war, the faithful wondered what the patriarchate was doing for them, and there was nothing I could do to stop the death machine. I was helpless and I felt humiliated. This is a feeling that I experience here often. Even the Vatican could do very little. It, after all, has to be cautious and to maintain balance."

[For heaven's sake, there are all of 286 Catholics in Gaza - could the Latin Patriarchate not have arranged to take them out of the city, if not to the West Bank, then at least to the southern end of the Gaza Strip where there was no fighting???? No one certainly was expecting him to 'stop the death machine', only to provide practical help. And thankfully, it does not appear that any one of those 286 was killed or injured during the Gaza offensive - or we would not hear the end of it! One more crime to brand those 'murderous Israelis' with.]

Indeed, not everyone in the Arab community agreed with Twal, who had the authority to approve the date of the pope's visit, and chose a time just four months after Operation Cast Lead. The patriarch deliberated the matter, but eventually decided that now, of all times, his flock needed spiritual guidance and encouragement, and Benedict should come and pray with them.

Church officials said that even so, critical voices were few and far between. If not now, when?

In advance of the visit, Twal has a list of expectations and wishes that have to do with agreements between Israel and the Vatican that have not been concluded.

Most of them have to do with tax breaks, the issuing of visas to clergy and greater freedom of movement for them, issues which has been under discussion since the upgrading of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican in 1993.

The implementation of these agreements, as well as the final formulation of the Church's material assets here, could make the life of the Christian community in Israel easier.

Twal expected that these things would have been resolved as a goodwill gesture in advance of the visit. Since this has not happened, he expects that this will perhaps be the outcome of the visit.

To put it differently, Twal is wondering if agreements aren't finalized in honor of the Pope's visit, when exactly will the right time come around?

Nevertheless, it appears that at this stage the main thrust of Twal's prayer is that the visit goes peacefully.

It was only less than a year ago that Twal replaced the legendary Latin patriarch Michel Sabbagh, an Israeli Catholic who, to the distress of the Jews in Israel, adopted a Palestinian identity for himself.

Twal, 69, who holds a doctorate in law, is a Jordanian, a member of the large Al-Uzaizat tribe. He says that in the first century C.E. the tribe accepted Christianity, a fact that earned them a mention in the New Testament.

For generations his clan led a nomadic life, until 150 years ago an energetic priest settled them in the town of Madaba, which Pope Benedict XVI will also visit during his journey through the region.

At the age of 14, enchanted by the personality of a priest who became his "teacher for life," Twal chose the priestly life.

"The Church has brought me back to a life of wandering," he jokes, summing up a diplomatic career that took him from Latin America to Cairo and from Germany to Tunis.

None of those assignments was as difficult and challenging as the one with which he is grappling with in the Holy Land, where he heads the Catholic community in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan.

When Twal is asked to indicate the main problem the papal visit could solve to make his life easier, he says instantaneously, "The roadblocks."

The difficulties in mobility are embittering the lives of the Palestinians in general and weighing heavily on the functioning of the Church, he says.

"It is hard to move priests, it is hard to move nuns among hospitals. It is hard to get to funerals, it is hard to come to weddings. The entire functioning of our priesthood is hampered," he said.

However, Twal acknowledges that there is another aspect to this difficulty, which is even more distressing.

"I have a hard time with the total distrust that the government of Israel evinces towards us," he said. "You can trust us and you can even get help from us."

Twal is aware of what are seen as improved Jewish-Christian relations. He listens patiently to a description of Jewish claims that in contrast to Muslims, "It's possible to live with Christians," while the Muslims in the territories and in Israel are envious of the Christians "who have a big brother in the Vatican."

He listens, but rejects this outright.

"We don't derive any benefit from what the two sides see as preferential status," he said. "At the roadblocks, even priestly garb doesn't help." [I don't think it is fair for Roman Catholics - even priests and nuns - to seek preferential status compared to other citizens. Roadblocks and checkpoints are a fact of life in frontiers where there is a state of 'perpetual war' as Israeli territory has been since 1948.]

Twal does not agree with the claim that all the open complaints by the Christian community are always directed at the Jews while troubles with Muslims are swept under the rug.

"I say openly that we have serious problems with the Muslims and with the strengthening of Islam in the region," he says. "Christian families in Bethlehem are suffering quite a bit. However, this too is a result of the weakening of the central government in Palestine. When Islam gets stronger we suffer. When the regime gets weaker, we suffer. Look at what is happening to our people in Iraq."

Surprisingly, the situation of the Christians in Gaza under Hamas rule (only 286 Catholics) is in fact just fine.

"We aren't a threat and we're also not an electoral asset," laughed Twal. "We are simply too few for it to be worth opening another front because of us. The children of Hamas families attend our schools. Apart from that, they too know that we have a voice that echoes in the world. You could call this propaganda."

Now he is partner to an effort to obtain exit visas for as many Gazans as possible to allow them to take part in the ceremonies for the pope's visit. This is a complex reality, especially for someone who has also seen better situations for his coreligionists.

Christians constitute only about 3.5 percent of the total population of Jordan, but they are prominent in all walks of life "as though we were 30 percent," he said.

They have always been close to the Hashemite dynasty and now Twal is observing the ease with which the Pope's visit to Jordan is being organized, in contrast to the difficulty between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Alongside the practical achievements the patriarch is hoping to reap from the visit, he is well aware of the Jewish expectation of hearing some sort of diplomatic statement, perhaps in the matter of Jerusalem or, in quite a different area, in the matter of the Holocaust-denying bishop. If you read between the lines of what Twal has to say, apparently neither sort of statement will be made.

Bishop Richard Williamson, according to Twal, "is an insignificant nobody" and the Pope's attitude toward him isn't a significant criterion for evaluation.

As for Jerusalem, the patriarch reiterates the Vatican's position to the effect that the city must remain open to adherents of all religions in a arrangement that will be anchored in international law.

He himself would like to hear words of encouragement for the Christian community in the Holy Land, a call for peace, a condemnation of violence and an explicit statement of support for a two-state solution for two peoples from the Pope. [Statements which the Pope has made on several occasions, only not in the Holy Land itself, so there is no reason to suppose he will not reiterate all of the above!]

At the end of the conversation, the patriarch again wonders about the Israeli government's wisdom.

"We need you, but you also need us," he says. "It isn't clear to me why the government of Israel doesn't understand that it cannot separate its attitude towards the local Christian population from its relations with the Vatican. The local church and the Vatican - it's one entity. Maybe this is the opportunity to internalize that."


Interview with
the Apostolic Nuncio in Israel

Translated from
the Italian service of

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May 7, 2009


Forty five years since Paul VI’s historic visit and nine years since the Jubilee Year visit of John Paul II, another Pope comes as a pilgrim to the sites made holy by Jesus’s life on earth.

He does so at a time of high tension for the troubled Holy Land where the current ‘truce’, after the Gaza conflict last December, is only a surrogate for true peace.

Benedict XVI is visiting, as he said again yesterday – to pray for ‘the gift of peace and unity’. The atmosphere of high hopes for political and social progress at the time of John Paul II’s visit in 200 has disappeared, and the attitude among the affected populations is one of resignation.

At the same time, the polemics over the Regensburg lecture seem to have tapered off on the Muslim front, and on the Williamson case, among the Jews.

In the autonomous Palestinian territories, the Pope is awaited by the political leaders of the Palestinian Authority and by the refugees in the Aida camp near Bethlehem, where they have lived in extreme poverty since 1948.

[According to the Radio Vatican briefing dossier, the Palestinian refugee camps are a misnomer today. They started out as refugee camps under UN sponsorship and support for Palestinians displaced by the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948 who chose not to flee to other countries.

But over the years, they have evolved into veritable towns with permanent dwellings including condominiums. Palestine statistics as of the end of 2006 estimate the population of the Aida camp at 3,260.

It seems that after six decades, their problem continues to be economic - the lack of opportunities for gainful employment in the Palestinian territories, especially after Israel was constrained to restrict employment of Palestinians drastically, because of all the suicide bobbing attacks on Israeli citizens.

Who can deny that since these restrictions were tightened and Israel put up the security fence, it's been a long time since we've read of a suicide bombing attack in Israel (knock on wood!)? I believe that's why Hamas resorted to lobbing daily rocket attacks on the southern Israeli cities and towns.]
]


The Pope’s visit to them is an expression of his ‘closeness to the suffering of the Palestinian people'.

The Israeli government budgeted 10 million euros for organizing the visit, and another 10 million dollars to help 44 Catholic schools prepare their 24,000 students (Christians and Muslims) to welcome the Pope.

Israeli newspapers have been more concerned with reporting on the preparations than with commentary [Really????] and state radio has been broadcasting spots to publicize the various papal events.

Here is an interview with Mons. Antonio Franco, the Apostolic Nuncio in Jerusalem on the visit.

MONS FRANCO: There is great expectation for what the Pope will say. It is true that everyone hopes his words may reactivate a commitment to a genuine search for solutions to a situation that has dragged on for decades.


Excellency, this trip has a spiritual and religious character. You think it can be given a political reading and would it not be instrumentalized that way?
I would distinguish between a political reading and instrumentalization. Even a religious message within a social reality is a bit political, if we understand political in its etymology, polis, something that concerns life in society.

As for instrumentalization, I have tried all ways that I can to make it clear and to avoid any possibility that any one side can used the Holy Father for their own purposes which I am sure each side will consider noble, but which would be resented by the other. I really hope this is understood – so far, the press spears to get it.


What significance is there to the Pope;s visit to the Holocaust memorial which still presents Pius XII in a negative light?
Everyone asks me this, and I have explained that it is to pay a tribute to the Holocaust and to pray for its victims. It is a historical reality which should provide even us Christians with an occasion for reflection. That is the significance.

Now, there’s the other aspect. You know quite well that we are trying to develop, trying to establish a meeting point where we can reflect together, read together all the available documentation on World War II… And we have now reached a stage where one can speak of a historic-critical study. With time, there’s a certain distance from emotions even if they continue to run high, and I am confident this work will continue, indeed that it will bear fruit. It requires some patience, but it will bear fruit. Perhaps, creating a new mentality will make us look at a future in which events like the Holocaust will not happen again.


Is there still a problem with getting the permits for the Gaza Catholics to attend the Pope’s Mass in Bethlehem?
Personally, I am convinced we will get the permits. Not for Jerusalem, but for Bethlehem. I think at the last moment we will get it, because otherwise, it will look bad for Israel, The international media is watching this.


What exactly do you expect from this visit coming at a time like this?
In the first place, that it may, so to say, reduce the tensions and provide new breath, some oxygen, in order to resume the efforts to build peace.

It is a great joy for me personally, and clearly, we are all very moved that the Pope will be a with us for this brief time. But I have great hope that the Lord, through Benedict XVI, wishes to have his Word heard and will effect one of his miracles to set in motion something that will lead to a just and lasting peace, as the Pope has called it.


Jordanian prelates speak

Translated from
the Italian service of

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May 7, 2009


Jordan will be the first stage of the Pope’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In Amman on Wednesday afternoon, Vicar of the Latin patriarch for Jordan, Bishop Salim Sayegh; the bishop of Petra and Filadelfia of the Greek-Melkites, Mons. Yaser Ayyash’ and the Apostolic Nuncio in Jordan, Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikat, held a news conference. We have a report from Pietro Cocco:

Speaking in the name of the bishops of Jordan, the Latin Vicar Sayech underscored that they are all Jordanian citizens as a token of the entire country’s joyful participation in Pope Benedict’s visit.

Her summarized the importance of the Pope’s visit in three aspects:

First, pastoral. The Pope comes to visit his children, especially the poorest, whom he will meet shortly after the welcome ceremony when he visits the Regina Pacis Center for the rehabilitation of handicapped citizens and their reinstatement in society. He will also meet representatives of Jordanian youth – the hope and future of the Church in Jordan.

The vicar said that the Pope’s Mass at Amman Stadium Sunday morning is a ‘great grace... when the Successor of Peter will pray for us and with us". The pastoral aspect, he said, is very significant for Jordanian Christians as an encouragement to stay here.

The second aspect is pilgrimage, Jordan has been the entry to the Holy Land for the last three Popes. Jordan has the site of Jesus’s Baptism, the memorial to Moses on Mt. Nebo, and even the Shrine of Elijah and Mukawir (?), where St. John the Baptist was beheaded.

Finally, inter-religious dialog. Bishop Sayegh recalled the long tradition of peaceful coexistence among the Muslim majority and the Arab Christians of Jordan. The Pope will visit the Al-Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman where he will meet with Muslim leaders to encourage constructive dialog.


Pietro Cocco also spoke to the Apostolic Nuncio in Jordan, Mons. Francis Assisi Chullikat.

MONS. CHULLIKAT: Of course, this is a most important visit, one that the entire Church in the Holy Land has been awaiting. In fact, since the start of Benedict XVI’s Pontificate. Especially, since Christians in the Holy Land have been going through a difficult time and are anxious for words of hope and encouragement from the Holy Father.

They know that the Pope’s words have great resonance not only in the Holy Land but on the regional level. And as he has said himself, he is coming to pray for peace and unity on this pilgrimage.

As such, it will be very prayerful, intensely so, for the Church in the Holy Land, as well, so that it can continue to give an example of courage and faith such as they have provided for the Church all these centuries, since the beginning of Christianity.


The Church and the Christian community in Jordan enjoy a more tranquil situation than elsewhere in the Middle East. What can they bring to the rest of the region where so many families are afflicted?
Jordan has an important role because the Jordanian government is actively trying to promote peace in the region, particularly between Israel and Palestine. The peacecul coexistence among Muslims and Christians here in Jordan is evident proof and a sign of encouragement for Christians in the rest of the region.

Christians from other parts of the Middle East have no problems coming to Jordan, which is the site of many international meetings sponsored by the Church. Recently, a Council of Christian leaders was formed in order to get formal recognition for the most important Christian chuches represented here. These are examples we hope that the rest of the region will emulate.



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The Holy Father's flight to Amman left Rome at 9:34 this morning.


BON VOYAGE, HOLINESS!

WITH ALL OUR LOVE AND PRAYERS


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May 8
St. Peter of Tarentaise (France, 1107-1184)
Cistercian monk




OR today.
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Illustration: tourists on Moses's Mount (Nebo) near Amman.
Benedict XVI in the Holy Land:
A pilgrimage in resopect of the rights of every people
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Other papal stories on Page 1: The Pope greets this year's new Swiss Guard recruits and
meets with the President of El Salvador. Other stories: the Arab nations offier a new
peace plan to Israel for discussion with the US; the Food and Agricultural Organization
of the United Nations forecasts one billion people will go hungry in 2009.



THE POPE'S DAY
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Day 1 - AMMAN, JORDAN
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ALL REPORTS ABOUT THE HOLY FATHER'S TRIP WILL NOW BE POSTED DIRECTLY ON THIS THREAD.






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DEPARTURE

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Pope heads to Mideast
on 'pilgrimage of peace'

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AMMAN, Jordan, May 8 (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI on Friday headed for Jordan, where he will begin his first Middle East visit as a self-proclaimed pilgrim of peace but could face criticism from Muslims still upset over past comments he made about the Prophet Muhammad.

Jordan's powerful Muslim Brotherhood has demanded Benedict apologize ahead of his visit for his September 2006 speech in which he quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The pope has already said he was "deeply sorry" over the reaction to his speech and that the passage he quoted did not reflect his own opinion. But he has not issued a public apology as demanded by the Brotherhood, setting the stage for potential conflict with Jordan's largest opposition group when he arrives in Amman on Friday.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Vatican has made all possible clarifications, telling Associated Press Television News that "we cannot continue until the end of the world to repeat the same clarifications."

The Pope set off for Jordan from Rome on Friday and is also scheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories during his weeklong Middle East tour. Benedict's three-day stay in Jordan is his first visit to an Arab country as pope.

During his time in Jordan, Benedict is scheduled to meet with Muslim religious leaders at Amman's largest mosque — his second visit to a Muslim place of worship since becoming pope in 2005. He prayed in Istanbul's famed Blue Mosque, a gesture that helped calm the outcry over his remarks.

He is also expected to meet with King Abdullah and Queen Rania, as well as Iraqi Christians driven from their homeland by violence.

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Other preparatory Anglophone reports are pessimistic as usual, almost offensively so, picking out and stressing only the negative - spushing their agenda of a Pope who has alienated everybody. I pray they will all eat their words soon.

NONE OF THE FOLLOWING STORIES EVEN MENTIONS THAT THIS IS A PILGRIMAGE.

But where are the usual wire services this morning? The first three items posted in Yahoo's list are all 'irregulars' on the Pope beat. AP's was posted half an hour ago, and I used it above, because it is the least negative so far, even if it's a virtual repeat of a story filed yesterdya or two days ago.



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Tepid reception expected
for Pope Benedict in Israel

By Cliff Churgin and Dion Nissenbaum
McClatchy Newspapers


JERUSALEM, May 7 — When Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the Middle East this weekend for his first visit as head of the Roman Catholic church, he will be met by crowds, signs and banners — and not all of them will be welcoming.

Muslim activists have hoisted a critical banner in Nazareth warning of "humiliating punishment" for anyone who insults the Prophet Mohammed, recalling the Pope's stark criticism of Islam three years ago.

A dwindling Palestinian Christian population in Bethlehem wants Benedict to use Israel's towering concrete separation wall as a backdrop for an appearance at which they want him to challenge Israeli policies they see as hurdles to peace.

And wary Jewish leaders will be watching the German-born pope, whose bungled embrace of an excommunicated, Holocaust-denying bishop resurrected a longstanding dispute over the Vatican's role during World War II.

Benedict's eight-day visit, which begins with a stop Friday in Amman, Jordan , will serve as one of the biggest tests of his ability as pope to deal with 2,000 years of volatile, divisive and often-deadly religious relations.

"We have created among us, all three sons of Abraham, a ferocious enemy," said Oded Ben-Hur , a former Israeli ambassador to the Vatican . "The name of this enemy is an abyss of ignorance. We don't know each other, and this is the mother of all problems."

One of the first issues Benedict will face when he arrives in Israel Monday will be a display at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum that the Vatican has gone to great lengths to make sure the pope will not see.

The display, featuring a photo of Pope Pius XII, says the Nazi-era pope "did not protest" the Holocaust, "even when reports about the murder of Jews reached the Vatican ."

Under a photo of Pius is a poem: "While the ovens were fed day-and-night, the most Holy Father did not leave his palace, with crucifix high to witness one day of pogrom."

The display is an unresolved source of tension between Israel and the Vatican , which established full diplomatic relations in 1994.

Benedict, whose cardinals are still weighing whether to declare Pius XII a saint, has said that the wartime pope "spared no effort" to help Jews escape Hitler.

At one point last year, a Vatican cardinal said that Benedict wouldn't visit Israel until the language about Pius was changed.

Benedict will pay his respects to Holocaust victims at the Yad Vashem memorial. He will not, however, visit the museum — a decision also taken by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II .

Benedict three months ago lifted the excommunication of a clergyman, Richard Williamson , who'd denied the worst horrors of the Holocaust. Benedict initially resisted calls to rescind the decision, even though Williamson refused to recant his views.

After weathering the storm, Benedict last month conceded that he'd made mistakes in handling the case and should've known about Williamson's statements.

Skepticism of Benedict's Holocaust views is also colored by the pope's own personal history: As a teenage boy in Nazi Germany , Benedict was compelled to become a member of the Nazi Youth at age 14 in 1941 and was drafted by Hilter's army two years later.

Whereas the Polish-born John Paul was seen as a pioneer in religious reconciliation, Benedict is seen as having created more religious friction.

A year after becoming pope, Benedict alienated many Muslims with a 2006 speech in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said the prophet Mohammed had brought nothing but evil to the world.

Benedict later said he was "deeply sorry" and distanced himself from the emperor's views. For some Muslims, however, it wasn't enough.

Zahi Nujeidat, a spokesman for the Islamic Movement , said the group will boycott Benedict's visit. At the same time, they urged him to visit the Hamas -controlled Gaza Strip , which has barely recovered from Israel's recent military offensive.

"For someone who is so sensitive to the Holocaust, what is happening in Gaza is no less than a holocaust — it is the genocide of the 21st century and he should acknowledge it with a visit of an hour or hour and a half," Nujeidat said.

Benedict won't visit Gaza , which one of his cardinals called a "big concentration camp" during the recent military operation, infuriating Israeli leaders. Instead, Benedict will travel to Bethlehem , where Palestinian leaders have built a stage below a snaking section of Israel's concrete separation wall running alongside Aida Refugee Camp.

Palestinian leaders are hoping that Benedict will use the platform to issue a strong defense of Palestinian rights. Israel, however, has demanded that Palestinian construction workers stop building the stage, which it considers a security threat.


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Controversy precedes Pope
on trip to Middle East

by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
National Public Radio
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NPR is notoriously ultra-liberal althoughit is public radio in the United Sattes, i.e., publicly funded.


May 8, 2009 · Pope Benedict XVI begins his first tour of the Holy Land this week, with stops in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. It's only the second official papal visit to the Jewish state and the occupied territories, coming nine years after a groundbreaking trip there by Pope John Paul II.

The Vatican says that Pope Benedict will bring a message of peace to the troubled region, but his visit is still stirring controversy among both Israelis and Palestinians.

Israelis Hope For Clarification

One place Pope Benedict will visit is Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the Holocaust, where he will deliver a speech. Many Israelis say that what he says will be pivotal to how he is perceived in the country.

The Pontiff — a German who was briefly a member of the Nazi youth movement — most recently raised the ire of Jews when he rescinded the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying Catholic priest.

Avner Shalev, who heads Yad Vashem, says many Israelis want to hear the Pope firmly acknowledge what happened to the Jewish people.

"He should be more sensitive. He should be more careful about how he relates to the events of the Holocaust," Shalev says. "To me, his position is not clear enough — and to many, many others. So it gives him a great opportunity to clarify it for his believers, his followers and many, many other human beings."

But whatever the Pope says, the church and the directors of the Holocaust memorial site will still be at odds.

The Pope's speech will be made on the grounds of Yad Vashem, but he will not visit the adjoining museum — in protest of an exhibit that alleges that then-Pope Pius XII did nothing to stop the extermination of the Jews.

Pope Benedict has vigorously defended his predecessor's wartime record and supports his canonization.

Another stop on the papal itinerary is Bethlehem, which has a sizable, but dwindling, Christian community.

The barrier that Israel is building in and around the West Bank has made life more difficult for Bethlehem's residents.

The Rev. Marwan Didas, a Palestinian priest who lives in Bethlehem, says every year, more Christian families are leaving the area looking for opportunities elsewhere. He says he hopes the pope's visit will give Christians an appreciation of their own land and a reason to stay.

Palestinians Seek Spotlight For Their Plight

After addressing his Christian flock, the Pope will visit the mostly Muslim residents of Aida, a nearby refugee camp. There, next to the partition that divides the Palestinian territories and Israel, camp residents are building an amphitheater, which the Israelis have threatened to demolish.

Jumah al-Owais is helping to build the theater. He says the idea was to have the huge concrete slabs of the wall serve as a backdrop for a speech the Pope was scheduled to deliver.

"When the Pope comes, the eyes of the world will follow him, and so all the world will see the suffering of the Palestinian people," Owais says.

But Mustafa Jamil, of the refugee camp's council, says that the stage has become too controversial and the Pope will instead make his address from a nearby school.

Jamil says he is bitterly disappointed that the Vatican caved to what he terms "Israeli pressure."

"We were very excited about the visit of the Pope. We prepared this place to receive him, then we were shocked to find out that the Pope will not be delivering his speech in the place we had prepared but somewhere else," Jamil says.

Although the stage won't be used for the papal visit now, the Palestinians are still busy building it — and the Israelis continue to threaten to demolish it.




This one is a very obnoxious, nastly loaded item from the ultra-liberal LA Times, which only reports negative statements. Why are they even covering the event????


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Jordan first stop
on Pope's Holy Land visit

By Jeffrey Fleishman
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Reporting from Amman, Jordan -- Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Jordan today on a three-day pilgrimage to bless a tiny Catholic population and improve the Vatican's relations with a Muslim world greeting him with aloofness, anger and a slight hope that he may advance peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

On his first visit to an Arab country, the 82-year-old pontiff is receiving little fanfare. Benedict outraged Muslims in 2006 when he quoted a medieval emperor's condemnation of Islam as a violent religion. He later said he regretted the pain his comments evoked and has since stressed interfaith dialogue and reconciliation between Catholics and Muslims.

The pope, whose sermons and speeches will be scrutinized across this tribal kingdom, departs Monday on the next leg of his Holy Land visit, which will take him to Israel and the West Bank.

Jordan is a moderate Islamic country with a British-educated monarch and a fashion-plate queen. The pope's intent is to build religious detente here that will bring Muslims and Christians together to help counter the world's moral and social ills.

But the Pope is uneasy over a general lack of religious freedom in Arab countries [Isn't Jordan an exception in this respect?], and many Muslims view the Roman Catholic Church as another Western institution insensitive to how Islam has been stereotyped and vilified since Sept. 11, 2001.

"When you are responsible for 1 billion Catholics and you're speaking to 1 billion Muslims, you should be mature and discreet," Yasser Abu Hilaleh, a Jordan-based writer and commentator, said of the pontiff's 2006 speech. "This is a time of chaos and terrorism, and such comments provoke hostility. They take us backward. They give credence to extremism. Al Qaeda celebrated the Pope's statements."

By balancing Jordan, Israel and Palestinian territory in his pilgrimage, the pope is venturing onto incendiary religious and political terrain. Each side will parse and analyze what he does and says at each stop. He's expected to visit the Al Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman, the Jordanian capital, and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Will he sympathize with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip? Will he counter accusations that the Vatican was complicit in the Holocaust? Will he mention the two-state solution for a Palestinian homeland when he speaks in the West Bank?

It is a careful dance of adjectives, inflection and nuance. And it rests on the shoulders of a religiously conservative pope with a professorial demeanor who lacks the charisma of his predecessor, John Paul II.

Benedict has been praised for his intellect, but his ideology [It's called Catholic doctrine, Sir!] and occasionally acerbic statements mixed with cool detachment have infuriated many Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Such passions arise easily in Amman, a city of white hewn-stone buildings and hotels that ripple over hills at the edge of Roman ruins. But Zaki Bani Arshid, whom one might expect to be rallying street protests against the Pope, sits in his office at the Islamic Action Front with other things on his mind. He has said publicly that the Pope is not welcome in Jordan until he apologizes. He's leaving it at that.

"There's apathy around this visit. Jordanians don't care," he said. "We have economic concerns, the incompetence and weakness of this country to stop corruption -- even the swine flu is preoccupying people more than the pope's visit. He will not be accepted in this part of the world. . . . And I don't expect him to offer any gesture toward reconciliation. He insulted Islam and now he's going to Israel after the Israeli war on Gaza and the rise of the conservative Likud government."

Edward Eid is a Catholic and general director of Greek Orthodox schools in Jordan. Such a role might seem contradictory for him, but in Jordan, where Christians account for less than 4% of a population of about 6 million, interdenominational mingling is a way of life. Eid has a VIP ticket to the Pope's Sunday Mass, but he's not going, feeling a closer allegiance to his Muslim countrymen than to the Holy See.

"We Christians paid the price for what the Pope said in 2006," he said.

"Before he says anything about the Middle East, he should know how Christians live here."

The Christian population has been shrinking through economic emigration and over the rise of Islamic conservatism. For every church that is built, one mosque, or possibly two, pops up in the same neighborhood.

After the Pope's comments three years ago, he said, 15 Muslim families threatened to remove their children from Eid's schools; rancor and bruised feelings spread between the Christian village where he grew up and the neighboring Muslim town. Tribes, customs and family connections fixed things, but there remains an air of unease.

"The Pope's a smart fellow and I was astonished. His comments were like a bullet out of a gun. You can't take them back. Even the Orthodox Church told me, 'Leave us out of the Pope's visit,' " Eid said. "But I'm using the visit for the benefit of Jordan. The pope travels with something like 2,000 journalists. Jordan will be shown all over the world."

A dust storm had passed and dusk was glowing over the desert when Sheik Ramadan al Sheik, the imam at the Kalouhy Mosque, opened his door in the minutes before evening prayers. Two children played nearby and sung verses from the Koran lilted on a radio in the distance. A heavyset man with a light beard, Ramadan said he was unaware the Pope was coming.

"The Pope? Was he here recently?" the imam in the white tunic said after opening the mosque door.

"He's coming."

"I did not know."

"Islam," he then said, "is a forgiving religion, so we welcome him despite his comments. But something that touches my religion, my prophet -- of course I was upset. I think the pope should apologize."

He doesn't know if that will happen when Benedict visits the reputed burial place of the biblical Moses and the spot along the Jordan River where Christians believe Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The imam spoke of Islam being caricatured in the West and then, as often happens in this region, talk turned to the Palestinians.

"The Pope should express his conscience. He's a religious man," Ramadan said. "He knows what Israel has done, killing innocents in Gaza. The pope's word is heard. He represents Christianity. His voice is more effective than President Obama's because I believe people are more religious than they are political."

The loudspeaker in the minaret scratched with the prayer caller's voice. Ramadan stood and excused himself, quieting the children and heading toward evening ablution.

Special correspondent Ranya Kadri contributed to this report.

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The Holy Father is in Amman, but he has a bad case of laryngitis!

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DAY 1 - AMMAN

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“Jordan has witnessed three papal visits in its modern history: Pope Paul VI visited Jordan in 1964, Pope John Paul II in 2000, and now Pope Benedict XVI will begin the apostolic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Jordan. But Jordan is not a transit route, but rather a sacred destination -- a state with a living Christian community.”

The official spokesman to the media on behalf of the Catholic Church in Jordan and editor of abouna.org Catholic website speaks about the importance of the Holy Father's visit to Jordan.


The Pope's visit is important from many points of view. First, to confirm the Christian presence in Jordan. We have, thank God, a good number of Christians from various denominations of Christianity -- the majority belong to the Orthodox Church -- and there is also the Catholic Church, which has, in all branches, more than eighty or ninety thousand Catholic citizens.

But the Pope is not only coming for Catholics, but also to unite Christians. Secondly, there is a formal relationship between Jordan and the Vatican since 1994 and these relations have been described as good and friendly.

This year, 2009, we celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Jordan and the Holy See, a relationship that is destined for further cooperation to build peace, especially since Jordan is a moderate voice in the peace process in the Middle East, particularly in the two hot spots: Iraq and Palestine.




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ARRIVAL SPEECH
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NB: All the papal textx on this trip are in English.



Your Majesties,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear Friends,

It is with joy that I greet all of you here present, as I begin my first visit to the Middle East since my election to the Apostolic See, and I am pleased to set foot upon the soil of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a land so rich in history, home to so many ancient civilizations, and deeply imbued with religious significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

I thank His Majesty King Abdullah II for his kind words of welcome, and I offer my particular congratulations in this year that marks the tenth anniversary of his accession to the throne. In greeting His Majesty, I extend heartfelt good wishes to all members of the Royal Family and the Government, and to all the people of the Kingdom.

I greet the Bishops here present, especially those with pastoral responsibilities in Jordan. I look forward to celebrating the liturgy at Saint George’s Cathedral tomorrow evening and at the International Stadium on Sunday together with you, dear Bishops, and so many of the faithful entrusted to your care.

I come to Jordan as a pilgrim, to venerate holy places that have played such an important part in some of the key events of Biblical history.

At Mount Nebo, Moses led his people to within sight of the land that would become their home, and here he died and was laid to rest.

At Bethany beyond the Jordan, John the Baptist preached and bore witness to Jesus, whom he baptized in the waters of the river that gives this land its name.

In the coming days I shall visit both these holy places, and I shall have the joy of blessing the foundation stones of churches that are to be built at the traditional site of the Lord’s Baptism.

The opportunity that Jordan’s Catholic community enjoys to build public places of worship is a sign of this country’s respect for religion, and on their behalf I want to say how much this openness is appreciated.

Religious freedom is, of course, a fundamental human right, and it is my fervent hope and prayer that respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of every man and woman will come to be increasingly affirmed and defended, not only throughout the Middle East, but in every part of the world.

My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by His Majesty the King in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam.

Now that some years have passed since the publication of the Amman Message and the Amman Interfaith Message, we can say that these worthy initiatives have achieved much good in furthering an alliance of civilizations between the West and the Muslim world, confounding the predictions of those who consider violence and conflict inevitable.

Indeed the Kingdom of Jordan has long been at the forefront of initiatives to promote peace in the Middle East and throughout the world, encouraging inter-religious dialogue, supporting efforts to find a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, welcoming refugees from neighboring Iraq, and seeking to curb extremism.

I cannot let this opportunity pass without calling to mind the pioneering efforts for peace in the region made by the late King Hussein. How fitting that my meeting tomorrow with Muslim religious leaders, the diplomatic corps and University rectors should take place in the mosque that bears his name.

May his commitment to the resolution of the region’s conflicts continue to bear fruit in efforts to promote lasting peace and true justice for all who live in the Middle East.

Dear Friends, at the Seminar held in Rome last autumn by the Catholic-Muslim Forum, the participants examined the central role played in our respective religious traditions by the commandment of love.

I hope very much that this visit, and indeed all the initiatives designed to foster good relations between Christians and Muslims, will help us to grow in love for the Almighty and Merciful God, and in fraternal love for one another.

Thank you for your welcome. Thank you for your attention. May God grant Your Majesties happiness and long life! May he bless Jordan with prosperity and peace!



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DAY 1 - AMMAN
REGINA PACIS CENTER


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Remarks at Regina Pacis Centre



Your Beatitudes,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Friends,

I am very happy to be here with you this afternoon, and to greet each of you and your family members, wherever they may be.

I thank His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal for his kind words of welcome and in a special way I wish to acknowledge the presence among us of Bishop Selim Sayegh, whose vision and labours for this Centre, together with those of His Beatitude Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah, are today honored through the blessing of the new extensions which has just taken place.

I also wish to greet with great affection the Central Committee members, the Comboni Sisters and the dedicated lay staff, including those who work in the Centre’s many community branches and units.

Your reputation for outstanding professional competence, compassionate care and resolute promotion of the rightful place in society of those with special needs is well known here and throughout the Kingdom. To the young people present, I thank you for your moving welcome. It is a great joy for me to be with you.

As you know, my visit to the Our Lady of Peace Centre here in Amman is the first stop along my journey of pilgrimage. Like countless pilgrims before me it is now my turn to satisfy that profound wish to touch, to draw solace from and to venerate the places where Jesus lived, the places which were made holy by his presence.

Since apostolic times, Jerusalem has been the primary place of pilgrimage for Christians, but earlier still, in the ancient Near East, Semitic peoples built sacred shrines in order to mark and commemorate a divine presence or action. And ordinary people would travel to these centres carrying a portion of the fruits of their land and livestock to offer in homage and thanksgiving.

Dear friends, every one of us is a pilgrim. We are all drawn forward, with purpose, along God’s path. Naturally, then, we tend to look back on life – sometimes with regrets or hurts, often with thanksgiving and appreciation – and we also look ahead – sometimes with trepidation or anxiety, but always with expectation and hope, knowing too that there are others who encourage us along the way.

I know that the journeys that have led many of you to the “Regina Pacis” Centre have been marked by suffering or trial. Some of you struggle courageously with disabilities, others of you have endured rejection, and some of you are drawn to this place of peace simply for encouragement and support.

Of particular importance, I know, is the Centre’s great success in promoting the rightful place of the disabled in society and in ensuring that suitable training and opportunities are provided to facilitate such integration. For this foresight and determination you all deserve great praise and encouragement!

At times it is difficult to find a reason for what appears only as an obstacle to be overcome or even as pain – physical or emotional – to be endured.

Yet faith and understanding help us to see a horizon beyond our own selves in order to imagine life as God does. God’s unconditional love, which gives life to every human individual, points to a meaning and purpose for all human life. His is a saving love (cf. Jn 12:32).

As Christians profess, it is through the Cross that Jesus in fact draws us into eternal life, and in so doing indicates to us the way ahead – the way of hope which guides every step we take along the way, so that we too become bearers of that hope and charity for others.

Friends, unlike the pilgrims of old, I do not come bearing gifts or offerings. I come simply with an intention, a hope: to pray for the precious gift of unity and peace, most specifically for the Middle East.

Peace for individuals, for parents and children, for communities, peace for Jerusalem, for the Holy Land, for the region, peace for the entire human family; the lasting peace born of justice, integrity and compassion, the peace that arises from humility, forgiveness and the profound desire to live in harmony as one.

Prayer is hope in action. And in fact true reason is contained in prayer: we come into loving contact with the one God, the universal Creator, and in so doing we come to realize the futility of human divisions and prejudices and we sense the wondrous possibilities that open up before us when our hearts are converted to God’s truth, to his design for each of us and our world.

Dear young friends, to you in particular I wish to say that standing in your midst I draw strength from God. Your experience of trials, your witness to compassion, and your determination to overcome the obstacles you encounter, encourage me in the belief that suffering can bring about change for the good.

In our own trials, and standing alongside others in their struggles, we glimpse the essence of our humanity, we become, as it were, more human. And we come to learn that, on another plane, even hearts hardened by cynicism or injustice or unwillingness to forgive are never beyond the reach of God, can always be opened to a new way of being, a vision of peace.

I exhort you all to pray every day for our world. And today I want to ask you to take up a specific task: please pray for me every day of my pilgrimage; for my own spiritual renewal in the Lord, and for the conversion of hearts to God’s way of forgiveness and solidarity so that my hope – our hope – for unity and peace in the world will bear abundant fruit.

May God bless each of you and your families, and the teachers, caregivers, administrators and benefactors of this Centre and may Our Lady, Queen of Peace, protect you and guide you along the pilgrim way of her Son, the Good Shepherd.



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INTRODUCTION
The Holy Father:

My dear friends,
when Jesus came to preach repentance,
he was bringing us good news,
for he was proclaiming to us
God’s love and mercy.
Again and again God comes to our help
so that we may turn to him
and live our lives entirely in his service.
Penance is his gift,
a gift we should accept with gratitude.
Keeping this in mind,
let us open our hearts to God
with great simplicity and humility,
and ask to be reconciled with him
as we now forgive each other.



PRAYER
The Holy Father:

Let us pray.
Lord our God,
you call us out of darkness into light,
out of self-deception into truth,
out of death into life.
Send us your Holy Spirit
to open our ears to your call.
Fill our hearts with courage
to be true followers of your Son.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.



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[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 10/05/2009 06.07]
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THE POPE'S IN-FLIGHT INTERVIEW


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The Holy Father gave his usual in-flight news conference en route to Amman, with the Vatican press director, Fr. Federico Lommbardi, reading out the four questions that the journalists on the flight had agreed to ask.

Here is a translation from the Italian transcript provided by VaticAn Radio:



FR. LOMBARDI: Holiness, we thank you very much for giving us this occasion for an encounter with you at the start of a trip that is so important and demanding,

It also gives us a chance to extend our best wishes for this trip and to tell you that we will work together to disseminate the messages that you will convey,

As usual, the questions that I will pose are the result of a collection of different questions from my colleagues who are present here. I will ask the questions only for logistical convenience, but they are the result of common work.

Holiness, this trip takes place in a time that is most sensitive for the Middle East, when there are strong tensions - following the crisis in Gaza, it was even thought that you might have to renounce making it. At the same time, a few days after your visit, the principal political leaders in Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be meeting with President Obama. Do you think you can contribute to the peace process which appears to have stalled?
Good day, I wish first of all to thank you for the work that you do. Let us all wish each other a good trip, a good pilgrimage, and a safe return.

As to the question, certainly, I will try to contribute to peace not as an individual but in the name of the Catholic Church, of the Holy See. We are not a political power, but a spiritual force, and this force is a reality that can contribute to progress in the peace process.

I see three levels. As believers, we are convinced that prayer is a true force. It opens the world to God. I think that if millions of persons, of believers, pray, then it can truly be a force that can influence and contribute to progress towards peace.

The second point: we seek to help in the formation of conscience. Conscience is the capacity of man to perceive the truth, but this ability is often blocked by particular interests. To be free of these interests, to be more open to the truth, to the real values, is a great commitment. It is a task of the Church to help recognize the true criteria, the true values, and thus free ourselves of particular interests.

Thus - the third point - we must talk to reason - that's really what it is: Precisely because we are not a political force, perhaps we can more easily see, even in the light of faith, what the real criteria are, help to understand their contribution to peace, and speak to reason, supporting those positions that are truly reasonable.

This we have done before and we want to continue doing so now and in the future.



Thank you, Holiness. The second question: You as a theologian have reflected particularly on the single root that Christians and Jews have in common. Why is it that, despite all the efforts at dialog, there are often occasions of misunderstanding? How do you see the future of dialog between the two communities?
What is important is that in truth, we do have the same root, the same books of the Old Testament, which are, for the Jews as for us, books of Revelation.

But naturally, after 2000 years of distinct histories, of being separated, it's not surprising that there should be misunderstandings, because each side has formed traditions of interpretation, of language, of thinking, which are very different - each with what one might call a very different 'semantic cosmos', so that the same word can mean different things for each side. This use of words which, in the course of centuries, have come to mean different things, obviously incurs misunderstanding.

So we must do all we can to learn each other's language, and it seems to me we would make great progress that way.

Today we have the possibility that young people, future teachers of theology, can study in Jerusalem, in the Hebrew University, and the Jews have academic contacts with us. Thus, there is an encounter between these different 'semantic cosmi'.

We learn reciprocally and we can go forward along the road of true dialog. If we learn from each other, I am sure, I am convinced, that we will make progress. And this will help peace, and even better, reciprocal love.


Holiness, this trip has two essential direections of inter-religious dialog, with Islam and with Judaism. Are these two directions completely separated from each other, or is there a common message that concerns all three religions that trace themselves back to Abraham?
Of course, there is a common message and there will be an occasion to make it.

Notwithstanding the diversity of our origins, we have common roots because, as it has been said, Christianity was born out of the Old Testament, and the writings of the New Testament would not exist without the Old Testament.

But even Islam was born in a climate where both Judaism as well as Christianity in its many branches was present - Judaeo-Christianity, Antiochian-Byzantine Christianity, etc., and all these circumstances are reflected in the Koranic tradition.

And so we have so much in common, in our origins and in our faith in the one God. So it is important, on the one hand (for Christianity) to have a two-part dialog - with the Jews and with Islam - and then even a trilateral dialog.

I myself was co-founder of a foundation for dialog among the three monotheistic religions, in which personalities like Metropolitan Damaskinos and the Grand Rabbi of France, René Samuel Sirat, etc.
worked together, and this foundation even prepared an edition of the books of these three religions - the Koran, the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Thus, the trilateral dialog should also move forward - it is most important for the peace and even, we might say, for living well one's own religion.

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One last question. Holiness, you have often referred to the problem of the diminishing Christian community in the Middle East, even the Holy Land, in particular. It is a phenomenon with diverse political, economic and social character. What can be done concretely to help the Christian presence in the region? What contribution to you expect to make with this trip? Is there a hope for the future of these Christians? And will you have a special message for the Christians of Gaza who will be coming to meet you in Bethlehem?
Certainly, there is hope because, as you said, even the situation today which is difficult, is also a time of hope for a new beginning, of a new impulse along the road to peace.

We want to encourage Christians in the Holy Land and all the Middle East to stay and give their contributions to their nations of origin: they are a very important component of life in this region.

Concretely, the Church - besides words of encouragement, besides praying together - has its schools and hospitals. In this sense we have a very concrete and real presence.

Our schools are forming a generation which will have the possibility to take part in the life of today, in public life. We are creating this Catholic university in Jordan - I think it is a great project = in which young people, Muslims as well as Christians, can meet each other and learn together, while forming a Christian elite which is prepared precisely to work for peace.

But in general, our schools are a most important opportunity to open up the future for Christians, and our hospitals demonstrate our presence. Besides, there are several Christian associations who help Christians in different ways, and encourage them to stay on with concrete assistance.

And so, I hope that Christians here will truly find the courage, the humility, and the patience to stay in these countries, to offer their contribution to the future of these countries.


FR. LOMBARDI: Thank you, Holiness. With this. you have helped us to orient our trip from a spiritual as well as cultural standpoint, and I renew our best wishes, in behalf of all the colleagues on this flight, as well as those who are travelling towards the Holy Land at this time, to take part, from the information aspect, in your very demanding mission. A good journey to you and all your co-workers, and good work to our colleagues
.




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DAY 1 - AMMAN
VISIT WITH THE ROYAL FAMILY


The last event on the first day of the Holy Father's pilgrimage was a courtesy visit with King Abdullah and his family at Ragadhan Palace.

King Abdullah and Queen Rania, who were married in 1993, have four children.

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So far, only AP has filed the least toxic story about Day 1, with the usual extended jabs about Regensburg and Williamson (ZZZZZZZ!!!!) It's actually a lazy cop-out for the journalists - just recounting Regensburg and Williamson and tHE consequences already makes up at least half of their story. Still, much more civil than the LA Times reporter with the nasty hatchets who simply rehashed all the negatives he could come up with from his pre-arrival story into a Day-1 story. Avoid him like the plague!


Pope expresses respect
for Islam in Jordan

By VICTOR L. SIMPSON
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AMMAN, Jordan, May 8 (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI began his first trip to the Middle East on Friday, expressing his "deep respect" for Islam and hopes that the Catholic Church would be a force for peace in the region as he treaded carefully following past missteps with Muslims and Jews.

The Pope was given a red-carpet welcome at the airport by Jordan's King Abdullah II and Queen Rania and praised the moderate Arab country as a leader in efforts to promote peace and dialogue between Christians and Muslims. An honor guard wearing traditional red- and white-checkered headscarves played bagpipes and waved Jordanian and Vatican flags.

The trip to the Holy Land is the first for the German-born Benedict, who will travel on Monday for a much-anticipated four days in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Despite the lavish welcome ceremony, the Pope has faced sharp criticism in the Middle East — by both Muslims and Jews.

Benedict angered many in the Muslim world three years ago when he quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of Islam's Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith.

Earlier this year, he sparked outrage among Jews when he revoked the excommunication of an ultraconservative bishop who denies the Holocaust.

"My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by his majesty the king in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam," Benedict said shortly after landing in Jordan, a mostly desert country where Moses is said to have viewed the Promised Land.

He said Jordan was in the forefront of efforts to promote peace, inter-religious dialogue and to "curb extremism."

Later at a Catholic center for the handicapped, he said his only agenda was to bring hope and prayers "for the precious gift of unity and peace, most specifically for the Middle East."

But his past comments continue to fuel criticism by some Muslims, even though the Pope said he was sorry and that the quotes did not reflect his personal views.

Jordan's hard-line Muslim Brotherhood said before the Pope's arrival that its members would boycott his visit because he did not issue a public apology as they demanded. B

Brotherhood spokesman Jamil Abu-Bakr said the absence of a public apology meant "obstacles and boundaries will remain and will overshadow any possible understanding between the Pope and the Muslim world." [Speak for yourself, Abu-Bakr. Who anointed you to speak for 'the Muslim world'?]

The Brotherhood is Jordan's largest opposition group. Although it commands a small bloc in parliament, it wields considerable sway, especially among poor Jordanians.

A radical Islamic cleric who was once the spiritual mentor of the late Jordanian-born al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi also urged Muslims not to forget Benedict's comments.

"Whoever is welcoming this transgressive liar and dignifies him and honors him and overlooks his offensives toward the prophet of Islam and toward his religion, then it is impossible for him to be a person from the Muslim community of Muhammad by any means," Abu-Mohammed al-Maqdisi said, according to a transcript released by the SITE Institute, a U.S. group that monitors terror messages.

Al-Maqdisi fell out with al-Zarqawi for the militant's killing of civilians in Iraq and Jordan, but the cleric remains influential among some extremists.

Before landing in Amman, Benedict expressed hope his visit and the power of the Catholic church would help further peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.

"We are not a political power but a spiritual power that can contribute," Benedict told reporters aboard the plane. The traditional news conference was scaled down with the Vatican spokesman asking the questions based on previously submitted questions from reporters. In the past, some of his answers have stirred controversy, but he appeared to avoid that.

Asked about Catholic-Jewish relations, he said the two religions had common roots and that it should be "no surprise" that there were misunderstandings during 2,000 years of history.

Jordan's king praised the Pope and said the world must reject "ambitious ideologies of division."

"We welcome your commitment to dispel the misconceptions and divisions that have harmed relations between Christians and Muslims," said Abdullah.

Abdullah Abdul-Qader, a cleric at Amman's oldest mosque, told worshippers during Friday prayers to welcome the Pope's visit. "I urge you to show respect for your fellow Christians as they receive their Church leader," said Abdul-Qader at the Al-Husseini mosque.
[Thanks, Mr. Simpson, for reporting something positive!]

Christians make up 3 percent of Jordan's 5.8 million people.

Benedict's three-day stay in Jordan is his first visit to an Arab country as Pope. He is scheduled to meet with Muslim religious leaders at Amman's largest mosque — his second visit to a Muslim place of worship since becoming Pope in 2005. He prayed in Istanbul's famed Blue Mosque, a gesture that helped calm the outcry over his remarks.

The Pope is also expected to meet Iraqi Christians driven from their homeland by violence. About 40 young Iraqi refugees crowded into a tiny Catholic church in Amman on Friday, nervously practicing their last lesson before Benedict administers their first communion on Sunday.

"I really want to meet the Pope," said Cecile Adam, an 11-year-old whose family fled Baghdad. "I think he can do something to help Iraq because Jesus gave him a good position and Jesus wants us to be happy."


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John Thavis of CNS comes through with his Day 1 wrap-up - still incomplete but at least he touched on all the major points

Pope opens Holy Land visit
with call for tolerance
and visit to disabled

By John Thavis
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AMMAN, Jordan, May 8 (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI began an eight-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land Monday with an appeal for tolerance and a gesture of charity.

Arriving in Jordan May 8, the 82-year-old Pontiff expressed his "deep respect for the Muslim community" and paid tribute to interfaith dialogue initiatives launched by Jordanian leaders.

"We can say that these worthy initiatives have achieved much good in furthering an alliance of civilizations between the West and the Muslim world, confounding the predictions of those who consider violence and conflict inevitable," he said in a speech at the Amman airport.

An hour later, the Pope made the first stop of his pilgrimage: a visit to several hundred men and women served by a church-run center for the disabled in Amman. There he spoke movingly of the struggle to make sense of suffering and the church's effort to help the afflicted.

The Pope was making his first trip to an Arab country, the first leg of a journey that was later to take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories. He was met at Queen Alia International Airport outside Amman by Jordan's King Abdullah II, who has championed interfaith dialogue and defended the historic protection of religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim country.

The Pope commended Jordan for curbing extremism and said its leaders had promoted "a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam."

Pope Benedict said he had come to Jordan as a pilgrim to visit Christian holy places, including Mount Nebo, from which Moses saw the Promised Land, and the Jordan River, where Christ was baptized.

He said the fact that he would bless foundation stones for new churches near the baptism site reflected well on Jordan's respect for religion and protection of religious rights.

"Religious freedom is, of course, a fundamental right, and it is my fervent hope and prayer that respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of every man and woman will come to be increasingly affirmed and defended, not only throughout the Middle East, but in every part of the world," he said.

The Pope praised the country's leaders for supporting efforts to find a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In late April, King Abdullah met with U.S. President Barack Obama and urged him to make decisive moves for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, warning that a new Middle East war could erupt if no real progress is made over the next 18 months.

The King met more recently with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to try to relaunch serious peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis based on a two-state solution.

The Pope favorably noted Jordan's welcoming of refugees from Iraq. Jordan has absorbed an estimated 700,000 Iraqi refugees, including some 70,000 Christians, according to Church sources.

Outside the airport, hundreds of schoolchildren cheered as the papal motorcade passed. Wearing kaffiyehs and papal-visit caps, they waved Vatican flags and held banners with various welcome messages written in Arabic.

The Pope's stop at the Regina Pacis center underscored the Church's efforts to meet a serious health care need in Jordan. It is estimated that 10 percent of Jordanian young people under age 19 suffer from a serious disability.

The ultramodern center is operated by three Comboni Missionary Sisters and a team of teachers, therapists and volunteers to educate and care for Muslims and Christians with disabilities free of charge.

The Pontiff arrived at the center to loud cheers, and he waded into a huge crowd of well-wishers as a band played the "gerpe" -- a Jordanian bagpipe -- and tabla, or hand drums.

In a speech, he acknowledged that it's sometimes "difficult to find a reason for what appears only as an obstacle to be overcome or even as a pain -- physical or emotional -- to be endured."

Faith in God and his unconditional love provides the necessary perspective, and prayer can help heal spiritual and emotional wounds, he said.

The Pope told the crowd at the center that, unlike pilgrims of old, he had not come bearing gifts or offerings.

"I come simply with an intention, a hope: to pray for the precious gift of unity and peace, most specifically for the Middle East," he said.

Later, the Pope met with King Abdullah, Queen Rania, his wife, and other members of the royal family at their palace. The two leaders held private talks, posed for photographers and exchanged gifts.

En route to Jordan, the Pope spoke briefly with reporters aboard his Alitalia charter jet, saying he hoped his pilgrimage would aid the Middle East peace process by highlighting the value of prayer and convincing people to leave behind factional interests.

"We are not a political power but a spiritual force, and this spiritual force is something that can contribute to progress in the search for peace," the Pope said.

As believers, he said, Christians are convinced of the power of prayer.

"It opens the world to God, and we are convinced that God listens and can work in history. And I think that if millions of believers pray this is truly a force that can have an influence and advance the cause of peace," he said.

The Pope said it was a difficult time for the beleaguered Christian population in the Holy Land, but also a time of hope, of a "new beginning and new effort on the way of peace."

Christian communities are an important component of the life of Middle Eastern countries, and the Church wants to encourage them to have the "courage, the humility and the patience to remain in these countries," he said.

For their part, he said, the Christian communities contribute to society especially through their networks of schools and hospitals. Schools in particular -- including the university the Pope will lay the foundation stone for in Jordan -- help bring Christians and Muslims together, he said.

"They meet here and speak to each other. It's also a place where a Christian elite is formed that is prepared precisely to work for peace," he said.

The Pope was scheduled to visit a major mosque in Amman the next day and speak to a group of Muslim academics and international diplomats.

Contributing to this story were Cindy Wooden and Doreen Abi Raad in Amman.


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I am starting to dread it when I see John Allen's byline anywhere, but at least this one isn't half as silly as the piece he did for the New York Times - especially now that the Pope himself has 'set him (Allen) straight'. All that Henry Kissinger-Hillary Clinton role-playing for nothing.

Nope, the Pope's 'diplomacy' is God's diplomacy. No geopolitical strategies, thank you - just prayer (lots of it), conscience formation, and speaking to reason (Logos). The man in white said so clearly on the plane.




Emphasis on Islam makes
Pope's trip an original

By John L Allen Jr
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May 8, 2909



From the outside, it might be tempting to see Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the Holy Land this week as a replay of John Paul II's celebrated March 2000 performance, only with a less charismatic Pontiff in the starring role.

[It is unimaginable, to begin, with that anyone who remotely appreciates the virtues of Joseph Ratzinger would even come close to thinking that the man had or has any intentions of simply following in his predecessor's footsteps or copying anyone except Christ.

The man has been an original all his life - and it's not because he asserts himself as such. but because God made him one. In the same way he made Karol Wojtyla a true original. Benedict is not John Paul II, and it's a different time, with vastly different circumstances. And that's all there is to it. Nothing arcane that needs deciphering!]


The fact that Benedict has chosen to start by spending three full days in Jordan, however, offers a clue that something is clearly different [A clue??? It's so obvious you couldn't possibly miss it!]

Benedict landed in Amman this afternoon, opening his keenly anticipated May 8-15 swing through Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Nine years ago, John Paul spent only 24 hours in Jordan. As it happens, Jordan is the first Arab country Benedict has visited, and his comparatively lengthy stay points to an important insight: Islam looms far larger today than the last time a Pope came to the Holy Land.

[Oooohhhh, insight! How does something as blatantly in your face as 9/11 - and everything happening in Eurabia - require any more than a skin-crawling sense of doom to realize jow large Islam looms in today's world? That's not insight - that's visceral knowledge in your very gut and every nerve!]

Two epochal events have combined to propel Islam to the forefront of Catholic consciousness. In short-hand fashion, one might call them 9/11 and 9/12.

The first refers to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the terrifying prospect of a global conflict between Islam and the West they seemed to herald. The second evokes Benedict XVI's famous speech at the University of Regensburg, delivered on Sept. 12, 2006.

On that occasion, Benedict cited a Byzantine emperor to the effect that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, brought "things only evil and inhuman, such as the command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The speech set off a firestorm which had the paradoxical effect of both disrupting, and yet also energizing, Catholic-Muslim relations.

Benedict's trip, therefore, isn't a photocopy. It's an original, the first papal voyage to the Holy Land in which attention to Islam doesn't take a back burner to other priorities, above all the relationship with Judaism. [Oh, he seems to always have excelled at multi-tasking, our Joseph/Benedict! No one-trick pony, he.]

The Pope struck a note of Christian-Muslim harmony immediately this afternoon, expressing "deep respect for the Muslim community" during a brief welcoming ceremony at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport.

In a break with protocol, Jordan's King Abdullah II drove out to the airport [piloted his own helicopter, according to Queen Rania] to personally welcome the Pontiff. In another gesture of deference, Abdullah II delivered his remarks in English, but provided translations in both Italian and Latin, a rarity on papal travels. [Well, the education at Deerfield, Sandhurst and Georgetown wasn't a waste, obviously.]

Benedict XVI is the third modern Pope to visit Jordan, the first being Paul VI in 1964. [Did any ancient Popes visit??? Vatican Radio's dossiers say no.] The Vatican has long looked to Jordan as a model of Christian-Muslim coexistence, in part because the country's Hashemite monarchy, which claims direct descent from Muhammad, sees itself as a natural leader of Islam's center. Jordan is also perhaps the most reliable U.S. ally in the Middle East. [Really? Aren't you forgetting Israel????]

Benedict also owes the Jordanians a particular debt of gratitude, since it was the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman that spearheaded a positive 2006 response from 38 Islamic scholars after the Regensburg speech, and followed that up with an open letter in 2007 titled "A Common Word," this one signed by 138 Muslim leaders. Both gestures are credited with getting Muslim-Christian relations back on track in the wake of Regensburg. [No, both gestures were a response to Regensburg's call for reason and dialog! All of a sudden, Bneedct XVI gets no credit for this development????]]

Today, Benedict tipped his cap to his hosts.

"The opportunity that Jordan's Catholic community enjoys to build public places of worship is a sign of this country's respect for religion," Benedict told Abdullah. "I want to say how much this openness is appreciated."

Referring to Jordan's efforts at inter-faith dialogue, Benedict said they promote "an alliance of civilizations between the West and the Muslim world, confounding the predictions of those who consider violence and conflict inevitable."

Abdullah II himself is a Western-educated figure, who among other things has studied at a Catholic university. In 1987, he was a mid-career fellow at Georgetown's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, and in 2005 Georgetown awarded him an honorary doctorate.

In his welcome, Abdullah told Benedict that Muslims and Christians must join forces against "voices of provocation:" and "ambitious ideologies of division" that "threaten unspeakable suffering."

Jordanian Catholic Rateb Rabie, who today heads the U.S.-based Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation, said that his native country walks its talk.

"It really is a moderate country," Rabie said. "They're not just trying to show that image to the world, but it's who they are."

Other local observers, however, caution against an overly idyllic view. Jesuit Fr. Kevin O'Connell, a Bostonian who's been in Jordan for 13 years as pastor of Amman's English-speaking parish, describes Catholic-Muslim relations as "OK" rather than "stunning."

"It's true that Jordan works very hard to be a place where Muslims and Christians can live with one another, understand each other and respect each other," O'Connell said. "No one feels unsafe going to Church, or being identified as a Christian, which is very different from some other countries in the region."

Nonetheless, O'Connell said, there are some "neuralgic" issues -- above all, conversion and inter-marriage. Both are tied up with Jordan's Islamic identity; any Muslim who wishes to convert to another religion is subject to various forms of official and unofficial persecution, and intermarriage is difficult, especially if a non-Muslim man wants to marry a Muslim woman (since religious affiliation is believed to come from the father.)

O'Connell said that he's worked with a handful of converts – most of whom, he said, eventually decide to leave the country, in some cases requesting asylum on the grounds of religious persecution.

"This has to be grappled with," he said. [Yes, but it's not just because of tradition that goes back to the time of Mohammed; the structures about intermarriage and conversion are also part and parcel of Islamic doctrine! That's as tough to overturn as the Catholic ban on married priests]

If today's exchange between Pope and King represented the most senior level of Catholic-Muslim relations, Benedict's visit later this afternoon to Regina Pacis, a church-run center for mentally and physically disabled youth, illustrated the ties at the grassroots.

Christians are less than three percent of the population in Jordan, which among other things means that most of those served by the Regina Pacis Center are Muslims, as are many of the staff members (though the center is run by three Comboni sisters.)

Regina Pacis offers both medical services and courses of formation, so that disabled youth can eventually hold jobs and manage relationships in the wider society.

Benedict told his mixed Muslim-Christian crowd at the center that he does not come "bearing gifts or offerings," but rather with "an intention, a hope: to pray for the precious gift of unity and peace, most specifically for the Middle East."

Earlier in the day, aboard the papal plane, Benedict told reporters that he hopes to make a contribution to peace in the Middle East – not as a "political party," but through prayer, the formation of conscience, and an emphasis on reason.

Benedict emphasized the shared spiritual heritage among Jews, Muslims and Christians, though he conceded that misunderstandings from time to time are probably inevitable.

Speaking specifically of Christianity and Judaism, the Pope added a typically professorial flourish -- saying that after 2,000 years apart, each faith now has its own "semantic cosmos."

"We have to learn to speak one another's language," Benedict said.

For a Pope who has had occasional difficulties doing precisely that, the admission seemed to signal a determination this time around to stay "on message." [Ach, du lieber Gott! There he goes again with his buzz words that are so devalued by overuse and misuse they no longer mean anything!. 'Staying on message' indeed. When did Joseph Ratzinger ever not stay on message - seeing as his message has always been one and the same and consistent: God is the answer and we know him best in Christ and through Christ.]

Clearly, a large part of that message is telling his Muslim hosts that he's serious about détente. [Did anyone really think before this that he was not?????] A Pope cannot be 'not serious' on anything he says!



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Queen Rania goes a-Twitter
over the Pope's visit

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AMMAN, May 8 (AFP) — Jordan's Queen Rania "twittered" on the social online network about Pope Benedict XVI's first ever visit to an Arab country on Friday, as the Pontiff kicked off his Holy Land tour.

"Just choppered to airport to receive the Pope. Husband piloting, he got acrobatic to quiet butterflies in stomach... told u he was action man!" the stylish young queen said of her husband King Abdullah II.

Her office said in a statement that the queen decided to register on the Internet social network Twitter on the site twitter.com/QueenRania to mark Benedict's first Middle East pilgrimage.

The king and queen gave the German pontiff a red carpet welcome at Queen Alia Airport as he began his eight-day pilgrimage which will take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories starting Monday.

"Just listened to Pope's speech. Our region so needs a message of Peace," Rania said in a message on Twitter.

"Special day here in Amman; not everyday Pope drops by 4 a visit."

Later, before the royal family received the papal visitor at the royal offices in Husseinyeh west of Amman, she posted a message about her children.

"Taking kids 2 meet Pope, just about convinced eldest 2 wear suit. Now negotiating with my 4 yr old!" Rania wrote.

Last year the queen made headlines when she launched her own Internet channel on YouTube in a bid to encourage young people to help tackle stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs.

And she urged viewers to interact online with her and respond with their opinions of the Middle East "and to acknowledge stereotypes they've heard of Arabs and Muslims."


[Rania, a Palestinian born and raised in Kuwait, went to English schools. She is a graduate of business management from the American University of Cairo and worked for Citibank and Apple Computer in Amman before she met and married Abdullah.]


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May 9
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St. Catherine of Bologna (Italy, 1413-1463
Nun and Mystic, Patroness of Artists




OR today.
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En route to Jordan and upon landing,
the Pope asks for lasting peace and justice in the Middle East:
An alliance of civilization between the West and Islam
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Coverage of Day-1 of the Pope's pilgrimage (center photo above shows Cardinal Dellay, Patriarch of Baghdad, greeting the Pope). Other Page 1 stories: Washington promoting peace between Syria and Israel; Obama meets Russian Foreign Minister to discuss nuclear disarmament.


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At Regina Pacis Centre.



THE POPE'S DAY

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DAY 2- MT. NEBO
AND MOSES MEMORIAL



Location of Mt. Nebo near Amman, and John Paul II on his visit in 2000.
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At 8:30 Saturday morning, after celebrating Holy Mass in private at the chapel of the Apostolic Nunciature in Amman, the Holy Father was driven to Mt. Nebo to visit the ancient Basilica of the Memorial to Moses which is maintained by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

In this place, according to tradition, the Lord showed Moses the Promised Land after his ordeal in the desert, 40 years after the exodus from Egypt.

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The Pope was welcomed to the Shrine by the Minister General of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, Fr. José Rodríguez Carballo.

READING
Moses went to Mount Nebo;
the Lord showed him the whole land
and Moses died in that place
A reading from the book of Deuteronomy, 34: 1-7. 10-11a:
Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo,
the headland of Pisgah which faces Jericho,
and the Lord showed him all the land—
Gilead, and as far as Dan,
all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh,
all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea,
the Negeb, the circuit of the Jordan
with the lowlands at Jericho, city of palms,
and as far as Zoar.
The Lord then said to him, “This is the land
which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
that I would give to their descendants.
I have let you feast your eyes upon it,
but you shall not cross over”.
So there, in the land of Moab,
Moses, the servant of the Lord,
died as the Lord had said;
and he was buried in the ravine opposite Beth-peor
in the land of Moab,
but to this day, no one knows the place of his burial.
Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died,
yet his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.
Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses,
whom the Lord knew face to face.
He had no equal in all the signs and wonders
the Lord sent him to perform.
This is the word of the Lord.


PRAYER BY THE HOLY FATHER
O God, through Moses
you freed the chosen people from the slavery of Egypt
and gave them your holy law.
Free from the slavery, of sin,
through the faithful observance of your commandments
may we arrive atour heavenly fatherland.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen
.



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Here is the text of the Holy Father's address, delivered in English, to the Franciscan community at Mt. Nebo:

Father Minister General,
Father Custos,
Dear Friends,

In this holy place, consecrated by the memory of Moses, I greet all of you with affection in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank Father José Rodríguez Carballo for his warm words of welcome. I also take this occasion to renew my gratitude, and that of the whole Church, to the Friars Minor of the Custody for their age-old presence in these lands, their joyful fidelity to the charism of Saint Francis, and their generous concern for the spiritual and material welfare of the local Christian communities and the countless pilgrims who visit the Holy Land each year.

Here I wish to remember also, with particular gratitude, the late Father Michele Piccirillo, who devoted his life to the study of Christian antiquity and is buried in this shrine which was so dear to him.

It is appropriate that my pilgrimage should begin on this mountain, where Moses contemplated the Promised Land from afar. The magnificent prospect which opens up from the esplanade of this shrine invites us to ponder how that prophetic vision mysteriously embraced the great plan of salvation which God had prepared for his People.

For it was in the valley of the Jordan which stretches out below us that, in the fullness of time, John the Baptist would come to prepare the way of the Lord.

It was in the waters of the River Jordan that Jesus, after his baptism by John, would be revealed as the beloved Son of the Father and, anointed by the Holy Spirit, would inaugurate his public ministry.

And it was from the Jordan that the Gospel would first go forth in Christ’s own preaching and miracles, and then, after his resurrection and the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, be brought by his disciples to the very ends of the earth.

Here, on the heights of Mount Nebo, the memory of Moses invites us to “lift up our eyes” to embrace with gratitude not only God’s mighty works in the past, but also to look with faith and hope to the future which he holds out to us and to our world.

Like Moses, we too have been called by name, invited to undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery towards life and freedom, and given an unshakeable promise to guide our journey.

In the waters of Baptism, we have passed from the slavery of sin to new life and hope. In the communion of the Church, Christ’s Body, we look forward to the vision of the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, where God will be all in all.

From this holy mountain Moses directs our gaze on high, to the fulfilment of all God’s promises in Christ.

Moses gazed upon the Promised Land from afar, at the end of his earthly pilgrimage. His example reminds us that we too are part of the ageless pilgrimage of God’s people through history.

In the footsteps of the prophets, the apostles and the saints, we are called to walk with the Lord, to carry on his mission, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s universal love and mercy.

We are called to welcome the coming of Christ’s Kingdom by our charity, our service to the poor, and our efforts to be a leaven of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace in the world around us.

We know that, like Moses, we may not see the complete fulfilment of God’s plan in our lifetime. Yet we trust that, by doing our small part, in fidelity to the vocation each of us has received, we will help to make straight the paths of the Lord and welcome the dawn of his Kingdom.

And we know that the God who revealed his name to Moses as a pledge that he would always be at our side (cf. Ex 3:14) will give us the strength to persevere in joyful hope even amid suffering, trial and tribulation.

From the earliest times, Christians have come on pilgrimage to the sites linked to the history of the Chosen People, the events of Christ’s life and the nascent Church.

This great tradition, which my present pilgrimage is meant to continue and confirm, is grounded in the desire to see, to touch, and to savor in prayer and contemplation the places blessed by the physical presence of our Savior, his Blessed Mother, the apostles and the first disciples who saw him risen from the dead.

Here, in the footsteps of the countless pilgrims who have preceded us in every century, we are challenged to appreciate more fully the gift of our faith and to grow in that communion which transcends every limit of language, race and culture.

The ancient tradition of pilgrimage to the holy places also reminds us of the inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people. From the beginning, the Church in these lands has commemorated in her liturgy the great figures of the Patriarchs and Prophets, as a sign of her profound appreciation of the unity of the two Testaments.

May our encounter today inspire in us a renewed love for the canon of Sacred Scripture and a desire to overcome all obstacles to the reconciliation of Christians and Jews in mutual respect and cooperation in the service of that peace to which the word of God calls us!

Dear friends, gathered in this holy place, let us now raise our eyes and our hearts to the Father. As we prepare to pray the prayer which Jesus taught us, let us beg him to hasten the coming of his Kingdom so that we may see the fulfilment of his saving plan, and experience, with Saint Francis and all those pilgrims who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, the gift of untold peace – pax et bonum – which awaits us in the heavenly Jerusalem
.


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DAY 2 - MASABA
BLESSING THE CORNERSTONE
FOR A CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY



From Mt. Nebo, the Pope continued to the nearby city of Masaba to bless the cornerstone for the University of Masaba, a project of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

In the Popemobile, he was driven through the Christian quarter of the city to the university site.

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AWAITING MORE PHOTOS...

In the presence of a crowd of thousands, the Holy Father was welcomed by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Mons. Fouad Twal, after which the Pontiff gave the following address:

Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear friends,

It is for me a great joy to bless this foundation stone of the University of Madaba. I thank His Beatitude Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, for his kind words of welcome.

I wish to extend a special greeting of recognition to His Beatitude, Emeritus Patriarch Michel Sabbah, to whose initiative and efforts, together with those of Bishop Salim Sayegh, this new institution owes so much. I also greet the civil authorities, the Bishops, priests, religious and faithful and all who accompany us for this important ceremony.

The Kingdom of Jordan has rightly given priority to the task of extending and improving education. I am aware that in this noble mission Her Majesty Queen Rania is especially active and her commitment is an inspiration to many.

As I pay tribute to the efforts of so many people of good will committed to education, I note with satisfaction the competent and expert participation of Christian institutions, especially Catholic and Orthodox, in this overall effort.

It is against this background that the Catholic Church, with the support of the Jordanian authorities, has sought to further university education in this country and elsewhere. This present initiative also responds to the request of many families who, pleased with the formation received in schools run by religious authorities, are demanding an analogous option at the university level.

I commend the promoters of this new institution for their courageous confidence in good education as a stepping-stone for personal development and for peace and progress in the region.

In this context the University of Madaba will surely keep in mind three important objectives.

By developing the talents and noble attitudes of successive generations of students, it will prepare them to serve the wider community and raise its living standards.

By transmitting knowledge and instilling in students a love of truth, it will greatly enhance their adherence to sound values and their personal freedom.

Finally, this same intellectual formation will sharpen their critical skills, dispel ignorance and prejudice, and assist in breaking the spell cast by ideologies old and new.

The result of this process will be a university that is not only a platform for consolidating adherence to truth and to the values of a given culture, but a place of understanding and dialogue.

While assimilating their own heritage, young Jordanians and other students from the region will be led to a deeper knowledge of human cultural achievements, will be enriched by other viewpoints, and formed in comprehension, tolerance and peace.

This “broader” education is what one expects from institutions of higher learning and from their cultural milieu, be it secular or religious. In fact, belief in God does not suppress the search for truth; on the contrary it encourages it.

Saint Paul exhorted the early Christians to open their minds to “all that is true, all that is noble, all that is good and pure, all that we love and honor, all that is considered excellent or worthy of praise” (Phil 4:8).

Religion, of course, like science and technology, philosophy and all expressions of our search for truth, can be corrupted. Religion is disfigured when pressed into the service of ignorance or prejudice, contempt, violence and abuse.

In this case we see not only a perversion of religion but also a corruption of human freedom, a narrowing and blindness of the mind. Clearly, such an outcome is not inevitable.

Indeed, when we promote education, we proclaim our confidence in the gift of freedom. The human heart can be hardened by the limits of its environment, by interests and passions.

But every person is also called to wisdom and integrity, to the basic and all-important choice of good over evil, truth over dishonesty, and can be assisted in this task.

The call to moral integrity is perceived by the genuinely religious person, since the God of truth and love and beauty cannot be served in any other way. Mature belief in God serves greatly to guide the acquisition and proper application of knowledge.

Science and technology offer extraordinary benefits to society and have greatly improved the quality of life of many human beings. Undoubtedly this is one of the hopes of those who are promoting this University, whose motto is Sapientia et Scientia.

At the same time the sciences have their limitations. They cannot answer all the questions about man and his existence. Indeed the human person, his place and purpose in the universe cannot be contained within the confines of science.

“Humanity’s intellectual nature finds its perfection ultimately in wisdom, which gently draws the human mind to seek and to love what is true and good” (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 15).

The use of scientific knowledge needs the guiding light of ethical wisdom. Such is the wisdom that inspired the Hippocratic Oath, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other laudable international codes of conduct.

Hence religious and ethical wisdom, by answering questions of meaning and value, play a central role in professional formation. And consequently, those universities where the quest for truth goes hand in hand with the search for what is good and noble, offer an indispensable service to society.

With these thoughts in mind, I encourage in a special way the Christian students of Jordan and the neighboring regions, to dedicate themselves responsibly to a proper professional and moral formation.

You are called to be builders of a just and peaceful society composed of peoples of various religious and ethnic backgrounds. These realities – I wish to stress once more – must lead, not to division, but to mutual enrichment. The mission and the vocation of the University of Madaba is precisely to help you participate more fully in this noble task.

Dear friends, I wish to renew my congratulations to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and my encouragement to all who have taken this project to heart, together with those who are already engaged in the educational apostolate in this nation.

May the Lord bless you and sustain you. I pray that your dreams may soon come true, that you may see generations of qualified men and women Christian, Muslim and of other religions, taking their place in society, equipped with professional skills, knowledgeable in their field, and educated in the values of wisdom, integrity, tolerance and peace.

Upon you and upon all the future students and staff of this University and their families, I invoke Almighty God’s abundant blessings!



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BLESSING OF THE CORNERSTONE
The Holy Father blesses the cornerstone.

Let us pray.
Lord God almighty,
in your kindness hear our prayers.
We dedicate this first stone
of the University of Madaba
to the education of youth,
to the progress of the sciences,
and to learning.
Make this university become a center
where students and teachers,
imbued with the words of truth,
will search for the wisdom
that guides the Christian life
and strive wholeheartedly
to stand by Christ as their teacher.
He lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Amen.




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