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

Ultimo Aggiornamento: 20/07/2009 14.18
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I did not realize I had not posted the text of the Holy Father's address to religious leaders in Jerusalem. I was put off by that unpleasant Tamimi incident. , and I don't want to post the address in the same box as the stories on the sheik's heedless breach of every standard of civilized conduct!

Too bad the Holy Father's lofty philosophical reflections here - on the duty of religions to truth and propagating it in the transcendent values that are universlly held in common by all the religions - are probably lost on religious leaders like Tamimi who are driven by ideology and nationalistic passion.

The interfaith meeting was held at the Notre Dame Center of Jerusalem, which is the Holy See's international pilgrim center with conference and hotel facilities in Jerusalem
.

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So, in a way, the Holy Father was 'at home' at the Center. (Incidentally, in 2004, Pope John Paul II entrusted the center to the Legionaries of Christ.)

The Pope and Cardinal Bertone greet Rabbi Shear Cohen (first photo) and Sheikk Tamimi (second row, left)..
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THE HOLY FATHER'S ADDRESS
TO RELIGIOUS LEADERS




Dear Brother Bishops,
Distinguished Religious Leaders,
Dear Friends,

It is a source of great joy for me to meet with you this evening. I wish to thank His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal for his kind words of welcome spoken on behalf of everyone present. I reciprocate the warm sentiments expressed and gladly greet all of you and the members of the groups and organizations you represent.

“God said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your kindred and your father’s house for a land I shall show you’ … so Abram went … and took his wife Sarah with him” (Gen 12:1-5).

God’s irruptive call, which marks the beginning of the history of our faith traditions, was heard in the midst of man’s ordinary daily existence. And the history that ensued was shaped, not in isolation, but through the encounter with Egyptian, Hittite, Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian, and Greek cultures.

Faith is always lived within a culture. The history of religion shows that a community of believers proceeds by degrees of faithfulness to God, drawing from and shaping the culture it meets.

This same dynamic is found in individual believers from the great monotheistic traditions: attuned to the voice of God, like Abraham, we respond to his call and set out seeking the fulfillment of his promises, striving to obey his will, forging a path in our own particular culture.

Today, nearly four thousand years after Abraham, the encounter of religions with culture occurs not simply on a geographical plane. Certain aspects of globalization and, in particular, the world of the internet, have created a vast virtual culture, the worth of which is as varied as its countless manifestations.

Undoubtedly much has been achieved to create a sense of closeness and unity within the world-wide human family. Yet, at the same time, the boundless array of portals through which people so readily access undifferentiated sources of information can easily become an instrument of increasing fragmentation: the unity of knowledge is shattered and the complex skills of critique, discernment and discrimination learned through academic and ethical traditions are at times bypassed or neglected.

The question naturally arises then as to what contribution religion makes to the cultures of the world against the backdrop of rapid globalization.

Since many are quick to point out the readily apparent differences between religions, as believers or religious persons we are presented with the challenge to proclaim with clarity what we share in common.

Abraham’s first step in faith, and our steps to or from the synagogue, church, mosque or temple, tread the path of our single human history, unfolding along the way, we might say, to the eternal Jerusalem (cf. Rev 21:23).

Similarly, every culture with its inner capacity to give and receive gives expression to the one human nature. Yet, the individual is never fully expressed through his or her own culture, but transcends it in the constant search for something beyond.

From this perspective, dear friends, we see the possibility of a unity which is not dependent upon uniformity. While the differences we explore in inter-religious dialogue may at times appear as barriers, they need not overshadow the common sense of awe and respect for the universal, for the absolute and for truth, which impel religious peoples to converse with one another in the first place.

Indeed it is the shared conviction that these transcendent realities have their source in – and bear traces of – the Almighty that believers uphold before each other, our organizations, our society, our world.

In this way not only do we enrich culture but we shape it: lives of religious fidelity echo God’s irruptive presence and so form a culture not defined by boundaries of time or place but fundamentally shaped by the principles and actions that stem from belief.

Religious belief presupposes truth. The one who believes is the one who seeks truth and lives by it. Although the medium by which we understand the discovery and communication of truth differs in part from religion to religion, we should not be deterred in our efforts to bear witness to truth’s power.

Together we can proclaim that God exists and can be known, that the earth is his creation, that we are his creatures, and that he calls every man and woman to a way of life that respects his design for the world.

Friends, if we believe we have a criterion of judgment and discernment which is divine in origin and intended for all humanity, then we cannot tire of bringing that knowledge to bear on civic life.

Truth should be offered to all; it serves all members of society. It sheds light on the foundation of morality and ethics, and suffuses reason with the strength to reach beyond its own limitations in order to give expression to our deepest common aspirations.

Far from threatening the tolerance of differences or cultural plurality, truth makes consensus possible and keeps public debate rational, honest and accountable, and opens the gateway to peace.

Fostering the will to be obedient to the truth in fact broadens our concept of reason and its scope of application, and makes possible the genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.

Each one of us here also knows, however, that God’s voice is heard less clearly today, and reason itself has in so many instances become deaf to the divine.

Yet that “void” is not one of silence. Indeed, it is the din of egotistical demands, empty promises and false hopes that so often invades the very space in which God seeks us.

Can we then make spaces – oases of peace and profound reflection – where God’s voice can be heard anew, where his truth can be discovered within the universality of reason, where every individual, regardless of dwelling, or ethnic group, or political hue, or religious belief, can be respected as a person, as a fellow human being? In an age of instant access to information and social tendencies which engender a kind of monoculture, deep reflection against the backdrop of God’s presence will embolden reason, stimulate creative genius, facilitate critical appreciation of cultural practices and uphold the universal value of religious belief.

Friends, the institutions and groups that you represent engage in inter-religious dialogue and the promotion of cultural initiatives at a wide range of levels.

From academic institutions – and here I wish to make special mention of the outstanding achievements of Bethlehem University – to bereaved parents groups, from initiatives through music and the arts to the courageous example of ordinary mothers and fathers, from formal dialogue groups to charitable organizations, you daily demonstrate your belief that our duty before God is expressed not only in our worship but also in our love and concern for society, for culture,

for our world and for all who live in this land. Some would have us believe that our differences are necessarily a cause of division and thus at most to be tolerated.

A few even maintain that our voices should simply be silenced. But we know that our differences need never be misrepresented as an inevitable source of friction or tension either between ourselves or in society at large.

Rather, they provide a wonderful opportunity for people of different religions to live together in profound respect, esteem and appreciation, encouraging one another in the ways of God.

Prompted by the Almighty and enlightened by his truth, may you continue to step forward with courage, respecting all that differentiates us and promoting all that unites us as creatures blessed with the desire to bring hope to our communities and world. May God guide us along this path[!/DIM]


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Panorama of Jerusalem, from the rooftop of the Notre Dame Center.
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May 12
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Saints Nereus and Achilleus
and St. Pancratius (Pancras)
Roman Martyrs, 1st century

(Nereus and Achilleus were Praetorian Guards,
Pancras, of Syrian origin, was beheaded as a boy)



OR for 5/11-5/12:
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Arriving in Israel, the Pope calls anti-Semitism completely unacceptable and asks for
'A just peace between Israel and Palestine'
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The issue includes coverage of the Pope's last two days in Jordan, starting with the Saturday evening Vespers, The Sunday Mass and visit to Jesus's baptismal site and his departure from Amman; plus his arrival in Tel Aviv-Jerusalem.



THE POPE'S DAY
Day 2 in Israel

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I originally posted this with the Reuters item in the previous page reporting the dissatisfaction of Israel's leading rabbis with the Pope's words at Yad Vashem - because I wanted to confine the negative fallout into one post.

But John Allen's take on the Pope's address is such a minefield of prejudices militating against Benedict XVI that it deserves to be treated separately. Especially since it expresses all the 'politically correct conventional wisdom' that prevails in MSM - how much more conformist can you be than to glib spout and amplify PC-CW!). And I do want to get this out of the way before tackling the full papal schedule today.



At Yad Vashem, what the Pope doesn't say makes waves:
apeech at Holocaust meorial draws mixed reviews

BY John L Allen Jr.
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May 11, 2009



Pope Benedict XVI has long been a figure who draws mixed reactions, with many admiring his clarity and intellectual depth, and others turned off by his traditionalism and occasional lack of a popular touch.

The pontiff's keenly anticipated visit today to Yad Vashem, the main Israeli Holocaust memorial, is likely to become another chapter in Benedict's mixed reviews.

Some are likely to see it as a stirring poetic meditation on memory and justice, while others will probably be more struck what the pope didn't say than what he did.

For one thing, there's no explicit expression of regret for Christian anti-Semitism, no allusion to the role that currents of thought within Christianity about Jews and Judaism may have played in preparing the soil for the Holocaust.

The omission is all the more striking given that on other occasions, Benedict XVI has acknowledged precisely that point. In a 1990 essay in L'Osservatore Romano, for example, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote of the hatred of Jews which led to the Holocaust, "it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to its atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians."

Pope John Paul II, during his own visit to Yad Vashem in 2000, said that the Catholic church "is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place."

[FOR GOD'S SAKE, DID THAT NOT SAY IT ALL, ONCE AND FOR ALL? WHERE IS IT WRITTEN THAT THE POPE SHOULD BEAT HIS BREAST IN PUBLIC OVER AND OVER ABOUT SOMETHING HE PERSONALLY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH? Just to make the Jews 'satisfied' for the moment, but only for the moment?

Because there are muilitant Jews who will never be satisfied (they also happen to be the most visible and most publicized ones)- and it's sickening already that everyone in the media is so politically correct no one dares to point this out - this unconscionably insatiable demand to be apologized to, this perpetual self-victimization!

THERE ARE SO MANY POSITIVE WAYS TO ENSURE THAT THE HOLOCAUST LESSON IS NEVER LOST TO MANKIND - BEST EXEMPLIFIED BY THE MOTTO OF THE U.S. HOLOCAUST MUSEUM, 'NEVER AGAIN!" Which is the same message that Benedict XVI says every chance he gets. Why should he recapitulate the history of the Holocaust every time he refers to it? Particularly at Yad Vashem, which is all about the Holocaust!]


In Benedict's address today, there was also no direct reference to the recent controversy involving Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of the breakaway traditionalist society of St. Pius X, whose excommunication, along with three other traditionalist prelates, was recently lifted by Pope Benedict.

[Why on earth would he bring up Williamson in the Holocaust museum? And why should Allen, of all people, demand this? The critical rabbis yesterday did not even mention that!

The Pope's address at Yad Vashem was not intended to be a cover-all answer for all the unjust charges made against him. First, Popes never directly answer specific charges. More importantly, Benedict XVI would never think of using any occasion - much less this unique occasion in a unique setting - to defend himself or even speak about himself.

He made it clear at Yad Vashem that he was speaking as Pope and Successor of Peter - not as Joseph Ratzinger, German (as he expressly did, at Auschwitz). And he offered a philosophical reflection on the concept of name and identity as unforgettable to God - which is more original and helpful to ordinary people, even Jews, when considering the Holocaust than the usual banalities.]


That act became a cause célèbre be cause Williamson has a long record of minimizing the Holocaust,
[Right! So long and so well-known that Allen, who generally poses as the know-it-all in Catholic journalism, never once wrote about it before January 21, 2009, no better than everybody else????]
including the assertion that the Nazis did not use gas chambers and that far fewer than six million Jews died in the Holocaust.

Benedict did, however, insist that the suffering of the "millions of Jews" who perished should "never be denied, belittled or forgotten."

Equally striking, the Pontiff never alluded to his own personal experience of the Second World War. The young Joseph Ratzinger was briefly and involuntarily enrolled in the Hitler Youth, and was later drafted into the German army. He ended the war in an American prisoner of war camp near Ulm, Germany. [IDEM. supra cit.]

Generally speaking, Benedict XVI does not draw upon his own biography in public in the style of John Paul, who recalled his experience growing up in Poland under the Nazis during his 2000 address at Yad Vashem. Nevertheless, if ever there were an occasion that seemed to beckon such a touch, a German pontiff visiting Yad Vashem would seem to be it. [Not necessarily! It's a matter of personal taste and style - something he demonstrated amply at Auschwitz.]

Moreover, it's not that Benedict XVI has a blanket policy against personal references. During his recent trip to Angola, he said that he could identify with their experience of civil war because of his own memories as a youth in war-torn Germany.

[Because he experienced the war directly! Even if he knew about German persecution of the Jews starting with Kristallnacht, like the rest of Germany and the world, he learned of the Holocaust itself after the fact - after the Allies discovered all the corpses and crematoria in 1945, confirmed later on by all the revealed Nazi decrees on the so-called Final Solution. No one - not even the Jews themselves, not Churchill or Roosevelt - was aware of the Holocaust as the literal holocaust that it was while it was tkaing place. It was only after the war that the horrendous extent of the German genocide program became known.]

Early indications are that even longtime Jewish friends of the Catholic church may be left slightly cold by Benedict's words. [Are they really 'friends' if they cna be 'left cold' by all that the Holy Father did say yesterday, knowing how much else he has said in teh past???? Or have they simply been claiming friendship for convenience or other self-interested reasons?]

Rabbi David Rosen, a longtime veteran of Jewish-Catholic dialogue, told NCR this afternoon that the most important thing is that Benedict went to Yad Vashem in the first place, and that his comments on Holocaust denial were valuable.

Nonetheless, Rosen said, "it's disappointing that he didn't use this opportunity to go further, and acknowledge the tragic connection between the teaching of contempt and Jewish suffering."

[Just another variation on the apology theme - and its implied verdict that Christian contempt was ultimately responsible for the Holocaust.

Which is completely wrong, because Hitler's rejection of the Jews clearly had nothing to do with their religion but their race (non-Aryan = inferior, unworthy creature, in the Nazi ideological lexicon) - and that's a completely different thing from the roots of the Christian tradition of anti-Semticism, which was due to the obviously wrong belief that since Jews killed Jesus, all Jesus are guilty of deicide - a belief that was also most un-Christian in every sense, especially since Jesus forgave his executioners from the Cross!

I'm gagging from all this historical 'ignorance' - in the literal sense of ignoring historical fact and perpetrating myth in place of fact. I cna understand Rosen's insistence because he is a Jew, but what horse is Allen riding anyway - other than seeking to impose and project his own personal standards on Benedict XVI. In which context he is just some pesky flea buzzing in the elephant's ear.


On the other hand, some Jewish leaders seemed to stress gratitude for Benedict’s presence at Yad Vashem, almost apart from what he said.

"It’s not a great day for those who reject peaceful co-existence," Rabbi Arthur Schneier told NCR. A Holocaust survivor, Schneier hosted Benedict XVI last April when he visited the Park East Synagogue in New York.

Schneier also said that the Pope’s speech at Yad Vashem should be read in the context of his strong words this morning at the Tel Aviv airport about fighting anti-Semitism, as well as his reference to the bonds between Christianity and Judaism at Mount Nebo in Jordan just days ago.

[Schneier, who has been stuanchly loyal to Benedict XVI all these months, is the only one who has commented rationally so far about this. Benedict XVI obciously decided to tackle the major issues regarding Judaism and Israel at this airport arrival speech - to make himself clear again, first and foremost, as he began this visit to Israel. For which he was universally applauded, even by the same rabbis who criticized him for what he did not say at Yad Vashem. Yet they exoected him to repeat himself at Yad Vashem.

To fault him for not saying all the things they want to hear is equivalent to diminishing the importance of his visit. Do you think all this would have been avoided if he had prefaced his own address by saying, "Nine years ago, my beloved predecessor came here and said memorable words that you all recall. I am here to profess the same sentiments, to which I would now like to add this reflection"? No, they would have said, "Well, he should have repeated them in his own words!"

Holocaust passion seems to be an insatiable beast that must be constantly fed with what it wants to hear, otherwise it roars, breathes fire and brimstone, and threatens to devour whoever fails to do so.

Surely it is possible to look forward positively, never forgetting the lesson of the Holocaust - as Jews like Rabbi Schneier and Gary Krupp do - instead of forever looking back with so much rancour.


This is the second occasion when a speech by Benedict XVI at a key site associated with the Holocaust has drawn mixed reviews. When he visited Auschwitz three years ago, he suggested that the Nazis attempt to eradicate the Jews was ultimately an attempt to eradicate God, and thus to destroy "the tap root of the Christian faith." (A concept he expressed many times in the past, including at his keynote address in the first International Jewish-Christian Relations Conference in jerusalem in 1994. No one protested then.]

Some critics took that as an attempt to minimize the uniqueness of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.

[No! Their suffering was not unique. Genocides have happened in the past - and the horror of mass murder is not 'morally amplified' by the numbers involved: It is the same outrage to God when one human being is killed, or 400 as in Gaza rencetly, or six million as in the Shoah.

What is the moral distinction between the sufferings of, say, all the refugees left to starve to death in Darfur through no fault of their own, and the sufferings of the Jews who were sent to the Nazi death camps?

What is the moral distinction even between that and the sufferings of all the displaced Palestinians and their descendants, even if most of them chose to leave Israeli territory after Israel decisively won the First Arab-Isareli War (which the Arabs launched to try and abortt the newly-created State of Israel)?


Benedict said that standing at Yad Vashem's reflecting pool and seeing the faces of victims, "their cry still echoes in our hearts." He pledged that the Catholic church "is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again." ;And that goes for relentlessly rancorous Jews, as well: rnacour is just another form of hatred.]

"It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence," the Pope said. "It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood." [All innocent blood - including Israeli and Palesitnian civilians victimized in the current cnflict.]


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Belatedly but thankfully, I see that Sandro Magister reacts appropriately to the Yad Vashem address, as he has always shown the right discernment and appreciation for Benedict XVI's texts, particularly in their theological and pastoral sense. And happily, we share the adjective 'original' to describe the reflections offered by the Holy Father yesterday.

But, of course, the world is still only too ready to pounce on the Pope - as the MSM did yesterday, with relentlessly militant Jews demanding their pound of flesh every chance they get. If Christians sinned of anti-Semitism in centuries long past, does that justify the Jews pursuing their own bigotry till Kingdom come?



The Pope in Israel:
Day One - two surprises


The world was ready to pounce on him, over the most explosive questions: anti-Semitism, the war.
But Benedict XVI did it his own way. He took two words from the Bible.
With the first, he explained the conditions for peace.
With the second, he illuminated the mystery of the Holocaust.



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ROME, May 12, 2009 – As soon as he landed in Israel on Monday, Benedict XVI immediately took up the most controversial questions: first, peace and security, then the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

On both fronts, the ambush was set. He was subjected to constant pressure, not all of it above-board. For many of his critics, the script was already written, and they were simply waiting to judge whether and how the Pope would stick to it.

Instead, Benedict XVI acted with surprising originality, in both cases. [Alas, with few to appreciate it, at least judging by immediate MSM reactions.]

He asserted the unbreakable bond between the arrival of peace and that "seeking God" which had been the dominant theme of his memorable speech to cultural figures in Paris: one of the capital discourses of his pontificate.

He developed the theme of security – which is crucial for Israel – on the basis of the biblical word "betah," which means security, but also trust: and the one cannot stand without the other.

On his visit to Yad Vashem – the memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, where their names are inscribed by the millions – the Pope illustrated the meaning of another biblical word: the "name."

The names of all "are indelibly inscribed in the memory of Almighty God." And therefore "one can never take away the name of another human being," not even when one intends to take away everything he has.

"The cry of the slain rises from the ground as in the time of Abel, against any spilling of innocent blood, and God hears all of their cries, because "his mercies are not spent."

The Pope wrote these last words, taken from the book of Lamentations, in the guest book that he signed.


[Magister then eproduces the texts of the two apeeches referred to.]


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DAY 2 IN ISRAEL:
VISIT TO AL-AQSA MOSQUE
'THE DOME OF THE ROCK'



Photo inset in the right photo shows Mons. Gaenswein assisting the Pope in taking off his shoes before entering the mosque.
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No pictures of the visit inside the mosque have been released so far.


Translated from the Vatican press bulletin:
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At 8:45 this morning (Tuesday), the Holy Father Benedict XVI left the Apostolic Delegation residence and travelled by car to Temple Mount (called Noble Sanctuary by the Muslims) , arriving at the Dome of the Rock at 9 a.m. The Dome is the oldest Islamic temple of worship in the Holy Land.

He was welcomed by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the President of the Council of the Waqf (in charge of Islamic cultural treasures).

After a brief visit to the mosque, the Holy Father proceeded to the offies of the building of the "al-Kubbah al-Nahawiyya" for a meeting with important representatives of Jerusalem's Muslim community.

After greetings from his two hosts, the Holy Father delivered the following address:

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Dear Muslim Friends,

As-salámu ‘aláikum! Peace upon you!

I cordially thank the Grand Mufti, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, together with the Director of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, Sheikh Mohammed Azzam al-Khatib al-Tamimi, and the Head of the Awquaf Council, Sheikh Abdel Azim Salhab, for the welcome they have extended to me on your behalf.

I am deeply grateful for the invitation to visit this sacred place, and I willingly pay my respects to you and the leaders of the Islamic community in Jerusalem.

The Dome of the Rock draws our hearts and minds to reflect upon the mystery of creation and the faith of Abraham. Here the paths of the world’s three great monotheistic religions meet, reminding us what they share in common.

Each believes in One God, creator and ruler of all. Each recognizes Abraham as a forefather, a man of faith upon whom God bestowed a special blessing. Each has gained a large following throughout the centuries and inspired a rich spiritual, intellectual and cultural patrimony.

In a world sadly torn by divisions, this sacred place serves as a stimulus, and also challenges men and women of goodwill to work to overcome misunderstandings and conflicts of the past and to set out on the path of a sincere dialogue aimed at building a world of justice and peace for coming generations.

Since the teachings of religious traditions ultimately concern the reality of God, the meaning of life, and the common destiny of mankind – that is to say, all that is most sacred and dear to us – there may be a temptation to engage in such dialogue with reluctance or ambivalence about its possibilities for success.

Yet we can begin with the belief that the One God is the infinite source of justice and mercy, since in him the two exist in perfect unity. Those who confess his name are entrusted with the task of striving tirelessly for righteousness while imitating his forgiveness, for both are intrinsically oriented to the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of the human family.

For this reason, it is paramount that those who adore the One God should show themselves to be both grounded in and directed towards the unity of the entire human family.

In other words, fidelity to the One God, the Creator, the Most High, leads to the recognition that human beings are fundamentally inter-related, since all owe their very existence to a single source and are pointed towards a common goal.

Imprinted with the indelible image of the divine, they are called to play an active role in mending divisions and promoting human solidarity.

This places a grave responsibility upon us. Those who honor the One God believe that he will hold human beings accountable for their actions.

Christians assert that the divine gifts of reason and freedom stand at the basis of this accountability. Reason opens the mind to grasp the shared nature and common destiny of the human family, while freedom moves the heart to accept the other and serve him in charity.

Undivided love for the One God and charity towards one's neighbor thus become the fulcrum around which all else turns. This is why we work untiringly to safeguard human hearts from hatred, anger or vengeance.

Dear friends, I have come to Jerusalem on a journey of faith. I thank God for this occasion to meet you as the Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, but also as a child of Abraham, by whom "all the families of the earth find blessing" (Gen 12:3; cf. Rom 4:16-17).

I assure you of the Church’s ardent desire to cooperate for the well-being of the human family. She firmly believes that the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham is universal in scope, embracing all men and women regardless of provenance or social status.

As Muslims and Christians further the respectful dialogue they have already begun, I pray that they will explore how the Oneness of God is inextricably tied to the unity of the human family.

In submitting to his loving plan for creation, in studying the law inscribed in the cosmos and implanted in the human heart, in reflecting upon the mysterious gift of God’s self-revelation, may all his followers continue to keep their gaze fixed on his absolute goodness, never losing sight of the way it is reflected in the faces of others.

With these thoughts, I humbly ask the Almighty to grant you peace and to bless all the beloved people of this region. May we strive to live in a spirit of harmony and cooperation, bearing witness to the One God by generously serving one another. Thank you!


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At the end of the encounter, the Holy Father was driven by car to the Western Wall at the foot of Temple Mount.


WOW! I think this is the most beautiful text he has yet addressed to any Muslim audience - and does great justice to the awesome sacred history of the place.



PRAYER AT THE WESTERN WALL

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The Israeli government released a photo (above, right) of the prayer that the Pope left in the Wall. (Presumably these prayers are gathered afterwards by the rabbis in charge of the Western Wall.)


Translated from the Vatican press bulletin:
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At 10 a.m.. the Holy Father reached the Western Wall (also commonly known as the 'Wailing Wall'), a fragment of the original sustaining wall on the western side of Jerusalem's main temple destroyed by the Romans in 78 AD.

He was welcomed by the Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall and the President of the Foundation that administers this holy site, considered Judaism's most sacred.

The rabbi read a psalm in Hebrew, and the Holy Father read one in Latin, after which he approached the wall to say an prayer and, following tradtion, left a pryaer note in a crack of the wall, as John Paul II had done before him in 2000.

Pope visits Western Wall
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Jerusalem, May 12 (dpa) - Pope Benedict XVI visited Judaism's holiest site, the Western Wall, Tuesday, on the second day of a five-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Eyes closed, hands clashed in front of him, the Pontiff stood silently in front of the massive blocks which make up the wall, after carefully placing a folded prayer between its cracks, as worshippers have been doing at the wall for centuries.

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God of all the ages,

on my visit to Jerusalem, the “City of Peace”, spiritual home to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, I bring before you the joys, the hopes and the aspirations, the trials, the suffering and the pain of all your people throughout the world.

God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,

hear the cry of the afflicted, the fearful, the bereft; send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family; stir the hearts of all who call upon your name, to walk humbly in the path of justice and compassion.

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him!"
(Lam 3:25)


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Before slowly approaching the wall, which had been cleared of worshippers for the papal visit, Benedict read out a prayer in Latin.

It was unclear whether the prayer he placed in the cracks of the wall was the same prayer he had read out.

Following his visit to the Western Wall, Benedict departed for a meeting with Israel's two chief rabbis.



POPE MEETS ISRAEL'S CHIEF RABBIS
Translated from the Vatican press bulletin:
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After the visit to the Western Wall, the Pope was driven to the Hechal Schlomo Center, seat of the Grand Rabbinate in Jerusalem, for a courtesy visit with the two Chief Rabbis of Israel: Yona Metzger, Ashkenazi rabbi, and Schlomo Amaer, Sephardic rabbi.

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After a private conversation and an exchange of gifts, the Pope delivered the following address:

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Distinguished Rabbis,
Dear Friends,

I am grateful for the invitation to visit Heichal Shlomo and to meet with you during this trip of mine to the Holy Land as Bishop of Rome.

I thank Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger for their warm words of welcome and the desire they have expressed to continue strengthening the bonds of friendship which the Catholic Church and the Chief Rabbinate have labored so diligently to forge over the past decades.

Your visits to the Vatican in 2003 and 2005 are a sign of the good will which characterizes our developing relations.

Distinguished Rabbis, I reciprocate by expressing my own respect and esteem for you and your communities. I assure you of my desire to deepen mutual understanding and cooperation between the Holy See, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and Jewish people throughout the world.

A great source of satisfaction for me since the beginning of my pontificate has been the fruit yielded by the ongoing dialogue between the Delegation of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s Delegation for Relations with the Catholic Church.

I wish to thank the members of both delegations for their dedication and hard work in implementing this initiative, so earnestly desired by my esteemed predecessor Pope John Paul II, as he said during the Great Jubilee Year of 2000.

Our encounter today is a most fitting occasion to give thanks to the Almighty for the many blessings which have accompanied the dialogue conducted by the Bilateral Commission, and to look forward with expectation to its future sessions.

The willingness of the delegates to discuss openly and patiently not only points of agreement, but also points of difference, has already paved the way to more effective collaboration in public life.

Jews and Christians alike are concerned to ensure respect for the sacredness of human life, the centrality of the family, a sound education for the young, and the freedom of religion and conscience for a healthy society.

These themes of dialogue represent only the initial phases of what we trust will be a steady, progressive journey towards an enhanced mutual understanding.

An indication of the potential of this series of meetings is readily seen in our shared concern in the face of moral relativism and the offences it spawns against the dignity of the human person.

In approaching the most urgent ethical questions of our day, our two communities are challenged to engage people of good will at the level of reason, while simultaneously pointing to the religious foundations which best sustain lasting moral values.

May the dialogue that has begun continue to generate ideas on how Christians and Jews can work together to heighten society’s appreciation of the distinctive contribution of our religious and ethical traditions.

Here in Israel, given that Christians constitute only a small portion of the total population, they particularly value opportunities for dialogue with their Jewish neighbors.

Trust is undeniably an essential element of effective dialogue. Today I have the opportunity to repeat that the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council for a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews.

As the Declaration Nostra Aetate makes clear, the Church continues to value the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews and desires an ever deeper mutual understanding and respect through biblical and theological studies as well as fraternal dialogues.

May the seven Bilateral Commission meetings which have already taken place between the Holy See and the Chief Rabbinate stand as evidence! I am thus grateful for your reciprocal assurance that the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Chief Rabbinate will continue to grow in respect and understanding in the future.

My friends, I express again my deep appreciation for the welcome you have extended to me today. I am confident that our friendship will continue to set an example of trust in dialogue for Jews and Christians throughout the world.

Looking at the accomplishments achieved thus far, and drawing our inspiration from the Holy Scriptures, we can confidently look forward to even stronger cooperation between our communities – together with all people of good will – in decrying hatred and oppression throughout the world.

I pray that God, who searches our hearts and knows our thoughts (Ps 139:23), will continue to enlighten us with his wisdom, so that we may follow his commandments to love him with all our heart, soul and strength (cf. Dt 6:5), and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev 19:18). Thank you.


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After this meeting, the Holy Father proceeded to the Cenacle or Upper Room on Mt. Zion.


The tone of the Holy Father's remarks to the rabbis and other Jewish religious leaders reflect his familiarity with them from their work on the Bilateral Commission and their visits to Rome for that purpose.

But some militant Jews may fault him ytt again for not mentioning the Shoah nor the Nazis nor Germany and for not 'making an apology'. Watch for the next act of their 'Make the Christians pay their pound of flesh' psychodrama!


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This AP story actually wraps up most of the Pope's second day in Israel, but leads off with the Yad Vashem fallout and the Vatican reaction. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, MSM do have the power to shape reporting of the news - and that way, the news itself - because they call the shots, as it were, for the rest of media to follow.



Vatican defends Pope Benedict
from Israeli criticism

By JOSEF FEDERMAN


JERUSALEM, May 12 (AP) — The Vatican defended the Pope today from a growing chorus of Israeli critics who accused the German-born Benedict XVI of failing to express enough remorse for the Holocaust — a controversy that threatened to eclipse a papal pilgrimage aimed at building bridges between faiths.

The Pope delivered messages of peace while visiting the holiest Muslim and Jewish sites in Jerusalem — the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.

But his speech Monday at Israel’s national Holocaust memorial attracted the most attention in Israel, with the parliament speaker accusing Benedict of glossing over the Nazi genocide.

Newspapers lambasted him for failing to apologize for what many in Israel see as Catholic indifference during World War II and the Pope’s own wartime actions — he served [INVOLUNTARILY!] in the Hitler Youth corps and Nazi army — have also cast a shadow. [It is completely irresponsible of teh editors at AP not to have added an Editor's Note to make it clear that this all happened to a teenager who was conscripted [that's forced labor!] like his other contemporaries!]

“The Pope spoke like a historian, as somebody observing from the sidelines, about things that shouldn’t happen. But what can you do? He was part of them,” said Parliament Speaker Reuven Rivlin. “With all due respect to the Holy See, we cannot ignore the baggage he carries with him.”

The Pope delivered an emotional address at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, saying the cry of those killed by the regime under which he grew up “still echoes in our hearts.”

But only moments after he spoke, Yad Vashem’s top two officials criticized him for failing to use the words “Nazis” or “murder” in his speech.

Israeli newspapers today were filled with criticism.

“One would have expected the Vatican’s cardinals to prepare a more intelligent text for their boss,” columnist Tom Segev said. [IGNORANT BIGOT, who piles inslt on injury by feigning he does not know the Pope writes his own speeches.]

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi defended Benedict, saying the Pope had mentioned his German roots previously, specifically when visiting a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, in 2005 and at the Auschwitz death camp the following year.

“He can’t mention everything every time he speaks,” Lombardi told reporters in Jerusalem. [And it's not as if there is anyone who does not know he is German! And yet, vfrom what I read, even Italian TV commentators have been unnecessarily offensive by referring to him all the time on this coverage as the German Pope.

The Holocaust is an extremely sensitive subject in Israel. The Jewish state was founded in the wake of the Nazi genocide of 6 million European Jews, and more than 200,000 elderly Holocaust survivors live in Israel.

The Vatican’s wartime Pope, Pius XII, has been criticized by Jews for doing little to prevent the Holocaust — a charge the Church denies. ['To prevent the Holocaust"! Now they're escalating the responsibility they're imposing unilaterally on Pius XII. As if there were any one signle agency that could have done that under the circumstances then - let alone the Pope 'who has no divisions' and whose moral authority had no meaning at all to Hitler and his band of amoral thugs!]

Benedict’s wartime history is discomforting in Israel, even though he has explained that he was forced to join Hitler Youth and that he later deserted the military.

More recently, he upset Jewish leaders by revoking the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop. The Pope has acknowledged mistakes in the case [Communications mistakes, not the excommunication recall itself, to which Williamson's opinions about history are completely irrelevant] and the bishop remains barred from rejoining the Catholic clergy. [Dear Lord, this reporter does not care if he does not know whereof he speaks!]

At his news conference, Lombardi claimed Benedict was never in the Hitler Youth. However, the Pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said in a 1997 book that he joined the movement when membership was compulsory. [This story just get more muddled. Can Fr. Lombardi have said what he is claimed to have said? And note the semantic crafting of "he joined the movement when membership was compulsory" to the simpler "He had no choice but to obey a compulsory order."]

In his first speech after arriving in Israel Monday, the Pope pledged to remember the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust and condemned anti-Semitism. And at Yad Vashem, the 82-year-old Pontiff met with elderly Holocaust survivors before delivering an eloquent speech.

“May the names of these victims never perish. May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten,” Benedict, not known for his emotional displays, said in hushed tones.

Some survivors welcomed the speech, even if they felt it didn’t go far enough. The “Pope is not the president of a Zionist organization, so why should we have any complaints toward him,” Noah Frug, the head of a survivors’ group, told the Ynet Web site.

Benedict has made reconciliation a major theme of his five-day pilgrimage to Israel and the West Bank. He took this message to the most contentious religious site the Holy Land today, urging Israel and the Palestinians to engage in “a sincere dialogue aimed at building a world of justice and peace.”

The Pope visited the Dome of the Rock, where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, and the adjacent Western Wall, revered by Jews as a remnant of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

Competing claims to the hilltop compound — known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and Jews as the Temple Mount — have sparked violence in the past. Resolving the dispute has been the most intractable issue during more than 15 years of on-and-off Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

The visit included a private meeting with the top Islamic cleric in the Holy Land, the Grand Mufti Mohammed Hussein.

Hussein said afterward that he told the Pope of the Palestinians’ suffering “and we asked for justice in this Holy Land.” He also handed the Pope a letter urging the Vatican to use its influence to end Israel’s “aggression” against the Palestinians. Asked how the Pope responded, he replied, “We felt he was receptive.”

[The Pope must also have thought of Palestinian terrorist aggression agains Israelis, even if to hear the Palestinians -and even Mons. Twal - one would think Israel has never been the victim of Palestinian aggression: either that, or that they feel it is perfectly all right for Palestinians to target Israeli civilians with suicide bombers, but wrong for the Israelis to defend their country legitimately against terrorist bombers (through the Fence] and through military action against Hamas aggression [daily rocket attacks against Israel's southeren cities

What has consistently been evident in any discussion or reporting of teh Isralei-Palestinian conflict is that very few can look at the situation objectively and see that there is right and wrong on each side, as there always is in human affairs. But moral discernment is necessarily lost the moment one takes sides.].


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.” He later expressed regret that his comments offended Muslims.

At the Dome of the Rock, the most sacred Muslim shrine in Jerusalem and part of the compound that is Islam’s third-holiest site, the Pope removed his red shoes before entering as a sign of respect. A priest helped him slip them back on as he left.

At the Western Wall, Benedict inserted a note between the ancient crevices of the Western Wall, the last remnant of the second of two biblical temples and Judaism’s holiest shrine.

The written blessing asked “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” to “hear the cry of the afflicted, the fearful, the bereft; send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family.”

At the Dome of the Rock, the most sacred Muslim shrine in Jerusalem and part of the compound that is Islam’s third-holiest site, the pope removed his red shoes before entering as a sign of respect. A priest helped him slip them back on as he left.

At the Western Wall, Benedict inserted a note between the ancient crevices of the Western Wall, the last remnant of the second of two biblical temples and Judaism’s holiest shrine.

The written blessing asked “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” to “hear the cry of the afflicted, the fearful, the bereft; send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family.”

Simpson has since added the following paragraphs to complete his account of the day:

Later Tuesday, the Pope told Israel's two chief rabbis that the Roman Catholic Church is "irrevocably committed" to "a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews.

One of the rabbis, Yona Metzger, welcomed the interfaith efforts. "We must continue on this path and teach leaders of the other faiths that not by terror will they achieve their aims," he said.

Jews suffered centuries of persecution at the hands of the church, which traditionally held them responsible for rejecting and killing Jesus. The church disavowed that view in the 1960s, rejected anti-Semitism and started dialogue with other religions.

Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, made huge strides in the relationship, asking forgiveness on several occasions, including during his landmark 2000 trip to Israel, for the wrongs inflicted by Christians on Jews.

On Tuesday, Benedict also visited the traditional site of the Last Supper, where he received a warm welcome from some 400 Catholic clergy and worshippers at the Latin Patriarchate.

The pontiff arrived in his popemobile for an outdoor Mass next to the Garden of Gethsemane, the site where Christianity says Jesus was arrested. Happy crowds cheered and surged around the vehicle, and the pontiff smiled and waved.

But there, too, politics intruded when Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, a Palestinian, told the gathering that Jesus is still weeping over Israeli injustices to Palestinians in Jerusalem.

[Frankly, I was shocked by Mons. Twal's openly partisan speech openlng the Papal Mass, using the strongest words to denounce Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. I felt it was out of place during the Holy Father's pilgrimage for peace and reconciliation.

And while I understand that he is entitled to have his personal political opinions, it is not his business to involve the Church in partisan politics. Even if he thinks it concerns only his own local Church, does he think that such a high-visibility attack on Israel is going to make the Israelis more lenient or generous in the pending Church status talks that have gone nowhere in 13 years? He is the pastor for all Christians in his diocese, not only of the Palestinians.

Besides, he already got more than enough international media play in the days preceding the Pope's arrival, saying the same things he said today in interviews he granted right and left. [Which were equally wrong in principle, but at least he was not doing it at a Papal Mass). It was wrong to avail of the Papal Mass for this purpose
.]



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I have been trying to make progress with my posts since mid-afternoon, but I keep getting glitches that freeze up my PC before I have time to save what I have assembled.



DAY 2 IN ISRAEL:
VISIT TO THE UPPER ROOM (CENACLE)
AND MEETING WITH THE BISHOPS
OF THE HOLY LAND

Translated from the Vatican press bulletin:
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From the Hechal Schlomo Center, the Holy Father proceeded to the Upper Room or Cenacle, wherw according to tradition, the Last Supper and the first Pentecost took place, for a meeting with the ordinaries (bishops) of the Holy Land and their clergy.

The encouner started weith the singing of 'Veni Crator Spiritus' and a greeting from Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, who heads the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land 9and is addressed as 'Custos')

Here is the text of the Holy Father's address:

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Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear Father Custos,

It is with great joy that I greet you, the Ordinaries of the Holy Land, in this Upper Room where according to tradition the Lord opened his heart to his chosen disciples and celebrated the Paschal Mystery, and where the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost inspired the early disciples to go forth and preach the good news.

I thank Father Pizzaballa for the warm words of welcome which he has expressed to me on your behalf. You represent the Catholic communities of the Holy Land who, in their faith and devotion, are like lighted candles illuminating the holy places that were graced by the presence of Jesus our living Lord. This unique privilege gives you and your people a special place of affection in my heart as the Successor of Peter.

"When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1).

The Upper Room recalls the last supper of our Lord with Peter and the other apostles and invites the Church to prayerful contemplation. In this vein we gather together, the Successor of Peter with successors of the apostles, in this same place where Jesus revealed in the offering of his own body and blood, the new depths of the covenant of love established between God and his people.

In the Upper Room the mystery of grace and salvation, of which we are recipients and also heralds and ministers, can be expressed only in terms of love. Because he has loved us first and continues to do so, we can respond with love (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 2).

Our life as Christians is not simply a human effort to live the demands of the Gospel imposed upon us as duties. In the Eucharist we are drawn into the mystery of divine love. Our lives become a grateful, docile and active acceptance of the power of a love which is given to us.

This transforming love, which is grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:17), prompts us, as individuals and communities, to overcome the temptation to turn in upon ourselves in selfishness or indolence, isolation, prejudice or fear, and to give ourselves generously to the Lord and to others. It moves us as Christian communities to be faithful to our mission with frankness and courage (cf. Acts 4:13).

In the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock, in the Teacher who washes the feet of his disciples, you find, my dear brothers, the model of your own ministry in the service of our God who promotes love and communion.

The call to communion of mind and heart, so closely related to the commandment of love and to the central unifying role of the Eucharist in our lives, is of special relevance in the Holy Land.

The different Christian Churches found here represent a rich and varied spiritual patrimony and are a sign of the multiple forms of interaction between the Gospel and different cultures.

They also remind us that the mission of the Church is to preach the universal love of God and to gather, from far and near, all who are called by him, in such a way that, with their traditions and their talents, they form the one family of God.

A new spiritual impulse towards communion in diversity within the Catholic Church and a new ecumenical awareness have marked our times, especially since the Second Vatican Council.

The Spirit moves our hearts gently towards humility and peace, towards mutual acceptance, comprehension and cooperation. This inner disposition to unity under the prompting of the Holy Spirit is decisive if Christians are to fulfill their mission in the world (cf. Jn:17:21).

In the measure in which the gift of love is accepted and grows in the Church, the Christian presence in the Holy Land and in the neighboring regions will be vibrant. This presence is of vital importance for the good of society as a whole.

The clear words of Jesus on the intimate bond between love of God and love of neighbor, on mercy and compassion, on meekness, peace and forgiveness, are a leaven capable of transforming hearts and shaping actions.

Christians in the Middle East, together with other people of good will, are contributing, as loyal and responsible citizens, in spite of difficulties and restrictions, to the promotion and consolidation of a climate of peace in diversity.

I wish to repeat to them what I stated in my 2006 Christmas message to Catholics in the Middle East:

"I express with affection my personal closeness in this situation of human insecurity, daily suffering, fear and hope which you are living. I repeat to your communities the words of the Redeemer: ‘Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom’ (Lk 12:32)" (Christmas Message to Catholics living in the Middle East Region, 21 December 2006).

Dear Brother Bishops, count on my support and encouragement as you do all that is in your power to assist our Christian brothers and sisters to remain and prosper here in the land of their ancestors and to be messengers and promoters of peace.

I appreciate your efforts to offer them, as mature and responsible citizens, spiritual sustenance, values and principles that assist them in playing their role in society. Through education, professional preparation and other social and economic initiatives their condition will be sustained and improved.

For my part, I renew my appeal to our brothers and sisters worldwide to support and to remember in their prayers the Christian communities of the Holy Land and the Middle East.

In this context I wish to express my appreciation for the service offered to the many pilgrims and visitors who come to the Holy Land seeking inspiration and renewal in the footsteps of Jesus.

The Gospel story, contemplated in its historical and geographical setting, becomes vivid and colorful, and a clearer grasp of the significance of the Lord’s words and deeds is obtained.

Many memorable experiences of pilgrims to the Holy Land have been possible thanks also to the hospitality and fraternal guidance offered by you, especially by the Franciscan Friars of the Custody.

For this service, I wish to assure you of the appreciation and gratitude of the Universal Church and I express the wish that many more pilgrims will visit in the future.

Dear brothers, as we address together our joyful prayer to Mary, Queen of Heaven, let us place confidently in her hands the well-being and spiritual renewal of all Christians in the Holy Land, so that, under the guidance of their Pastors, they may grow in faith, hope and love, and persevere in their mission as promoters of communion and peace.


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VISIT TO THE LATIN CO-CATHEDRAL
OF THE HOLY NAME OF JESUS

Translated from the Vatican press bulletin:
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Following the visit to the Cenacle, the Holy Father was driven to the headquarters of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem located in the heaart of the Old City. At 12:30, he came to the Latin Co-Cathedral dedicated to the Sacred Name of Jesus, where there were some 300 persons gathered, including some nuns from contemplative orders.

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After the Holy Father had spent a brief period of Adoration before the Blesssed Sacrament, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Mons. Fouad Twal, delivered a greeting to the Holy Father, who then spoke the following words:

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Your Beatitude, I thank you for your words of welcome. I also greet the Patriarch Emeritus and I assure you both of my fraternal good wishes and prayers.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I am happy to be here with you today in this Co-Cathedral, where the Christian community in Jerusalem continues to gather, as it has been doing for centuries, ever since the earliest days of the Church.

Here in this city, Peter first preached the Good News of Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost, when about three thousand souls were added to the number of the disciples.

Here too the first Christians "devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).

From Jerusalem, the Gospel has gone out "to all the earth … to the ends of the world" (Ps 19:4), yet all the time, the Church’s missionary effort has been sustained by the prayers of the faithful, gathered around the altar of the Lord, invoking the mighty power of the Holy Spirit upon the work of preaching.

Above all, it is the prayers of those whose vocation, in the words of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, is to be "love, deep down in the heart of the Church" (Letter to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart) that sustains the work of evangelization.

I want to express a particular word of appreciation for the hidden apostolate of the contemplatives who are present here, and to thank you for your generous dedication to lives of prayer and self-denial.

I am especially grateful for the prayers you offer for my universal ministry, and I ask you to continue to commend to the Lord my work of service to God’s people all over the world.

In the words of the Psalmist, I ask you also to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Ps 122:6), to pray without ceasing for an end to the conflict that has brought so much suffering to the peoples of this land. And now, I give you my blessing
.


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The Holy Father stayed for luncheon at the Patriarchate with the Ordinaries and abbots of the Holy Land, the staff of the patriarchate and members of the papal entourgae, before returning to the Apostolic Delegation residence.


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DAY 2 IN ISRAEL:
MASS IN JOSAPHAT VALLEY



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THE HOMILY

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

“Christ is risen, alleluia!” With these words I greet you with immense affection.

I thank Patriarch Fouad Twal for his words of welcome on your behalf, and before all else I express my joy at being able to celebrate this Eucharist with you, the Church in Jerusalem.

We are gathered beneath the Mount of Olives, where our Lord prayed and suffered, where he wept for love of this City and the desire that it should know “the path to peace” (Lk 19:42), and whence he returned to the Father, giving his final earthly blessing to his disciples and to us.

Today let us accept this blessing. He gives it in a special way to you, dear brothers and sisters, who stand in an unbroken line with those first disciples who encountered the Risen Lord in the breaking of the bread, those who experienced the outpouring of the Spirit in the Upper Room and those who were converted by the preaching of Saint Peter and the other apostles.

My greeting also goes to all those present, and in a special way to those faithful of the Holy Land who for various reasons were not able to be with us today.

As the Successor of Saint Peter, I have retraced his steps in order to proclaim the Risen Christ in your midst, to confirm you in the faith of your fathers, and to invoke upon you the consolation which is the gift of the Paraclete.

Standing before you today, I wish to acknowledge the difficulties, the frustration, and the pain and suffering which so many of you have endured as a result of the conflicts which have afflicted these lands, and the bitter experiences of displacement which so many of your families have known and – God forbid – may yet know.

I hope my presence here is a sign that you are not forgotten, that your persevering presence and witness are indeed precious in God’s eyes and integral to the future of these lands.

Precisely because of your deep roots in this land, your ancient and strong Christian culture, and your unwavering trust in God’s promises, you, the Christians of the Holy Land, are called to serve not only as a beacon of faith to the universal Church, but also as a leaven of harmony, wisdom and equilibrium in the life of a society which has traditionally been, and continues to be, pluralistic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious.

In today’s second reading, the Apostle Paul tells the Colossians to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1).

His words resound with particular force here, beneath the Garden of Gethsemani, where Jesus accepted the chalice of suffering in complete obedience to the Father’s will, and where, according to tradition, he ascended to the right hand of the Father to make perpetual intercession for us, the members of his Body.

Saint Paul, the great herald of Christian hope, knew the cost of that hope, its price in suffering and persecution for the sake of the Gospel, yet he never wavered in his conviction that Christ’s resurrection was the beginning of a new creation.

As he tells us: “When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, you too will be revealed with him in glory!” (Col 3:4).

Paul’s exhortation to “set our minds on the things that are above” must constantly echo in our hearts. His words point us to the fulfilment of faith’s vision in that heavenly Jerusalem where, in fidelity to the ancient prophecies, God will wipe away the tears from every eye, and prepare a banquet of salvation for all peoples (cf. Is 25:6-8; Rev 21:2-4).

This is the hope, this the vision, which inspires all who love this earthly Jerusalem to see her as a prophecy and promise of that universal reconciliation and peace which God desires for the whole human family.

Sadly, beneath the walls of this same City, we are also led to consider how far our world is from the complete fulfilment of that prophecy and promise. In this Holy City where life conquered death, where the Spirit was poured out as the first-fruits of the new creation, hope continues to battle despair, frustration and cynicism, while the peace which is God’s gift and call continues to be threatened by selfishness, conflict, division and the burden of past wrongs.

For this reason, the Christian community in this City which beheld the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit must hold fast all the more to the hope bestowed by the Gospel, cherishing the pledge of Christ’s definitive victory over sin and death, bearing witness to the power of forgiveness, and showing forth the Church’s deepest nature as the sign and sacrament of a humanity reconciled, renewed and made one in Christ, the new Adam.

Gathered beneath the walls of this city, sacred to the followers of three great religions, how can we not turn our thoughts to Jerusalem’s universal vocation?

Heralded by the prophets, this vocation also emerges as an indisputable fact, a reality irrevocably grounded in the complex history of this city and its people.

Jews, Muslims and Christians alike call this city their spiritual home. How much needs to be done to make it truly a “city of peace” for all peoples, where all can come in pilgrimage in search of God, and hear his voice, “a voice which speaks of peace” (cf. Ps 85:8)!

Jerusalem, in fact, has always been a city whose streets echo with different languages, whose stones are trod by people of every race and tongue, whose walls are a symbol of God’s provident care for the whole human family.

As a microcosm of our globalized world, this City, if it is to live up to its universal vocation, must be a place which teaches universality, respect for others, dialogue and mutual understanding; a place where prejudice, ignorance and the fear which fuels them, are overcome by honesty, integrity and the pursuit of peace.

There should be no place within these walls for narrowness, discrimination, violence and injustice. Believers in a God of mercy – whether they identify themselves as Jews, Christians or Muslims – must be the first to promote this culture of reconciliation and peace, however painstakingly slow the process may be, and however burdensome the weight of past memories.

Here I would like to speak directly to the tragic reality – which cannot fail to be a source of concern to all who love this City and this land – of the departure of so many members of the Christian community in recent years. While understandable reasons lead many, especially the young, to emigrate, this decision brings in its wake a great cultural and spiritual impoverishment to the City.

Today I wish to repeat what I have said on other occasions: in the Holy Land there is room for everyone! As I urge the authorities to respect, to support and to value the Christian presence here, I also wish to assure you of the solidarity, love and support of the whole Church and of the Holy See.

Dear friends, in the Gospel we have just heard, Saint Peter and Saint John run to the empty tomb, and John, we are told, “saw and believed” (Jn 20:8).

Here in the Holy Land, with the eyes of faith, you, together with the pilgrims from throughout the world who throng its churches and shrines, are blessed to “see” the places hallowed by Christ’s presence, his earthly ministry, his passion, death and resurrection, and the gift of his Holy Spirit.

Here, like the Apostle Saint Thomas, you are granted the opportunity to “touch” the historical realities which underlie our confession of faith in the Son of God.

My prayer for you today is that you continue, day by day, to “see and believe” in the signs of God’s providence and unfailing mercy, to “hear” with renewed faith and hope the consoling words of the apostolic preaching, and to “touch” the sources of grace in the sacraments, and to incarnate for others their pledge of new beginnings, the freedom born of forgiveness, the interior light and peace which can bring healing and hope to even the darkest of human realities.

In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, pilgrims in every century have venerated the stone which tradition tells us stood before the entrance to the tomb on the morning of Christ’s resurrection.

Let us return frequently to that empty tomb. There let us reaffirm our faith in the victory of life, and pray that every “heavy stone” that stands before the door of our hearts, blocking our complete surrender to the Lord in faith, hope and love, may be shattered by the power of the light and life which shone forth from Jerusalem to all the world that first Easter morn.

Christ is risen, alleluia! He is truly risen, alleluia!


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The Pope's Middle East Tour:
Between the Rock and the Wailing Wall

By JEFF ISRAELY / JERUSALEM
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May 12, 2009


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Pope Benedict XVI covered a whole lot of sacred terrain on Tuesday. But even as the Pontiff carried a message of peace and reconciliation to some of the holiest sites of the three monotheistic faiths, the weeklong papal visit to the Middle East risks unraveling under the weight of the region's complicated history and Benedict's continuing struggle to be heard both loudly and clearly.

Under a bright morning sky, Benedict took off his red papal slippers and entered the Dome of the Rock, the 7th century Jerusalem shrine built where Muslim tradition says the Prophet Muhammad began his ascent to heaven.

From there, the Pope followed in John Paul II's footsteps, walking up to place a written prayer in the Western Wall, the remains from the Second Temple (built in the 1st century B.C.) that many say is the historic heart of Judaism.

Later in the afternoon, the German Pontiff led a Mass in the ancient Kidron Valley just outside the Old City of Jerusalem, where some Christians and Jews believe the Final Judgment will take place.

In his encounter at the Dome of the Rock with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, the Pope said common principles bind Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

"Those who honor the one God believe that he will hold human beings accountable for their actions," Benedict said. "Undivided love for the one God and charity for one's neighbor thus become the fulcrum around which all else turns. This is why we work untiringly to safeguard human hearts from hatred, anger or revenge."

Tuesday's soothing words of unity and sweepingly symbolic itinerary were nevertheless overshadowed in part by the fallout from the German Pope's tumultuous first day in Israel.

On Monday, Benedict's remarks at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial were a disappointment to some Jewish leaders for the lack of any mention of the Nazi perpetrators, expression of remorse or sharing of his own personal recollections of growing up in Bavaria.

"Survivors Angered by Benedict's Lukewarm Speech," was the Page One headline in the Israeli daily Haaretz on Tuesday.

Another encounter on Monday also failed to go according to Vatican plans. An evening ceremony in East Jerusalem to champion inter-religious dialogue was interrupted by an unscheduled diatribe by Palestinian Muslim cleric Sheikh Tasir al-Tamimi, who condemned Israel's attacks on Palestinians and its control over Jerusalem's holy sites.

The diminutive and elderly Pope appeared a bit shaken by the outburst, and the event was cut short as the Vatican delegation quickly left the meeting hall.

Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who has been working overtime to react to events, called the Muslim cleric's actions a "direct negation of what dialogue should be" and expressed concern that such an incident could threaten to derail Benedict's mission of peace during his eight-day trip.

Lombardi devoted most of his attention at a Tuesday afternoon press conference to defending the Pope's speech at Yad Vashem, which he said was the latest example of the press and public having difficulty accepting the Pope on his own terms.

He said the Pope sought to offer a universal "meditation on memory" and shouldn't be expected "to repeat everything every time" he talks about the Holocaust. "Sometimes he feels he is not well understood," Lombardi said of the Pope.

Still, perhaps as a sign of the growing tension over the trip, Lombardi himself added further misunderstanding. The typically affable Jesuit spokesman blasted media organizations for referring to Joseph Ratzinger's involuntary membership in the Hitler Youth, saying that "never, never, never" did the future Pope take part in the group. {So the good Father did speak mistakenly about our 'Ratzi's' Hitler Youth

It was, however, later verified by reporters in the Pope's own writings when he was a Cardinal - and confirmed by Lombardi - that in fact Benedict had been forced to register in the organization for a brief period.

Unfortunately for the Pope, the present is often as difficult to navigate as the past. On Wednesday he will visit the West Bank city of Bethlehem, where he will both pray at Jesus's birthplace and devote his attention to the Palestinian people and the suffering of their struggle for a homeland under Israeli rule. ['A homeland under Israeli rule'? or 'the struggle...under Israeli rule'?]

Many hope the Pope might inject new hope into the stalled peace process. Others simply pray that his presence doesn't unintentionally make things worse.

[Oh dear! Just when I thought Israely would cross the finish line without any penalties he had to add that last snarky line!]
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May 13
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OUR LADY OF FATIMA
First Apparition 1917




OR today.
NB: Delay in OR reportage of the papal pilgrimage is a result of the time difference between Rome and the Mideast, and the OR's 3 pm daily deadline,
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The Pope visits Yad Vashem and says no one should forget the millions of Holocaust victims:
'NEVER AGAIN A TRAGEDY AS HORRENDOUS AS THE SHOAH'
From yesterday's events: The Pope's visit to the Western Wall and to the Muslim Dome of the Rock, as well as with the chief rabbis of Israel.
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Other events shown below: On Monday, tThe visit with President Peres of Israel who then went with the Pope to Yad Vashem, and the interfaith meeting at the Notre Dame Center of Jerusalem (center row); and on Tueday, the Pope's visit to the Cenacle (last row).
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THE POPE'S DAY
IN PALESTINIAN TERRITORY


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DAY 3 IN ISRAEL:
THE POPE VISITS BETHLEHEM
IN PALESTINIAN TERRITORY



The papal convoy passes through the Isareli security wall into Bethlehem as the Pope began a day devoted to the Palestinian Territories.
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President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the Pope in official rites held at hiw Bethlehem presidential residence.
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Pope Benedict XVI endorses
independent Palestinian state
and empathizes with suffering

by DIAA HADIDMOHAMMED DARAGHMEH
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BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Standing in the cradle of Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI told Palestinians on Wednesday that he understands their suffering and offered his strongest public backing yet for an independent Palestinian state.

To get to Jesus's traditional birthplace of Bethlehem, Benedict had to cross through towering concrete slabs, part of a separation barrier Israel has erected to wall off the West Bank's Palestinian areas.

"Mr. President, the Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders," the Pontiff said upon his arrival, standing alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

It was the third day of Benedict's Holy Land pilgrimage meant largely to boost interfaith relations. But so far, it has been fraught with political land mines.

Israelis have criticized the German-born Pope for failing to adequately express remorse for the Holocaust, while the Palestinians are pressing him to draw attention to the difficult conditions of life under Israeli rule.

The Pope also called for a Palestinian homeland when he arrived in Israel on Monday for the five-day visit. [The reports should mention that he has always done so - in all his statements about the Middle East. It is not as if he is only saying this on the occasion of this visit!]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in the audience, says Palestinians are not ready to rule themselves and he has resisted international pressure to endorse the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

In Bethlehem, Benedict delivered a special message of solidarity to the 1.4 million Palestinians isolated in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. He has no plans to visit Gaza.

Israel recently waged a three-week war against Gaza militants that killed more than 1,000 people and badly damaged thousands of homes. The war compounded suffering already caused by an Israel and Egyptian blockade of Gaza's borders since Hamas wrested control of Gaza two years ago.

"In a special way, my heart goes out to the pilgrims from war-torn Gaza: I ask you to bring back to your families and your communities my warm embrace, and my sorrow for the loss, the hardship and the suffering you have had to endure," the Pope told thousands of Palestinians who packed an open-air Mass in Manger Square, some hoisting Palestinian and Vatican flags and pictures of the pontiff and Jesus.

"Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead, and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted," he added.

In a gesture for the Pope's visit, Israel allowed nearly 100 members of Gaza's tiny Christian community to travel to the West Bank through Israeli territory that separates the two Palestinian areas.

Benedict's singling out of Gaza "means that Gaza is in the Pope's heart," said George Hernandez, bishop of the Holy Family Catholic church in Gaza City. "This a very courageous speech and we are satisfied."

The Pope, who has described himself as a "pilgrim of peace," has been forced to navigate some of the touchiest political issues as he makes his way through Israel and the West Bank — his first visit to the region as the head of the Roman Catholic church.

On Tuesday, the Vatican rallied to his defense, describing him as a man of strong anti-Nazi credentials and a peacemaker after critics said he failed to apologize in a speech at Israel's Holocaust memorial for what they see as Catholic indifference during the Nazi genocide.

The Palestinians want the Pontiff to put pressure on Israel during his visit. Before he arrived, Bethlehem residents expressed hope that he would use his moral authority to support their quest for independence.

"Our Pope is our hope" read posters hung around the town, which was also dotted with the yellow and cream flags of the Vatican and red, black, white and green Palestinian flags.

While Benedict acknowledged Palestinian difficulties, he stopped short of blaming Israel.

"I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades," he said.

Abbas invoked the concrete separation barrier and the occupation in his greeting to the Pontiff.

"In this Holy Land, the occupation still continues building separation walls," Abbas said. "Instead of building the bridge that can link us, they are using the force of occupation to force Muslims and Christians to emigrate."

He and other Palestinian dignitaries later donned baseball caps imprinted with the black-and-white kaffiyeh headscarf, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

Israel says it has been building the barrier of concrete slabs and electronic fences, which stretches for hundreds of miles (kilometers) along the frontier with the West Bank, to keep out Palestinian militants.

Attacks have fallen off sharply[In fact, when was the last terrorist attack in Israel since the fence came up? Imagine what it would be like if the situation were reversed and Palestine had Israel's military might!][/DIM], but Palestinians see the barrier as a land grab because it juts into the West Bank at multiple points, placing about 10 percent of the territory on the "Israeli" side. [That is unfortunate, and even incosiderate ,but perhaps dictated by topography; the said land is vacant frontier area, and the fence is not intended to be permanent.]

Christians are a tiny minority among the 3.9 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In a trend seen throughout the Middle East, their numbers have dwindled as Palestinians weary of occupation seek out new opportunities abroad.

"When he comes and visits us, it gives us moral and material support," said Ramzi Shomali, a 27-year-old electric company worker. "It motivates us to stay in our land, and he will see our situation and will use his power for our good."

Victor Batarseh, Bethlehem's Christian mayor, said he hoped the papal mission would "encourage Palestinian Christians to be steadfast on their land and encourage them to stay."

The Pontiff brought several gifts to Bethlehem, including a ventilator for a baby hospital and a mosaic representation of the birth of Jesus. He received a handwritten Gospel of Luke.

After meeting with Abbas, Benedict was to tour the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition holds Jesus was born, then visit a Palestinian refugee camp.

(Associated Press writers Victor Simpson, Dalia Nammari and Ben Hubbard contributed to this report)


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Mr President,
Dear Friends,

I greet all of you from my heart, and I warmly thank the President, Mr Mahmoud Abbas, for his words of welcome.

My pilgrimage to the lands of the Bible would not be complete without a visit to Bethlehem, the City of David and the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Nor could I come to the Holy Land without accepting the kind invitation of President Abbas to visit these Territories and to greet the Palestinian people.

I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades. My heart goes out to all the families who have been left homeless. This afternoon I will pay a visit to the Aida Refugee Camp, in order to express my solidarity with the people who have lost so much.

To those among you who mourn the loss of family members and loved ones in the hostilities, particularly the recent conflict in Gaza, I offer an assurance of deep compassion and frequent remembrance in prayer.

Indeed, I keep all of you in my daily prayers, and I earnestly beg the Almighty for peace, a just and lasting peace, in the Palestinian Territories and throughout the region.

Mr President, the Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders.

Even if at present that goal seems far from being realized, I urge you and all your people to keep alive the flame of hope, hope that a way can be found of meeting the legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians for peace and stability.

In the words of the late Pope John Paul II, there can be “no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness” (Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace).

I plead with all the parties to this long-standing conflict to put aside whatever grievances and divisions still stand in the way of reconciliation, and to reach out with generosity and compassion to all alike, without discrimination.

Just and peaceful coexistence among the peoples of the Middle East can only be achieved through a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, in which the rights and dignity of all are acknowledged and upheld.

I ask all of you, I ask your leaders, to make a renewed commitment to work towards these goals. In particular I call on the international community to bring its influence to bear in favor of a solution.

Believe and trust that through honest and persevering dialogue, with full respect for the demands of justice, lasting peace really can be attained in these lands.

It is my earnest hope that the serious concerns involving security in Israel and the Palestinian Territories will soon be allayed sufficiently to allow greater freedom of movement, especially with regard to contact between family members and access to the holy places. Palestinians, like any other people, have a natural right to marry, to raise families, and to have access to work, education and health care.

I pray too that, with the assistance of the international community, reconstruction work can proceed swiftly wherever homes, schools or hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, especially during the recent fighting in Gaza.

This is essential if the people of this land are to live in conditions conducive to lasting peace and prosperity. A stable infrastructure will provide your young people with better opportunities to acquire valuable skills and to seek gainful employment, enabling them to play their part in building up the life of your communities.

I make this appeal to the many young people throughout the Palestinian Territories today: do not allow the loss of life and the destruction that you have witnessed to arouse bitterness or resentment in your hearts.

Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism. Instead, let what you have experienced renew your determination to build peace.

Let it fill you with a deep desire to make a lasting contribution to the future of Palestine, so that it can take its rightful place on the world stage.

Let it inspire in you sentiments of compassion for all who suffer, zeal for reconciliation, and a firm belief in the possibility of a brighter future.

Mr President, dear friends gathered here in Bethlehem, I invoke upon all the Palestinian people the blessings and the protection of our heavenly Father, and I pray fervently that the song which the angels sang here in this place will be fulfilled: peace on earth, good will among men. Thank you. And may God be with you.


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The Pope proceeded by Popemobile from the presidential residence to Manger Square where he said Mass.

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Arriving at Manger Square, where he robed for Mass at the Church of the Nativity.
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DAY 3: BETHLEHEM
MASS AT MANGER SQUARE



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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, May 13 — Pope Benedict XVI traveled Wednesday to this town that Christians revere as the birthplace of Jesus, telling Palestinians that after decades of suffering, they had a right to a sovereign homeland “in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders.”

Confronting the region’s political tripwires, he evoked “the loss, the hardship and the suffering” of Palestinians in war-torn Gaza, saying he prayed for the lifting of the economic embargo that Israel has imposed there since the militant group Hamas took control in 2007.

And, speaking in the presence of President Mahmoud Abbas before offering a Mass in a sunlit Manger Square, he also urged young Palestinians to “have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism.”

The preoccupation with Palestinian issues served, however briefly, to shift the focus away from what some Israelis have considered to be controversial questions surrounding the papal visit — the German Pope’s record as a youth in the Nazi era and criticism of a speech he made at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Monday.

While his words on Palestinian statehood reflected Vatican policy, and followed a similar endorsement two days ago, they gained added weight from his presence here — the first time he has ventured into the West Bank [She writes as though the Pope could freely choose to go where he pleases, when he pleases - the schedule was set up months ago, and it has been known for weeks that he would be devoting May 13 to cross over from Jerusalem into Palestinian Territory] since he arrived in Israel on Monday from Jordan on his first Middle East journey as Pope. As with the rest of his tour, the visit carried a heavy political charge.

President Abbas used the opportunity to assail Israel’s separation barrier with Palestinian areas as “the apartheid wall which forbids our people from the West Bank” from reaching Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. The Pope’s motorcade passed through the barrier to reach Bethlehem.

Israel started building the separation barrier in 2002, saying that it was necessary to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from reaching Israeli cities. Military officials insist that it has saved hundreds of Israeli lives. But much of it runs through West Bank land, across the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Most of the barrier is made up of a wire fence flanked by barbed wire, a trench and patrol roads. In some urban areas, particularly around Jerusalem, it takes the form of a towering concrete wall.

In his address, the Pope, who planned to visit a Palestinian refugee camp later, said: “I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades. My heart goes out to all the families who have been left homeless.”

He said the Vatican “supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders. Even if at present that goal seems far from being realized, I urge you and all your people to keep alive the flame of hope, hope that a way can be found of meeting the legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians for peace and stability.”

He added: “I make this appeal to the many young people throughout the Palestinian Territories today: do not allow the loss of life and the destruction that you have witnessed to arouse bitterness or resentment in your hearts. Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism.”

While the Pope’s call for a Palestinian state matches the Obama administration’s public support for a two-state solution, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been reported by Israeli officials as saying such a state is a long way off because Palestinian institutions and economic development required a great deal of work — as well as investment from Arab states — and that Palestinian education and public discourse needed to be more oriented toward coexistence. Mr. Netanyahu, the leader of the hawkish Likud party, has refrained from endorsing a two-state solution.

At the Mass in Manger Square, where the Church of the Nativity stands on the site that Christians believe to be the birthplace of Jesus, the Pope referred indirectly to Israel’s 22-day war in Gaza in December and January, saying that “in a special way my heart goes out to the pilgrims from war-torn Gaza: I ask you to bring back to your families and your communities my warm embrace, and my sorrow for the loss, the hardship and the suffering you have had to endure.”

“Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted,” he said.

While thousands of people thronged the square, the overall number of Christians in the faith’s biblical homeland has fallen sharply in recent years. In 1948, for instance, Jerusalem was about one-fifth Christian. Now it is two percent. And, across the Middle East, a region that a century ago was 20 percent Christian is about 5 percent today and dropping.

Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said an estimated 10,000 people attended the Mass, including 100 Christians from Gaza, whom the Pope greeted personally after the service. The Israeli authorities had eased restrictions to permit the group to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, news reports said.

(Rachel Donadio reported from Bethlehem and Alan Cowell from Paris.)


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THE HOLY FATHER'S HOMILY

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I thank Almighty God for giving me the grace to come to Bethlehem, not only to venerate the place of Christ’s birth, but also to stand beside you, my brothers and sisters in the faith, in these Palestinian Territories.

I am grateful to Patriarch Fouad Twal for the sentiments which he has expressed on your behalf, and I greet with affection my brother Bishops and all the priests, religious and lay faithful who labor daily to confirm this local Church in faith, hope and love.

In a special way my heart goes out to the pilgrims from war-torn Gaza: I ask you to bring back to your families and your communities my warm embrace, and my sorrow for the loss, the hardship and the suffering you have had to endure.

Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead, and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted.

“Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy … today in the city of David a Savior is born for you” (Lk 2:10-11).

The message of Christ’s coming, brought from heaven by the voice of angels, continues to echo in this town, just as it echoes in families, homes and communities throughout the world.

It is “good news”, the angels say “for all the people”. It proclaims that the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of David, has been born “for you”: for you and me, and for men and women in every time and place.

In God’s plan, Bethlehem, “least among the clans of Judah” (Mic 5:2), has become a place of undying glory: the place where, in the fullness of time, God chose to become man, to end the long reign of sin and death, and to bring new and abundant life to a world which had grown old, weary and oppressed by hopelessness.

For men and women everywhere, Bethlehem is associated with this joyful message of rebirth, renewal, light and freedom. Yet here, in our midst, how far this magnificent promise seems from being realized!

How distant seems that Kingdom of wide dominion and peace, security, justice and integrity which the Prophet Isaiah heralded in the first reading (cf. Is 9:7), and which we proclaim as definitively established in the coming of Jesus Christ, Messiah and King!

From the day of his birth, Jesus was “a sign of contradiction” (Lk 2:34), and he continues to be so, even today. The Lord of hosts, “whose origin is from old, from ancient days” (Mic 5:2), wished to inaugurate his Kingdom by being born in this little town, entering our world in the silence and humility of a cave, and lying, a helpless babe, in a manger.

Here, in Bethlehem, amid every kind of contradiction, the stones continue to cry out this “good news”, the message of redemption which this city, above all others, is called to proclaim to the world.

For here, in a way which surpassed every human hope and expectation, God proved faithful to his promises. In the birth of his Son, he revealed the coming of a Kingdom of love: a divine love which stoops down in order to bring healing and lift us up; a love which is revealed in the humiliation and weakness of the Cross, yet triumphs in a glorious resurrection to new life.

Christ brought a Kingdom which is not of this world, yet a Kingdom which is capable of changing this world, for it has the power to change hearts, to enlighten minds and to strengthen wills.

By taking on our flesh, with all its weaknesses, and transfiguring it by the power of his Spirit, Jesus has called us to be witnesses of his victory over sin and death. And this is what the message of Bethlehem calls us to be: witnesses of the triumph of God’s love over the hatred, selfishness, fear and resentment which cripple human relationships and create division where brothers should dwell in unity, destruction where men should be building, despair where hope should flourish!

“In hope we were saved”, the Apostle Paul says (Rom 8:24). Yet he affirms with utter realism that creation continues to groan in travail, even as we, who have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, patiently await the fulfilment of our redemption (cf. Rom 8:22-24).

In today’s second reading, Paul draws a lesson from the Incarnation which is particularly applicable to the travail which you, God’s chosen ones in Bethlehem, are experiencing: “God’s grace has appeared”, he tells us, “training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires, and to live, temperately, justly and devoutly in this age”, as we await the coming of our blessed hope, the Savior Jesus Christ (Tit 2:11-13).

Are these not the virtues required of men and women who live in hope?

First, the constant conversion to Christ which is reflected not only in our actions but also in our reasoning: the courage to abandon fruitless and sterile ways of thinking, acting and reacting.

Then, the cultivation of a mindset of peace based on justice, on respect for the rights and duties of all, and commitment to cooperation for the common good.

And also perseverance, perseverance in good and in the rejection of evil. Here in Bethlehem, a special perseverance is asked of Christ’s disciples: perseverance in faithful witness to God’s glory revealed here, in the birth of his Son, to the good news of his peace which came down from heaven to dwell upon the earth.

“Do not be afraid!” This is the message which the Successor of Saint Peter wishes to leave with you today, echoing the message of the angels and the charge which our beloved Pope John Paul II left with you in the year of the Great Jubilee of Christ’s birth.

Count on the prayers and solidarity of your brothers and sisters in the universal Church, and work, with concrete initiatives, to consolidate your presence and to offer new possibilities to those tempted to leave.

Be a bridge of dialogue and constructive cooperation in the building of a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration.

Build up your local Churches, making them workshops of dialogue, tolerance and hope, as well as solidarity and practical charity.

Above all, be witnesses to the power of life, the new life brought by the Risen Christ, the life that can illumine and transform even the darkest and most hopeless of human situations.

Your homeland needs not only new economic and community structures, but most importantly, we might say, a new “spiritual” infrastructure, capable of galvanizing the energies of all men and women of good will in the service of education, development and the promotion of the common good.

You have the human resources to build the culture of peace and mutual respect which will guarantee a better future for your children. This noble enterprise awaits you. Do not be afraid!

The ancient Basilica of the Nativity, buffeted by the winds of history and the burden of the ages, stands before us as a witness to the faith which endures and triumphs over the world (cf. 1 Jn 5:4).

No visitor to Bethlehem can fail to notice that in the course of the centuries the great door leading into the house of God has become progressively smaller.

Today let us pray that, by God’s grace and our commitment, the door leading into the mystery of God’s dwelling among men, the temple of our communion in his love, and the foretaste of a world of eternal peace and joy, will open ever more fully to welcome, renew and transform every human heart.

In this way, Bethlehem will continue to echo the message entrusted to the shepherds, to us, and to all mankind: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to those whom he loves”! Amen.


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Benedict XVI and God's rainbow over Auschwitz.
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"I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth" (Gen 5,13)




Speaking up for Benedict XVI:
A politically incorrect denunciation
of Shoah madness - and Israeli media's
utter disrespect for a visiting head of state



I have been loath to post the outrageous injustices in the Israeli press trumpeting scornful criticism of Pope Benedict XVI because they did not hear him say all the banalities they expected to hear when he visited Yad Vashem.

Hannah Arendt wrote a memorable book called The Banality of Evil at the time of the Eichmann trial, which was an appropriate description of the minutiate that constituted what the Nazis called 'the Final Solution (Endloesung) for the Jewish problem', their euphemism for exterminating the Jeiwsh race.

The word banality came to my mind when listening to the emcee at Yad Vashem on Monday, hammering home the formulation about "Nazi German criminals who murdered six million Jews". I don't know if Yad Vashem emcees do that everytime they receive a VIP, or if they chose to do so - the relentless repetition - only because the VIP this time was a German.

As someone who is not directly involved or invested in the horror of the Shoah, no matter how sympathetic I am [and I have devoured Holocaust histery and literature since I read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was 10], that needless repetition was mind-numbing, and ultimately banal, a counter-productive trivialization (even if I know Jews would never trivialize the Shoah knowingly).

Surely, the exercise could not have been meant to constrain Benedict XVI into saying things he did not plan to say on this occasion. They know his texts are written well in advance. And that he does not march to anyone's orders other than Christ.

It has been difficult to feel Christian charity about these militants who want every individual in the world to share their monomania - a pathological fixation about the Shoah - and who, in particular, want to claim their pound of flesh (and all the blood that goes with it) from Benedict XVI.

And that's a puny image for what they seem to demand of him - namely, that he singlehandedly pay retribution for the unspeakable crimes that resulted in the Shoah. Even if he obviously had nothing to do with it.

The facile pretext for this outrageous exaction is that he is a German, who, as a teenager, was enrolled in the Hitler Youth (by legal compulsion, and without his active participation), and then served in the German military (he was conscripted).

But of course, like the MSM when they write about these things, they make it appear that both activities were voluntary, nor even mention that he was 14 when it all began and was still a teenager by the time it ended.

Then, of course, he is Catholic, the head of the Catholic Church, yet! - and the Jews have bitter memories of centuries of persecution and unjust treatment on the part of Christians who were brought up in a tradition of considering the Jews as deicides.

In effect, they are practising on Benedict XVI and on the Catholic Church the very same bigotry that was unjustly visited on their ancestors - the religious bigotry of traditional Christians and the racial bigotrry carried to horrendous extremes by Hitler and his deluded Aryan self-worshippers.

What they wanted was for Benedict XVI to stand in that Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem and simply repeat all the commonplaces and readymade phrases generally employed when one speaks about the Shoah, plus the apologies for the Church that they had come to expect regularly of John Paul II. In the process, they almost completely ignored the fresh reflection that Benedict XVI brought to bear on the subject, and that's their loss.

Benedict personally has nothing to apologize for. And he cannot apologize for Germans - assuming Germans bear any reflected collective blame' for what the Nazis did, as the Jewish militants seem to assume - because he is one German among 60 million, nor is he President or Chancellor of Germany with the official capacity to speak for the nation.

As for the Church's apologies, Joseph Ratzinger was perhaps the one person most responsible for the theological rationalization and verbal formulation of all the apologies ever given by John Paul II. What more can he add? Especially since, as a Jerusalem Post editor wrote, 'For Jews, there is only one Pope'?

Fine, that 'one Pope' spoke loud and clear and often, and to their liking, in his time. Why should it matter to them then what this 'other Pope' says and does?

Worse, what is this sadism of wanting the head of the Catholic Church to apologize and grovel to them on every occasion?

It is very distressing that the Shoah should have bred all these psychological pathologies among Jewish militants - because that's what it is now, a sickness in the mind and heart that causes even the most religious among them to completely forget God's commandment of love.

Now, having let that off my chest, here is a reaction from a priest who lives in Jerusalem.



Benedict XVI walks a religious tightrope:
Trying to stay on message despite criticism

By Father Thomas D. Williams, LC
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JERUSALEM, May 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- We woke up this morning in Jerusalem to newspaper headlines decrying the supposed inadequacy of Pope Benedict's remorse in his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial Monday and in his meeting there with six Holocaust survivors.

Complaints dealt more with omissions -- what critics thought he should have said -- than with what he actually said and did.

Despite his explicit remembrance of the Shoah in his first address in Israel and his unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism ("Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found"), a raft of reports claimed that he didn't go far enough.

Some took issue with the fact that the words "Nazi" and "murder" didn't appear in his Vad Yashem address, while others felt that the Pope should have apologized for alleged Catholic complicity in the Holocaust.

Others still blamed the Pope himself for having been drafted into the German army (though he later defected) and for showing too little emotion in his Yad Vashem speech.

One hardly knows where to begin in the face of this wave of criticism (I have only scratched the surface). It appears that some of the Holy Father's hearers would not be satisfied with anything the Pope could say or do, short of falling on his face and begging the earth to swallow him up in utter shame.

In return for what seemed to me a sincere and humble overture of peace and reconciliation, the Holy Father has been taken to task as if he were personally responsible for Jewish suffering in the world.

I struggled in vain to explain to several Israelis that the Pope isn't an outwardly emotional man, so whatever outpouring of distress they expected from him just doesn't correspond to his nature.

I invited them to look more to the Pope's personal decision to address this issue so frankly, and to visit the Holocaust memorial as the centerpiece of his first day in Israel (which he certainly wasn't required to do), as evidence of his deep-felt concern. Unfortunately these arguments fell into a void.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum passions are running just as high. This morning I received a blistering email message from a Christian in Gaza who had seen me on the evening news and who strenuously objected to the nearly exclusive attention being given to the Jews in reports of this visit.

His lengthy missive, titled "What about us?" enumerated a litany of complaints against the treatment of Palestinians by the state of Israel.

"Maybe you forgot," he wrote, "that Israel was built on the blood and on the homes of thousands of Palestinian Catholics and Christians." He continued, "Maybe you forgot that Israel is building an apartheid wall, a way worse than Berlin wall and the South African one" -- and so the letter continued on and on.

For just a moment I felt a tiny sliver of what the Holy Father must be experiencing as he tries to navigate the tremendously difficult shoals of high-strung religious sentiment that permeates this region.

Like a spiritual tightrope walker, all he needs to do is lean slightly to the left or to the right and immediately he is labeled as insensitive or evil. Worse still, even when he does manage to strike the perfect balance, it still isn't enough.

It seems that many observers couldn't care less about the Pope's actual intentions for this pilgrimage or with the positive content of his message, and instead run all his words and actions through a microscope in the search for something with which to find fault.

Despite all this, the Holy Father seems remarkably poised and serene, testimony to the depth of his spiritual convictions and his abundant confidence in the grace of God to bring much good out of this journey.

His days are literally filled with activities, sometimes a different venue every hour, and yet he perseveres with unflagging good spirits.

One person who at least ostensibly seemed more in sync with Pope Benedict was Israel's president, Shimon Peres. In a striking passage of his welcoming address to the Holy Father, he seemed to capture better than anyone the importance of this apostolic visit.

"Spiritual leaders can pave the way for political leaders," Peres said. "They can clear the minefields that obstruct the road to peace. The spiritual leaders should reduce animosity, so that political leaders do not resort to destructive means."

To those who criticize the papal trip as being ineffective and without "teeth," Peres' words seemed incisive and clairvoyant. "We do not need more armored vehicles," Peres added, "but inspired spiritual leadership." This is what Benedict is providing in spades to this troubled land.

On a far lighter note, I have enjoyed my frequent elevator rides throughout Jerusalem because of an ironic little plaque found inside. Rather than the Otis brand, elevators in Israel are predominantly manufactured by a company called Schindler. And since British English is used here, elevator riders are carried up and down, courtesy of "Schindler Lifts."

(Legionary of Christ Father Thomas D. Williams, an American theologian living in Rome, is providing commentary for CBS News on Benedict XVI's historic visit to the Holy Land.)


And here is John Allen's new and always political correct take on the Yad Vashem fallout against Benedict XVI. I must say I have rarely found the adjective 'noble' used so patronizingly and therefore negatively, Ii.e., damning with faint praise.

In effect, after all the nobility stuff that he cites, Allen tells us that in this day and age, when PR and perception are all that seem to matter, nobility means nothing, and the Pope is simply wasting his opportunities, not playing the expectations game and not keeping to the script that know-alls in the media would like him to follow.

Didn't I say in my comment on Allen's 'instanalysis' of the Yad Vashem event that you cannot get more conformist than spouting politicially correct conventional wisdom? Where does Christ say or imply in any way that his followers should be conformists? Didn't he say they should expect to be 'a sign of contradiction' in the world?



Benedict’s timeless touch
noble, but tricky

By John L Allen Jr
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May 12, 2009


Pope Benedict XVI's visit yesterday to Yad Vashem, Israel's main Holocaust memorial, had been billed coming into this trip as a make-or-break moment, a key test of whether the Pontiff could mend fences with Jews after several recent setbacks.

This morning, the lead commentary in Haaretz, Israel's leading daily, carried this reaction: "Benedict's speech showed verbal indifference and banality." [Who is guilty of 'verbal indifference and banality' - the Pope who speaks with theological and moral authority behind every well-thought word and who refuses to indulge in commonplaces, or the purveyors of cliches that have been drained of meaning by sheer overuse and misuse?]

Safe to say, that's not exactly the headline the Vatican was hoping for.

To be sure, other Jewish commentators so far have been far more positive, accenting the importance of the Pope's choice to visit Yad Vashem and his firm commitment to Holocaust remembrance.

A striking number of critical voices, however, saw the visit as a missed opportunity. (Notably, those voices included the chairman of the board of directors at Yad Vashem.)

Aside from some relatively minor points of word choice – that Benedict said Jews had been "killed," not "murdered," and that "millions" of Jews died rather than "six million," even though he cited that figure in an earlier speech at the Tel Aviv airport) – the main thrust of the criticism centered on three points missing from the speech:

- Acknowledgment of the role that Christian anti-Semitism played in shaping attitudes that led to the Holocaust;
- Reference to Benedict's own biography as a German who saw the horrors of the Nazi regime with his own eyes, and who had himself been drafted into the German army;
- Regret for the recent strain in Catholic/Jewish ties caused by the lifting of the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, including one, Richard Williamson, who is a Holocaust denier.

[Look, if Benedict were Obama - whose motto is "Please like us, I'll roll over and crawl for you if that's what it takes" - he might have done all that. But he is not a politician and he would not demean the Hall of Remembrance by using the occasion to score any points with his critics, least of all by playing a breast-beating Pharisee, no offense to Jews intended. Also, Jews know their Ecclesiastes, unless paranoia and morbid enjoyment of 'being victim' makes some of them forget.

We can be sure that, unlike the 'Shoah cultists', to coin a term, the good souls who inhabit the memorial with the record of their savaged lives do not need any of those rationalizations to validate the Pope's sincerity.]


For the record, Benedict did not hit any of these points today either during his visit to Jerusalem's fabled Western Wall. In 2000, John Paul II left a note in the Western Wall asking forgiveness for "the behavior of those who have caused these children of yours to suffer."

This morning, Benedict XVI left a note asking God to "send peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family."
[Both notes were entirely in keeping with each Pontiff's priorities at the time of their visit.

In 2000, a negotiated peace appeared 'near at hand' between Israel and the Palestinians, and John Paul II was making his Jubilee tours (marking the second millennium since the birth of Jesus). One of his Jubilee priorities was to seek forgiveness from all the groups and entities who were wronged by Christians in the course of centuries. The Jews loved him for it and will forever be beholden to him because he took that step.

Benedict has moved on as he should - the urgency for now is getting the peace process under way again. And in any case, what's wrong with him praying for peace, which is the most urgent practical need of the region and the world, not ritual breast-beating! It's been nine years since John Paul II's visit.

Why must Benedict be compelled to step back in time, get on the apology treadmill and stay on it, other than for the sadistic pleasure ofgetting off on 'getting even' or 'turning the tables'? Saying "I'm sorry' over and over does not make you any sorrier or more sincere!]


Since it was entirely predictable that the absence of these three points from the Yad Vashem speech would stir reaction, the $64,000 question becomes: Why didn't Benedict say it?

It would be easier to answer if it were clear that Benedict didn't actually think these things – that is, if he didn't believe that anti-Semitic attitudes among Christians played any role in the Holocaust, or that his personal experience is irrelevant to what Yad Vashem symbolizes, or if he felt no regret for the Williamson affair. Then his decision not to say them would make all the sense in the world.

In fact, however, Benedict is on record as thinking and saying the precise opposite.

In December 1990, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a blunt essay for L'Osservatore Romano acknowledging that too many Christians failed to resist the lure of anti-Semitism, and that this failure contributed to the Holocaust.

In his autobiography Milestones, he wrote at length about the lessons he learned from growing up in the shadow of Hitler and the Nazis, and during his 2006 visit to Auschwitz he spoke of the significance of being "a German Pope" and "a son of Germany" in that place.

Just weeks ago, he addressed a letter to all the bishops of the church expressing his deep anguish over the Williamson case.

So once again, the inevitable question: Why didn't he say any of this at Yad Vashem?

Jesuit Fr. Fedrico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, attempted to answer that question in a session with reporters today in Jerusalem.

"He does not have to repeat every time, in every speech, all the points he has made in the past about the tragedy of the Holocaust," Lombardi said. "Many people who have not listened on other occasions to what the Pope has said expect him to repeat it every time, but this is not possible."

That's certainly a point. Yet inevitably, there's a difference between saying it in an article in L'Osservatore Romano or in a letter to bishops, and saying it at Yad Vashem – when virtually every major news network in the world is carrying the event live, and when it's one of the rare occasions when the Pope has unfiltered access to the Israeli and Jewish "street."

One could argue, of course, that Benedict did not want to tarnish the significance of the Yad Vashem visit by using his speech to put out fires or score PR points.

It's also true that Benedict is legendary for thinking in centuries, implying that his main concern is rarely what tomorrow's headline might be.

Yet Lombardi seemed to hint at a deeper logic for the way Benedict chose his words. The theme of the speech, Lombardi insisted, was "memory," and that's where the Pontiff placed his focus.

In fact, the most dramatic line from the speech came near the end. Meditating aloud on the sight of the reflecting pool at Yad Vashem, where the faces of Holocaust victims gaze back at visitors, Benedict said the memory of those who were lost "is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence … a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood."

Perhaps the key words in that line of thought are "every" and "perpetual." At monuments to evil such as Auschwitz and Yad Vashem, Benedict seems compelled to offer reflections which are deliberately universal and timeless.

In both cases, he clearly acknowledged the specificity of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, and resolved to ensure that such crimes are never repeated.

Nonetheless, Benedict XVI seems to see such settings – not just Holocaust memorials, but also, for example, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, which he visited last April – as eternal reminders of the seductive power of hatred.

One has the impression that to him, it would fail to do justice to what these places represent if he were to turn the focus upon himself, or recent events and plans of action, or even too much on the historical particularities of the location.

In a sound-bite, he seems to believe that occasions for grappling with the deepest and most painful mysteries about God's plan require something more from a Pope than good image management.

Put that way, of course, it sounds quite noble. The fly in the ointment is that Benedict is nonetheless Pope in the here and now, and whatever he does and says – or, in this case, fails to say – has immediate real-world consequences: For inter-faith relations, for the public image of the Catholic church, for his capacity to get a hearing, and across the board.

Thinking in centuries when you speak in public is a marvelous academic disposition, but it can be a tricky business for a leader on the global stage.

Whatever one makes of Benedict's approach to these moments, however, one thing seems clear after four years, which has been reinforced this week: This is who Benedict XVI is, and he's not likely to change simply because day-after headlines don't break his way.

[Nor because journalists playing at being Pope presume to lecture him at every turn on what he must say and do, as in articles like "Five things the Pope must say when he goes to Israel". 'Must say'? Sez who? ]


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Haaretz's editorialists and columnists may be opinionated but the fact that newspaper carries reports like this compendium of wire service reports on the events in Bethlehem today shows the free press that is one of the necessaary features of ISrael's Western-style democracy.


DAY 3 IN ISRAEL
THE POPE IN BETHLEHEM:
VISIT TO AIDA REFUGEE CAMP



The Pope's route on his way from Manger Square to the Aida refugee camp passed alongside the Israeli security fence most of the way. Right photo shows the papal convoy entering the camp, which features a large black key atop its gate, symbolizing the refugees' desire to return to their ancestors' villages now part of Israel.
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Pope says West Bank fence
is a symbol of 'stalemate'

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May 13, 2009


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Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday branded the West Bank separation fence as a symbol of "stalemate" between Israel and the Palestinians, urging both sides to break a "spiral of violence."

"Towering over us, as we gather here this afternoon, is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached - the wall," he said, standing by the fence at a refugee camp in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.

The Pontiff later told Palestinians that he hoped the barrier would be taken down.

"Although walls can be easily built, we all know that they do not last forever, they can be taken down," he said.

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Stressing the need first to remove "the walls that we build around our hearts" and bring conflict to an end, he said: "My earnest wish for you, the people of Palestine, is that this will happen soon, and that you will at last be able to enjoy the peace, freedom and stability that have eluded you for so long."

Earlier in the day, the Pope called for a sovereign Palestinian homeland after arriving in Bethlehem at the start of a one-day visit to the West Bank.

"The Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders," said the Pope. He made the comments at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's presidential palace in Bethlehem.

Palestinians hope the Pope's visit to the West Bank, and to the birthplace of Jesus in particular, will draw attention to their plight.

The German-born Pope was welcomed to Bethlehem by Abbas on the third day of a visit to the Holy Land.

Security forces closed off many city streets and hundreds of people gathered outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in Manger Square where the Pope was holding a morning Mass.

Pope Benedict told Palestinians that he was praying for an end to the Israel-led blockade of the Gaza Strip.

"Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead, and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted," the Pontiff said.

Patriarch Fouad Twal, during a Mass the Pope attended in Jerusalem on Tuesday, reiterated the Palestinian people's aspirations for a "free and independent state."

The Pope, on his arrival in Israel on Monday, also reaffirmed Vatican support for a Palestinian state, a concept new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been reluctant to accept as a necessary outcome of negotiations.

Palestinians have set up a small, open-air theater beside a high concrete wall that forms part of the West Bank fence.

The Pope will hold a Mass at Nazareth in northern Israel, where Jesus grew up, on Thursday. The surrounding Galilee region is where most of the country's 154,000 Christians live and where he will meet Netanyahu.

He flies back to Rome on Friday.

During a special Mass in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Benedict assured the thousands of believers present that he understood the "frustration, pain and suffering" the Israeli-Arab conflict has caused them. He also urged the relevant authorities to value and support the Christian presence in the city.

At the sunlit afternoon Mass for hundreds of worshippers at the Garden of Gethsemane, beneath the Mount of Olives and the city walls, he evoked the "universal vocation" of Jerusalem as the spiritual home of Jews, Muslims and Catholics.


Mr President,
Dear Friends,

My visit to the Aida Refugee Camp this afternoon gives me a welcome opportunity to express my solidarity with all the homeless Palestinians who long to be able to return to their birthplace, or to live permanently in a homeland of their own.

Thank you, Mr President, for your kind greeting. And thank you also, Mrs Abu Zayd, and our other speakers. To all the officials of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency who care for the refugees, I express the appreciation felt by countless men and women all over the world for the work that is done here and in other camps throughout the region.

I extend a particular greeting to the pupils and teachers in the school. By your commitment to education you are expressing hope in the future.

To all the young people here, I say: renew your efforts to prepare for the time when you will be responsible for the affairs of the Palestinian people in years to come.

Parents have a most important role here, and to all the families present in this camp I say: be sure to support your children in their studies and to nurture their gifts, so that there will be no shortage of well-qualified personnel to occupy leadership positions in the Palestinian community in the future.

I know that many of your families are divided – through imprisonment of family members, or restrictions on freedom of movement – and many of you have experienced bereavement in the course of the hostilities. My heart goes out to all who suffer in this way.

Please be assured that all Palestinian refugees across the world, especially those who lost homes and loved ones during the recent conflict in Gaza, are constantly remembered in my prayers.

I wish to acknowledge the good work carried out by many Church agencies in caring for refugees here and in other parts of the Palestinian Territories.

The Pontifical Mission for Palestine, founded some sixty years ago to coordinate Catholic humanitarian assistance for refugees, continues its much-needed work alongside other such organizations.

In this camp, the presence of Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary calls to mind the charismatic figure of Saint Francis, that great apostle of peace and reconciliation.

Indeed, I want to express my particular appreciation for the enormous contribution made by different members of the Franciscan family in caring for the people of these lands, making themselves "instruments of peace", in the time-honored phrase attributed to the Saint of Assisi.

Instruments of peace. How much the people of this camp, these Territories, and this entire region long for peace! In these days, that longing takes on a particular poignancy as you recall the events of May 1948 and the years of conflict, as yet unresolved, that followed from those events.

You are now living in precarious and difficult conditions, with limited opportunities for employment. It is understandable that you often feel frustrated. Your legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian State, remain unfulfilled.

Instead you find yourselves trapped, as so many in this region and throughout the world are trapped, in a spiral of violence, of attack and counter-attack, retaliation, and continual destruction. The whole world is longing for this spiral to be broken, for peace to put an end to the constant fighting.

Towering over us, as we gather here this afternoon, is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached – the wall.

In a world where more and more borders are being opened up – to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges – it is tragic to see walls still being erected.

How we long to see the fruits of the much more difficult task of building peace! How earnestly we pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built!

On both sides of the wall, great courage is needed if fear and mistrust is to be overcome, if the urge to retaliate for loss or injury is to be resisted. It takes magnanimity to seek reconciliation after years of fighting.

Yet history has shown that peace can only come when the parties to a conflict are willing to move beyond their grievances and work together towards common goals, each taking seriously the concerns and fears of the other, striving to build an atmosphere of trust.

There has to be a willingness to take bold and imaginative initiatives towards reconciliation: if each insists on prior concessions from the other, the result can only be stalemate.

Humanitarian aid, of the kind provided in this camp, has an essential role to play, but the long-term solution to a conflict such as this can only be political.

No one expects the Palestinian and Israeli peoples to arrive at it on their own. The support of the international community is vital, and hence I make a renewed appeal to all concerned to bring their influence to bear in favor of a just and lasting solution, respecting the legitimate demands of all parties and recognizing their right to live in peace and dignity, in accordance with international law.

Yet at the same time, diplomatic efforts can only succeed if Palestinians and Israelis themselves are willing to break free from the cycle of aggression.

I am reminded of those other beautiful words attributed to Saint Francis: "where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon … where there is darkness, light, where there is sadness, joy."

To all of you I renew my plea for a profound commitment to cultivate peace and non-violence, following the example of Saint Francis and other great peacemakers. Peace has to begin in the home, in the family, in the heart.

I continue to pray that all parties to the conflict in these lands will have the courage and imagination to pursue the challenging but indispensable path of reconciliation. May peace flourish once more in these lands! May God bless his people with peace!


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COURTESY VISIT
WITH PRESIDENT ABBAS



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The last event on the Pope's visit to Bethlehem was a visit with President Abbas at the Presidential Palace. One of the gifts presented by the Palestinian President to the Pope was a wooden scale model of Bethlehem that prominently features part of Israel's security fence.

The Vatican bulletin also says that before his private conversation with President Abbas, the Holy Fahter met with representatives of Christian communities in Gaza and the West Bank.

Here is the text of the Pope's formal departure address:

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Mr President,
Dear Friends,

I thank you for the great kindness you have shown me throughout this day that I have spent in your company, here in the Palestinian Territories. I am grateful to the President, Mr Mahmoud Abbas, for his hospitality and his gracious words.

It was deeply moving for me to listen also to the testimonies of the residents who have spoken to us about the conditions of life here on the West Bank and in Gaza. I assure all of you that I hold you in my heart and I long to see peace and reconciliation throughout these tormented lands.

It has truly been a most memorable day. Since arriving in Bethlehem this morning, I have had the joy of celebrating Mass together with a great multitude of the faithful in the place where Jesus Christ, light of the nations and hope of the world, was born.

I have seen the care taken of today’s infants in the Caritas Baby Hospital. With anguish, I have witnessed the situation of refugees who, like the Holy Family, have had to flee their homes. And I have seen, adjoining the camp and overshadowing much of Bethlehem, the wall that intrudes into your territories, separating neighbors and dividing families.

Although walls can easily be built, we all know that they do not last for ever. They can be taken down. First, though, it is necessary to remove the walls that we build around our hearts, the barriers that we set up against our neighbors.

That is why, in my parting words, I want to make a renewed plea for openness and generosity of spirit, for an end to intolerance and exclusion.

No matter how intractable and deeply entrenched a conflict may appear to be, there are always grounds to hope that it can be resolved, that the patient and persevering efforts of those who work for peace and reconciliation will bear fruit in the end.

My earnest wish for you, the people of Palestine, is that this will happen soon, and that you will at last be able to enjoy the peace, freedom and stability that have eluded you for so long.

Be assured that I will continue to take every opportunity to urge those involved in peace negotiations to work towards a just solution that respects the legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

As an important step in this direction, the Holy See looks forward to establishing shortly, in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority, the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission that was envisioned in the Basic Agreement, signed in the Vatican on 15 February 2000 (cf. Basic Agreement between the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organization, art. 9).

Mr President, dear friends, I thank you once again and I commend all of you to the protection of the Almighty. May God look down in love upon each one of you, upon your families and all who are dear to you. And may he bless the Palestinian people with peace.


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After watching and listening to the highly impassioned program the Plaestinians offered the Pope at the Aida refugee camp, I felt as bludgeoned to mental numbness as I did when listening to the emcee at Yad Vashem last Monday.

I was far from unprepared that the Palestinians would seize the day to present their cause on the world stage. When will they have as good an opportunity again? And they would have to be saints and angels not to have used the opportunity to the utmost. As they did.

It may not be 'right' in principle to 'use' the Pope in this way, but I'm pretty sure he does not mind, coming from the Palestinian civilians. (I don't know if he was as lenient about Mons. Twal's pre-Mass address yesterday, which was as inflammatory in its way as Sheik al-Tamimi's intrusive tirade at the inter-religious dialog, that ironically, Mons. Twal tried in vain to stop.)

In fact, the Holy Father most likely facilitated it for the Palestinians, in effect, having decided obviously when his program for the visit was being drawn up, that he wanted to spend the time he did with them. EWTN's Raymond Arroyo recalled today that John Paul II's visit to Aida in 2000 was comparatively token - 'a brief drop-in and a wave'.

But before the Palestinians even, Israel's Chief Rabbis also sought to enlist Benedict XVI in the cause of an Israeli homeland, something that Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has long acknowledged, along with a two-state concept
.



Chief Rabbi to Pope:
Tell the world that Jews belong in Israel

By Yair Ettinger
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May 13, 2009


Israel's leading rabbis on Tuesday told Pope Benedict XVI that it was his duty to spread the message that the Jewish people belong in the Land of Israel.

"You represent a large nation of believers that knows what the Bible is, and it is your duty to pass on the message that the Jewish people deserve a renaissance, and a little respect - to live in this land," Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar told the Pope.

The Pope met with Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger in Jerusalem on Tuesday, on the second day of his pilgrimage to Israel [To the Holy Land, not to Israel!]

Benedict told the chief rabbis during the meeting that he is committed to reconciliation between Christian and Jews.

He said he has delivered a prayer to God to help enact the command that one love their neighbor as they do themselves.

Metzger told the Pope that he regretted that such meetings had not been held earlier in history.

"I thought to myself, if only a historic meeting like this in which the head of the biggest religion in the world meets in Jerusalem with the heads of Judaism, if this had happened many years earlier, so much innocent blood could have been saved," Metzger said.

"So much senseless hatred could have been prevented in the world," he said. [I don't think that historically, Judaism ever sought to relate to othere religions, and that in fact, part of its distinction is that it does not seek converts to Judaism at all and remains a closed religion in that respect.]

The Pope continued his historic pilgrimage through the Holy Land earlier Tuesday, visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

He recited a prayer in Latin, before placing a note in the cracks of the wall, as is the custom. The Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovich, also recited a prayer.

Earlier, Benedict visited the Temple Mount, where he shook hands with the mufti of Jerusalem and senior Islamic Waqf officials.

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The German-born Pope stood in prayer for several minutes at the Western Wall, a remnant of the Roman-era Temple complex that is Judaism's holiest place, after meeting the Grand Mufti, Palestinians' senior Muslim cleric, at the Dome of the Rock which dominates the Old City.

With the mufti, he recalled the common roots of all three monotheistic religions in the story of Abraham and Jerusalem.

He placed a written prayer in the Western Wall, a traditional gesture, and then met Israel's two chief rabbis.

"Send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family," the prayer said, according to text provided by the Vatican.

Palestinians later released balloons over Jerusalem's Old City in the colors of the Palestinian flag while the Pope was at the Western Wall.


In the light that has happened in the past three days - Jordan was an oasis of sweetness and light, by comparison - it's interesting to read what George Weigel wrote about the Pope's trip before it began.

More important than his observation that these days, a Pope's travels are also inevitably political because of what the people he meets can choose to make of those meetings, is his pointing to the role of Scriptures in orienting Benedict XVI's thinking.

And obviously, more than on his previous trips, the Pope has been quoting Scriptures to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.... To think the Jewish media completely ignored his Scriptural references in the Yad Vashem discourse, and the line full of faith and hope from the Book of Lamentations that he chose to write in the Holocaust Memorial's guest book.

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"His mercies are not spent" (Lamentations 3, 22)


Parsing the Pontiff:
To understand the Pope's visit to the Holy Land,
start with his view of Scripture

By George Weigel
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May 6, 2009


No matter how much the Vatican rightly insists that the primary purpose of Benedict XVI's journeys outside Rome is to "strengthen the brethren" — as Christ instructed Peter to do — papal travel is inevitably political travel. Especially when that travel is to the Holy Land.

Wherever a Pope visits, local interest groups and politicians will lobby for their pound of pontifical flesh, seeking to advance their causes or their ambitions through access to the man in the white simar.

Moral credibility is particularly at stake whenever a Pope visits a conflicted part of the world: Leaders may not really care what Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, thinks of them, but just about everyone short of Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants it known that the Pope thinks that he or she is on the side of the angels.

So it is that Pope Benedict XVI's May 8-15 visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority has dredged up all the usual controversies and questions.

What leaders from what groups will the Pope see, and what will that mean? What will this German Pontiff say about the Holocaust? What will his visit do to advance or retard the "peace process," the position of Israel, the prospects for a Palestinian state?

This is inevitable. It's also unfortunate, in that it tends to deflect the world's attention from the most salient personal fact about the Pope's journey — that it's a pilgrimage by a man of the Bible to the land of the Bible.

While pundits and partisans will interpret Benedict's comments and actions according to the varying political winds and their own agendas, a real understanding of his pilgrimage must start at the true source of Benedict's own thinking: Scripture.

Lingering stereotypes about Benedict XVI's theological "conservatism" notwithstanding, the fact is that, as a seminary student and doctoral candidate in postwar West Germany, Joseph Ratzinger was a theological innovator who insisted that theology begins with Scripture and must always return to Scripture as a crucial reference point.

Finding the cold logic of the theology of his day dull and inhuman, Ratzinger was drawn to the theological approach taken by those men of the first millennium known as the "Fathers of the Church": intellectual and pastoral giants like Ambrose, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa and Ephrem the Syrian, for whom theology was, at bottom, a matter of explicating the Bible.

Young Joseph Ratzinger thought that a return to the Bible and the Fathers would re-energize theology after the catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century. To that project of revitalization he has dedicated more than a half century of his scholarly life.

Interestingly enough, Benedict's basic approach to Scripture could almost be described as Protestant: for Joseph Ratzinger, the Bible is "first and foremost God's word to the Church," as Father Thomas Rausch of Loyola Marymount University writes in a new book on Benedict's theological perspective.

Put another way, the Bible is not, for Benedict, simply a text. The Bible is an integral part of God's search for us, in this case through a sacred literature that remains the "word of God," millennia after its words were first recorded.

Where Benedict differs from some Protestant interpreters is that he is not a biblical literalist; where he differs from the older Catholic theology he disliked in the 1940s and 1950s is that he doesn't treat the Bible as a library of proof-texts to be ransacked in order to buttress abstract theological points.

Rather, as Father Rausch puts it, Benedict's biblical commentary is built on a "finely tuned sensitivity to biblical themes and images, which he traces effortlessly through both testaments."

Following St. Bonaventure, on whom he wrote his second doctoral thesis, Benedict insists that Scripture is personal as well as literary. The Bible, properly understood, is an encounter between the living God and the people He wills to bring to the fullness of life—people who lived millennia ago and people alive today.

Thus to reduce "the Bible" to a matter of letters arranged on a page is to empty it of its personal dimension, which is both divine and human.

This conviction about the personal dimension of the Bible — combined with his settled skepticism about certain forms of modern intellectual life — undergirds Ratzinger's longstanding critique of what is known as the "historical-critical method" of biblical interpretation.

Benedict XVI is no fundamentalist or literalist. He is quite prepared to let what scholars have learned about the origins and evolution of biblical texts shape his own reading of the Bible. What he is not prepared to do is to reduce the Bible to an archaeological specimen.

Historical criticism of the Bible can tell us a lot of things, Ratzinger believes. But, as Father Rausch puts it, it "cannot really tell us what the text means for us today."

Ratzinger's intense encounter with the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament over more than half a century has given him both a deep reverence for the Bible and a theologically grounded reverence for living Judaism — which is the most solid basis possible for genuine friendship and mutual regard.

Benedict knows that the Hebrew Bible is integral to Christianity. As he once wrote, "the New Testament is not a different book of a different religion that, for some reason or other, had appropriated the Holy Scriptures of the Jews as a kind of preliminary structure. The New Testament is nothing other than the interpretation of 'the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings' found from or contained in the story of Jesus."

Finally, Benedict is also something of a biblical populist. As one of the theologians who helped draft a critical document of the Second Vatican Council, the Constitution on Divine Revelation, Joseph Ratzinger wanted to restore the Bible to the people of the Church, so that the Bible would be, once again, a font of Christian prayer and understanding.

Thus one facet of his critique of the hyperventilated historical criticism in which some scholars engage is that it takes the Bible away from the people of the Church, by suggesting to ordinary believers that this complicated ancient text can only be read by the experts.

During his visit to the land of the Bible, Pope Benedict XVI will say and do many things. Just about all of those things will be sifted through the media filter and dissected for every nuance of political meaning.

But underlying everything he says and does will be his profound reverence for the Bible. He is firmly convinced that these ancient books speak words of truth and light today. He will say that, in many variations on a great theme. It remains to be seen who will be listening.

[George Weigel holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic studies at Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a NEWSWEEK contributor.]

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May 14
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St. Matthias, Apostle



OR today.
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In Bethlehem, the Pope recognizes Palestine's legitimate aspirations for a sovereign state
and invites all sides to overcome violence and terrorism:
Beyond the wall of fear and mistrust
Benedict XVI"s ideal embrace for the people of Gaza for whom he hopes the Israeli embargo may soon be lifted
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The coverage of the papal pilgrimage in this issue starts with the Mass in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon,
and reports the Bethlehem events up to the Pope's isit to the Caritas baby hospital.



THE POPE'S DAY
Day 4 in Israel


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DAY 4 IN ISRAEL:
MASS IN NAZARETH - 1



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As usual, there is a wealth of photos before the Mass and around the Mass (and very little on the Mass rite itself - which is a fault with all the newsphoto agencies, including the Catholic ones) but it takes time to sort them out, so I've only posted a representative selection for now.



Pope celebrates Nazareth Mass
with tens of thousands

By Jonathan Ferziger and Gwen Ackerman
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NAZARETH, May 14 (Bloomberg) -- Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass on Nazareth’s Mount of Precipice with tens of thousands of people before a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the town where tradition holds Jesus grew up.

“Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice which kills men’s souls before it kills their bodies,” the pope said during a service celebrating the sanctity of the family before a crowd that Israeli police estimated reached 40,000.

Steps up to the stage and podium were lined with yellow flowers. The Pontiff was welcomed with chants of “Benvenuto,” and “Long live the Pope” from a crowd waving Israeli, Palestinian and Vatican flags.

The Pontiff was in Nazareth after touring the West Bank town of Bethlehem yesterday, where he declared support for a sovereign Palestinian homeland.

He has met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres and toured the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.

“It’s difficult to look at events so far and to see too many obvious successes,” said Thomas Landy, director of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

“Benedict tends to speak in generalities and about more abstract ideals of hope and avoids specificity or grand gestures,” he added in an e-mail.

In Nazareth, the 82-year-old pope, dressed in yellow and white vestments, stood on a stage facing an open-air amphitheatre on the Mount of Precipice, where tradition says an angry mob tried to throw Jesus off a cliff because of his teachings.

The Pope recalled the tale and urged the Muslim and Christian communities of Nazareth to build “goodwill” and find a “way to peaceful coexistence.”

One Muslim leader, angry over remarks Benedict made in 2006 linking Islam to violence, had protested the visit of the Pope.

Israeli leaders, such as the chairman of Yad Vashem and the speaker of Parliament, criticized the Pope’s speech at the Holocaust memorial as not being specific about Nazi responsibility for the Holocaust and for failing to express regret in a stronger manner.

During his visit, Benedict has said he would like to see Israel lift its embargo on the Gaza Strip soon and security concerns ease sufficiently to allow easier movement of Palestinians in the West Bank. He has called on Israelis and Palestinians to work for peace.

Benedict’s visit comes as peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain deadlocked after a 22-day Israeli military offensive against the Islamic militant Hamas in the Gaza Strip that ended Jan. 18. The fighting left Gaza devastated.

Netanyahu, who was in Jordan today for talks with King Abdullah, heads to the U.S. next week to meet with President Barack Obama, who has pledged to “vigorously” pursue Israeli- Palestinian peace.


Israeli's security arrangements for the Pope in Nazareth were particularly stringent because of threats by some local Muslim extremists before the visit.
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For the first time, there were armed soldiers discreetly posted behind the Pope's acolytes during the Mass.
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Pope in Nazareth:
'Reject hatred and prejudice'

By DIAA HADID
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NAZARETH, Israel, May 14 (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI greeted tens of thousands of adoring followers in Jesus's childhood hometown with a message of reconciliation Thursday, urging Christians and Muslims to overcome recent strife and "reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice."

The Pope delivered his message on the fourth day of a Holy Land pilgrimage [the seventh day, actually, counting his visit to Jordan where he went to Mt. Nebo and to the Jordan River site of Jesus's baptism] meant to promote peace and unity in the Middle East.

Throughout the trip, however, he has been confronted with the region's most sensitive issues, including the legacy of the Holocaust, the Palestinian plight under Israeli occupation and fragile interfaith ties.

At midafternoon Thursday, the Pope sat down for a highly anticipated meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The meeting came a day after the Pope made an emotional appeal in the West Bank for the establishment of an independent Palestinian homeland — a concept the Israeli leader has refused to endorse. The men appeared to exchange pleasantries before reporters were ushered out of the room to allow them to speak privately.

Before the meeting, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the meeting would be key because "personal contact is always very important."

The choice of Nazareth — home to many key sites in Christianity — as the venue for the largest Mass the pope has celebrated during his visit was at least an indirect reflection of the interfaith strains he has tried to ease.

The city, located in northern Israel's Galilee region, is the country's largest Arab city. Roughly two-thirds of its 65,000 people are Muslims and one-third are Christians. While the two communities tend to get along, they also have come into sporadic conflict.

Earlier this decade, Muslim activists outraged Christians when they built an unauthorized mosque next to the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Christians believe the Angel Gabriel foretold the birth of Jesus to Mary. Israel later tore down the mosque.

Muslim activists also have periodically marched through the city in shows of strength meant to intimidate Christians.

In his homily, Benedict spoke of the tensions that have harmed interfaith relations.

"I urge people of goodwill in both communities to repair the damage that has been done, and in fidelity to our common belief in one God, the Father of the human family, to work to build bridges and find the way to a peaceful coexistence," he said. "Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men's souls before it kills their bodies."

The comments touched on some of the key themes the Pope has focused on during the trip, which a day earlier took him to the West Bank town of Bethlehem — Jesus' traditional birthplace. From there, Benedict issued his ringing appeal for an independent Palestinian state.

Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the Pope was "very happy" with the outcome of the trip and that "all the important meetings were very positive."

He said the main goal was "peace, peace, peace," adding that he felt the Pope had listened to all sides, acting like a "bridge" between the various positions.

During a weeklong trip that included a stop in neighboring Jordan, the Pope has also tried to draw attention to the dwindling number of Christians in the Middle East.

Members of the region's once large and prosperous Christian communities are increasingly leaving conflict-ridden areas including Iraq and the Palestinian territories to seek better lives in the West.

On Thursday, the archbishop of Galilee for the Greek Melkite Church, Elias Chacour, welcomed the Pope with a plea for his prayers and "moral and spiritual support" to stem the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land.

He said the flight of Christians "fills me with pain" and that the future is not encouraging.

In Nazareth, where tradition holds that Jesus grew up, an estimated 50,000 people greeted the Pope, many of them swaying back and forth to Arabic music played over loudspeakers, clapping in unison and waving yellow and white Vatican flags.

As the music subsided, the crowd began the familiar chants in Italian of "Benedetto" and "Viva il Papa."

The Pope passed through the crowd in his white popemobile, led by a procession of priests and bishops in flowing white robes. The leader of the procession swung an incense burner and behind him another priest held an ornate silver cross high above his head.

The Pope carried a larger gold cross and a golden cloak over his traditional white robe as he walked on stage and waved to the crowd. Surrounding him were younger priests in yellow and white robes who held their hands raised in prayer, bibles tucked under their arms.

One of the younger priests handed Benedict the incense burner, which he swung back and forth as he walked around a table resplendent with silver candlesticks. A picture of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child sat in front of the table facing the crowd.

A string of armed guards in heavy dark coats stood in front of the stage between the pontiff and the faithful.

Thursday's Mass was celebrated on Mount Precipice, where Christian tradition says a mob tried to throw Jesus off a cliff [traditional Jews of his time who found his teachings heretical].

Later in the day, the Pope was to head to the Basilica of the Annunciation to worship and for talks with local religious leaders. He is to return to the Vatican on Friday.

According to tradition, Jesus traveled through the Galilee with his disciples preaching and performing miracles in the final years of his life.

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DAY 4 IN ISRAEL:
MASS IN NAZARETH - 2


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THE HOLY FATHER'S HOMILY
AT THE MASS IN NAZARETH


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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“May the peace of the Risen Christ reign in your hearts, for as members of the one body you have been called to that peace!” (Col 3:15).

With these words of the Apostle Paul, I greet all of you with affection in the Lord. I rejoice to have come to Nazareth, the place blessed by the mystery of the Annunciation, the place which witnessed the hidden years of Christ’s growth in wisdom, age and grace (cf. Lk 2:52).

I thank Archbishop Elias Chacour for his kind words of welcome, and I embrace with the sign of peace my brother Bishops, the priests and religious, and all the faithful of Galilee, who, in the diversity of their rites and traditions, give expression to the universality of Christ’s Church.

In a special way I wish to thank all those who have helped to make this celebration possible, particularly those involved in the planning and construction of this new theatre with its splendid panorama of the city.

Here in the home town of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we have gathered to mark the conclusion of the Year of the Family celebrated by the Church in the Holy Land.

As a sign of hope for the future I will bless the first stone of an International Center for the Family to be built in Nazareth. Let us pray that the Center will promote strong family life in this region, offer support and assistance to families everywhere, and encourage them in their irreplaceable mission to society.

This stage of my pilgrimage, I am confident, will draw the whole Church’s attention to this town of Nazareth. All of us need, as Pope Paul VI said here, to return to Nazareth, to contemplate ever anew the silence and love of the Holy Family, the model of all Christian family life.

Here, in the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we come to appreciate even more fully the sacredness of the family, which in God’s plan is based on the lifelong fidelity of a man and a woman consecrated by the marriage covenant and accepting of God’s gift of new life.

How much the men and women of our time need to reappropriate this fundamental truth, which stands at the foundation of society, and how important is the witness of married couples for the formation of sound consciences and the building of a civilization of love!

In today’s first reading, drawn from the book of Sirach (3:3-7, 14-17), the word of God presents the family as the first school of wisdom, a school which trains its members in the practice of those virtues which make for authentic happiness and lasting fulfilment.

In God’s plan for the family, the love of husband and wife bears fruit in new life, and finds daily expression in the loving efforts of parents to ensure an integral human and spiritual formation for their children.

In the family each person, whether the smallest child or the oldest relative, is valued for himself or herself, and not seen simply as a means to some other end.

Here we begin to glimpse something of the essential role of the family as the first building-block of a well-ordered and welcoming society. We also come to appreciate, within the wider community, the duty of the State to support families in their mission of education, to protect the institution of the family and its inherent rights, and to ensure that all families can live and flourish in conditions of dignity.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Colossians, speaks instinctively of the family when he wishes to illustrate the virtues which build up the “one body” which is the Church.

As “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved”, we are called to live in harmony and peace with one another, showing above all forbearance and forgiveness, with love as the highest bond of perfection (cf. Col 3:12-14).

Just as in the marriage covenant, the love of man and woman is raised by grace to become a sharing in, and an expression of, the love of Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:32), so too the family, grounded in that love, is called to be a “domestic church”, a place of faith, of prayer and of loving concern for the true and enduring good of each of its members.

As we reflect on these realities here, in the town of the Annunciation, our thoughts naturally turn to Mary, “full of grace”, the mother of the Holy Family and our Mother.

Nazareth reminds us of our need to acknowledge and respect the God-given dignity and proper role of women, as well as their particular charisms and talents.

Whether as mothers in families, as a vital presence in the work force and the institutions of society, or in the particular vocation of following our Lord by the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, women have an indispensable role in creating that “human ecology” (cf. Centesimus Annus, 39) which our world, and this land, so urgently needs: a milieu in which children learn to love and to cherish others, to be honest and respectful to all, to practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness.

Here too, we think of Saint Joseph, the just man whom God wished to place over his household. From Joseph’s strong and fatherly example Jesus learned the virtues of a manly piety, fidelity to one’s word, integrity and hard work.

In the carpenter of Nazareth he saw how authority placed at the service of love is infinitely more fruitful than the power which seeks to dominate. How much our world needs the example, guidance and quiet strength of men like Joseph!

Finally, in contemplating the Holy Family of Nazareth, we turn to the child Jesus, who in the home of Mary and Joseph grew in wisdom and understanding, until the day he began his public ministry.

Here I would simply like to leave a particular thought with the young people here. The Second Vatican Council teaches that children have a special role to play in the growth of their parents in holiness (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48).

I urge you to reflect on this, and to let the example of Jesus guide you, not only in showing respect for your parents, but also helping them to discover more fully the love which gives our lives their deepest meaning.

In the Holy Family of Nazareth, it was Jesus who taught Mary and Joseph something of the greatness of the love of God his heavenly Father, the ultimate source of all love, the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name (cf. Eph 3:14-15).

Dear friends, in the Opening Prayer of today’s Mass we asked the Father to “help us to live as the Holy Family, united in respect and love”.

Let us reaffirm here our commitment to be a leaven of respect and love in the world around us. This Mount of the Precipice reminds us, as it has generations of pilgrims, that our Lord’s message was at times a source of contradiction and conflict with his hearers.

Sadly, as the world knows, Nazareth has experienced tensions in recent years which have harmed relations between its Christian and Muslim communities.

I urge people of good will in both communities to repair the damage that has been done, and in fidelity to our common belief in one God, the Father of the human family, to work to build bridges and find the way to a peaceful coexistence.

Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men’s souls before it kills their bodies!

Allow me to conclude with a word of gratitude and praise for all those who strive to bring God’s love to the children of this town, and to educate new generations in the ways of peace.

I think in a special way of the local Churches, particularly in their schools and charitable institutions, to break down walls and to be a seedbed of encounter, dialogue, reconciliation and solidarity.

I encourage the dedicated priests, religious, catechists and teachers, together with parents and all concerned for the good of our children, to persevere in bearing witness to the Gospel, to be confident in the triumph of goodness and truth, and to trust that God will give growth to every initiative which aims at the extension of his Kingdom of holiness, solidarity, justice and peace.

At the same time I acknowledge with gratitude the solidarity which so many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world show towards the faithful of the Holy Land by supporting the praiseworthy programs and activities of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

“Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). May our Lady of the Annunciation, who courageously opened her heart to God’s mysterious plan, and became the Mother of all believers, guide and sustain us by her prayers.

May she obtain for us and our families the grace to open our ears to that word of the Lord which has the power to build us up (cf. Acts 20:32), to inspire courageous decisions, and to guide our feet into the path of peace!


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