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5/23/2009 10:06 PM
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Benedict XVI in the Holy Land:
A pilgrimage in the footsteps
of the Risen Christ

by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri
Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches
Translated from
the 5/22/-5/23 issue of

The unforgettable pilgrimage in the land of our Lord, undertaken by Benedict XVI on May 8-15, was distinguished by his encounters with the local Church.

The Pope, drawing up an assessment of the trip at his first General Audience after his return, defined it as "a community of singular importance because it represents a living presence in the place where the Church had its origins".

Thus, he confirmed the eulogy he addressed to the Oriental Churches when he visited our Congregation on June 9, 2007, abd called them "living custodians of Christian origins".

The future of the universal Church depends even today on its link with the Church of its origins. I am sure I am interpreting fully the sentiments of the pastors and the faithful in that portion of the People of God who live in the Holy Land, a true pusillus grex [little flock] but of vital significance for the entire Church, in thanking the Pope, above all for the encouragement, comfort and hope that he has offered the Catholics, and for the prayers he shared at some holy sites with the different rites.

It is a heartfelt gratitude for having exhorted all Christians to remain as living stones in that land where everything speaks of the historic passage of the Redeemer on earth.

"Precariousness, isolation, uncertainty and poverty", the Pope said at the General Audience, are responsible for the seemingly unstoppable exodus of Christians from the region.

But we cannot resign ourselves to this and let such problems have the last word. The Pope is not giving in, and the Church follows him with great hope.

The entire itinerary in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories was summarized by the Pontiff as having been 'in the sign of the Resurrection of Christ".

Thus, the vicissitudes of the past, the wars aand destruction of the present, and even the conflicts among Christians, will not hinder the Church which is sustained by the Spirit of the Risen Lord.

The Cross having been glorified, its work will continue. Of that we are sure. According to St. Paul's teaching, Christ on the Cross brought down the wall of separation. Therefore, every obstacle to the recomposition of unity among human beings, as the Risen Lord desires, is inexorably destined to disappear.

The Pope's support for the Christian community in the Holy Land carries with it an impetus towards its mission of unity and peace. Every stage revealed the ecumenical and inter-religious dimension of the Pope's trip.

And the aspect that was clearly social and political emerged in the Pope's meetings with the political authorities of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

But even in this area, the Successor of Peter presented himself as the leader and father of the communities entrusted to his care by the Lord.

The whole Church was with him, concretely manifested in the local Christian community. In the name of the Church, it confirmed the will for dialog and collaboration with the two other great monotheistic religions who see in Jerusalem an irrepressible prophecy of peace.

Now it falls on the local community to try to realize this mission day by day. It will do so starting with the liturgical celebration of the Paschal mystery - source and summit of its life and its mission.

The educational, humanitarian and social works, often extraordinary, that are carried out and maintained with a thousand sacrifices by the Catholics of the Holy Land, flow from the community's irrenunciable Christian identity.

The possible and therefore obligatory dialog that the Pope has re-launched, will be realized in the daily witness and ordinary services of that local Church, in its persevering faithfulness to God and to men.

Some voices have pointed out that dialog should not be overstressed. And that is true. It is a means and not the goal. On the sacred mountain of Biblical convocation, the perfect communion of all with the one God will take place: that is the goal, and everything is oriented to it.

But while we are still within time, dialog, though arduous and uncertain, affirms that we are on the same path - it exalts a common vision, perhaps not fully elaborated, but one that is felt and desired. It nourishes an expectation which is shared.

The dialog that is now going on, even with its weaknesses, reveals for the good fortune of everyone a secret but common conviction: that we all belong to one family beloved by the only God, father of all.

In this sense, every encounter is always an appreciable milestone and never an illusion. But the meetings that have taken place does not mean that we stop there. Rather, they comfort us and render the next steps easier and faster.

I lived, alongside the Pope, days of great spiritual intensity.
Everywhere he was submerged in a welcome that was as sincere as it was affectionate, which called to mind the far greater numbers of all the men and women around the world who accompanied him with their fervent prayers in those days.

Without forgetting that, in fact, watching over Peter were the host of witnesses who are already with God: the patriarchs and the prophets, the apostles and the martyrs, the holy monks and hermits, Christian pilgrims and seekers of the Absolute, all preceded by the Mother of the Lord, and who have been led to the Promised Land down the centuries by the unutterable fascination of becoming a man of God.

Far more numerous than those who visibly surrounded him was the Church which accompanied him, which was evoked and truly convoked in every celebration of the holy mysteries.

The peaks of the pilgrimage therefore should be seen in the Eucharistic celebrations presided over by the Holy Father in Amman, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth; in the prayer with consecrated persons at the Melkite Cathedral of Amman and in the Basilica of the Annunciation; in his prayers at Calvary and at the empty tomb of the Risen Lord.

In those places and in those 'holy' events, the Bishop of Rome confirmed that the trip "had as its primary objective a visit to the Catholic community of the Holy Land". To sustain that community means to guarantee a precious asset to the Holy Land, perhaps something indispensable to its course in the present and in the future.

To offer the members of that Church, particularly the young people who view tomorrow with concern, adequate housing conditions, education, work, as well as personal and familial freedom of movement, means defending the dignity of everyone not with words but in deeds.

And it is they, the local Catholics, who must now cultivate the good seed that the Pope has planted in that land which is both 'good and holy'.

The blessing of God will amplify this generous sowing, but the abundance of the harvest will depend on their faithfulness. Certainly, the international community should cement together this adventure for peace, which is always possible, even in Gaza, with belief in the solidarity among men and fighting every kind of unjust discrimination.

The Catholic communities should never tire of asking for the blessing of true religious freedom, contributing with all their strength to pursuing this goal which is a guarantee of the inviolable right of every human being.

The Lord will not leave them alone there, where for the first time, his holy name resounded. And Benedict XVI has assured them that the Church of Christ will always be at their side.

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