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5/14/2009 7:42 PM
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The reportage on the Holy Father's visit to Nazareth today, 5/14/09, began on the preceding page, and includes the stories and photos on Mass as well as the text of the Holy Father's homily.

This one is a curious commentary that is in many ways uninformed or simply wrong. I can only assume Mr. Heneghan has not really been paying attention to some things that he should, as Religion Editor for Reuters - perhaps because of ideological blinders, perhaps because of deepset prejudices.

At Dome of Rock, Benedict uses
Muslims’ argument to Muslims

by Tom Heneghan
Religion Editor

May 12, 2009

Well, not quite! And Benedict XVI - as I think John Paul II did before him, too - has always used the language of the Koran for God whenever he addresses a Muslim group. That's elementary courtesy and respect. And I don't see what Muslim argument he used that is not also a Christian argument!

At Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, part of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary complex including Islam’s third-holiest mosque Al-Aqsa, Pope Benedict urged Palestinian Muslim leaders to pursue interfaith cooperation by using an argument that other Muslims have been using to engage Christians — including himself — in dialogue.

The need for interfaith dialogue is emerging as one of the two most consistent themes of Benedict’s speeches during his current Middle East tour (the other being the link between faith and reason). Appeals like this risk being empty phrases, but he has given some new twists that make them stand out.

In his speech to Muslim leaders this morning, the Pope said reason shows us the shared nature and common destiny of all people. He then said: “Undivided love for the One God and charity towards ones neighbour thus become the fulcrum around which all else turns.”

Readers of this blog may recognise that message in a slightly different form — it echoes the “Common Word” appeal by Muslim scholars to a Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the two shared principles of love of God and love of neighbour.

Since we’ve reported extensively about that initiative, readers may also remember that the Vatican was initially quite cautious about it.
[Cautious about discussing 'love of God and love of neighbor'? No. The initial caution from the Vatican was natural caution one always exercises at the start of an unprecedented initiative, i.e., let's see what exactly they have in mind in terms of dialog.]

Up until the Catholic-Muslim forum in Rome last November, the line from the Vatican was that Christians and Muslims couldn’t really discuss theology because their views of God were so different.

[It still makes no sense for them to discuss theology but not because their views of God are different. Because everything else in their theology is different, beginning with their very foundation - and respective founders. Muslims revere Mohammed as God's direct channel to mankind, as it were, and consider Jesus as a minor prophet who preceded him. And Mohammed is not part of Christian theology in any way.]

Vatican officials sounded different after three days of talks and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who is in charge of interfaith relations, said the Common Word group could even become a “privileged channel” for discussions in future. And now Benedict uses their argument to other Muslims.

[I take issue with this entire paragraph, because it simply is not true that the Vatican 'sounded different after three days of talk. So I have put in my two cents' worth below* to dispute Heneghan fut=rther about this important point.]

Another new element — Benedict has begun using core Islamic terms to build bridges to his Muslim audience. [As I commented at the start, he always has done so when addressing Muslims. It's just that Heneghan has only noticed it now.]

Speaking at the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, he referred to God as “merciful and compassionate.” Today, he spoke of a shared belief “that the One God is the infinite source of justice and mercy.”

He even expressed the hope that Muslim-Christian dialogue explores “how the Oneness of God is inextricably tied to the unity of the human family.”

The Trinity is one of the biggest stumbling blocks between Christianity and Islam. Muslims see it as belief in three separate Gods, unlike the three persons in one God as Christians understand it.

Centuries of Muslim anti-Christian rhetoric is built on the idea that Christianity is not really monotheistic like Islam (and Judaism, by the way).

If the detailed theological discussions the Common Word group has launched lead to a better understanding of this issue, even if no agreement is possible, that would still be major progress.

[Progress to what? Certainly not to theological agreement -which is completely unnecessary if one concedes, as one must, that the other two religions have a right to their own belief set.

I suggest Mr. Heneghan reread the final declaration from the Catholic-Muslim Forum in November 2008 to disavow himself of his delusion. It even makes distinctions between the Muslim and Christian concepts of love!

'Even if no agreement is possible', he says - does he really expect any of the faiths to agree to something that is not part of their fudnamental doctrine? It seems Heneghan thinks the three faiths can agree on a syncretic religious doctrine, in which case the word 'faith' loses its meaning altogether. No one trades in or gives up anything about his religious faith, or it not faith at all!]

On the plane flying to Amman, Benedict suggested the Vatican might expand its series of bilateral inter-religious contacts to include a trilateral forum with Christians, Muslims and Jews.

He hasn’t mentioned that since then, but it’s an interesting idea. Rabbis have attended some meetings between the Common Word Muslim scholars and Christian scholars.

After noticing the echo of the Common Word appeal in Benedict’s address, I checked to see whether his Muslim hosts were signatories of the document. They weren’t.

In fact, the only Palestinian I could find who has signed it is Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi, the head of the Islamic courts in the Palestinian territories. He’s the one who upset an otherwise harmonious interfaith meeting with the Pope yesterday with a fiery denunciation of Israel that Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi later called “a direct negation of what a dialogue should be.”

Right after his meeting with the Muslim leaders, Pope Benedict went down to the nearby Western Wall to meet Jewish leaders and insert a personal note in a crack in the ancient wall.

The prayer called Jerusalem the “spiritual home to Jews, Christians and Muslims.” It was a continuation of the message he had just delivered up at the esplanade level.

He later went to meet Israel’s two grand rabbis and assured them the Vatican remained “irrevocably committed to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council for a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews.”

*A word - or more -
about inter-religious dialog

Discussing the common belief in one God among the three monotheistic faiths is not theological discussion. And as usual, the secular journalists appear to misunderstand the nature of theological discussion in the context of interfaith dialog.

There is no dispute about there being one God. And I don't think anyone is inclined to engage in formal discussions about the different ways that the faiths may consider God - in terms of which aspects of God they choose to emphasize.

For the simple reason that there are as many ways of thinking of the one God as there are individuals - every believer chooses to address a specific aspect of God according to the circumstances.

Beyond the oneness of God, the three faiths diverge theologically about Christ and about the Trinity, which are at the core of Christian faith.

Neither Judaism nor Islam recognize Jesus as the Son of God, and for them, the Trinity is just some fancy Christian construction.

The Jews officially consider Jesus as just another rabbi who was crucified for being politically incorrect, and Islam considers him as just another prophet antedating Mohammed but less than him.

Given that the three faiths diverge so fundamentally on Christ, who is the center of the Christian faith, what sense is there in any theological discussion?

It makes even less sense if one considers that contemporary Judaism has several major denominations (modern Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist - to mention just the main ones], and Islam has more than just the mainstream Sunni and Shia factions.

Among them, whose theology are we considering - and why, for God's sake? We Catholics have enough to deal with trying to understand Catholic catechism, let alone having to take in the theology of other faiths which are just as splintered as Christianity itself!

Theological discussion only makes sense in ecumenical dialog, where all the parties recognize Christ as the Son of God - and the path towards Christian reunification necessarily passes through theological agreement.

The purpose of interfaith dialog is not to make the three faiths converge about religious doctrine. It is not another vehicle for trying to proselytize from the other faiths.

Its primary purpose is to establish a basis for common practical action to promote, defend and sustain the universal values that all three faiths support - values that depend on natural law and faith-guided reason, and do not necessarily have to do with theology.

Not only is Heneghan misinterpreting the outcome of the Catholic-Muslim Forum last November, as well as Cardinal Tauran's words [who has even delivered an address to state that the purpose of inter-religious dialog is not theological abstraction but practical action on common values.]

Heneghan is also ignoring what Benedict XVI clearly stated in his letter to Marcello Pera last November: “Inter-religious dialogue, in the strict sense of the term, is not possible."

But most of the secular journalists and commentators who write about religion for the general public either ignored the Pope's statement or found it puzzling [John Allen, among them, who like Heneghan, keeps insisting on the self-contradictory idea of interfaith theological dialog.]

This is a consequence of the mentality that has been fostered in the world of religion writers since John Paul II's first inter-religious jamboree in Assisi in 1988 - in which inter-religious relations are seen primarily in terms of an uncritical and amorphous kumbaya, feel-good movement, along the lines of the 1960s ultimately empty counterculture slogan 'Make love not war'.

Few see or report it as the serious and difficult practical undertaking that it is - what Benedict XVI, Bartholomew I and Kirill I (and Alexei II before him) mean when they say 'inter-religious dialog'. And none of them mean theological discussion! For these journalists, 'serious' means 'theological', which is a rather unthinking, reflex attitude.

The Russian Orthodox Church is very particular that Russian news agencies always report their statements about inter-religious dialog as the Christian commitment to promoting, defending and sustaining the fundamental Christian values that have universal resonance.

Unfortunately, the Vatican has no similar control over what anyone reports about what the Pope says - and so his message and his thinking on inter-religious dialog are never fully or faithfully reported.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/14/2009 8:00 PM]
5/14/2009 9:39 PM
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This is an update of an earlier AP report, but gives a good overview of the Pope's day in Nazareth.


Netanyahu asks Pope
to condemn Iranian rhetoric

BY Diaa Hadid

NAZARETH, Israel, May 14 (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday appealed to Pope Benedict XVI "to make his voice heard" and use his moral authority to condemn the harsh anti-Israel rhetoric voiced by Iran's hard-line president.

The two men met privately for about 15 minutes, sharing their views about the Middle East. "I think we found in him an attentive ear," Netanyahu said.

Benedict has repeatedly called for the establishment of a Palestinian homeland during his current pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Netanyahu, leader of the hawkish Likud Party, has pointedly refused to endorse the concept of Palestinian independence — a cornerstone of international policy for the region.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the talks "centered on how the peace process can be advanced."

But speaking to Israel TV afterward, Netanyahu made no mention of the Palestinians, saying he had appealed to the Pontiff to speak out against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian leader has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction and questioned whether the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, took place.

"I asked him, as a moral figure, to make his voice heard loud and continuously against the declarations coming from Iran of their intention to destroy Israel. I told him it cannot be that at the beginning of the 21st century there is a state which says it is going to destroy the Jewish state, there is no aggressive voice being heard condemning this," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said he was pleased with the Pope's response. "He said that he condemns all instances of anti-Semitism and hate against the state of Israel — against humanity as a whole — but in this case against Israel."

Netanyahu has been trying to rally international pressure to halt Iran's nuclear program. Israel, the U.S. and other Western countries believe Iran is seeking nuclear weapons — a charge Tehran denies.

Afterward, Israeli and Vatican delegations met to discuss bilateral issues, including travel privileges for Arab Christian clergy, Lombardi told reporters.

The Vatican has asked Israel to allow 500 priests from Arab countries to receive visas to enter Israel at will. Interior Minister Eli Yishai refused the request on security grounds, a spokesman said. But Netanyahu said he would reconsider the request.

The men met in Nazareth, the town of Jesus' boyhood, on the fourth day of the pope's Holy Land pilgrimage meant to promote peace and unity in the Middle East.

Throughout the trip, however, Benedict 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.

In an open-air mass earlier Thursday, Benedict greeted tens of thousands of adoring followers [Since when has AP taken to describing the Pope's Mass attendees this way? - I think it's because the reporter is a local/regional one who has no preconceptions and is reporting with a fresh eye, even some details about the Mass this morning as if he/she was attending one for the first time. Good for him/her!] with a message of reconciliation, urging Christians and Muslims to overcome recent strife and "reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice."

Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said earlier 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.

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.

Nazareth, 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."

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.

Thursday's Mass was celebrated on Mount Precipice, where Christian tradition says a mob tried to throw Jesus off a cliff. Later in the day, the Pope headed to Basilica of the Annunciation to worship and for talks with local religious leaders.

Addressing a crowd of faithful and clergy after leading an evening prayer at the church, Benedict returned to the plight of the shrinking number of Christians left in the Holy Land.

"Like Mary, you have a part to play in God's plan for salvation, by bringing Christ forth into the world, by bearing witness to him and spreading his message of peace and unity," he said. "For this, it is essential that you should be united among yourselves."

Benedict 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.
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/14/2009 9:46 PM]
5/14/2009 11:01 PM
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Beautiful Mass!
What a totally successful day in Nazareth! The Mass went well and the congregation was so appreciative. This afternoon's events were momentous and happy, with their quiet minutes when Papa prayed in the grotto of the Nativity [Annunciation basilica] and their joyful ones when representatives of the three monotheistic religions stood up and joined hands as a rabbi sang a simple song of peace. I suppose everything will be distorted again by the press, but who cares?

Thanks for your reporting on this thread, Teresa

AND THANK YOU, TOO, MARY, FOR BEING THE FIRST 'VISITOR' OF RECORD HERE. I am sorry that of all the Pope's trips so far, this is the one I have been most remiss on, in terms of promptness and comprehensiveness. This gives me an occasion to explain my difficulties.

Basically, it's lack of time - and it takes such a toll because if one cannot keep abreast of the events as they happen, it is so much more difficult to try to cram on more than one event that has taken place while a new one is happening. Especially keeping up with the photos.

So many photos are being filed that if you don't catch them as they are filed or shortly thereafter, you either tend to miss them, or have to wade through at least 100 photos to make up for lost time - my preference, but it means I have to copy every photo into a holding folder, where I can copy them in a pre-sorted way (chronologically and by occasion) that I can later look through more easily to choose which ones to post, rather than having to go through the Yahoo slideshow all over.

My biggest frustration is how they cover liturgies - they pay so much attention to before and after, and very little to the actual liturgy. If it's a Mass, all you get is some incensing, the lifting of the Gospel book, and Communion giving. Today, there were no Offertory or Consecration photos at all, and none of the homily.

Or they could try paying more attention to the moments when the Holy Father is simply looking on or listening. It's possible to catch him looking like some photo we know well from as far back as 60 years ago - and I was thinking today that I should get software for video-capture so I can do just that myself!

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/15/2009 3:59 AM]

5/15/2009 12:20 AM
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Following his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, held at the Franciscan convent where the Holy Father earlier lunchd with the bishops of Galilee and the Franciscan custodians of the holy sites in Nazaerth, Benedict XVI proceed to the Basilica of the Annunciation for the rest of his Nazareth program.

The Basilica of the Annunciation, inaugurated in 1969, is the largest Catholic shrine in the Middle East,and is built over what is believed to have been the site of Mary's home in pre-Christian Nazareth where the Angel Gabriel came to tell her she had been chosen by God to be the mother of his Son.

Archeological evidence proves the presence of early churches built on the site to honor the Annunciation. What is now seen at the Grotto on the lower level of the Basilica includes some pillars from a third-century Church next to a stone-lined natural cave. The altar bears the inscription, "Hic verbum caro factum est". (Here, the Word was made flesh." [Anyone who has been there knows the unutterable thrill one feels to read those words on the site.]

A private visit to the Grotto was the Holy Father's first appointment here, but the layout of the Cathedral, whose interior was built to have the Grotto in the center, provides a wide circular opening on the floor of the Upper Church that looks right down into the chapel below, and the chapel itself has ample side galleries. So, unlike the Holy Father's visit to the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem [ yesterday (Wednesday), there are plenty of photographs of this event.

5/15/2009 12:43 AM
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From his visit to the Grotto of the Annunciation, the Holy Father proceeded to the auditorium of the Basilica for a meeting with leaders of other religious faiths represented in Galilee.


Grateful for the words of welcome offered by Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo and for your warm reception, I cordially greet the leaders of different communities present, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Druze and other religious peoples.

I feel particularly blessed to visit this city revered by Christians as the place where the Angel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here too, Joseph, her betrothed, saw the Angel in a dream and was directed to name the child “Jesus”. After the marvelous events surrounding his birth, the child was brought to this city by Joseph and Mary where he “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Lk 2:40).

The conviction that the world is a gift of God, and that God has entered the twists and turns of human history, is the perspective from which Christians view creation as having a reason and a purpose. Far from being the result of blind fate, the world has been willed by God and bespeaks his glorious splendor.

At the heart of all religious traditions is the conviction that peace itself is a gift from God, yet it cannot be achieved without human endeavor.

Lasting peace flows from the recognition that the world is ultimately not our own, but rather the horizon within which we are invited to participate in God’s love and cooperate in guiding the world and history under his inspiration.

We cannot do whatever we please with the world; rather, we are called to conform our choices to the subtle yet nonetheless perceptible laws inscribed by the Creator upon the universe and pattern our actions after the divine goodness that pervades the created realm.

Galilee, a land known for its religious and ethnic diversity, is home to a people who know well the efforts required to live in harmonious coexistence.

Our different religious traditions have a powerful potential to promote a culture of peace, especially through teaching and preaching the deeper spiritual values of our common humanity. By molding the hearts of the young, we mold the future of humanity itself.

Christians readily join Jews, Muslims, Druze, and people of other religions in wishing to safeguard children from fanaticism and violence while preparing them to be builders of a better world.

My dear friends, I know that you accept cheerfully and with a greeting of peace the many pilgrims who flock to Galilee. I encourage you to continue exercising mutual respect as you work to ease tensions concerning places of worship, thus assuring a serene environment for prayer and reflection here and throughout Galilee.

Representing different religious traditions, you share a desire to contribute to the betterment of society and thus testify to the religious and spiritual values that help sustain public life.

I assure you that the Catholic Church is committed to join in this noble undertaking. In cooperation with men and women of good will, she will seek to ensure that the light of truth, peace and goodness continue to shine forth from Galilee and lead people across the globe to seek all that fosters the unity of the human family.

God bless you all.

The last speaker, a Jewish rabbi and cantor, led the assembly in singing a specially composed hymn with only the words, "Salaam, Shalom, Lord grant us peace", in typical Jewish religious musical mode.

The short hymn was sung over and over, and for the last repetition, the cantor inserted after 'Lord grant us peace', the German words 'Gibt uns Frieden' (Give us peace).

It was quite a surprise - and a wonderful gesture - that a religious Jew used German, obviously in honor of Benedict XVI
, given the acrimony that lingers about the Holocaust.

The session ended with an unusual moment for a Pope:

I must not omit to say that the Muslim representative who addressed the meeting gave one of the best and most informative interfaith addresses I have yet heard from a Muslim or a Jew. I hope I can get a transcript of it. He gave a beautiful explanation of how Islam was born as a religion of love and peace.

CNA's story takes note of the Jewish rabbi's hymn but not the Muslim leader's address:

Pope sings for peace at
site of Muslim-Christian clashes

Nazareth, Israel, May 14, 2009 (CNA) - Muslims, Christians, Jewish and Druze leaders met with Pope Benedict XVI in the auditorium of the Shrine of the Annunciation this afternoon.

Thanking the leaders for their efforts to help form younger generations dedicated to peace, the Pope appealed for their cooperation in easing tensions over religious places of worship in Galilee.

Benedict XVI began by noting that it is a blessing to be able to visit Nazareth, the place where the angel Gabriel announced Jesus' birth and where Jesus was raised.

Recalling these historical events led the Pope to reflect on the conviction that “the world is a gift of God, and that God has entered the twists and turns of human history.” This perspective is the source of Christians' belief that creation has “a reason and a purpose,” he explained.

Peace, the Pope noted, is “a gift of God, yet it cannot be achieved without human endeavor.” However, he said, “We cannot do whatever we please with the world; rather, we are called to conform our choices to the subtle yet nonetheless perceptible laws inscribed by the Creator upon the universe... .”

The fact that the Pope is in Galilee, a religiously diverse region of Israel, gave him the opportunity to call for the numerous religions to “promote a culture of peace.” This can be done, he asserted, through educating the younger generations in “the deeper spiritual values of our common humanity.”

The Holy Father pledged Christians' eager participation in joining “Jews, Muslims, Druze and people of other religions in wishing to safeguard children from fanaticism and violence while preparing them to be builders of a better world.”

The issue of violence surrounding religious sites was also touched on by the Pope.

In the late 1990s, tensions flared in the square that holds the Basilica of the Annunciation because of plans by Muslims to build a large mosque that would have blocked the view of the basilica.

The confrontation over the Israeli government-approved mosque brewed over into clashes between Muslims and Christians just before Pope John Paul II's visit in 1999.

In 2003 the Israeli government intervened by sending in troops to demolish the mosque's foundations.

Pope Benedict, aware of the conflict, said in his speech today, “I know that you accept cheerfully and with a greeting of peace the many pilgrims who flock to Galilee. I encourage you to continue exercising mutual respect as you work to ease tensions concerning places of worship, thus assuring a serene environment for prayer and reflection here and throughout Galilee.”

At the end of the meeting, the Pope smiled as the leaders joined hands and sang "Shalom, Salam, May the Lord's peace be with you" - a song composed and led by Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi was asked if this marked the first time on the trip that the Pope prayed with Muslim and Jewish leaders.

He replied, "I'd say that the rabbi had a ingenius and creative idea because nobody can object to singing peace."

[I do not think praying together at this interfaith meeting would have been out of place. The setting is an auditorium, used for other civic occasions, and definitely not a place for liturgy, even if it is a facility attached to the Basilica....

And I am still trying to find a satisfactory explanation as to why praying together with people of other faiths inside a temple of worship that is not Catholic is frowned upon - especially if the prayers are silent (each one prays privately even if physically present together), or if a common prayer to the one God is said aloud.]

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/15/2009 4:01 AM]
5/15/2009 1:36 AM
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The Holy Father's last event for the day was Vespers in the Upper Church of the Basilica of the Annunciation with bishops, priests, mena dn women religious, members of pastoral and ecclesial movements in Galilee.

The rear apse of the Basilica is covered in a magnificent mosaic that provides an impressive backdrop for liturgies.


Brother Bishops,
Father Custos,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is profoundly moving for me to be present with you today in the very place where the Word of God was made flesh and came to dwell among us.

How fitting that we should gather here to sing the Evening Prayer of the Church, giving praise and thanks to God for the marvels he has done for us!

I thank Archbishop Sayah for his words of welcome and through him I greet all the members of the Maronite community here in the Holy Land. I greet the priests, religious, members of ecclesial movements and pastoral workers from all over Galilee.

Once again I pay tribute to the care shown by the Friars of the Custody, over many centuries, in maintaining holy places such as this.

I greet the Latin Patriarch Emeritus, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, who for more than twenty years presided over his flock in these lands. I greet the faithful of the Latin Patriarchate and their current Patriarch, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, as well as the members of the Greek-Melkite community, represented here by Archbishop Elias Chacour.

And in this place where Jesus himself grew to maturity and learned the Hebrew tongue, I greet the Hebrew-speaking Christians, a reminder to us of the Jewish roots of our faith.

What happened here in Nazareth, far from the gaze of the world, was a singular act of God, a powerful intervention in history, through which a child was conceived who was to bring salvation to the whole world.

The wonder of the Incarnation continues to challenge us to open up our understanding to the limitless possibilities of God’s transforming power, of his love for us, his desire to be united with us.

Here the eternally begotten Son of God became man, and so made it possible for us, his brothers and sisters, to share in his divine sonship. That downward movement of self-emptying love made possible the upward movement of exaltation in which we too are raised to share in the life of God himself (cf. Phil 2:6-11).

The Spirit who “came upon Mary” (cf. Lk 1:35) is the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of Creation (cf. Gen 1:2). We are reminded that the Incarnation was a new creative act.

When our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived in Mary’s virginal womb through the power of the Holy Spirit, God united himself with our created humanity, entering into a permanent new relationship with us and ushering in a new Creation.

The narrative of the Annunciation illustrates God’s extraordinary courtesy (cf. Mother Julian of Norwich, Revelations 77-79). He does not impose himself, he does not simply pre-determine the part that Mary will play in his plan for our salvation: he first seeks her consent.

In the original Creation there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of his creatures, but in this new Creation he does so. Mary stands in the place of all humanity. She speaks for us all when she responds to the angel’s invitation.

Saint Bernard describes how the whole court of heaven was waiting with eager anticipation for her word of consent that consummated the nuptial union between God and humanity.

The attention of all the choirs of angels was riveted on this spot, where a dialogue took place that would launch a new and definitive chapter in world history.

Mary said, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” And the Word of God became flesh.

When we reflect on this joyful mystery, it gives us hope, the sure hope that God will continue to reach into our history, to act with creative power so as to achieve goals which by human reckoning seem impossible.

It challenges us to open ourselves to the transforming action of the Creator Spirit who makes us new, makes us one with him, and fills us with his life. It invites us, with exquisite courtesy, to consent to his dwelling within us, to welcome the Word of God into our hearts, enabling us to respond to him in love and to reach out in love towards one another.

In the State of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Christians form a minority of the population. Perhaps at times you feel that your voice counts for little. Many of your fellow Christians have emigrated, in the hope of finding greater security and better prospects elsewhere.

Your situation calls to mind that of the young virgin Mary, who led a hidden life in Nazareth, with little by way of worldly wealth or influence.

Yet to quote Mary’s words in her great hymn of praise, the Magnificat, God has looked upon his servant in her lowliness, he has filled the hungry with good things.

Draw strength from Mary’s canticle, which very soon we will be singing in union with the whole Church throughout the world!

Have the confidence to be faithful to Christ and to remain here in the land that he sanctified with his own presence!

Like Mary, you have a part to play in God’s plan for salvation, by bringing Christ forth into the world, by bearing witness to him and spreading his message of peace and unity.

For this, it is essential that you should be united among yourselves, so that the Church in the Holy Land can be clearly recognized as “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

Your unity in faith, hope and love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, enabling you to be effective instruments of God’s peace, helping to build genuine reconciliation between the different peoples who recognize Abraham as their father in faith.

For, as Mary joyfully proclaimed in her Magnificat, God is ever “mindful of his mercy, the mercy promised to our forefathers, to Abraham and his children for ever” (Lk 1:54-55).

Dear friends in Christ, be assured that I constantly remember you in my prayer, and I ask you to do the same for me.

Let us turn now towards our heavenly Father, who in this place looked upon his servant in her lowliness, and let us sing his praises in union with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with all the choirs of angels and saints, and with the whole Church in every part of the world.

I want to say a few words about the Basilica of the Annunciation which is very impressive as a church, even if it did not have the unique quality attached to it - namely, that it marks the site of the Incarnation, God's irruption into human history.

There are three sites in the Holy Land where I felt thoroughly transfused with the transcendent wonder of God having come down to earth - the Grotto of the Annnunciation ('HIC Verbum caro factum est', Here the Word became flesh - What a stunningly wondrous statement of unrepeatable fact!); the Mount of Beatitudes [Just standing on that hill and looking down on the Lake of Galilee evokes so powerfully the presence of Jesus as God and man - and one feels, looking at the sky and the lake and the grass and the trees and the rocks, this is how it must have felt when Adam first beheld the world God made for him!); and the Golgotha chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where one prays right next to the rock on which the Cross of Christ stood. I atttended the two most memorable Masses of my life there - with two or three other Massgoers at the first morning Mass before the Old City begins to come awake - and, to comemmorate the original Sacrifice and receive Commnion right next to the rock where the Sacrifice happened is an ineffable experience that made me infinitely thankful I am Catholic and was born Catholic, because otherwise, how could I have possibly experienced the occasion in the way I did?

I feel almost blasphemous for not including the Grotto of the Nativity, even if I have prayed there four times. On my second visit to Jerusalem, I made it a point to visit Bethlehem three days in a row, just because it was possible, to pray before that star on the paving of the Grotto. [This is one of the easiest tours to join because it is a short bus ride, and even if one does have to go through all the Israeli checkpoints, the tour operators do a good job of getting their busloads through as quickly as possible. The Israeli military is very professional and efficient, and as long as you have a valid passport and visa to Israel - and no incidents! - there is absolutely no hold-up. The Palestinians, of course, check you, too, entering and leaving Bethlehem. BTW, on this brief tour, you also get to visit Rachel's Tomb, just outside Bethlehem.]

Maybe because the Grotto of the Nativity itself is a tiny enclosure that is cluttered with the paraphernalia of the shrines that have been set up there for centuries. Of course, it emanates that special, almost palpable aura of faith left by centuries of believers who have come here to worship the Lord. (The Church of the Nativity itself is more a historical rather than a 'spiritual' experience - I suppose because of its strange custody arrangements.)

Anyway I would have wanted to feel the presence of the Baby Jesus, of the Holy Family, at the Grotto of the Nativity, the way the Grotto of the Annunciation, besides evoking the Incarnation, evokes them just as powerfully (Here they lived and worked - Jesus, Mary and Joseph together, just imagine that!, and here, Jesus lived for thirty years!).

As a contemporary church, the Basilica honors that singular, unrepeatable event beautifully. Its structural floor plan follows that of the 12th-century Crusader Church which was built over the earliest proto-Christian churches built on the site and is therefore comfortingly traditional. Similarly, all the contemporary artwork that decorates it is in keeping with tradition and orthodoxy.

Sorry that my few words went on much longer than I had intended. The Holy Father's pilgrimage brings back precious memories, along with a journalist's worst frustration - I wish I could be there to cover the event. When John Paul II visited the Holy Land in 2000, I told all my friends that it was the one event I considered 'the dream assignment of a lifetime' for a coverage. Imagine what I have been feeling about our Papino's pilgrimage!

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/15/2009 4:04 AM]
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Pope nears end of Holy Land trip
with visit to Nazareth

By John Thavis

NAZARETH, Israel, May 14 (CNS) -- Nearing the end of his Holy Land pilgrimage, Pope Benedict XVI came to Nazareth, the city where Jesus grew up, and appealed for the strengthening of family bonds in the region and the world.

The papal Mass May 14, celebrated in a new amphitheater built into Nazareth's Mount Precipice, drew about 40,000 people, the biggest crowd on his eight-day pilgrimage. The Pope had earlier visited Jordan, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem in the Palestinian territories.

In his homily, the Pope said modern society needs to recognize the sacred nature 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 God's gift of new life."

Later, the Pope met with Christian and non-Christian religious leaders of Galilee and emphasized the need to ease tensions over places of worship.

In Nazareth, a decade of dispute over a planned mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation has soured relations between Christians and Muslims.

He urged all people of faith to protect children from "fanaticism and violence" and to teach respect for the beliefs and traditions of other religions.

Then the Pontiff, smiling broadly, stood and held hands in prayer with other participants as a specially composed psalm was sung, using the words of peace in Arabic, Hebrew and English: "Salam, Shalom, Lord grant us peace."

Later, the pope led a prayer service for Catholics in the Basilica of the Annunciation. He said that with the appearance of the angel to Mary announcing that she would bear Jesus, God entered into human history. God's action in history holds a lesson for modern times, he said.

"We cannot do whatever we please with the world; rather, we are called to conform our choices to the subtle yet nonetheless perceptible laws inscribed by the Creator upon the universe," he said.

In a meeting in a Franciscan convent with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Pope discussed how to advance prospects for Middle East peace.

The 82-year-old pontiff came to Israel from Jordan May 11. At an airport welcoming ceremony in Tel Aviv, he honored the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and prayed that "humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude."

"Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable," he said.

In a visit that day to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Pope Benedict prayed silently before the eternal flame in the Hall of Remembrance and said the suffering of Jews under the Nazi extermination campaign must "never be denied, belittled or forgotten."

The Pope called the Holocaust an atrocity that disgraced mankind and said the church is committed to working tirelessly "to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again."

He met with six Holocaust survivors, who later expressed their appreciation for the Pope's gesture. But some Jewish leaders said they were disappointed that the German Pope made no mention in his talk of the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust.

That evening, the Pope told a group of inter-religious dialogue experts that, in a world that has in some ways become "deaf to the divine," religions must give common witness to God's rightful place in the world.

The event was marred by a Muslim sheik's denunciation of Israeli policies, which prompted some Jewish representatives to walk out.

On May 12, the Pope celebrated an open-air Mass in Jerusalem, prayed at the Western Wall and visited one of Islam's most sacred shrines. [Thavis has the events in reverse order!] The events underscored his message that Jerusalem, a meeting ground for Christianity, Judaism and Islam, must again become a city of peace.

The {ope made a morning visit to the Dome of the Rock, sacred to Muslims as the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven. He told Islamic leaders there that Christians, Muslims and Jews have a "grave responsibility" to expand dialogue and mend divisions.

He then went to the Western Wall, a site sacred to Jews as the remains of the Second Temple, and placed a written prayer in a crevice between the massive stones. It asked God to "hear the cry of the afflicted" and "send your peace upon this Holy Land."

In the evening, the Pope celebrated Mass for several thousand people in the Josafat Valley, beneath the Mount of Olives, and called for Jerusalem to regain its vocation as a "promise of that universal reconciliation and peace" against the "despair, frustration and cynicism" that afflict the city today.

Visiting the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 13, Pope Benedict called for an independent Palestinian state and urged young people to reject acts of violence and terrorism.

He celebrated Mass in the city of Christ's birth and encouraged Christians to 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."

To reach Bethlehem, the Pope crossed the border from Israel through a gate in the most striking feature on the landscape: Israel's 26-foot-tall concrete security wall.

Speaking at the Aida Refugee Camp later in the day, he said it was tragic to see new walls being erected at a time when more and more of the world's borders were being opened up.

The Pope began his eight-day trip in Jordan, where he walked a pilgrim's path, energizing its minority Christian population and building bridges to the moderate Muslim world.

Arriving at Amman's airport May 8 he said he had come with "deep respect" for the Muslim community. It was Pope Benedict's first trip to an Arab country.

The Pope paid tribute to interfaith dialogues launched by Jordanian leaders, saying they have advanced an "alliance of civilizations between the West and the Muslim world, confounding the predictions of those who consider violence and conflict inevitable."

The following day, the Pope visited the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, pausing briefly in what the Vatican called "respectful meditation" in a Muslim place of prayer.

In a speech afterward to Muslim academics and religious leaders, the Pope warned of the "ideological manipulation of religion" that can act as a catalyst for tensions and violence in contemporary societies.

The Pope traveled May 9 to Mount Nebo, the place where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land before dying, and blessed the foundation of Jordan's first Catholic university in the biblical city of Madaba.

Celebrating Mass May 10 in an Amman soccer stadium for some 25,000 people, the Pope said Christians in the Holy Land have a special vocation to engage in dialogue and build new bridges to other religions and cultures, and to "counter ways of thinking which justify taking innocent lives."

Later in the day the Pope made his way to the Jordan River, where archaeologists believe they have identified the site of Jesus's baptism by St. John the Baptist. He blessed the foundation stones of two Catholic churches to be built at the location.

Pope and Israeli prime minister
discuss peace, dialogue, priests' visas

By Judith Sudilovsky

NAZARETH, Israel, May 14 (CNS) -- Peace in the Middle East, Catholic-Jewish relations and the difficulties of church workers in Israel were just a few of the topics discussed when Pope Benedict XVI met privately May 14 with newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Advancing the Middle East peace process was the main topic during the 15-minute private meeting between the Pope and Prime Minister at the Franciscan convent in Nazareth, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

Father Lombardi also said the two leaders briefed each other about their recent meetings with Jordan's King Abdullah II. Pope Benedict had met the Jordanian leader May 8, while Netanyahu made a surprise visit to Jordan just hours before meeting the Pope.

After their private meeting, the Pope and Prime Minister were joined by top aides for a 20-minute discussion about the work of a Vatican-Israeli bilateral commission, Father Lombardi said.

The commission, established in 1993, has been working on and off for years trying to find a way to settle agreements related to the tax situation of Catholic institutions in Israel and other primarily fiscal issues.

Despite hopes that the negotiations would have been completed prior to the Pope's visit, the fiscal issues remain unresolved.

After the meeting, Netanyahu told reporters: "I met the Pope first of all because it is important for Israel's relations on a global level; there are a billion Catholics. The Pope stands at the head of the world Catholic community, and we want good relations with such a large part of humanity."

The Prime Minister said they spoke about "the historic process of reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism, and the Pope is very interested."

The Israeli leader also asked the Pope to speak out against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats against Israel.

"I told him it cannot be that at the beginning of the 21st century there is a state which says it is going to destroy the Jewish state," the prime minister said.

He said the Pope told him that "he condemns all such things -- anti-Semitism, hate. I think we found in him an attentive ear."

He said Pope Benedict asked him for assistance in getting multiple-entry visas for Catholic clergy from surrounding Arab countries and with other "administrative matters."

"I said we would examine them in a positive atmosphere," Netanyahu said.

According to media reports, Israel recently turned down a church request for multiple-entry visas for 500 priests from Arab countries who work in Israel and the Palestinian territories. [The background to this visa stringency by Israel is that some years back, Israelis caught a few priests who used their multiple-entry visas to smuggle in weapons by car into Israel for Palestinian guerrillas.]

In recent years the issue of visas has become a major point of contention, and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has warned that not having the visas hinders the priests' ability to carry out their pastoral work and prevents them from being able to visit their families.

Scarves speak volumes
in Pope's Holy Land visit

By John Thavis

BETHLEHEM, West Bank, May 13 (CNS) -- Sometimes a scarf is worth a thousand words.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken carefully during his Holy Land pilgrimage - so carefully that it occasionally seemed his talks were written by Vatican diplomats.

[Really? They may have checked the words and phrraseology of any statement that had to do with directly political issues, but I felt that all his speeches in Bethlehem, for instance, were admirably equilibrated from the political point of view.

He said things the Palestinians want to hear which also happen to be right and just and therefore, positions that the Pope himself, personally, as well as the Holy See, as a state, are only too happy to advocate. And of course, compassion for the conditions that the Palestinians have to endure consequent to Israel's stringent security measures including the 'wall'.

And although he said there should be no walls such as this, he immediately followed it by saing that more importantly, there should not be walls around our hearts, about which I believe Palestinians have more unbreachable walls than most Israelis do who have no problem with a Palestine state as long as some of its people do not keep targeting Israelis with violence and terror.

Thus, he always balanced off his encouraging words by gently pointing out - in words, euphemisms even, guaranteed not to give offense to his hosts, Palestinian as well as Israeli - where they needed to do their part in the peace process, such as, in effect, not to foster and support violence and terrorism, not to stick to pre-determined and basically unrealistic demands, not to continue harboring grudges, to look forward instead of harping on the past.]

But the image and the message people will carry from his visit may have more to do with scarves than speeches.

In Bethlehem, during a long evening event at the Aida Refugee Camp, the Pope expressed sympathy for the suffering of families who have been divided and uprooted since the 1948 war that established the country of Israel and dispossessed many Palestinians of their homes.

However, he carefully avoided direct comments on the right of return, the principle that Palestinian refugees have a right to regain possession of their ancestral homes. The issue is an explosive and difficult one in peace talks, in part because of the practical difficulties involved.

The Vatican has generally steered clear of the issue in recent years, though Church officials have suggested on occasion that some form of compensation for those who lost homes might be a fair settlement.

But at the Aida camp, ringed by banners reading "No justice without return home," the sentiment was decidedly more uncompromising.

When the event drew to a close, Palestinian officials announced they had a special gift for the Pontiff: a "scarf of return," designed and embroidered by Palestinian artists.

Lest anyone miss the point, the scarf was full of symbols:

-- The "key of return," symbolizing the keys many Palestinians still keep to their old homes.

-- The papal keys, implying the Pope had the moral authority to make a difference on the issue in the international arena.

-- Images of the Star of Bethlehem, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Nativity, "to express the unity of the Palestinian people and Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine."

While Vatican diplomats would have winced at a papal endorsement of all those concepts, the Pope had no problem accepting the gift. As he stood up and smiled broadly, a Palestinian placed the scarf around his shoulders, and he wore it during the rest of the program.

The moment drew some of the loudest cheers of the evening.

The Pope had an earlier scarf experience in Jordan, where he was presented by Melkite Catholics with a kaffiyeh, also known in Jordan as a "shmagh," the red-and-white-checked head scarf that in some parts of the Mideast is associated with Hamas and other militant groups.

The photo of the Pope in the "shmagh" landed on the front pages of Jordanian newspapers the next day. A few days later, children greeting the Pope at the Latin patriarchate school in Bethlehem already had that picture on their T-shirts.

[The Pope accepts the scarves for the gifts that they are, it costs him nothing to wear them briefly because that is the gracious thing to do with gift scarves, and no one will fault him for being gracious.

Sure, he knows that in this case, the givers primarily mean to make their point in the world media by getting an image that they can then use as an icon to promote their cause, but no government or international organization will interpret such circumstantial pictures as representative of the Holy See's political position!

On the other hand, the Jordanian scarf in Amman and the Palestinian keffiyeh in the Vatican two weeks ago are simple symbols of nationality.

The Pope would do it for Israelis, too, no doubt. For instance, if not for the fact that he already wears a white skullcap, he would have worn one of the white skullcaps that the Jews provided for his entourage when they visited the Western Wall.]

Benedict rides 'peace train' to Nazareth

At center stage, Benedict held hands
with a rabbi and a Druze sheikh


May 14, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI continued riding what one might call his metaphorical "peace train" in the Middle East today, calling upon followers of different faiths to build bridges and reject hatred – which, the Pope said, "kills men's souls before it kills bodies."

Summing up Benedict's message on his week-long trip, Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi today used three words: "Peace, peace, peace."

[Why should this be 'news'? When the Holy Father first announced this pilgrimage, he said very clearly he was cmoing to pray for peace. The motto he chose for the trip was the beatitude 'Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God'. He has been doing exactly what he came to do.]

Very much in that spirit, this afternoon brought arguably the best visual of the trip. At the close of an inter-faith meeting in Nazareth involving Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Druze, the Pope and leaders of each community stood on stage and held hands while belting out a song specially composed for the occasion: "Salam, Shalom, Lord Grant Us Peace." [You don't and can't belt out a psalm in Jewish musical mode!]

Standing in the center of the stage, Benedict held hands with a rabbi and a Druze sheikh. [Allen obviously missed the interpellated German line, 'Gibt uns Frieden', in the final repetition of the rabbi's psalm.]

This was the pontiff's lone day in Nazareth, described in the New Testament as the hometown of Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph. It's located in northern Israel in the Galilee, roughly 70 miles from Jerusalem.

The Pope celebrated an open-air Mass for roughly 40,000 at the "Mount of the Precipice," which tradition regards as the setting of a Biblical scene in which a mob pursued Jesus to the edge of a cliff.

The Pope also visited the grotto in Nazareth where an angel is believed to have appeared to Mary to announce that she was pregnant with Jesus. He took part in an inter-faith session and then celebrated a vespers service in the Basilica of the Annunciation.

Though the day was largely spiritual in tone, it did include one political note: a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This week, Benedict has repeatedly affirmed his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, while the new Netanyahu government has sent ambivalent signals about its commitment to Palestinian statehood.

The meeting took place behind closed doors, and a Vatican spokesperson said afterwards only that the two men had discussed the peace process.

Throughout the day, the Pope's message boiled down to a pitch for peace.

During Mass, the Pontiff averted to Christian-Muslim tensions in Nazareth. Local Muslims want to build a mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation, on a spot which they believe marks the grave of Shahib al-Di, a nephew of Saladin, the Muslim commander who defeated the Crusaders in 1187.

Protests from Christians, both in Nazareth and around the world, including the U.S. bishops, prompted the Israeli government to halt plans for the mosque in 2002 – a decision that embittered many Muslims.

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

"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!" the pope said.

Prior to the Pope's visit, a Muslim group called Ansar Allah, or "Army of God," erected a banner several days ago at the mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation, which contains an indirect warning to the Pope: "Muhammad is God's messenger who are with him are fierce against infidels."

The banner, however, was not visible from the courtyard of the basilica where this afternoon's events took place.

In his session with religious leaders, the Pope continued the peace theme.

"Our different religious traditions have a powerful potential to promote a culture of peace, especially through teaching and preaching the deeper spiritual values of our common humanity," he said.

"Christians readily join Jews, Muslims, Druze, and people of other religions in wishing to safeguard children from fanaticism and violence while preparing them to be builders of a better world," the Pope said.

The peace song that ended the meeting was composed by Alon Goshen-Gottstein, a Jew who runs an inter-faith center in Jerusalem.

Goshen-Gottstein said he wrote the song only in the last few days, after an ecumenical event in Jerusalem on Monday when an anti-Israeli speech from a Muslim sheikh cast a pall over the event.

Working through local contacts, Goshen-Gottstein said he proposed to the Vatican that the song should be performed at today's event, including the moment when the religious leaders rose and held hands.

"I was tormented and anguished that this opportunity was being wasted," he said immediately after the event. "I told them, you need a visual. There should be a picture to correct what went wrong."

In Nazareth, Benedict also called for unity among Christians. There are thirteen different Christian denominations in the Holy Land, and their relations are notoriously fractious.

Unity, the Pope argued, will allow them to promote "genuine reconciliation between the different peoples who recognize Abraham as their father in faith."

Because Nazareth is the home of the Holy Family, the Pontiff also touched on family life. He underscored "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."

Benedict XVI wraps up his weeklong visit to the Middle East tomorrow. He will take part in an ecumenical meeting with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, as well as visits to the Holy Sepulchre and the Armenian Patriarchal Church of St. James, before returning to Rome in the afternoon.

Deliberately, Benedict plans on departing before the Jewish Sabbath begins. There will thus be no repeat of what happened during John Paul's 2000 visit, when his meeting with [Prime Minister Ehud] Barak took place on a Friday.

Barak was forced to cut the encounter short, since no Israeli politician can afford to be seen violating the Sabbath. An open microphone caught Barak confiding to the Pontiff, "We have to go now … We have to keep our government together!"

For his part, Nazareth Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy proclaimed himself "very satisfied" with the day. During a midday press conference, Jaraisy, a Greek Orthodox Christian, said that city officials had only two months to prepare for the event that would draw the largest crowd on the Pope's entire itinerary, because competition over which site would host the Pontiff delayed a decision until the last minute.

"Fortunately, the right decision was made," Jaraisy said. "After all, he's called 'Jesus of Nazareth,' not any other place." [And the mayor makes an excellent point! I was surprised that there was even any question about Nazareth - except the Israelis' security concerns. I could not imagine the author of JESUS OF NAZARETH going to Nazareth and not saying Mass there. The rival site was Haifa on the Mediterranean coast, which is not linked to Jesus in any way.

It just occurred to me: Suppose the Holy Father had already finished the second volume of JON, would it not be very appropriate if he signed the Preface to it: 'Joseph Ratzinger/Benedictus PP XVI, Nazareth, May 14, 2009'?]

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/17/2009 1:20 AM]
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I found this enterprise story by John Allen very informative but I did not realize it would provoke me to articulate some of my strong convictions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I'm not claiming to be an expert of any kind on the subject, but I started following this conflict as a journalist back in 1967, so I think I have a fairly informed handle on it, though it be my own alone.

Church in Israel struggles
to find its Hebrew voice

Arab Christians, Israeli Jews
on opposite sides of
a cultural-political divide


May 14, 2009

In theory, the Catholic presence in the Middle East ought to be a natural bridge with the other two great monotheistic faiths of the region, Islam and Judaism.

As far as Islam goes, that's long been a practical reality: Arab Christians share both language and culture with their Muslim neighbors, and, for the most part, a common political perspective.

With Judaism, however, the picture is far cloudier. Arab Christians tend to be on the opposite side of a cultural and political divide from many Israeli Jews, limiting the possibilities for face-to-face contact, and sometimes making those occasions more likely to spark tension than understanding.

Largely unknown to outsiders, however, the Catholic presence in Israel is not limited to Arab Christians. For the first time on this trip, Benedict XVI today acknowledged another face of the church, one that may have much greater potential for engaging both Judaism and civil society: its small Hebrew-speaking community.

"I greet the Hebrew-speaking Christians, a reminder to us of the Jewish roots of our faith," the Pope said during an evening vespers service in Nazareth.

Some experts believe the development of Hebrew-speaking Catholicism is the only way for the Church to find its voice in Israeli life.

"Otherwise, in addition to the religious divide, the Church and Christianity will always be viewed as foreign," said Fr. David Jaeger. "This is an added, and crushing, burden on our ability to communicate."

Jaeger, a Franciscan priest who was born a Jew in Israel in 1955, serves as the delegate in Rome of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. He is also a legal advisor to the Vatican in its negotiations with the Israeli government on the tax and legal status of church properties.

Officially, the number of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel is estimated to be only a few hundred, composed in part of converts from Judaism, including a handful of Holocaust survivors.

Given Jewish sensitivity to purported Christian proselytism, this community tends to maintain a deliberately low profile -- sometimes regarding itself, observers say, almost as a "hidden leaven" with the mass of Israeli society.

It's that bit of diplomatic tact, Vatican officials told NCR, that helps explain why Benedict XVI has not mentioned the community more often or more prominently, or why the pontiff has not visited any of its four centers in Israel.

Jaeger, however, said there's potentially a much larger pool of faithful in the country.

Official Israeli statistics identify 27,000 non-Arabic speaking Christians, though Jaeger said the number is likely larger because many do not have official state documents.

Some are Christians who settled in Israel under the "law of return," which allows entry to anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent. Experts say that tens of thousands of Christians from the former Soviet Union, for example, have immigrated to Israel in recent decades.

In addition, Jaeger said, there are also many migrant workers who are in effect permanent residents, even if they don't have that status legally. For example, a considerable number of Filipino immigrants are living and working in Israel.

While these non-Arab Christians are mainly immigrants, their future is within Israeli society. They and their children, assuming they remain in the country, will become Israelis speaking Hebrew.

Many of these Christians aren't Catholic -- those from the former Soviet Union, for example, are mostly Orthodox -- but their presence nonetheless suggests that the number of Catholics who could form the basis of an Israeli voice for the church is considerably more than a few hundred.

Right now, Jaeger said, they amount to "a flock without a shepherd."

[Does this not speak to the perhaps understandable but also pastorally questionable partisanship of the Latin Patriarchs of Jerusalem - both Archbishop Sabbah who was Patriarch for 20 years and the present Patriarch, Archbishop Twal?

Why have they neglected the Hebrew Christians - we have no reason to doubt Fr. Jaeger - because of their overriding identification with the Palestinian cause? Their outspoken partisanship is most impolitic in every sense of the word. Who's to say that it is not a contributing factor to Israel's foot-dragging on the pending diplomatic issues with the Vatican?]

Israel has a robust culture of political debate, and Jaeger said there are many discussions to which the Church could contribute, citing as examples abortion, end of life issues, workers' rights and the new economy as examples. Yet, he said, usually its voice is not heard.

In part, he said, that's because "the existing Church structures have more than enough to do paying attention to the concerns of the national minority to which they minister so admirably." The reference is to Israel's Arab population. [Fr. Jaeger is being moooost diplomatic!]

After spending even a short time here, however, it seems clear that the problem is not simply time and resources. It's also that the vast majority of Arab Christians here are themselves Palestinians, meaning that they identify strongly with Palestinian resentments.

Two vignettes from Pope Benedict XVI's swing in Israel and the Palestinian Territories this week makes the point.

Earlier in the week, Israeli authorities shut down a press center for Palestinian journalists that had been opened at a hotel in East Jerusalem.

When asked if the Vatican would condemn the move, Fr. Peter Madros, an advisor to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said: "The Vatican does not need to condemn every move of Israel. Otherwise, the Vatican would be condemning every other day."

Yesterday, Benedict XVI visited the Aida refugee camp on the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, in Bethlehem. Rana Bishara, a local Palestinian artist and a Catholic, was on hand for the event, but she wasn't thrilled about what she had seen and heard from the Pope during this trip.

"The Pope visited the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, but we've been living the Holocaust for 61 years*," Bishara said, referring to the events of 1948 which led to the creation of the State of Israel and the beginning of exile for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

In general, Bishara said, she's now convinced that the Pope -- her Pope -- is "in the pocket of Israel."

However understandable those frustrations, they're unlikely to make the basis for a "natural bridge" with Israel and Judaism.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which is the official Catholic structure covering Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, does have an arm for the Hebrew-speaking community: "The Apostolate of Saint James the Apostle," founded in 1955 with centers in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa and Beersheva. It's currently led by Fr. David Neuhaus, a Jesuit born in South Africa.

The group describes its aims as:
- To establish Hebrew-speaking Catholic communities in the state of Israel for Catholics integrated into Israeli Jewish society.
- To be a bridge between the universal church and the people of Israel by strengthening the relationship of Jews and Christians, and by reminding the church of her Jewish roots.
- To bear witness to values of peace and justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Jaeger, however, believes that if the Church is to find its voice within Israeli society, a separate ecclesiastical structure is required -- one that would have its own identity.

"There's a huge interest in the Church in Israel," Jaeger said. "People are very willing to pay attention and to listen, if not always to agree. But right now, a cultural, linguistic, and mental screen prevents that from happening."

*Even if I am not Jewish, I protest most strongly Bishara's equating the Jewish Holocaust - which was naked programmed genocide - to the vicissitudes of the Palestinians, which is the result of a welter of circumstances not entirely caused by Israel alone or the Palestinians alone, or even both together, but by a historical chain of events that involves so many other nations and interests, and worse, that cannot be undone, only resolved by compromise.

Leave aside the international geopolitics that led to the colonial partitioning of the Middle East between the Britsh and the French after World War I, and how the United Nations voted to recognize a new State of Israel on what had been the historic Jewish homeland (antedating Islam by centuries). Let's fast-forward to when the State of Israel was created.

Would the Palestinians living then in the territory of the new State of Israel (an estimated 700,000 at the time) have been expelled by the Israelis after May 14, 1948, assuming the Arab countries had not immediately gone to war to prevent that state from becoming a reality?

But they fled when war broke out, perhaps expecting to come back without a problem since they expected the nascent state to be crushed easily by the Arab coalition. They bet on the wrong side, and as it happens, Israel's War for Independence was followed by three other wars declared against Israel by the Arabs in the course of the next 20 years, Israel winning every time, David over Goliath.

And yet, the Israelis gave back most of the Arab lands they had conquered, keeping only what they deem essential to their identity as a Jewish state - which includes Jerusalem, their historic capital since the days of King David, longer than anyone else.

Then, they ceded the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to give Palestinians a territory on which to build a state eventually, And all they got for it was an unrelenting hate campaign from the Palestinians who invented the intifada and massacre by terror bombing just to wreak vengeance on Israel!

Given the record of relentless Arab aggression since Israel became a state in 1948, how can Israel be blamed if it takes security and defense measures it considers appropriate to defend its own citizens? Even if such measures may seem excessive - or are actually excessive - because the weaker adversary necessarily incurs more deaths, injuries and damages.

Israel is considered unjust because it happens to be stronger, even if it only deploys its military might when it is directly challenged - as in the months-long daily rocket attacks from Hamas extremists in Gaza which provoked the Israeli military reaction last December.

Ariel Sharon withdrew Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip as a practical measure more than two years ago. It is almost a mercy that he went into coma before Gaza was thereafter converted into the military base for Hamas terrorists to strike at Israel.

I wonder how many liberals would be so totally on the Palestinian side and see nothing but evil in Israel if, say, the Palestinians had the full material and economic support of super-rich allies like Iran and Saudi Arabia and declared full war on Israel, something they can't do now on their own because they do not have the resources for it, and Iran is helping Hamas only just enoough to enable them to inflict pinpricks on Israel. Pinpricks that are occasionally lethal but not enough to drive the Israelis into the Mediterranean, because that is a 'pleasure' that Iran wants to reserve for itself?

What most pro-Palestine partisans (and conversely extreme Israel haters) choose to ignore is that Israel has never initiated any armed aggression against the Arabs (except the Six-Day War, which was a preemptive strike that caught the Arab armies by surprise before they could launch the offensive they planned) - it has always and only been in reaction to Arabs attacking first, whether from Lebanon, or Syria, or the Palestinian territories, or from the Arab states that went to war against it four times between 1948 and 1968.

Of course, they have been guilty of excesses - who isn't in war conditions? But does anyone doubt that if the shoe were on the other foot - Israel would get absolutely crushed underfoot over night with no quarters given?

Ehud Barak made almost every concession Arafat wanted back in 2000, and still Arafat turned down the deal brokered by President Clinton. Time and again, in Oslo, in Madrid, at Camp David, it is Israel that makes concessions even if it has all the cards - and all it gets back is intifada, terror bombings, rocket attacks on its cities.

One can see why the Palestinians are so intractable and don't want to make any concessions on their part - such as agreeing to a negotiated settlement, perhaps, in liew of 'right of return' which has become a practical impossibility after 60 years from the Israeli point of view, because there just is no room to accomodate the three million or so into which the originally 700,000 have grown. And even if there were room, the sheer number of these returnees would immediately dliute the Jewish population and make a mockery of Israel being a Jewish state, the Jewish homeland, which is its raison d'etre!

More important, is not the so-called 'right of return' an obvious ploy for eventually 'reclaiming' all the region in the manner of the camel who is allowed to put his head into the tent and soon ends up occupying the entire tent. Never forgetting Arafat's famous threat that the Arab womb was their best weapon: "If we can't defeat them in war, let's outbreed them!"

[But it must be said Israel's infamous strategy of establishing Jewish settlements in territory they had ceded to the Palestinians is its own version of the camel's ploy, and it is just as unacceptable. And to what effect, except as a show of naked bad faith? It may have started the strategy thinking of these settlements as advance military posts, but the Israelis who volunteered to build these settlements all happen to be militants who have planted themselves where they were sent and have stood their ground ready to die as martyrs if the government forced them to strike camp and go home.

Meanwhile, are the Palestinians not just playing a waiting game, a war of attrition until they can get their camel's head into the Israeli tent and claim it fully for their own?

The unfairness of the international community with respect to Israel makes enough Jews angry enough to vote for someone like Netanyahu who takes a very hard line that has no patience with playing the Palestinian game and says so outright.

Let us hope his bark is worse than his bite, because he may be a hardliner, but he does not strike me as fanatic. So maybe he will leave the door ajar for negotiations although he realizes that it could all be futile even in the short run, let alone for a 'durable and lasting peace based on justice' that the Holy Father prays for, and all right-thinking people along with him.

I apologize for using this space to express my views on the Arab-Palestinian conflict, but after all, a new impetus to the peace process between them was part of the Holy Father's intention for this pilgrimage.

Even if I am obviously puzzled that the Vatican - and presumably, the Holy Father himself - has seemed always ready to condemn Israeli reprisal for attacks initiated against them, but not the Palestinians for initiating the attacks. Is it just compassion for anyone who is weaker? But weakness does not justify or excuse wrong actions!....

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/17/2009 1:22 AM]
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May 15

St. Isidore Farmer (Spain, 1070-1130)
Confessor, Patron of Madrid

OR today.

Although the picture is from the visit to the Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem on Tuesday,
the headline is from the Holy Father's Nazareth homily yesterday:

In Nazareth, the Holy Father renews the appeal to 'build bridges'
and 'bring down walls' for peaceful coexistence and calls for
Strong and creative initiatives for reconciliation in the Middle East

This issue contains the coverage of the Pope's visit to the Aida refugee camp and his farewell to the Palestinians,
as well as the Mass in Nazareth yesterday.


The Holy Father left Israel today as scheduled after a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
where he spent time praying in the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre itself and later beside the rock of Calvary.

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Pope Benedict XVI's last day in Israel was nonetheless event-filled. After celebrating Mass in prvate in the Chapel of the Apostolic Delegation, the Holy Father went by card\ to the Geek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem for an ecumenical meeting.

Upon his arrival at (:15, the Holy Father was welcomed by His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III who accompanied him ti the Throne Roomto meet representatives of the non-Catholic Christian communities in the Holy Land.

After the patriarch's weolcome address, the Holy Father delivered the following:


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is with profound gratitude and joy that I make this visit to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem; a moment to which I have much looked forward.

I thank His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilus III for his kind words of fraternal greeting, which I warmly reciprocate. I also express to all of you my heartfelt gratitude for providing me with this opportunity to meet once again the many leaders of Churches and ecclesial communities present.

This morning I am mindful of the historic meetings that have taken place here in Jerusalem between my predecessor Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, and also between Pope John Paul II and His Beatitude Patriarch Diodoros.

These encounters, including my visit today, are of great symbolic significance. They recall that the light of the East (cf. Is 60:1; Rev 21:10) has illumined the entire world from the very moment when a "rising sun" came to visit us (Lk 1:78) and they remind us too that from here the Gospel was preached to all nations.

Standing in this hallowed place, alongside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the site where our crucified Lord rose from the dead for all humanity, and near the cenacle, where on the day of Pentecost "they were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1), who could not feel impelled to bring the fullness of goodwill, sound scholarship and spiritual desire to our ecumenical endeavors?

I pray that our gathering today will give new impetus to the work of theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, adding to the recent fruits of study documents and other joint initiatives.

Of particular joy for our Churches has been the participation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew I, at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome dedicated to the theme: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.

The warm welcome he received and his moving intervention were sincere expressions of the deep spiritual joy that arises from the extent to which communion is already present between our Churches. Such ecumenical experience bears clear witness to the link between the unity of the Church and her mission.

Extending his arms on the Cross, Jesus revealed the fullness of his desire to draw all people to himself, uniting them together as one (cf. Jn 12:32). Breathing his Spirit upon us he revealed his power to enable us to participate in his mission of reconciliation (cf. Jn 19:30; 20:22-23).

In that breath, through the redemption that unites, stands our mission! Little wonder, then, that it is precisely in our burning desire to bring Christ to others, to make known his message of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor 5:19), that we experience the shame of our division.

Yet, sent out into the world (cf. Jn 20:21), empowered by the unifying force of the Holy Spirit (ibid. v. 22), proclaiming the reconciliation that draws all to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (ibid. v. 31), we shall find the strength to redouble our efforts to perfect our communion, to make it complete, to bear united witness to the love of the Father who sends the Son so that the world may know his love for us (cf. Jn 17:23).

Some two thousand years ago, along these same streets, a group of Greeks put this request to Philip: "Sir, we should like to see Jesus" (Jn 12:21). It is a request made again of us today, here in Jerusalem, in the Holy Land, in the region and throughout the world.

How do we respond? Is our response heard? Saint Paul alerts us to the gravity of our response: our mission to teach and preach. He says: "faith comes from hearing, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ" (Rm 10:17).

It is imperative therefore that Christian leaders and their communities bear vibrant testimony to what our faith proclaims: the eternal Word, who entered space and time in this land, Jesus of Nazareth, who walked these streets, through his words and actions calls people of every age to his life of truth and love.

Dear friends, while encouraging you to proclaim joyfully the Risen Lord, I wish also to recognize the work to this end of the Heads of Christian communities, who meet together regularly in this city.

It seems to me that the greatest service the Christians of Jerusalem can offer their fellow citizens is the upbringing and education of a further generation of well-formed and committed Christians, earnest in their desire to contribute generously to the religious and civic life of this unique and holy city.

The fundamental priority of every Christian leader is the nurturing of the faith of the individuals and families entrusted to his pastoral care. This common pastoral concern will ensure that your regular meetings are marked by the wisdom and fraternal charity necessary to support one another and to engage with both the joys and the particular difficulties which mark the lives of your people.

I pray that the aspirations of the Christians of Jerusalem will be understood as being concordant with the aspirations of all its inhabitants, whatever their religion: a life of religious freedom and peaceful coexistence and - for young people in particular - unimpeded access to education and employment, the prospect of suitable housing and family residency, and the chance to benefit from and contribute to economic stability.

Your Beatitude, I thank you again for your kindness in inviting me here, together with the other guests. Upon each of you and the communities you represent, I invoke an abundance of God’s blessings of fortitude and wisdom! May you all be strengthened by the hope of Christ which does not disappoint!


At 10:15, the Holy Fahter proceeded to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre which, according to tradition, is the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

The Pope was welcomed, according to protocol, by six representatives of the three entities sharing responsibility for the custody of the Basilica: the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Custody of the Holy Land, and the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The Holy Father prayed first at the Stone of Anointing, where it is believed, the body of Jesus was laid to be prepared for burial after being taken down from the Cross, after which he entered the chamber within which is the Tomb of the Resurrection for a private prayer.

He then gave the following address in the main hall of the Basilica:


Dear Friends in Christ,

The hymn of praise which we have just sung unites us with the angelic hosts and the Church of every time and place – "the glorious company of the apostles, the noble fellowship of the prophets and the white-robed army of martyrs" – as we give glory to God for the work of our redemption, accomplished in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Before this Holy Sepulchre, where the Lord "overcame the sting of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers", I greet all of you in the joy of the Easter season.

I thank Patriarch Fouad Twal and the Custos, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, for their kind greeting. I likewise express my appreciation for the reception accorded me by the Hierarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. I gratefully acknowledge the presence of representatives of the other Christian communities in the Holy Land.

I greet Cardinal John Foley, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and also the Knights and Ladies of the Order here present, with gratitude for their unfailing commitment to the support of the Church’s mission in these lands made holy by the Lord’s earthly presence.

Saint John’s Gospel has left us an evocative account of the visit of Peter and the Beloved Disciple to the empty tomb on Easter morning. Today, at a distance of some twenty centuries, Peter’s Successor, the Bishop of Rome, stands before that same empty tomb and contemplates the mystery of the Resurrection.

Following in the footsteps of the Apostle, I wish to proclaim anew, to the men and women of our time, the Church’s firm faith that Jesus Christ "was crucified, died and was buried", and that "on the third day he rose from the dead".

Exalted at the right hand of the Father, he has sent us his Spirit for the forgiveness of sins. Apart from him, whom God has made Lord and Christ, "there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we are to be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Standing in this holy place, and pondering that wondrous event, how can we not be "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37), like those who first heard Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost?

Here Christ died and rose, never to die again. Here the history of humanity was decisively changed. The long reign of sin and death was shattered by the triumph of obedience and life; the wood of the Cross lay bare the truth about good and evil; God’s judgement was passed on this world and the grace of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon humanity.

Here Christ, the new Adam, taught us that evil never has the last word, that love is stronger than death, that our future, and the future of all humanity, lies in the hands of a faithful and provident God.

The empty tomb speaks to us of hope, the hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the Spirit of life (cf. Rom 5:5). This is the message that I wish to leave with you today, at the conclusion of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

May hope rise up ever anew, by God’s grace, in the hearts of all the people dwelling in these lands! May it take root in your hearts, abide in your families and communities, and inspire in each of you an ever more faithful witness to the Prince of Peace!

The Church in the Holy Land, which has so often experienced the dark mystery of Golgotha, must never cease to be an intrepid herald of the luminous message of hope which this empty tomb proclaims.

The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome, and that a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise for every man and woman, for the whole human family, and in a special way for the people who dwell in this land so dear to the heart of the Saviour.

This ancient Memorial of the Anástasis bears mute witness both to the burden of our past, with its failings, misunderstandings and conflicts, and to the glorious promise which continues to radiate from Christ’s empty tomb.

This holy place, where God’s power was revealed in weakness, and human sufferings were transfigured by divine glory, invites us to look once again with the eyes of faith upon the face of the crucified and risen Lord. Contemplating his glorified flesh, completely transfigured by the Spirit, may we come to realize more fully that even now, through Baptism, "we bear in our bodies the death of Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our own mortal flesh" (2 Cor 4:10-11).

Even now, the grace of the resurrection is at work within us! May our contemplation of this mystery spur our efforts, both as individuals and as members of the ecclesial community, to grow in the life of the Spirit through conversion, penance and prayer.

May it help us to overcome, by the power of that same Spirit, every conflict and tension born of the flesh, and to remove every obstacle, both within and without, standing in the way of our common witness to Christ and the reconciling power of his love.

With these words of encouragement, dear friends, I conclude my pilgrimage to the holy places of our redemption and rebirth in Christ. I pray that the Church in the Holy Land will always draw new strength from its contemplation of the empty tomb of the Savior.

In that tomb it is called to bury all its anxieties and fears, in order to rise again each day and continue its journey through the streets of Jerusalem, Galilee and beyond, proclaiming the triumph of Christ’s forgiveness and the promise of new life.

As Christians, we know that the peace for which this strife-torn land yearns has a name: Jesus Christ. "He is our peace", who reconciled us to God in one body through the Cross, bringing an end to hostility (cf. Eph 2:14). Into his hands, then, let us entrust all our hope for the future, just as in the hour of darkness he entrusted his spirit into the Father’s hands.

Allow me to conclude with a special word of fraternal encouragement to my brother Bishops and priests, and to the men and women religious who serve the beloved Church in the Holy Land.

Here, before the empty tomb, at the very heart of the Church, I invite you to rekindle the enthusiasm of your consecration to Christ and your commitment to loving service of his mystical Body. Yours is the immense privilege of bearing witness to Christ in this, the land which he sanctified by his earthly presence and ministry.

In pastoral charity enable your brothers and sisters, and all the inhabitants of this land, to feel the healing presence and the reconciling love of the Risen One.

Jesus asks each of us to be a witness of unity and peace to all those who live in this City of Peace. As the new Adam, Christ is the source of the unity to which the whole human family is called, that unity of which the Church is the sign and sacrament.

As the Lamb of God, he is the source of that reconciliation which is both God’s gift and a sacred task enjoined upon us. As the Prince of Peace, he is the source of that peace which transcends all understanding, the peace of the new Jerusalem.

May he sustain you in your trials, comfort you in your afflictions, and confirm you in your efforts to proclaim and extend his Kingdom. To all of you, and to those whom you serve, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of Easter joy and peace.


Benedict XVI then moved on to the Chapel of the Apparition, where he paused in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament before climbing up to the Golgotha chapel where he prayed at the site of Calvary.


From the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the Pope was driven to the Armenian Apostolic PatriarchaL Church of Jerusalem, where he was greeted by Patriarch Torkom Manoukian.

The faithful of the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate in the Holy Land number some 10,000, present in the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Israel.

Here is the text of the Pope's address st teh Cathedral:


Your Beatitude,

I greet you with fraternal affection in the Lord, and I offer prayerful good wishes for your health and your ministry. I am grateful for the opportunity to visit this Cathedral Church of Saint James in the heart of the ancient Armenian quarter of Jerusalem, and to meet the distinguished clergy of the Patriarchate, together with the members of the Armenian community of the Holy City.

Our meeting today, characterized by an atmosphere of cordiality and friendship, is another step along the path towards the unity which the Lord desires for all his disciples.

In recent decades we have witnessed, by God's grace, a significant growth in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. I count it a great blessing to have met in this past year with the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and with the Catholicos of Cilicia Aram I.

Their visits to the Holy See, and the moments of prayer which we shared, have strengthened us in fellowship and confirmed our commitment to the sacred cause of promoting Christian unity.

In a spirit of gratitude to the Lord, I wish also to express my appreciation of the unwavering commitment of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the continuing theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

This dialogue, sustained by prayer, has made progress in overcoming the burden of past misunderstandings, and offers much promise for the future.

A particular sign of hope is the recent document on the nature and mission of the Church produced by the Mixed Commission and presented to the Churches for study and evaluation.

Together let us entrust the work of the Mixed Commission once more to the Spirit of wisdom and truth, so that it can bear abundant fruit for the growth of Christian unity, and advance the spread of the Gospel among the men and women of our time.

From the first Christian centuries, the Armenian community in Jerusalem has had an illustrious history, marked not least by an extraordinary flourishing of monastic life and culture linked to the holy places and the liturgical traditions which developed around them.

This venerable Cathedral Church, together with the Patriarchate and the various educational and cultural institutions attached to it, testifies to that long and distinguished history.

I pray that your community will constantly draw new life from its rich traditions, and be confirmed in its witness to Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection (cf. Phil 3:10) in this Holy City.

I likewise assure the families present, and particularly the children and young people, of a special remembrance in my prayers.

Dear friends, I ask you in turn to pray with me that all the Christians of the Holy Land will work together with generosity and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel of our reconciliation in Christ, and the advent of his Kingdom of holiness, justice and peace.

Your Beatitude, I thank you once more for your gracious welcome, and I cordially invoke God's richest blessings upon you and upon all the clergy and faithful of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the Holy Land. May the joy and peace of the Risen Christ be always with you.

This was the last event on the Pope's program. From Jerusalem, he was flown by Israeli military helicopter to Ben Gurion International Airport for the departure ceremony and his return to Rome.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/18/2009 5:12 PM]
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Pope Benedict ends Mideast tour
with visit to the Holy Sepulcher

JERUSALEM, May 15 - Pope Benedict XVI assured his followers in the Holy Land that peace is possible, as he ended his Mideast visit Friday by putting aside the contentious issues he has confronted and coming as a pilgrim to the site of Jesus' crucifixion.

Before boarding an airplane for Rome at Israel's international airport later in the day, the Pope appeared to address some of the criticism leveled at him for a speech on the Holocaust that some Israelis felt was lukewarm. He also called Israel's West Bank separation barrier "one of the saddest sights" of his visit.

"No more bloodshed. No more fighting. No more terrorism. No more war," the pope said before departing.

Earlier on the fifth and final day of his visit, the pontiff walked into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem accompanied by a traditional escort of men in black robes and red fezzes rhythmically banging staffs on the ground to announce his approach.

Benedict knelt down and kissed the rectangular stone on which Jesus's body is believed to have been placed after the crucifixion. Then he entered the structure inside the church marking the site of Jesus's tomb and knelt inside alone for several minutes, hands clasped, as priests chanted nearby. [No photos of this available yet.]

In a speech afterward, he told those gathered in the church not to lose hope — a central theme during a visit in which he addressed the Holocaust, Israeli-Palestinian politics and the shrinking number of Christians in the region.

"The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome, and that a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise for every man and woman, for the whole human family, and in a special way for the people who dwell in this land so dear to the heart of the Savior," he said.

With those "words of encouragement," he said, "I conclude my pilgrimage to the holy places of our redemption and rebirth in Christ."

He then ascended to the second-floor Chapel of Golgotha (Calvary) next to the rock on which Jesus was crucified and knelt in silent prayer some time.

Thousands of soldiers and policemen were deployed Friday around Jerusalem's Old City for the Pope's visit to the ancient church, which tradition holds marks the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

"This is where it all began, where good defeated evil, which is what the pope and all of us hope will happen in the Holy Land and across the world," said Hans Brouwers, a white-cloaked Catholic priest standing outside the church.

With Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos I.

Benedict also met with the city's Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox patriarchs, part of the outreach effort toward Orthodox Christians that he has made a keystone of his papacy.

The Pope is leaving the Holy Land having fulfilled his mission of reaching out to Jews and Muslims, but some are giving his five-day trip only mixed reviews. It was his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories as pontiff.

During his visit, he led 50,000 worshippers in a jubilant Mass outside of Nazareth in an effort to rally his flock, whose numbers have been holding steady inside Israel's borders but dropping steeply in the West Bank and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The number of Arab Christians in the Holy Land — an estimated 160,000 — has barely risen in six decades, even as the Muslim and Jewish populations have skyrocketed.

He removed his shoes to enter Islam's third-holiest shrine, and he followed Jewish custom by placing a note bearing a prayer for peace in the cracks of the Western Wall.

He also met Israeli and Palestinian leaders. "It was a trip in which the Pope listened very much. He was also listened to, I think," Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.

Benedict won appreciation from Palestinians for endorsing their call for an independent state. But some Israelis were disappointed with his treatment of the Holocaust, saying he could have gone further in a speech at the country's national Holocaust memorial.

The Pope eloquently spoke of the suffering of Holocaust victims but did not follow the lead of his predecessor, John Paul II, in expressing remorse for the Church's historic persecution of Jews. Neither did he discuss what some see as the Church's passivity during the Nazi genocide or his own time as a member of the Hitler Youth.

Those perceived omissions led officials at the Yad Vashem memorial to take the exceptional step of openly criticizing the speech. They also noted he said Jews were "killed," rather than "murdered."

The Pope's final speech before his departure might have been an attempt to address those concerns.

In it, he referred to Jews "brutally exterminated under a godless regime." He also referred to what he called a "tense relationship" in the past between Jews and the Catholic Church.

Addressing Israeli President Shimon Peres, he also explicitly endorsed a "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and singled out Israel's West Bank separation barrier.

"One of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands was the wall," he said.

Israel began building the barrier during a wave of suicide bombings to keep assailants out of Israel. Palestinians see it as a land grab because its route is largely inside the West Bank.

In Israel, many remember the excitement sparked by the charismatic John Paul when he arrived in 2000 for the first official visit here by a Pope. Benedict's visit seemed to suffer in comparison.

"If history will ever bother paying attention to his inconsequential visit, it will merely be as a footnote to the end of Christian influence in the Middle East," columnist Anshel Pfeffer wrote Friday in the daily Haaretz.

But Ron Kronish, an Israeli rabbi involved in interfaith dialogue, said much of the criticism was unfair.

"I think overall, from the point of view of the state of Israel and the Holy See, the Vatican, this was a successful trip," he said.

TEL AVIV — Recalling a visit to the Auschwitz death camp, Pope Benedict XVI wound up a sometimes fraught and often politically charged trip to Israel and the West Bank on Friday with a call for peace and a plea that the Holocaust — “that appalling chapter in history” — must “never be forgotten or denied.”

But, as he has since he arrived from Jordan on Monday on his first trip to the Holy Land as pope, he avoided evoking his German nationality and his personal history in Nazi Germany as some Israelis had demanded. Rather, he blamed the Holocaust on “a godless regime.”

The Pope has sought to walk a narrow line between the tripwires of Middle East politics, addressing the concerns of Israelis and of Palestinians.

As he left, he spoke in a farewell statement from Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport of the separation barrier that Israel has built to fence itself off from Palestinian areas, saying it was “one of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands.”

He added: “No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades. Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence.”

But he used his most direct and personal language when he recalled one of his first acts after his arrival here when he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and met survivors “who suffered the evils of the Shoah.”

“Those deeply moving encounters brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews — mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends — were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred,” he said.

“That appalling chapter in history must never be forgotten or denied,” he said. “On the contrary, those dark memories should strengthen our determination to draw closer to one another as branches of the same olive tree, nourished from the same roots and united in brotherly love.”

Earlier Friday, the Pontiff walked into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem accompanied by a traditional escort of men in black robes and red fezzes rhythmically banging staffs on the ground to announce his approach, The Associated Press reported.

Benedict knelt down and kissed the rectangular stone on which Jesus’s body is believed to have been placed after the crucifixion. Then he entered the structure inside the church marking the site of Jesus’s tomb and knelt inside alone for several minutes, hands clasped, as priests chanted nearby.

In a speech afterward, he told those gathered in the church not to lose hope.

“The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome, and that a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise for every man and woman, for the whole human family, and in a special way for the people who dwell in this land so dear to the heart of the Savior,” he said, the A.P. reported.

The language he used in addressing the Holocaust in his farewell remarks later seemed less emotive than in May 2006, when Benedict prayed at the cells and crematories of the Auschwitz camp on a visit he called “particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a pope from Germany.”

“Words fail,” Benedict said at that time. The Pope was born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria in 1927. The son of a policeman, he was inducted into the Hitler Youth and the German Army — biographical details that he has not recalled during his Middle East journey but that some Israelis have.

[It's not as if he has ever hidden those facts. They just are not relevant. How can he presume to cite his own experience of the war as a teenager conscripted into German military service, compared to the unspeakable horror which was the lot of six million Jews?

If he had done so, he would have been even more criticized for bringing himself into the discussion of the Shoah. As it is, out of consideration for his hosts, he made no reference - as he could have - to all the Catholics who were murdered by the Nazis simply for being Catholic, victims of a 'godless regime' as much as the Jews were. But again, Israel is not the place to say that, and there will be Jews who will scorn the reference, anyway, saying there can be no comparison because the numbers just don't match at all.

Thank God for Benedict XVI who says what he believes is right and appropriate no matter what the pressures are on him to be 'accommodating'.]

“In the end, there can only be a dread silence, a silence that itself is a heartfelt cry to God,” Benedict said in 2006. “Why, Lord, did you remain silent?” he said, his voice trembling. “How could you tolerate this?”

At that time — one year into his papacy — he did not seek forgiveness for Germans or the Roman Catholic church during World War II. He laid the blame squarely on the Nazi regime, avoiding the painful but now common acknowledgment among many Germans that ordinary citizens also shared responsibility.

In 2006, he said he went to Auschwitz “as a son of the German people, a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation.”

[And what would it have served to reproach Germans today with the sins of the past - even if many ordinary Germans were complicit with the Nazis at the time? The Pope's reproach was for all evil such as the Nazis did, whoever does it, in whatever place and at whatever time.

The world itself has not laid the blame for the Nazi crimes against humanity on Germans in general - the international community tried those that it could at Nuremberg, and allowed the rest, including ex-Nazis, to start anew and rebuild their nation, even helping them to get on their feet with the Marshall Plan.

As a German private citizen, Joseph Ratzinger is not in the same position to speak for all Germans, the way John Paul II was, as Pope, to speak in behalf of all the Christians who had sinned against their fellowmen by persecution, violence and abuse in the past. And the distinction should be obvious.

No one elected Joseph Ratzinger to represent the German people and speak for them. He can only speak for the Church which he represents and heads, and for his own personal convictions.

It's such an outrage for Donadio to dredge up the polemics over the Auschwitz address of 2006 the way she has done!]

But the Pope’s attitude to the Holocaust resonated strongly during his visit here, just four months after he provoked outrage by revoking the excommunication of four schismatic bishops, one of whom, a Briton, Richard Williamson, has denied the scope of the Holocaust. Benedict’s words on Friday seemed a direct rebuttal of attempts to minimize or deny the Holocaust.

The Pope’s visit has rarely been free of a political edge. On Thursday, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, urged him to denounce Iran.

A day earlier, the Pope visited a Palestinian refugee camp, calling for the creation of a Palestinian state — a policy not endorsed by Mr. Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud Party.

In his departure remarks, Benedict repeatedly referred to the stark symbolism of the separation barrier built by Israel beginning in 2002. He crossed the barrier in his motorcade when he visited Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus, on Wednesday.

“As I passed alongside it,” he said, “I prayed for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation, but rather respecting and trusting one another and renouncing all forms of violence and aggression.”

Rachel Donadio reported from Tel Aviv, and Alan Cowell from London.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/15/2009 6:34 PM]
5/15/2009 5:43 PM
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Mr President,
Mr Prime Minister,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I prepare to return to Rome, may I share with you some of the powerful impressions that my pilgrimage to the Holy Land has left with me.

I had fruitful discussions with the civil authorities both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories, and I witnessed the great efforts that both governments are making to secure people’s well-being.

I have met the leaders of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, and I rejoice to see the way that they work together in caring for the Lord’s flock.

I have also had the opportunity to meet the leaders of the various Christian Churches and ecclesial communities as well as the leaders of other religions in the Holy Land.

This land is indeed a fertile ground for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, and I pray that the rich variety of religious witness in the region will bear fruit in a growing mutual understanding and respect.

Mr President, you and I planted an olive tree at your residence on the day that I arrived in Israel. The olive tree, as you know, is an image used by Saint Paul to describe the very close relations between Christians and Jews.

Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans how the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the cultivated olive tree which is the People of the Covenant (cf. 11:17-24).

We are nourished from the same spiritual roots. We meet as brothers, brothers who at times in our history have had a tense relationship, but now are firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship.

The ceremony at the Presidential Palace was followed by one of the most solemn moments of my stay in Israel – my visit to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, where I met some of the survivors who suffered the evils of the Shoah.

Those deeply moving encounters brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews - mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends - were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred.

That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied. On the contrary, those dark memories should strengthen our determination to draw closer to one another as branches of the same olive tree, nourished from the same roots and united in brotherly love.

Mr President, I thank you for the warmth of your hospitality, which is greatly appreciated, and I wish to put on record that I came to visit this country as a friend of the Israelis, just as I am a friend of the Palestinian people.

Friends enjoy spending time in one another’s company, and they find it deeply distressing to see one another suffer.

No friend of the Israelis and the Palestinians can fail to be saddened by the continuing tension between your two peoples. No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades.

Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war!

Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice, let there be genuine reconciliation and healing.

Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders.

Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely.

Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream.

And let peace spread outwards from these lands, let them serve as a “light to the nations” (Is 42:6), bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict.

One of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands was the wall. As I passed alongside it, I prayed for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation, but rather respecting and trusting one another, and renouncing all forms of violence and aggression.

Mr President, I know how hard it will be to achieve that goal. I know how difficult is your task, and that of the Palestinian Authority. But I assure you that my prayers and the prayers of Catholics across the world are with you as you continue your efforts to build a just and lasting peace in this region.

It remains only for me to express my heartfelt thanks to all who have contributed in so many ways to my visit. To the Government, the organizers, the volunteers, the media, to all who have provided hospitality to me and those accompanying me, I am deeply grateful.

Please be assured that you are remembered with affection in my prayers. To all of you, I say: thank you, and may God be with you. Shalom!

The Holy Father's summation of his pilgrimage for peace in the Holy Land was all that it could and should be, expressing equal friendship and concern for both sides of a conflict that seems far from resolution. He also addressed the Holocaust once again very passionately but on his terms, not the way his Jewish critics want him to.

Every Catholic should stand taller to have a man like Benedict XVI represent the Church to the world.



The El Al flight which carried Benedict XVI and his entourage back from Israel to Rome landed in Rome's Ciampino airport at 16:45 today, concluding his 12th international trip as Pope.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/18/2009 12:09 PM]
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For what it is worth, here is John Allen's 'instanalysis' of the Pope's epochal pilgrimage. Allen has the virtue of quickness but that generally does not lead to useful insight.

Obviously, I am dead set against refracting the Pope's words and deeds - especially on this pilgrimage, the most holy that a Christian could possibly make - through the prism of public perception and by the secular standards one applies to politicians (they may be heads of state and government but they are politicians nonetheless).

For the simple reason that the Pope is in a unique plane by himself, and you cannot judge the Vicar of Christ - with all the charism invested in him by the Holy Spirit - by routine standards.

The Pope as a highwire artist! Does that image grab anyone at all? And grading the Pope yet! Allen continues to play omniscient schoolmaster patronizing "poor little Benedict, so valiant and intelligent but to no avail"!

Three great ironies about
Benedict's Holy Land visit:
The most demanding high-wire
act of his papacy

By John L Allen Jr

May 15, 2009

After the most demanding high-wire act of his papacy, a grueling week that saw the 82-year-old Pontiff deliver 28 speeches while shuttling among Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, it seems terribly simplistic to offer a report card, but here we go nonetheless: Give Benedict XVI an A for effort, and a B for execution.

Benedict scored gains in getting Catholic-Muslim relations back on track, especially in Jordan, and with a high-profile visit to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

He also offered forceful words on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, endorsing the two-state solution as a global moral consensus, and offered a shot in the arm to the struggling Christian population -- though how much any Pope can do to bring peace to the Middle East, or to arrest the long-term demographic movement of Christians out of the region, is open to question.

[What question? Benedict never presumed to think he could do all that with a visit of a few days. Just read what he said before the trip and during the trip. At most, he used the word 'contribute' to describe how he sees his function in all this.]

In Israel, and in Catholic-Jewish relations, was there more ambivalence. The headline of an essay in today's Jerusalem Post summed things up by asking, "Why have so many Jewish leaders here been reluctant to accept the Pope's gestures of dialogue and peace?

{WHY? Simple. As I commented earlier, militant Jews now wnat to make the full force of their bigotry felt by Christians as payback for all the bigotry inflicted by the latter on them through the centuries. So nothing any Christian can say will ever be good enough or right enough per omnia saecula saeculorum! There is no good faith dealing here. It's all holier-than-thou self indulgence, and what could be more gratifying for people like these than to be able to 'put down' the Pope no less every chance they get - in fact, everry time Benedict XVI says or does anything that remotely involves the Jew in any way. And they will not lack for opportunities to exploit because this Pope has devoted his scholarly life to comprehending Judaism in depth, and so Jdaeo-Christian relations will never be shuttled to the back of the pack in his agenda.]

Benedict's visit to Yad Vashem on Monday drew criticism from some Jewish commentators, mostly for what the Pope didn't say -- no reference to Christian anti-Semitism, no reflection on his own biography as a German who saw the rise of Nazism, no regret for the recent affair involving a Holocaust-denying bishop.

Some Israelis were also troubled by what they saw as the overtly political character of his visit to the Palestinian Territories, and by the way a local sheikh hijacked an inter-faith meeting in Jerusalem Monday night to deliver an anti-Israeli tirade.

Nonetheless, many Jewish and Israeli leaders declared themselves content. In effect, they argued, the very fact that Israelis weren't content just to see a Pope at Yad Vashem, or at the Western Wall, is itself a sign of progress.

It means that a Pope coming to Israel is no longer a revolution or a cause célèbre, but rather an expression of a basically normal relationship.

Historically inclined Israelis see a progression from Paul VI's visit in 1964, when the Pontiff refused to utter the words "state of Israel" or to refer to the country's president as anything other than "mister"; to John Paul in 2000, a trip that transformed relations; to Benedict in 2009, a visit reflecting a now-routine friendship, with its ups and downs, but fundamentally there's no turning back.

Talking to average Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians, many seemed inclined to give the Pope the benefit of the doubt. After all, they said, he didn't come here for his health; he came to try, as best he could, to speak a word of peace, and to remind the world of the importance of this region and its destiny.
The world may not be different because of his visit, that's probably too high a bar for even a pope to cross.

Beyond that basic summary, there are three great ironies about Benedict's visit worth exploring.

Wordsmith pope has better luck with pictures

In the Gospel of John, Nathaniel asks Philip the provocative question, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" For Pope Benedict XVI, the answer to that question on the penultimate day of his May 8-15 voyage was clearly "yes."

The setting was an inter-faith meeting among Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Druze in Nazareth. Toward the close of the meeting, a song specially composed for the occasion was performed: "Salam, Shalom, Lord Grant Us Peace." It was a rousing number, and by the end, the religious leaders on stage were singing along, including the notoriously reserved Benedict XVI. For the last stanza, the rabbis, muftis, sheikhs, and bishops, with the pontiff in the middle of the group, stood on the stage and held hands.

It was arguably the best visual of the trip, and as it turns out, it was a last-minute addition to the program.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, director of an inter-faith institute in Jerusalem, said he had been concerned that the momentum of the trip was being squandered by various controversies, and wanted to do something to turn it around. Working through Jewish contacts, he proposed to the Vatican that a song for peace ought to be performed at the Nazareth event, including the iconic moment of the pope holding hands with a rabbi and a Druze sheikh.

"I told them, you need a visual," Goshen-Gottstein told NCR immediately after the event. "There should be a picture to correct what went wrong."

And thus it was that an occasionally PR-challenged pontiff got an impromptu assist from a Jewish rabbi.

Looking back over the week, it's ironic that this wordsmith pope, whose métier is generally ideas rather than images, often seemed to have more success at the level of symbolism.

During the first three days in Jordan, the iconic moment was the pope's visit to the Hussein bin-Talal Mosque in Amman, only the second mosque this pope has visited and just the third a pope has ever entered.

Though Benedict said all the right things about Christian-Muslim harmony, his speeches in Jordan didn't offer any particularly new ideas; in fact, many observers thought the two best pieces of oratory came from Benedict's hosts, King Abdullah II and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad. [Allen reconfirms that he didn't think much of what was, in effect, the Pope's Regensburg-2 lecture! Unbelievable!]

Certainly from the Vatican's point of view, Ghazi's speech at the mosque, when he thanked Benedict for expressing "regret" after delivering a 2006 speech in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor linking Muhammad, the founder of Islam, to violence, was much appreciated. Privately, they touted it as "closing the book" on the Regensburg episode.

Attention to the symbolic register seemed to pervade this trip. A brief mini-fracas occurred in Jordan because the Pope didn't take his shoes off at the mosque, even though it wasn't his idea. (As it turns out, his hosts had laid down strips on carpet for the pontiff and his party to walk along, so they told him he didn't need to take the shoes off.) [What mini-fracas! It was clear from the start his Muslim hosts did not intend their guests to have to take off their schoes - and neither did Prince Ghazi and the other Muslims. Allen has a penchant for blowing up incidentals!]

Thus when the Pope visited the Dome of the Rock on Tuesday, one of the three holiest sites in Islam, he immediately removed his shoes -- and because there was no live video feed, his spokesperson made sure to inform the press. [A non sequitur, totally superfluous and much ado about nothing. After all, the newsphoto agencies immediately came out with the picture of Mons. Ganeswein helping the Pope take off his shoes.]

In terms of Jewish reaction, the Pope's symbols weren't the problem. They weren't enough, however, to offset mixed reaction to his words -- perhaps because they had seen a Pope do these things before.

Benedict visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, meeting survivors and gazing sorrowfully at the pictures of the victims. He visited the Western Wall, pausing for a full one minute and twenty seconds of silent prayer and leaving behind a note in the wall praying for peace. He met the two Chief Rabbis of Israel on their home "turf."

Even so, the ultra-religious Shas party advised its ministers to stay away from papal events, claiming that to even show up would dishonor the memory of Holocaust survivors. Meanwhile, Tzohar rabbis, an orthodox movement in Judaism, asserted that Benedict should acknowledge that the very existence of the state of Israel is a theological "slap in the face" to Christianity -- because rather than suffering for not recognizing Jesus, the Jews have earned their own homeland.

That, however, didn't satisfy critics of the Yad Vashem speech -- a point that didn't sit well with some papal advisors.

"I was surprised, I have to say," Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's top official for relations with Jews, told NCR on Thursday. "There seems to be an attitude of, 'That's good, but it's not enough.'" [That's rich! How can Cardinal Kasper be so naive as to be surprised? He lives in Rome where the Di Segnis and the Larases lead the pack and set the tone for this eternal carping against the Pope for every least slight they perceive in hhis words and actions!]

Cardinal John Foley, an American who serves as head of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, a group devoted to assisting the church in the Holy Land, is travelling in the papal party along with Kasper. He used similar language in reacting to critics of the Yad Vashem speech.

"I don't know what they're looking for," Foley told NCR. "The attitude seems to be, 'Thanks, but …'" [Another ingenue!]

Perhaps there's a lesson here for any leader visiting the Middle East: the great thing about symbols is that they're open to interpretation, whereas words carry fixed meanings that tend to invite dissection and debate.

Benedict XVI is notoriously resistant to attempts to turn the Catholic Church into a political action committee, or the message of the Gospels into a revolutionary manifesto. At the outset of this trip, aboard the papal plane en route from Rome, he announced he was coming not as a politician but as a pilgrim.

Yet looking back, some of the Pope's strongest moments came in the political arena.

His run began the moment he touched down at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, when he affirmed his support for the "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Later that day, at a gala event hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres at the presidential palace in Jerusalem, the Pontiff pointedly advised the Israelis that true security depends upon justice.

The most overtly political day of the trip came on Wednesday, when Benedict travelled to Bethlehem in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. Among other things, he visited a Palestinian refugee camp -- a stop that had a pastoral dimension, to be sure, of offering comfort to suffering people, but one that also had obvious political subtext. That's all the more so because the Aida camp abuts Israel's almost 30-foot tall "security barrier," which the Palestinians call an "apartheid wall."

In his farewell address today, Benedict called the wall "one of the saddest sights" of his entire visit.

In the Aida camp, Benedict used the magic words of a "Palestinian state," and expressed sympathy for the desire of refugees to return home - or, at least, to live in a homeland of their own. His criticism of the wall was especially strong, calling such barriers between peoples "tragic."

To be sure, Benedict also made points that cut in the direction of Israel's security concerns. Pointedly, he urged Palestinian youth to resist the lure of "acts of violence or terrorism."

[It is actually the easiest exercise to look at all the Pope's 'political statements' while in Israel, and to identify the balance he brought to each olf his statements. The best proof of how he suceeded in being 'fair and balanced' was that the israelis - not even the hypercrtical media - have not protested any of the words he has said about Palestine and even the Israeli wall, acknowledging indirectly and implicitly in his airport departure speech the security considerations that make it necesssary.]

During his departure address today, the Pope called himself a friend both of the Israelis and the Palestinians, and then said in unusually impassioned terms: "No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war!"

Of course, it would be unrealistic to expect Benedict to bring peace to the Middle East after one week-long journey. Waves of leaders from all over the world have crashed through here in the 61 years since the foundation of the State of Israel and the first Arab-Israeli war to try to make peace, and to date all have failed.

Nonetheless, the Pontiff did make three points that in the context of a new Israeli government sending mixed signals, and a Palestinian leadership influenced by militant currents in Hamas, were undoubtedly worth making. Perhaps only a Pope could make them:

- The two-state solution reflects a global moral consensus
- The wall between Israel and the Palestinian Territories is a tragic contradiction in an increasingly inter-connected world, and must, sooner or later, come down.
- To retain moral credibility, the Palestinians must reject terrorism.

Whether all this will change things is anyone's guess, but at a minimum one can say that the bookish Benedict showed a fairly deft real-world political touch.

Perhaps the deepest irony of the week is that Benedict XVI is arguably the Pope most inclined to be sympathetic to Israel since the Jewish state was founded six decades ago, yet the Israelis in some ways were his toughest crowd.

In the Vatican, there are essentially two cultural milieus: One associated with the Secretariat of State, composed of diplomats, and another that looks to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made up mostly of theologians.

The diplomatic guild tends to tilt toward the Palestinians -- in part, because that's the default setting of European diplomats; in part, for reasons of social justice; in part, because they vast majority of Christians in the region are Arabs.

The theologians tend to be more inclined to sympathy with Israel -- partly because some of them move in politically conservative circles, but more deeply because their concern for the Bible and for church tradition leads them to regard Judaism as the church's primordial inter-faith concern.

Benedict XVI is an avatar of that second, theological instinct. For this pope, the scriptural matrix of Christianity and its roots in Judaism are matters of deep importance. (Benedict used St. Paul's image of Christianity as a shoot grafted onto the tree of Judaism in his farewell address this afternoon.)

Moreover, Benedict has also cultivated respect for contemporary Jews and Judaism; the scholar he cites most positively in his recent book Jesus of Nazareth, for example, is Jewish writer Jacob Neusner.

Obviously, the late John Paul II felt a deep personal bond with Jews and Judaism, and many Jews loved him for it. Nonetheless, John Paul was also a political activist, and when it came to the politics of the Middle East he and his team were often sharply critical of Israel.

Though Benedict XVI hasn't changed the substance of any Vatican positions, his own tone is often more moderate.

Benedict XVI thus arrived in Israel not only as a Pope committed to theological and spiritual fraternity with Judaism, but also one less instinctively hostile to concrete Israeli policies than many other Catholic leaders.

Perhaps the point was invisible to most of the Israeli public, but local Palestinian Christians actually complained before, and during, the trip that the Pope was caving in to Israeli sensitivities at every turn -- not travelling to Gaza, not protesting when the Israelis refused to allow the residents at Aida to erect the stage immediately below the wall, and not protesting when the Israelis closed down a Palestinian press center in East Jerusalem. Even his schedule reflected deference to Israeli sensibilities.

{The activist Palestinian Christians have been patently hostile to Israel in any case, and had this unrealistic view that the Pope would take sides whent hey should know he can't.]

Benedict made sure to fly out of Tel Aviv well before sundown on Friday, so as not to disrupt the Sabbath. [That was all taken into consideration when the program was drawn months ago. It wasn't as if any adjustments had to be made to the program in order to avoid running into the Sabbath (which begins at sundown - while the Pope left in the early afternoon.]

Most Israeli leaders seemed to recognize this, which is probably why they rushed to Benedict's defense when the criticism began. At the inter-faith event in Nazareth, for example, Bahij Masour, who heads the religious affairs division of Israel's Foreign Ministry, made a point of saying during his introduction that the Pope "has clearly condemned anti-Semitism and denial of the Holocaust."

Certainly Israel's President, Shimon Peres, went out of his way to be gracious to the pope, including hosting a lavish gala in his honor at the presidential palace in Jerusalem on Tuesday. [President Peres proved himself to be an exquisite host, a gentleman of the old order, and a calmly pragmatic politician who obviously advocates the two-state solution. A reminder: He shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for the Oslo Accords that opened up Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.]

As Israelis sort through the images left behind by the pope's trip, perhaps more of this will become clear.

Kasper, at least, thinks so. Pressed as to who exactly holds the attitude he described above -- that nothing the Pope does is ever enough -- Kasper replied, "the media and some official groups." [Yes! The cardinal gets it this time! Ironically, Allen himself is one of those for whom 'nothing the Pope does is ever enough' or quite right, to judge by his commentaries and analyses.]

Not real people?

"No, not real people," he said, smiling.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/16/2009 2:40 PM]
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One gets an idea of the intimate passion aroused in Jews today by the Holocaust by the way Haaretz, Israel's most liberal (and therefore most secular) newspaper reported the Pope's departure speech. What he said about the Holocaust is, for them, the centerpiece of everything that happened yesterday. And even if they dredge up the backlash to his Yad Vashem address on Monday, they have no reproaches for his words this time.

Pope says Jews were
'brutally exterminated' in Holocaust

May 15, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI voiced sorrow at the 'extermination' of Jews in the Holocaust during a farewell ceremony Friday at Ben Gurion Airport marking the end of five-day visit to Israel.

The Pope spoke of a visit years ago to a Nazi death camp, "where so many Jews - mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends - were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred."

Benedict also referred to the subject during an address at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. In the speech, he eloquently spoke of the suffering of Holocaust victims but did not express remorse for the church's historic persecution of Jews, nor for what some believe to have been the church's passivity during the genocide or his own time as a member of the Hitler Youth [I detest this persistent way of mentioning this fact so baldly, implying that he participated willingly and was active in it! And this is deliberate on the aprt of those who do it, trusting that the average reader will infer exactly what they mean to imply.]

He later drew fire over the perceived omissions, which led officials at the Yad Vashem memorial to take the exceptional step of openly criticizing the speech. [These are the same officials who have made an intractable verdict about Pius XII's 'guilt' in the Holocaust.]

At the airport on Friday, the Pope added: "That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied, those dark memories should strengthen our determination to draw closer to one another as branches of the same olive tree, nourished from the same roots and united in brotherly love."

President Shimon Peres was at the site to see Benedict off. He thanked the Pope for his visit to the Holy Land, and applauded his remarks at Yad Vashem, which he said represented a welcome attack on Holocaust denial around the world.

On the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Pope said that during his visit to the holy land he had "witnessed the great efforts that both governments are making to securing their people's well being."

In the ceremony, also attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Pope reiterated his support for the Palestinian cause, saying that the "Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign state."

The Pontiff expressed hopes that "the two-state solution will become a reality not a dream," and called for the end of the regional conflict.

"No more bloodshed, no more fighting, no more terrorism, no more war," he emotionally cried just before boarding the Rome-bound plane.

The ff portion is what comes from the AP story, also used amply by the New York Times in its report:

Earlier Friday, Pope Benedict XVI capped his Middle East visit by making a pilgrimage to a church revered as the site of Jesus's crucifixion and assuring his followers in the Holy Land that peace was still possible.

A traditional escort of men in black robes and red fezzes accompanied the Pontiff as he solemnly walked into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, rhythmically banging staffs on the ground to announce his approach.

Benedict knelt down and kissed the rectangular stone on which Jesus's body is believed to have been placed after the crucifixion. Then he entered the structure inside the church marking the site of Jesus' tomb and knelt inside alone for several minutes, hands clasped, as priests chanted nearby.

In a speech afterward, he told those gathered in the church not to lose hope - a central theme during a visit in which he addressed the Holocaust, Israeli-Palestinian politics and the shrinking number of Christians in the region.

"The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome, and that a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise for every man and woman, for the whole human family, and in a special way for the people who dwell in this land so dear to the heart of the Savior," he said.

"With those words of encouragement," he said, "I conclude my pilgrimage to the holy places of our redemption and rebirth in Christ."

Thousands of soldiers and policemen were deployed Friday around Jerusalem's Old City for the pope's visit to the ancient church, which tradition holds marks the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

"On the last day of his visit the pope is coming to the most important place for us," said Father Bernt, a Catholic priest at the church. "This is the center of Christianity, so it's very special."

The Pope is leaving the Holy Land having fulfilled his mission of reaching out to Jews and Muslims, but some are giving his five-day trip only mixed reviews.

During his visit, he led 50,000 worshippers in a jubilant Mass outside of Nazareth, in an effort to rally his dwindling flock. He removed his shoes to enter Islam's third-holiest shrine, and he followed Jewish custom by placing a note bearing a prayer for peace in the cracks of the Western Wall.

I studiously avoided the LA Times reoorting on the papal pilgrimage because of the predigested and predictably ultra-liberal nature of their situationer story on the eve of the Pope's visit. But I find this wrap-up story after the Pope left worth posting for the conlusion it draws as the headline suggests, at least on the 'political' aspect of the Pope's trip.

Pope Benedict's farewell remarks
please both Israelis, Palestinians

By Richard Boudreaux

May 16, 2009

Reporting from Jerusalem -- Pope Benedict XVI ended a politically charged visit to Israel and the West Bank on Friday with new condemnations of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and his strongest appeal yet for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Benedict's farewell remarks from the tarmac at Tel Aviv's airport pleased both Israelis and Palestinians, many of whom had initially viewed him with skepticism. Some said later they felt vindication from portions of his carefully worded statements and a measure of respect for his moral authority.

Yet few outsiders who bring a message of peace to the Middle East manage to move its stubborn conflicts toward resolution, and no one expects Benedict to even come close.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointedly told the pope that he resists the idea of an independent Palestine, even though most Western leaders support it.

And some young Palestinians on hand for a papal Mass in the West Bank town of Bethlehem this week scoffed at the 82-year-old Roman Catholic leader's warning to "resist any temptation . . . to resort to acts of violence and terrorism."

"Israeli occupation is the terrorism," said Samir Assad, 23. "Violent resistance will end when the occupation ends."

Further limiting the pope's influence was a divergence of expectations: Israelis were seeking the Vatican's renewed commitment to fight anti-Semitism. They cared less about what mattered to Palestinians: getting the pppe to highlight their suffering under occupation and their quest for a state of their own.

Still, Benedict said he found "deep interest in peace" among Israeli and Palestinian leaders, despite their "great differences."

"Even if this was less visible, it needs to be encouraged," he told journalists on the flight back to Rome, the Associated Press reported.

His final words of encouragement were even-handed and emotionally powerful. [I find this observation from a secular ultra-liberal outlet powerful in itself, ebcause it comes from such an unlikely source.]

"Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed. No more fighting. No more terrorism. No more war!" he said in his farewell speech, standing with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

"Let it be universally recognized that the state of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally recognized borders. Let it likewise be acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland."

Marwan Toubasi, an official of the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, said Benedict's visit "achieved everything we were hoping to get from it."

Palestinians were delighted by his words and the potent symbolism of his visit Wednesday to a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem just yards from Israel's separation barrier, which seals off much of the West Bank and is loathed by Palestinians.

The Pope singled it out again Friday, calling it "one of the saddest sights" of his visit.

Israeli officials played down the Pope's influence, even as they conceded that his Palestinian Authority hosts in Bethlehem had scored a propaganda victory.

Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Israel arranged no papal events to highlight the victims of Palestinian attacks because the Vatican had described Benedict's trip in advance as a nonpolitical pilgrimage. As a result, Palmor said, "he expressed solidarity only with people on one side of the wall."

"This had some impact, but we shouldn't exaggerate it," he added. "He's not the spiritual leader of either Jews or Muslims. He'll always be welcomed . . . but he's not really the one who's expected to show the way forward."

[Palmor appears to have forgotten completely that on Monday, President Peres arranged for the family of an Israeli soldier in Hamas captivity to meet the Pope and hand him a letter appealing to the Palestinian authorities on his behalf. And rhe reporter in Jerusalem should have pointed it out in this story, since it was a most unusual event.]]

Benedict undoubtedly has more sway over Catholics' attitudes toward Jews, and Israelis recognized that. His speech Monday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial stirred far more interest and controversy in Israel than anything he said about the Palestinians.

Some Israeli officials and commentators criticized the speech as impersonal and lacking passion. They faulted Benedict for not condemning Christian anti-Semitism as a contributing factor in the slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II or acknowledging his own witness of Nazi terror as a conscript in the Hitler Youth and German army.

In apparent response, the Pope returned to the subject in his farewell remarks. He said his meeting with Holocaust survivors at Yad Vashem had been "one of the most solemn moments" of the visit.

"Those deeply moving encounters," the Pope said, "brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews -- mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends -- were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred."

[How consistent the Pope is! He speaks of his experience only in terms of his vist to Auschwitz, ever focused on what the vicitms underrwent, not what he did as a schoolboy whose military superiors made him and his fellow conscripts continue doing schoolwork even as they did auxiliary tasks for the military. I believe young Joseph Ratzinger's class was assigned to an anti-aircraft unit, where he served as a communications (radio) auxiliary.

So why should he bring up his absolutely insignificant part which had nothing to do with the Holocaust - in a speech about the Holocaust, whether it's held at Yad Vashem or Auschwitz or anywhere else? It's calling attention to himself, his personal life, unncessarily and inappropriately.

Nor should any discourse about the Holocaust be any occasion for him to explain exactly what he did during the war, since he already wrote about that in his memoir of the first 50 years of his life.]

Several of his Israeli critics welcomed the new statement.

"These words are a bridge of friendship, of understanding, of peace and love between nations, religions and races," Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a child survivor of the Holocaust and chairman of Yad Vashem, told Reuters Television.

[Lau was one of those who was msot harsh about the Pope's address at Yad Vashem, which was a rather unseemly response from someone who had just played host to the Pope. Especially since he made his disparaging remarks as soon as the Pope had left Yad Vashem!

Would he have done that if it was any other visiting head of state? No, he would have waited until the guest had left the country to say anything negative.

But people like Lau tend to forge that the Pope is also a head of state, and obviously in their eyes, the head of the Roman Catholic Church can be disparaged any time even if he is also a head of state.]

Special correspondent Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/18/2009 6:09 PM]
5/17/2009 6:50 PM
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Some of you probably came across this before I did today belatedly, but it is one of those short throwaway pieces that cry out for fisking.

I'm starting to think of John Allen of NCR and Jeff Israely of Time magazine as 'those terrible J&J twins'. Both, after an initial burst of approbation for Benedict XVI through the first year of his Pontificate, at least, changed their tune with Regensburg (oh ye of little faith!) and have been consistently (in the case of Israely) and increasingly (in the case of Allen) critical of the Pope since then.

And in both cases, oh-so-condescending - perhaps the most objectionable attitude of all, considering that they each have absolutely no reason to feel superior to Benedict XVI in any way!

Israely's 'grading' of the Pope is far more blatant and arbitrary than Allen's, and to that degree, more outrageous. Where does anyone come off 'grading a pilgrimage' anyway????

It was an unusual appearance. Benedict XVI arrived in the back of the papal plane just after it took off for the return trip to Italy.
[Why was it unusual? He did that, too, after the trip to Africa. And in both cases, his first words were to thank the media for their work in reporting on his trip.]

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi introduced him with a smile, calling this "the longest, most complicated and maybe most tiring" of the Pontiff's 12 foreign voyages.

Benedict, his face toasty bronze from a week of public appearances under consistently sunny skies, repeated his call to seek signs of hope in an otherwise bleak Middle East landscape.

Having just come from deep prayer at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Jesus's death and resurrection, he also passionately urged people of all faiths to make religious pilgrimages.

The press tends to gauge papal trips on more concrete terms. (It's hard to confirm, for example, whether the Pope's prayers are answered.)

On the way to board the papal plane, I began a quick — and necessarily insufficient — "grading" of Benedict's trip. There was not a vast range of marks, with the Italian press generally being more positive, a German reporter giving the Pontiff a C-minus for his much criticized remarks at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem), and one veteran concluding that John Paul would have been much more inspiring at these events.

Two veteran American news-wire reporters were making their umpteenth papal trips. Victor Simpson of the Associated Press took his first in 1979; Phil Pullella of Reuters made his maiden voyage in 1982. We won't report who gave which mark, but one gave a B "'cause he made the trip in the first place," the other a C-plus "for missed opportunities."

Over eight days, Benedict delivered 28 different sermons and speeches, more than 15,000 words that carried his message of peace and reconciliation — and his reading of the Christian gospel — to a religiously charged and troubled land.

But the jury is still out on whether this theologian Pontiff has the geopolitical wherewithal to matter in these complicated times.

[Why is a 'jury' even called for? The Pope did not make the pilgrimage to be judged on 'results'. He came to pray for peace - and to urge all parties to peace based on justice and reconciliation.

More than anyone, he is most aware that in modern times, the Chair of Peter has no temporal influence at all in political matters, only a moral and spiritual duty which the Pope must exercise at all times, whether he is listened to or not.

It remains to be seen - and it must have been the concrete burden of Benedict XVI's prayers for peace in the Middle East - whether Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas can together find the political will to arrive at a just and peaceful settlement, the way Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher gave political and military substance to John Paul II's crusade against Communism, efforts which led to the collapse of that system faster than anyone expected.]

With the Obama Administration gearing up to try to jump-start Middle East negotiations — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington next week — the Pope's presence in the region could have offered an extra jolt of momentum.

Instead, the conflicts and expectations of the regions' opposing parties, as well as a papal tentativeness on certain issues, produced a number of muddled messages.

[What 'papal tentativeness' and what 'muddled issues'? You can't throw out loaded phrases like that without at least citing specific instances! The Holy Father was never tentative in all he said about the Middle East conflict nor was he ever muddled in his messages for peace and justice, and his recognition of the rights and wrongs on both sides of the conflict.]

Still, there was some good news to emerge from his travels to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories in that his presence did not detonate any religious or political dynamite.

With the quest for peace between Israelis and Palestinians at a dangerous impasse, just making the Middle East trip — against the counsel of some of his more cautious advisers — would seem to carry some bankable positive weight for the Pontiff.

[Frankly, I find that some Catholic prelates have been severely infected with the media's constant harping on the Pope's alleged tendency to make 'gaffes' and 'PR blunders' (Benedict the Blunderer, someone called him) - and have come to adapt that same attitude about the Pope by the MSM and hoity-toity commentators of "OMG, what is he going to say next?".

Thus, all those fearful statements from Mons. Twal and other prelates in the Holy Land before the visit, to the point of saying a visit by the Pope could probably make the situation of Christians worse in the Holy Land. I can imagine their like minded colleagues in the Secretariat of State having said so to the Pope.

Has all the media drill shaken up their trust in Benedict XVI so much, or have they really not had enough faith in him to begin with?
Then woe unto you, oh ye of little faith! And as a Catholic, I must quickly add a prayer to the Holy Spirit to make them think right!]

Benedict seems to see that he must follow in John Paul II's footsteps as a champion of inter-religious dialogue.

['Seems to see'? 'Must follow in the footsteps'? Decades of writing and speeches by Joseph Ratzinger have made his commitment and advocacy of inter-religious dialog - of the right kind, one based on reasoning together, not just kumbaya feel-good togetherness - overridingly clear. All of a sudden, Israely portrays Benedict XVI as a me-too Johnny-come-lately in this field????]

He delivered several speeches and attended ceremonies focused on relations with Jewish, Muslim, Druse, Orthodox and other men of the cloth.

Once believed to have been reticent about focusing too much on relations with other religions ['Reticent'? How can Israeli say that when Joseph Ratzinger has written not a few books about the subject?], the man with the world's largest flock (1.1 billion Catholics worldwide) seems to now grasp the importance of this role.

[Israely seems to be interpreting Cardinal Ratzinger's well-known caveat against the risk of syncretism in Assisi-like demonstrations of inter-religious togetherness, as 'reticence' to inter-religious dialog. Well, those kumbaya gatherings are certainly not the same as genuine 'inter-religious dialog' no matter how many annual conferences are held under this rubric!]

Vatican spokesman Lombardi said the Pope's physical presence "is itself a bridge" for improved relations among all religions.

"He listened and was listened to. He can offer a spiritual and moral contribution to dialogue," said Lombardi. "The responsibility is to form consciences."

Perhaps dearest to the heart of the devout Pontiff were the stops with far less obvious political overtones: visits to the sites of Jesus's birth, baptism and death, as well as Masses with the largely besieged flock of Middle Eastern Christians. [It was a PILGRIMAGE, remember? How can there be a 'perhaps' about it - for someone like Benedict XVI who constantly urges prayer as the necessaary precondition to any and all well-meaning actions?]

By the arrival of the papal plane at Ciampino airport, the wire reporter's C-plus grade for the Pontiff had been bumped up to a B-minus.

[Gee, I'm sure the Pope must have prostrated himself several times over in gratitude to the Lord that Messers Pulella, Simpson and Israely had seen fit to bump up his grade one notch! It was all he lived for during his trip!

Come on, guys, don't you see how ridiculous you sound pitting yourselves as superior somehow to one of the leading intellectuals of our time and the single universally acknowledged moral authority on the planet? Or maybe, that's exactly why you choose to pose as superior to him - that's how you get your kicks.]

Maybe it was the Israeli chardonnay served on board. Maybe it was simply an acknowledgment that we — and the Pontiff — were safely back in Rome.

As superficial, pre-cooked and flippant as Israely's piece is, it is not half as outrageous as the following 'news analysis' that came out in the New York Times, with its unbelievably crass, inconsiderate and grossly unfair opening paragraphs.

This is an item I would not even bother to post at all since it just belches out the reporter's accumulated bile of ill will and prejudice against Benedict XVI. But it's what the New York Times is saying - and even if it is on the verge of bankruptcy and must ask a Mexixan drug lord to bail it out - the name still has a cachet in the media world.

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Modest successes and missed chances
in Pope’s trip


Published: May 16, 2009

ROME — Pope Benedict XVI said that he wanted to walk in Jesus’s footsteps and experience the Holy Land first hand.

So photographers waited eagerly by a turgid pool in the Jordan River for the Pope to peer from a wooden promontory to a central spot in Christianity, where Christ is believed to have been baptized.

But Benedict declined to get out of the golf cart that brought him there.

[LOOK HERE, MISSY! At the last minute, King Abdullah and Queen Rania turned up to accompany the Pope himself to the site. On hand were both Prince Ghazi, who directly oversees the development of Bethany beyond the Jordan, and the chief archeologist in charge of the ongoing excavations at the site.

The electric car with the main party parked alongside what looked like a steep base downward slope that was roped off from the road. Since the TV cameras didn't show us what they were looking at below and, it seemed, from a distance.

Clearly, there were no provisions made for the Pope (nor the royals - Rania was wearing her usual 6-inch stilletos) to go down that slope, just to be physically by a pool of water that is not necessarily the exact spot - and very likely is not - where the Lord was baptized!

To quibble about this and to make it a metaphor for the Pope's papacy and this pilgrimage - which he was obviouly determined to make as Pope - is just about the lowest and foulest blow against him that I have read so far in the Western media during this trip (not counting the ultra-rightist Jews who all but scream that the Pope was a card-carryign Nazi and therefore responsible for the Holocaust himself). But this is far mroe despicable than anything those self-righteous Jews because Donadio cannot claim the Holocaust to rationalize her over-the-top denigration of the Pope.

I will not bother to comment on the rest of this woman's observations and conclusions that simply represent the predetermined consensus of the media herd, who had decided before the trip even began that it could not possibly go well. In John Allen's dismissive words, "If he manages to get through it without causing a war, that would already be considered a success!"]

Certainly an 82-year-old Pope is entitled to remain seated if he likes. Yet the drive-by pilgrimage seemed to sum up his eight-day trip to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank — and indeed his entire papacy so far.

It reflected what critics describe as a lack of understanding, or interest, in the public aspects of his office that has led to a series of public-relations miscues and questions about his skills as a diplomat.

At a news conference, the Vatican spokesman later explained that the pope had seen all he needed to see without getting out of the cart, a statement indicative of a related problem: that the Vatican seems to assume Benedict’s actions and words are self-explanatory, when often they are not. Sometimes the gesture, timing and location count more than the close reading.

This shortcoming was on display at the event that aroused the most criticism during the trip: his speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on Monday. Many Israelis were upset that the pope never uttered the words German or Nazi, did not speak of his own experience as an unwilling conscript into the Hitler Youth and gave the impression of being academic and removed in the face of such horror.

To many, the speech was a missed opportunity for both the headlines and the history books.

“This is the last pope, most certainly, who will have lived through World War II, grown up under the Nazi regime, and probably the last pope from Europe,” said David Gibson, the author of “The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle With the Modern World.” “In many respects I think he could have moved things forward in a remarkable way.”

Asked why the pope seemed tone deaf to the moment, the Vatican explained that he had previously spoken about his own experiences and had denounced the Holocaust in more emotional terms, and that he had no need to repeat himself. The pope’s seeming obliviousness, as well as the Vatican’s puzzled and groping response, echoed previous controversies of this papacy.

In January, Benedict reinstated four schismatic bishops, including one who had repeatedly denied the scope of the Holocaust. The Vatican said then that the pope had been focused on healing a rift in the church and was not aware of the Holocaust denial.

After a speech in 2006 in which he quoted a medieval scholar saying that Islam brought things “evil and inhuman,” he appeared to be taken by surprise by the wave of anger generated in the Islamic world.

Both episodes were followed by a series of official clarifications and apologies.

But whatever the failings in symbolism, his trip was in many ways a success in substance.

His complex itinerary through Jordan and Israel could have gone wrong at every turn, and at every turn the region’s opposing players tried to use his presence to make their own political points: the Palestinians spoke of Israeli oppression in his presence; the new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, urged him to denounce Iran.

Yet Benedict managed to avoid missteps of the kind that previously outraged Muslims and Jews. His trip to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and endorsement of a Palestinian state while visiting the West Bank went a long way toward smoothing relations with the Muslim world.

In fact, the endorsement, delivered before a towering concrete-and-barbed-wire separation barrier, appeared to be one instance in which he effectively used the symbolism that the landscape offered. But that success had the side effect of magnifying the perception of his clumsiness toward Jewish symbols and history.

Perhaps most important, Benedict managed to avoid any major gaffes, a recurring problem in his papacy and no small feat given the sensitivities in the region.

In some ways the task before him, as a shy professorial church insider, was perhaps too great to overcome on one trip. Benedict also suffered from following in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II, whose trip to the Holy Land in 2000 was the culmination of a beloved papacy. A headline in Friday’s Jerusalem Post read: “After JPII, the Papal Rock Star, Benedict Seemed Cold, Distant.”

The trip’s shortcomings were all the more glaring given the kind of outreach he might have achieved in a land holy to three major religions.

Many Israelis are ignorant about the contemporary Roman Catholic Church. At a news conference in Nazareth on Thursday, a local journalist addressed the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Jesuit priest, as “Mister Cardinal.”

But Israelis are taught from grade school about the church’s historic persecution of Jews, and many were disappointed that Benedict did not directly address that theme.

“They were looking for him to at least reflect and express regret about the role of the church and the role of Christians,” Mr. Gibson said. “That is something he has refused to do.”

In a farewell speech at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Friday, Benedict recalled his visit to Auschwitz in 2006 and issued a plea that the Holocaust must “never be forgotten or denied.” Yet once again he did not use the term Nazi or German.

Israeli society — and the fierce Israeli press — is as direct and self-critical as the Vatican is baroque and reluctant to address its own failings in public. After he left, Israeli newspapers were already making light of their criticism of Benedict, whose visit required 80,000 security officers and threw Jerusalem traffic into chaos.

On Friday, the satirical page of the daily Yediot Aharonot had a “quote” from an anonymous Jerusalem resident: “I expected him to apologize. At least for the traffic jams. But nothing. Anti-Semite.”

A Jewish writer atually sounds more positive than Time and the New York Times:

Israel gives Pope Benedict its blessing

Despite the controversy potential of the papal visit,
both the Catholic church and Israel's new government
need a PR success

by Aluf Benn

Monday 11 May 2009

Few international trips could be more contentious than Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel. While following the footsteps of two predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II, who had visited the Jewish state in 1964 and 2000, respectively, the incumbent carries a sensitive baggage beyond the charged history of Christian-Jewish coexistence.

Benedict's personal background as a German, who was a member of the Hitlerjugend and a Wehrmacht soldier in his youth, is enough to make him suspicious in the eyes of the Holocaust-minded Israelis, who would put him under close scrutiny despite his long support for interfaith dialogue. [Not just interfaith dialog - but Catholic acknowledgment of Christianity's vital link to Judaism - and therefore, of fostering good relations with our 'older brothers' in the Abrahamic faith!]

Indeed, two of his decisions since his ascendance to the papacy have raised the level of concern: the beatification process of Pius XII, who has been blamed for turning a blind eye to the extermination of Europe's Jews during the second world war; and revoking the excommunication of British bishop Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier.

Add the Pope's tendency to make inflammatory remarks – on Islam and condoms – and you get a recipe for trouble.

Mindful of the controversy potential, the Vatican has wrapped Benedict's trip with strong language denouncing antisemitism, respecting the close ties of Christianity with Judaism, and calling for Middle East peace. Even so, however, the Pope's visit has received a mixed reception in Israel.

While state officials like President Shimon Peres emphasise the diplomatic importance of the papal pilgrimage – strengthening Israel's international stance, supporting peace through interfaith contacts, and even promoting Christian tourism to holy sites in Israel – the popular media have focused on the trouble spots on Benedict's gown.

Catholics around the world probably pay more attention to the Pope's visits to the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Galilee, but for Israelis, the focal point of the trip has been Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, where he met with several survivors.

Every word and gesture was carefully scrutinised; and not surprisingly, the complaints were quick to follow. Yad Vashem's chairman Avner Shalev viewed Benedict's speech there as understated, questioning why the guest had ignored his personal history. [Which has nothing to do with the Holocaust, except that he is German. But they had to nitpick, they had to protest somehow, because nothing anyone can say short of prostrating himself daily to lament the Holocaust publicly will ever satisfy people like Shalev.]

Rabbi Yisrael Lau, a former chief rabbi and Holocaust survivor, wanted the Pope to be more emphatic and say "six million victims" and not just "millions of victims".

Such linguistic nitpicking notwithstanding [There we are - even the writer says so himself!!], the visit serves a pressing political need of Israel's new centre-right government, striving for international recognition and legitimacy – which is why, despite the mild controversy, Israel has welcomed Benedict with the reddest carpet.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 7/20/2009 2:18 PM]
5/18/2009 4:36 PM
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Because of the many unkind words that have been said and written to disparage Pope Benedict's address at Yad Vashem, especially when, his detractors say, compared with those that John Paul II said at the same place in March 2000, I thought that it would be instructive to read both texts together. Then, each one can judge whether the critics were right, or at a minimum, fair:

The words of the ancient Psalm rise from our hearts:
“I have become like a broken vessel.
I hear the whispering of many – terror on every side! –
as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, 'You are my God'.” (Ps 31:13-15).

1. In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. Silence in which to remember. Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back. Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah.

My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the War. I remember my Jewish friends and neighbours, some of whom perished, while others survived.

I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of their human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain.

Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale.

2. We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism.

How could man have such utter contempt for man? Because he had reached the point of contempt for God. Only a Godless ideology could plan and carry out the extermination of a whole people.

The honour given to the “just gentiles” by the State of Israel at Yad Vashem for having acted heroically to save Jews, sometimes to the point of giving their own lives, is a recognition that not even in the darkest hour is every light extinguished.

That is why the Psalms, and the entire Bible, though well aware of the human capacity for evil, also proclaim that evil will not have the last word. Out of the depths of pain and sorrow, the believer’s heart cries out: “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, 'You are my God'.” (Ps 31:14).

3. Jews and Christians share an immense spiritual patrimony, flowing from God’s self-revelation. Our religious teachings and our spiritual experience demand that we overcome evil with good.

We remember, but not with any desire for vengeance or as an incentive to hatred. For us, to remember is to pray for peace and justice, and to commit ourselves to their cause. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the mistakes and terrible crimes of the past.

As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love and by no political considerations, 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.

The Church rejects racism in any form as a denial of the image of the Creator inherent in every human being (cf. Gen 1:26).

4. In this place of solemn remembrance, I fervently pray that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people suffered in the twentieth century will lead to a new relationship between Christians and Jews.

Let us build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews, but rather the mutual respect required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord, and look to Abraham as our common father in faith (cf. We Remember, V).

The world must heed the warning that comes to us from the victims of the Holocaust and from the testimony of the survivors. Here at Yad Vashem the memory lives on, and burns itself onto our souls. It makes us cry out:

“I hear the whispering of many – terror on every side! – But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, 'You are my God'.” (Ps 31:13-15).

“I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name … I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off” (Is 56:5).

This passage from the Book of the prophet Isaiah furnishes the two simple words which solemnly express the profound significance of this revered place: yad – “memorial”; shem – “name”.

I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah.

They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names: these are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again. Most of all, their names are forever fixed in the memory of Almighty God.

One can rob a neighbor of possessions, opportunity or freedom. One can weave an insidious web of lies to convince others that certain groups are undeserving of respect. Yet, try as one might, one can never take away the name of a fellow human being.

Sacred Scripture teaches us the importance of names in conferring upon someone a unique mission or a special gift. God called Abram “Abraham” because he was to become the “father of many nations” (Gen 17:5). Jacob was called “Israel” because he had “contended with God and man and prevailed” (Gen 32:29).

The names enshrined in this hallowed monument will forever hold a sacred place among the countless descendants of Abraham. Like his, their faith was tested. Like Jacob, they were immersed in the struggle to discern the designs of the Almighty.

May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten! And may all people of goodwill remain vigilant in rooting out from the heart of man anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!

The Catholic Church, committed to the teachings of Jesus and intent on imitating his love for all people, feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here.

Similarly, she draws close to all those who today are subjected to persecution on account of race, color, condition of life or religion – their sufferings are hers, and hers is their hope for justice.

As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I reaffirm – like my predecessors – that the Church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of peace (cf. Ps 85:9).

The Scriptures teach that it is our task to remind the world that this God lives, even though we sometimes find it difficult to grasp his mysterious and inscrutable ways. He has revealed himself and continues to work in human history. He alone governs the world with righteousness and judges all peoples with fairness (cf. Ps 9:9).

Gazing upon the faces reflected in the pool that lies in stillness within this memorial, one cannot help but recall how each of them bears a name.

I can only imagine the joyful expectation of their parents as they anxiously awaited the birth of their children. What name shall we give this child? What is to become of him or her? Who could have imagined that they would be condemned to such a deplorable fate!

As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts.

It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence.

It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood.

It is the cry of Abel rising from the earth to the Almighty.

Professing our steadfast trust in God, we give voice to that cry using words from the Book of Lamentations which are full of significance for both Jews and Christians:

“The favors of the Lord are not exhausted,
his mercies are not spent;
They are renewed each morning,
so great is his faithfulness.
My portion is the Lord, says my soul;
therefore will I hope in him.
Good is the Lord to the one who waits for him,
to the soul that seeks him;
It is good to hope in silence
for the saving help of the Lord”.
(Lam 3:22-26)

My dear friends, I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope

John Allen summarized the Jewish objections to Benedict XVI's speech at Yad Vashem as follows:

- "Benedict said Jews had been 'killed', not 'murdered' [OK, so JPII said 'murdered' - but is 'killed' not just as effective?] and that 'millions' of Jews died rather than 'six million' [JPII also said 'millions', never once said 'six million'. But both objections are semantic carping!]

Allen continues:
"...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;"

[Neither did JPII, who said the Church is 'deeply saddened' but did not apologize at this time- he would reserve that for the letter he left in the Western Wall. Nor does he link this Christian anti-Semitism to 'shaping the attitudes that led to the Holocaust', as was demanded of Benedict.

Benedict, in fact, goes one step further by saying the Church is "praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again" - so he is not just speaking up against anti-Semitism but all forms of hatred. But it seems militant Jews think they alone have been the target of hatred and unjust prejudice. How would they stand up to the verbal abuse and hate-filled ideas that Catholicism and Catholics are subjected to these days?

Compare what the two Popes said at a comparable part of their respective texts, which have an identical structure:]

As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love and by no political considerations, 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.

As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I reaffirm – like my predecessors – that the Church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of peace (cf. Ps 85:9).

“- 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;”

[Totally irrelevant since his personal experience of the war was so obviously circumscribed by the nature of the assignment he and his classmates found themselves doing - they were assigned to an anti-aircraft unit defending Munich, not to a lager!

The closest thing he could have possibly said about any personal experience of Nazi persecution was "I had a cousin who was mentally retarded, the Nazis came and took him, and we never saw him again!"

And if, however unlikely it was, he had committed such a lapse of propriety, he would have been reproached right away for daring to bring up an experience they might consider not even worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as the 'incomparable and unique' fate of six million Jews.]

“- 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."

[Not the occasion for any such thing! Totally inappropriate! Once again, in the unlikely event that he had sought to use the occasion to score ‘defensive’ points about that sorry and unnecessary contretemps, he would have been accused of mis-using the occasion for his own purposes!]

Fr. Thomas Write, LC, who reported on the Pope's pilgrimage for ZENIT, had this to say about the Jewish criticisms:

[DIM]1opt[=DIM]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.

[The same pathology has made the same people now making it appear that Pius XII - not Hitler, not the Nazis - was personally and singlehandedly responsible for the Holocaust because 'he did not speak out'!

They conveniently forget that in those years - decades before instant communications made the world a global village - Popes had far less 'stature' (perhaps none at all, even in the eyes of non-Catholics than what Popes have since acquired universally with the advent of worldwide TV. That is why Benedict XV in his time ended up being not just ignored but also derided by the secular powers who were waging World War I.]

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/18/2009 4:42 PM]
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