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5/8/2009 7:54 AM
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Can the media provide the Israelis
with a crash course on Catholicism
in time for the Pope's visit?

Translated from
the Italian service of

In Israel, "there is, in general, a widespread ignorance about Catholicism and the revolutionary changes in the attitude of the Catholic Church towards Judaism, and the Jewish people, in particular", according to Prof. Daniel Rossing, director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Relations in Jerusalem.

"The problem,:" he said, "is that Christianity is not taught in Jewish schools.' [Neither are the basics about Judaism or Islam taught to Catholic children.]Anything that is taught has to do with Crusades and the Inquisition. There is nothing like a comparative study of religions." [But such an undertaking would normally be a college-level elective course, not part of general education.]

A similar view was offered by Rabbi Ron Kronish, co-director of the Inter-Religious Coordinating Council of Israel, which is engaged in promoting reciprocal knowledge among believers of the three monotheistic faiths.

"The young people who graduate from secondary schools know absolutely nothing about Vatican-II. And I don't know anyone who has ever taken the initiative of educating Jews on post-Vatican II Christianity". [As Vatican II was a Catholic undertaking, doesn't Nostra Aetate represent the position of the Catholic Church alone? I must admit I have not checked out whether the other Christian confessions formally or informally 'adopted' Nostra Aetate.]

Professor Rossing says this ignorance about Christianity, even in the Arab-Muslim community, explains the hostility of the new generations towards the Christian religion.

A recent survey conducted by his center in cooperation with the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies shows that it is the younger Jews who are less tolerant of Christianity.

Rossing says it should not be surprising: "Persons aged 18-20 are the products of the current educational system. They have absolutely no contact with the Christian world, unlike older Jews."

He believes that the absence of any basic notions about Christianity and Christian culture prevents young Israelis from having a correct historical vision of the world. And that is why he thinks the function of the media will be crucial for the coming pilgrimage of Benedict XVI.

Precisely to prepare the media for the event, Rossing's Center in Jerusalem has organized a symposium a few days before the Pope's arrival.

Given that not many Catholics really know anything about Judaism, it is not surprising that not many Jews know anything about Catholicism either - and on both sides, what little is 'known' about the other may consist of nothing more than stereotypes and prejudices formed over centuries amounting to reciprocal misrepresentation.

This item from Vatican Radio caught my eye, because my first question was - Were the Muslims and Jews of Jordan, Palestine, and Israel prepared by the media in any way about Catholicism before and during John Paul II's visit in 2000? Or was all the publicity limited to the figure of the Pope?

And did Catholic schools and parishes take any initiatives at all after Vatican-II to incorporate some basic teaching material about Judaism and Islam for Sunday school and/or religious instruction of children as well as adults

5/8/2009 8:00 AM
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ON 4/22/09

The Pope accepts a keffiyeh, the typical Palestinian scarf, from one of two Palestinians in a 27-member youth group
from Bethlehem who were at the GA today. I certainly hope Rome's contentious Rabbi Di Segni is not going to see this as
"yet another anti-Jewish gesture" by the Pope!.

5/8/2009 8:02 AM
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It is ridiculous that an Israeli Minister should have anything to do with whom the Pope meets at the Vatican. As the story says that the 'meeting' will take place Sunday, when the Pope will be celebrating a Canonization Mass, then it is possible he will meet this mayor, if he does, briefly, as part of a group, before he leaves the Piazza to go back to the Apostolic Palace. If the Pope's security is doing their job, all should be well...

Israel urges Pope
not to meet Arab mayor
of an Israeli town
said to 'support terror'

JERUSALEM, April 22 (AFP) – Israel on Wednesday urged Pope Benedict XVI to cancel a planned meeting at the Vatican with the mayor of an Arab Israeli town, calling the latter a "terror supporter and warmonger."

Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ghanaim is due to meet the pontiff on this upcoming Sunday, a spokesman for Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov told AFP.

"This is a terror supporter and warmonger that acts against the national interests of the state in which he serves as mayor, and I call on the Holy See to abstain from meeting with him," Misezhnikov said in a statement.

Ghanaim organised a demonstration in his town against Israel's devastating war in Gaza earlier this year during which he spoke out against the operation that in the end killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

"During it he said, and I paraphrase, that 'I support the people of Gaza who are struggling against this cruel and oppressive occupation'," said Misezhnikov's spokesman, Amnon Lieberman.

"He said, 'long live shahids, long live Palestine with its capital in Jerusalem'... he said, 'this brutal occupation should be stopped'," Lieberman said.

"Which is breaking the rules of the state where you are serving as mayor and where you are getting your salary from," Lieberman said. "It would not be accepted in any other country."

Misezhnikov is a member of Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party, whose top party platform during the recent election was dealing with Israeli Arabs who do not show sufficient loyalty to Israel.

In his post as tourism minister, Misezhnikov is in charge of coordination for the pope's forthcoming visit to the Holy Land in mid-May.

Ghanaim told Arab news sites that Misezhnikov was "irresponsible. It seems that he forgot that the elections are behind us and he does not need to garner extra votes."

I hate to think the new Israeli goverment - its Tourism Minister, at any rate - is trying to set up an excuse to sow dissent, with the Pope's visit about two weeks away.

And here's what happened as a result:

Arab mayor's invite to papal audience
withdrawn after Israeli protest

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM, April 24 (CNS) -- An invitation for the controversial mayor of an Arab-Israeli village to a papal audience in Vatican City was withdrawn following protests by the Israeli minister of tourism.

Mayor Mazen Ghanaim of Sakhnin confirmed April 23 that the invitation for the April 29 audience was canceled. He said he sent a letter of complaint to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a copy to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

On April 22, newly appointed Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov issued a statement denouncing what he called "the planned meeting" as being in "complete contradiction" of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories May 11-15. The papal visit is part of a larger trip that includes a stop in Jordan May 8-11.

Misezhnikov, who heads the team in charge of making preparations for the pope's visit to Israel, said the trip is a "state-religious visit designed to promote peace and dialogue between peoples and religions."

He described Ghanaim as "a terror supporter and warmonger (who) acts against the national interests of the state in which he serves as mayor, and I call on the Holy See to abstain from meeting with him."

Misezhnikov is a member of Lieberman's right-wing party, Yisrael Beitenu. The party, which means "Israel Is Our Home," has caused controversy for its blatant anti-Arab platform.

During the war in January between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, Ghanaim created a stir when he praised Palestinian "martyrs" and declared, "Long live Palestine, whose capital is Jerusalem," at an anti-war demonstration.

In a brief statement to the press, Archbishop Antonio Franco, papal representative to Israel and the Palestinian territories, said it was a "pity to make such a controversy" over the issue of a general audience with the Pope and he regretted that Pope Benedict was dragged into the polemics.

A local Christian source told Catholic News Service that the Vatican also was miffed at Ghanaim's claims that he had been invited to meet with the Pope and discuss the status of Israeli Arabs prior to the papal visit.

"(Ghanaim) would have had the opportunity to shake the Pope's hand and at best exchange a few words with him," said the source, adding that the papal audience had no connection to the Pope's pilgrimage.

I find this a most unsatisfactory report because it makes a number of assumptions that have not been properly established, and omits many details that one would naturally ask when reporting such a story.

The source cited in the last paragraph says more or less what I had figured this 'meeting' would have been - something informal, nothing than a courtesy greeting and a brief exchange of words.

But the first part of th CNS story quotes the mayor as saying his invitation had been 'cancelled', without specifying exactly to what the invitation was and in what form it (and the cancellation) was given - directly from the Vatican or through a local Catholic organization in Israel, in writing or orally. The brief quotation from the Nuncio in Jerusalem is equally uninformative in this respect.

And frankly, in the absence of better, more reliable reporting, I don't know what to make of the Vatican's apparent 'capitulation' to the Israelis on this matter

In the Italian newspapers today, the Israeli demand that the Vatican cancel the 'meeting' between the Pope and the Arab mayor was reported alongside the fact that the Pope yesterday accepted and briefly wore a 'keffiyeh' given to him by a Palestinian girl who came to the GA with a group of other Palestinian Catholics from Bethlehem.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/8/2009 8:05 AM]
5/8/2009 8:07 AM
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Kasper outlines Pope Benedict’s
‘political’ mission to the Holy Land

by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt and Abigail Frymann

Issue of 25 April 2009

The political aspect of Pope Benedict's coming visit to the Holy Land is of prime importance, according to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and head of the Vatican commission for relations with Jews.

The cardinal will accompany the Pope on the 8-15 May visit, said this was because conflict in the region is the "mother of many other conflicts in the world today".

Interviewed by the German Catholic Press Agency last week, the cardinal said the Holy Land visit would be "quite different" from Pope Benedict's other visits abroad to date and he expected it to be one of the most difficult.

"Both the political and the church situation in the Middle East are anything but easy. A balance will have to found between the Pope's encounter with Israel and the Jews on the one hand, and with the Christians, who for the most part live in the Palestinian territories, on the other. A difficult task - but all the more necessary for that," he said.

Thorough preparation was a must, he insisted, and the groundwork was in full process. "We affirm the state of Israel and maintain diplomatic relations with it, and our relationship with the Jews has improved enormously. On the other hand we must do justice to the Palestinian Christians, who do not have an easy life. The Holy See is in favour of a two-state solution but that does not seem so important to the Israeli Government at the moment. The diplomatic high-wire act will therefore be not to accept any false compromises," Cardinal Kasper emphasised.

The Pope's visit had several aims, he said. One was to stabilise relations with the Jews after the difficulties that had arisen of late. Recent papal overtures to the Lefebvrists and Pope Benedict's revised Good Friday prayer issued last year have all caused concern among Jews.

Relations with Islam also needed to be stabilised, Cardinal Kasper said. The Pope would be visiting a mosque in Jordan and would also meet Muslims in Jerusalem. Dialogue has been established since the Pope gave his controversial Regensburg lecture in September 2006, but tensions still exist.

Ecumenical relations were also important, Cardinal Kasper said, as the Pope would encounter practically all the separated Christian denominations in Jerusalem.

"And the Pope will on no account forget Catholic Christians. He will be meeting them in Bethlehem - which is more or less walled-in today, and saying Mass in Nazareth," he added.

Asked what he expected from the visit as far as the Church's relationship with Judaism was concerned, Cardinal Kasper said that as the Vatican had "good personal contacts", it had been "relatively easy" to iron out the recent difficulties within one or two weeks and to "calm things down", which proved that Catholic-Jewish relations were stable.

"There is great interest on the Jewish side, not only among politicians, but also on the part of Orthodox Jews, to meet the Pope and put relations on a stable track permanently," he said.

Cardinal Kasper was asked whether ecumenical relations were not as important on this visit as inter-religious and political relations. "The other Christian Churches all have the same difficulties such as getting visas for their priests, and they expect help from the Catholic Church as it has diplomatic channels at its disposal," he said. Christians in the Holy Land were in a difficult situation, the cardinal said.

They are Arabs, not Israelis or Muslims and therefore have identity problems, especially the young, and many emigrate as they see no future for themselves in the Holy Land. "That is a great loss for all of us. When we come to the Holy Land we don't only want to see dead stones but Christian communities that are alive and thriving," he affirmed.

In Jordan, a leading Muslim scholar and one of the signatories to the "Common Word" document from Muslims inviting Christians to dialogue said Jordanian Muslims were looking for the Pope to speak out on the Middle East and Iraq, as well as Muslim-Christian relations.

Speaking in Amman on Tuesday Dr Hamdi Murad told The Tablet that it was important for the Pope to show he is interested in relations between the two faiths becoming closer and "more sincere".

"Scholars and ordinary Muslims alike want to hear something more open-hearted, open-spirited, to understand that the highest figure in Christianity has opened his heart to see Muslims as his brothers," he said.

5/8/2009 8:10 AM
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Yet another tribute to Benedict XVI opportunely coming on this day!

Jordanian prince sees Pope's visit
offering hope to Arab people

By Doreen Abi Raad

AMMAN, Jordan, April 24 (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the Middle East can serve as an opportunity to build hope among Arabs while broadening interreligious understanding, said Jordan's Prince El Hassan bin Talal.

Speaking with Catholic News Service, the prince said the May 8-11 papal visit "should not be seen as a passing, calming serene visit that is transient or just another visit to the region, but should rather focus in our minds that we can revive the heritage of trust and good faith" that Catholics and Muslims share.

In an extensive interview in advance of Pope Benedict's visit, Prince Hassan said he has high hopes for the trip.

"There is a sort of combination of hope, expectation and nostalgia for a golden age -- for a Camelot, if you will -- which I think invites Arabs to hope for a better future when such a visit takes place, as with many other visits thePpope has made to other parts of the world," the prince told CNS.

Pope Benedict's visit to Jordan will be part of an eight-day trek to the Middle East that includes several days in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The trip comes against the backdrop of wide separations along ethnic, sectarian and class lines among people in the region, as well as a rapidly mounting exodus of upper middle-class Palestinians because of violence and strict laws governing their movement. The outward migration is taking much-needed skills and talent from the region, Prince Hassan said.

The prince expressed a desire that people would begin to move from a position of "war against ... something" such as intolerance, racial hatred, anti-Semitism or fear of Islam to "a struggle for something."

"In that sense, I have the greatest hope that the visit of the Pope, His Holiness, could be a major step in visualizing a struggle for a law of peace," Prince Hassan said.

He said he also would like to see the visit focus on the religious impact of culture. The prince said culture is not sustainable without recognizing its religious roots and how it influences the defense of peace, social justice, human rights and global concerns.

"My fear is that culture and religion remain an afterthought to security and the economy," he said. "Security is not worth the name if it's not built on human beings. Because it is human beings who are the prime movers of security or insecurity.

"Whatever label we carry -- Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist -- at the end of the day we are human beings."

Pope Benedict and Prince Hassan have met several times. The prince met then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who at the time was the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in 1993. The future Pope gave the prince an edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at that encounter.

"In subsequent conversations," Prince Hassan recalled, "we spoke of values, ethics and morals."

Both were among the co-founders in 1999 of the Geneva-based Foundation for Inter-Religious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue.

[Very interesting information bot previously known! The experience may help explain the Prince's A COMMON WORD initiative after the Regensburg lecture.]

The prince -- who won the 2008 Niwano prize for religious contributions to peace -- has long been a leading proponent of interfaith dialogue.

The brother of Jordan's late King Hussein is founder of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies based in Amman and president emeritus of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, an international organization that promotes peace through cooperation and dialogue.

He also has authored nine books, including "Christianity in the Arab World" and "To Be a Muslim: Islam, Peace and Democracy."

Prince Hassan's experience in interfaith affairs has helped him see the value of dialogue and understanding between people of different faiths. He said he hopes people of the Middle East will seek stronger understanding through the numerous areas in which faiths converge rather than resort to violence over their differences.

The prince called for "a law of peace" to replace "a law of war" in the world. He suggested that a "courageous step" for peace could be taken by the world's religious leaders if they would meet in Jerusalem.

"I think there is a feeling among the majority of people in this part of the world that the hatred industry is winning, and this causes a lot of discomfort and a lot of anxiety," Prince Hassan said. "The visit, such as that of His Holiness the pope, is reassuring.

"We have to believe in a compassionate God, a wise God. This is what I would hope that the compassionate and wise symbol of our times -- His Holiness the Pope -- can bring to the region," he said.


Billboard in downtown Damascus, Syria, put up by the Jordan Tourism Board,
advertises the Pope's upcoming pilgrimage to the Holy Land. (CNS Photo)

If the Pope were an ordinary 'celebrity', the Jordan Tourism Board may well be sued - or at the very least, questioned - for using the Pope to promote tourism to Jordan. But I don't see the move as exploitative, rather as a window of opportunity, even if limited in time, to create a positive awareness of the Pope to an audience that would not otherwise have it.

The Papal Visit site opened by the Jordan Tourism Board on the Web
is certainly excellent, reflecting Jordan's uniqueness in the Arab and Muslim world with respect to its official attitude to Christians and Christianity.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/8/2009 8:51 AM]
5/8/2009 8:54 AM
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John Allen reverts this week to his grab-bag multi-focus format for his weekly column,
and I am picking out the portions pertinent to Benedict XVI to post here


April 24, 2009

Benedict XVI's visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories May 8-15 is likely to offer an object lesson in the ancient wisdom that "you can't please everyone." Several behind-the-scenes tensions currently percolating illustrate the point.

A Vatican official told me this week that e-mails have arrived in Rome complaining that the Pope has not put the Gaza Strip on his itinerary, as a gesture of solidarity with people suffering from the recent conflict.

Vatican diplomats point out that popes generally steer clear of such hot spots, on the grounds of not making an already volatile situation worse. Moreover, even if the Pope were inclined to act as a human shield, the question would be why he picks one conflict over another. (If he went to Gaza, critics might wonder why he didn't stop in Darfur during his recent trip to Africa.)

Despite that, it's possible that some may read the fact the Pope is not going to Gaza as a deliberate omission, as a missed opportunity, or worse.

{This 'Gaza lobby' is getting out of hand. As I have commented before on this subject, we can all sympathize with the life experience of the Palestinian Christians - as with all persecuted Christians - but that does not entitle them to preferential treatment which would not only jeopardize the physical security of the Pope but also the delicate diplomatic balance he has to maintain with all the civilian authorities of three nations involved in his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which means so much to him for its symbolic weight. And I think those in the media who feed this selfish concern by thet Gaza lobby are doing them and the Pope a disservice.]

Second, there's a difference among Palestinian Christians, and their supporters and émigré communities abroad, concerning how much the Pope should say about the "exodus" of Christians out of the Holy Land.

Some want the Pope to hit the theme hard, both as a reflection of the reality (Jordanian Catholic Rateb Rabie, who runs the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation in the Washington, D.C., area, told me there are just 50,000 Christians left in the Palestinian Territories, compared to 700,000 living abroad) and as a way of pressuring all parties to make peace.

Others, however, worry that too much hand-wringing about an "exodus" may demoralize the Christians who are still in the Holy Land, and render the Christian presence in the region's societies even more invisible.

[Which brings me to a point I made previously. All of us, as individuals and communities, have been given our Cross to bear along with Christ.

The Gaza lobby should put their plight into perspective - think about the Christians in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, or the Catholics of China and India, and all the Christians who have suffered for the faith (or simply because of war around them that they cannot escape)!

It happens this is the Cross that God has given them at this time, and the rest of the Christian world prays for them and all those who are persecuted in the name of religion and/or who suffer because of wr, disease and poverty.]

As an example of the latter view, I spoke by phone on April 18 with Fr. Rif'at Bader, a Jordanian priest of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, who's handling communications for the papal visit.

"We don't like to talk about the numbers, but about presence," Bader told me. "Christians are still present, they're well-educated, and they have an important role in the economy, in political life, in the academy . . . Too much focus on the numbers is dangerous, because it's depressing."

In still other quarters, there's ambivalence about the very idea of the trip, based on concern about its impact on efforts to negotiate a deal with Israel on the legal and tax status of church properties -- something that was supposed to be settled in 1994, after Israel and the Holy See launched diplomatic relations, but which is still unresolved 15 years later.

[Yes, but the Pope has made it clear he wants to undertake this trip as a pilgrimage, a spiritual experience that should not be cluttered by pending political and cultural issues, as Vatican statements since the official announcement have also made it clear!]

Here's a concrete example: In Caesarea, a Catholic shrine was destroyed in the 1950s, and today local Catholics want the site returned so they can rebuild a place of worship.

There are also concerns about visas for Christian clergy, especially since the new Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu has entrusted the Interior Ministry to the religious Shas Party. (The last time a Shas member controlled the ministry, there was a complete embargo on entry and residence permits for church personnel.)

Prior to this spring, the Vatican line appeared to be that there would be no papal visit to Israel until a deal on such matters was reached. The Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, said in December 2007 that "along with general conditions of peace, there should be positive signs on relations with the Holy See." [But itt's a line that changed soon afterwards, especially with all the polemics raised by some Jewish quarters against recent papal actions.]

Some fear that having secured a papal visit, the Israelis may feel less pressure to strike a bargain. On the other hand, a senior Vatican official told me Wednesday that if the trip were conditional on resolving all outstanding disputes, it might never happen -- and for a Pope who's now 82, as this official put it, you can't tell him, "Give it three years and we'll see." [There you have it!]

For perspective on this point, I went on Tuesday to the Villa Massimo, the Rome headquarters of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, to speak with Fr. David Jaeger, the custodian's delegate. Born to Jewish parents in Tel Aviv, Jaeger converted to Christianity and became a Franciscan priest. He's long been a lead negotiator for the Vatican in its talks with the Israeli government.

"I trust that the Holy Father's visit will serve to confirm the centrality of the treaty-based relationship in Israel," Jaeger said, adding that this is a relationship involving "the Holy See, the worldwide Catholic Church and the Jewish state."

In the context described above, the significance of the phrase "treaty-based" should be obvious.

Finally, there's anxiety among some local Catholics that the Pope's itinerary is a bit too "politically correct," top-heavy with diplomatic, inter-faith and ecumenical events, potentially at the expense of the local church.

For example, Benedict is not scheduled to visit any Christian sites in Galilee, and he is also not planning to say Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, restricting himself to a visit and speech. (John Paul II celebrated Mass in the Holy Sepulchre during his March 2000 visit.)

Given the fierce jostling among different Christian denominations over claims to the Holy Sepulchre, some may be tempted to read Benedict's decision as a concession.

[No! It seems obvious that the choice of the site for the Jerusalem Mass was based on having a palce large enough to hold as many attendees as possible. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is within the old city of Jerusalem, hemmed in by buildings and alleys, add having a fairly small courtyard - all told, the place would not accommodate more than 5,000 at the most generous. It is being held in the open-air at the Josaphat Valley between the Old City and the Mount of Olives.

And besides, what is wrong in the Vatican not wishing to exacerbate intra-Christian rivalries in that Church during a trip that is first and foremost a pilgrimage?

As for the visit to Galilee, this is not a 'tour of the Holy Places' for Benedict XVI who visited the Holy Land at least twice before he became Pope. Galilee is well represented on this visit by Nazareth.]

Like John Paul before him, Benedict will also visit a site associated with John's baptism of Jesus which lies on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River, and which is promoted as a tourist destination by the Jordanian government.

Yet there's also a rival site on the Israeli side where Christian churches have been attracting pilgrims for centuries, but where access is now complicated by Israeli military zones. A papal visit to these traditional sites, some local Catholics believe, could be of enormous help. In part, the concerns are economic: whichever site the Pope visits may get a leg up in the scramble to attract tourists.

[Well, if normal access to the 'rival Israeli site' is currently restricted by military considerations, then even if the Pope visited it, that would not help the local tourist trade at all! Really, these issues are so picayune and detract from the nature of the visit as a pilgrimage.]

* * *

Another possible irritant on the trip could be fallout from the April 20-24 Durban Review Conference, the U.N.-sponsored World Conference Against Racism. Based on concerns that the conference was biased against Israel, a number of countries, including the United States, either boycotted or sent only low-level delegations. Those worries seemed confirmed when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad referred to Israel as "totally racist" and accused the Israelis of carrying out "ethnic cleansing in Gaza."

The Holy See took part in the conference, but Vatican officials have been engaged in a full-court PR press this week to ensure that Israel doesn't take it the wrong way.

On Monday, the Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement obviously intended to distance the Vatican from Ahmadinejad and his anti-Israeli line.

"In itself, the conference is an important occasion for carrying forward the struggle against racism and intolerance. The Holy See took part for this reason, and intends to support the efforts of international institutions to take steps forward in this direction," Lombardi said.

"Naturally, statements such as that of the Iranian president do not move in the right direction, because, even if he did not deny the Holocaust or the right of Israel to exist, he used expressions which are extremist and unacceptable. For this reason, it's important to continue to clearly affirm respect for the dignity of the human person against every form of racism and intolerance."

On Wednesday, L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, headlined a story on Durban, "The Holy See deplores the use of the forum for taking extremist positions offensive to any state."

In an interview on Thursday with Corriere della Sera, the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, said that had Ahmadinejad repeated past comments questioning the Holocaust during his speech in Geneva, "We too would have made a different decision."

"We're very careful to assess the situation, especially because the pope is going to Israel as a sign of great affection toward the country," Tomasi said, adding that he had taken part in a Holocaust commemoration ceremony this week in Geneva.

Nonetheless, for Israelis suspicious of a pro-Palestinian bias in the Vatican, a photograph out of Benedict XVI's General Audience on Wednesday probably won't help. [BAH! HUMBUG!]

At the end of the audience, the pope stopped to chat briefly with a group of young Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem, representing a parish the pope plans to visit. One young woman put a keffiyeh, the classic Palestinian headdress, around the pope's shoulders.

Fairly quickly, the pope's private secretary, Msgr. Georg Gänswein, removed it [as he does with any garment, headwear or neckwear that is presented to the Pope, not because it happened to be a kaffiyeh! Please, a bit of fairness and common sense is needed all around!] - but the keffiyeh was on Benedict long enough for a photographer to get the shot. One imagines it will make the rounds.

Allen does have a non-contentious item, which is also authentic news, to report on, having to do with the Holy Fahter's fourth anniversary as Pope::

Most commentary on the fourth anniversary of Benedict's papacy has been intra-Catholic.

This week, however, theologians from the Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Orthodox, Pentecostal and Reformed traditions (with a Catholic thrown in for good measure) came to Rome to present a new book titled The Pontificate of Benedict XVI: Its Premises and Promises (Eerdmans).

Editor William Rusch, an American Lutheran, presented the Pope with a copy of the book, bearing the signatures of each of its contributors.

The Centro Pro Unione, a prestigious ecumenical center in Rome run by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, hosted a three-day conference this week to discuss the book. I was asked to be part of a concluding panel Tuesday morning, moderated by Msgr. John Radano of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

For a Pope who hasn't always played to the best reviews ecumenically, the overall tone of the book is remarkably appreciative.

German Lutheran Harding Mayer, for example, writes that "Of all the conservatives in the church, he is the one with the greatest capacity for dialogue."

American Pentecostal Cheryl Bridges Johns says, "I have come to believe that while Benedict XVI seeks to conserve doctrine and to make clear the ecumenical boundaries, he is not of the temperament to stir up religious wars or to denigrate other Christians." [My dear Ms. Johns, if he did that, it would be most un-Christian, wouldn't it?]

Such was the spirit of kinship that Rusch even came to Benedict's defense during a Q&A session. On the subject of relations between Benedict and his former colleague, liberal Swiss theologian Hans Küng, Rusch said that after reading Küng's memoirs, which contained some fairly biting remarks about the Pope, "I'm not sure I would have invited him to pranzo if he had said those things about me."

Naturally, this is not to suggest that all is sweetness and light. Mayer, for example, suggested that Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, had backtracked on his appreciation for diversity in the churches as a result of a "personal drama" he suffered amid student uprisings in the 1960s.

[And did Mayer justify this charge at all? If he is referring to Dominus Iesus and its reaffirmation of the Roman Catholic Church as the one true Church of Christ, then that is something Joseph Ratzinger, Catholic and priest, has stood for all his life.

But Mayer is equally wrong if he means by 'appreciation for diversity' support for religious syncretism in any way, shape or form! In any case, Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has never shown other than respect for other Christian confessions and other religions.]

Nonetheless, the basic thrust of the authors was summed up by Rusch, who said they want the volume to represent an "encouragement" to the Pope.

Just to offer a bit of the book's flavor, Jones observes in her essay that the demographic balance in Christianity is increasingly shifting to the global South, where the two main Christian groups are Catholics and Pentecostals. She suggests that "a reformed Catholicism and a mature Pentecostalism" may hold the key to the Christian future, and urges more conversation between the two.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/8/2009 9:05 AM]
5/8/2009 9:09 AM
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Vatican and Arab League agree
to work together toward world peace

VATICAN CITY, April 24 (AP) - The Vatican and the Arab League have agreed to work together to promote peace and justice in the world, the Vatican said Friday, after a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the league's secretary-general.

In a separate meeting, Amr Moussa and the Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, signed a memorandum of understanding between both sides, a Vatican statement said.

During the cordial meetings, emphasis was placed on the importance of the agreement, which is intended to foster increased cooperation between the parties with a view to promoting peace and justice in the world. Particular importance was given to the role of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, the Vatican statement said.

The meetings allowed for an exchange of view on the international situation, especially in the Middle East, and on the need to find a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the other conflicts which afflict the region, the Holy See said.

The Pope travels to the Middle East next month on a Holy Land pilgrimage. Benedict will visit Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Benedict's envoy to Egypt, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, told Vatican Radio that besides appreciating the Pope's interest for peace and development in the region, the Arab League also takes into account the situation of Christians in Arab countries.

The Vatican has long shown concern for the Christian minorities in the Middle East.

As part of its interest in looking after its flock in the Holy Land, the Vatican and Israel have held periodic talks over several years to resolve long-standing differences over tax and property matters.

The Holy See and Israel said in a joint communique that a session between both sides in Jerusalem on Thursday yielded meaningful progress toward resolving these differences.

The latest meeting of the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission was characterized by great cordiality and a spirit of cooperation, the statement said.

Without describing the progress made, it said both sides want to reach agreement as soon as possible and will meet again next week at Israel's Foreign Ministry.

Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic ties in the early 1990s, but they still must resolve the status of expropriated church property and tax exemptions.

On wider issues, tensions between both sides have sometimes marked their relations. Earlier this year, Benedict's lifting of the excommunication of a bishop who had denied the Holocaust caused anger among Jews as well as Catholics and others worldwide.

Last month, the Pope made an unusual public acknowledgment of Vatican mistakes of turmoil caused by his reaching out to the renegade, ultraconservative prelate.

The Vatican has said that Benedict did not know that the British-born bishop was a Holocaust denier.

Now, from the Jewish side -

Catholics and Jews
for peace in the Middle East:
Pope's visit will see progress
in the historical process of reconciliation

by David Rosen
Grand Rabbi
President, International Jewish Committee for Inter-Religious Consultations
International Director, Inter-Religious Affairs, American Jewish Committee

Translated from
the 4/24/09 issue of

Last March 12, Benedict XVU received the delegates of the Grand Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism.

The Pope expressed the hope that his visit to Israel would reinforce relations between Catholics and Jews, as well as promote peace in the region.

All persons of good will pray fervently that this last hope may be realized. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that his visit will in fact intensify the historical process of reconciliation between Catholics and Jews, and not only because the Pope will thereby show good will to the almost six million Jews who live today in the Holy Land.

Benedict XVI will follow in the footsteps of his great predecessor, literally and figuratively.

John Paul II, hero of the reconciliation of Catholics and Jews in our time, fully understood that the visit of a Pope to Israel carried a special significance for the reconciliation between Jews and Christians.

Already in the Apostolic Letter Redemptionis anno published on April 20, 198,, John Paul II spoke of "the land we call holy', referring to the significance that Jerusalem has for Christians, Muslims and Jews.

About the last, he wrote: "For the Jews, the city is the object of a vibrant love and perennial claim, rich with numerous imprints and memories, since the time of David who chose it to be his capital and Solomon who built the Temple there. Since then, they have looked on it every day, one might say, as the symbol of their nation."

These penetrating sentences reflect John Paul II's understanding not only of the historical significance, but also the religious and existential, of the land of Israel for the Jewish people.

Jews 'look to' Jerusalem, and three times a day. they bow in prayer towards Israel if they are in the diaspora; towards Jerusalem, if they are in Israel. And if they are in Jerusalem, they face Temple Mount, the place where the Almighty chose "to establish his name" (Deut 12, 5-11).

The religious link between the Holy and and the Holy City is an integral and incancellable part of the Jewish calendar and liturgical celebrations. It reflects simply the Biblical mandate to "be a kingdom of priests a holy nation" (Ex 15,6), which demands that persons live ideally as a paradigm "like the day of heaven over the earth, in the land that the Lord vowed to give your fathers" (Deut 11,21; cfr Ex 6, 4-8).

Indeed, the whole Biblical narrative is indissolubly linked to the land. Exile from it is seen not only as a humiliation, but also as 'a profanation of the divine name'.

Consequently, return to this land is considered not only as an essential element of the universal mission of Israel, but also the sanctification of the divine name itself(Ez 36,23).

This centrality of the city and of the land in the Jewish consciousness has brought a remarkable self-identification with it, which is particularly reflected in the Prophets and specially in the book of Isaiah, in which the population is often described as the 'daughter of Zion', and even as Zion itself. The passage in the morning liturgy of Sabbath, "Have mercy on Zion because it is the dwelling of our life" reflects this identification.

The observations of John Paul II in Redemptionis anno reflect this idea, that for the Jews Jerusalem and tehhe Holy Land are not only the historical focus but also the 'sign' of their identity.

Unfortunately, for the greater part of the tragic history of relations between Catholics and Jews, this religious and existential link between the people of Israel and the promised Land has been seen by Christianity as something obsolete, that had become deprived of legitimacy and validity.

Indeed, the very idea of the return of the Jewish people to that land and the renewal of their sovereignty was often considered anathema.

The historic document of the Second Vatican Council, Nostra aetate, rejected the idea that the Jewish people have been spurned by God and affirmed that the divine alliance with the people of Israel is eternal.

Nonetheless, at the same time, the Holy See has not recognized the return of a Jewish life that is independent of the restored State of Israel, and the Jewish people (and I believe, the Catholic world, too) have perceived that the Church still had a 'problem' with Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land and in Jerusalem.

It is interesting what is narrated by Archbishop Loris Capovilla, who was John XXIII's secretary. That Pope, faced with the new relationship of the Church with the Jewish people - established through Nostra aetate - wished to officially recognize the state of Israel. But he did not live long enough to see the promulgation of Nostra aetate itself and events of a principally political character caused a delay of another 28 years until the normalization of relations.

The document published in 1985 by the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with Judaism, entitled "Note on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in the preaching and catechism of the Roman Catholic Church", based on Nostra aetate, defined the persistence of Israel as "a historical fact and a sign to interpret in the light of God's plan".

The document states that " the story of Israel did not end in 70 A.D., and continued, particularly in the numerous communities of teh diaspora which allowed Israel to bring the whole world testimony, often heroic, of its faithfulness to the one God and "to exalt him in the presence of all the living" (Tobit 13,4), maintaining at the same time, a memory of the land of their predecessors at the center of their own hopes" (Passover Seder).

The document adds that "Christians are invited to understand this religious attachment, which has its roots in Biblical tradition".

Consequently, the promise of teh land is an essential aspect of that alliance which is always valid, so that it is recognized that the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel has its origin "in Biblical tradition".

Therefore it is presented as an aspect of teh Christian faith to be exposed as such in Catholic teaching adn preaching. As Eugene Fisher stated, who was then responsible for relations between Catholics and Jews in teh US Conference of Catholic Bishops, "the theological importance, and indeed, doctrinal, of this statement must not be underestimated."

Ant Another eight years passed before such recognition was concretized. Above all, thanks to the guidance and commitment of John Paul II at the end of 1993, the signature of the Fundamental Agreement favored full relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel.

This, in turn, made possible in the year 2000 the historic pilgrimage of John Paul II to the Holy Land, which had an enormous impact.

One of the characteristic aspects of John Paul II's Pontificate was the ability to transmit these messages on a vast scale, which up to that moment had been present only in the teachings and documents of teh Magisterium.

He did it above all by understanding and utilizing teh power of teh visual message. That was the case with his visit to the Synagogue in Rome and even more so, with his visit in Israel. [But global TV has meant since the 1970s that every event is seen in images and no longer just read about! The images would have been there whoever was Pope.]

The greater part of Israeli Jews, in part5icular, those who are most observant and traditionalist, have never met a modern Christian. These persons, when they travel abroad, meet non-Jews only as such, rarely as Christians.

Therefore they carry the prevalent image that Jews have had of Christianity from tragic and negative past. The papal visit to Israel has opened their eyes to this new reality. Not only is the Church no longer considered hostile to the Jewish people, but its chief is seen as a sincere friend!

In an ample sector of the Israeli population, there was a profound impact to see the Pope at Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Shoah, in tears of solidarity with the sorrow of the Jews; too learn in what way he hiumself contributed to save Jews in that terrible time, and later as a priest, how he returned Jewish children who had been protected in Christian homes to their own Jewish families; and t4o see the Pope leave at the Western Wall, in respectful revrence for Jewish tradition, the text of the prayer he had composed for the Day of penitence celebrated on March 17 at St. Peter's Basilica, in which he asked divine pardon for the sins committed against the jews in the course of centuries.

Not the least, even if his trip had been described as a pilgrimage, the visit was also a state visit, with its appropriate ceremonials, affirming the respect of the Holy See for the contemporary expression of of Jewish independence asnd integrity which are linked indissolubly to the Jewish identity in teh whole world.

The visit of John Paul II also achieved another important result, when during the meeting with the Chief Rabbi and the Council of the Grand Rabbinate of Israel, the Pope proposed the institution of a special Bilateral Commission for dialog between the Holy See and teh Grand Rabbinate, which was created in due time and carries out annual meetings, alternatively in Rome and in Jerusalem.

In the past eight years, the work of the Commission presided by Chief Rabbi Shera Yashuv Cohen and Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejia has led many persons of the Israeli rabbinical community to an authentic appreciation of of the leadership and teaching of the Catholics and of friendship with them.

This Commission involves persons which makes it an echo chamber which influences the perceptions and attitudes of manny others. The images which gradually makle their way to Israeli society, thanks to these meetings and collaboration, are very impportant too promote the educational process aimed at greater respect and greater reciprocal understanding

Thanks to this Commission, which was received by Benedict XVI last March 12, the special links of the Catholic faith with the Jewish people were reaffirmed, and the Holy See reiterated its profound commitment to continue promoting relations between Catholics and Jews.

In visiting Israel and expressing the respect of the Holy See for the Jewish state, reinforcing the impact of teh pioneering visit of his predecessor, Benedidt XVI will dooubtless make furthe rprogress in the historic profess of reconciliation between Jews and Christians.

Let us pray that his visit may a;sp promote the other objective, mentioned by the Pope, of promoting peace adn reconciliation among the populations and faiths of the Holy Land, and in all the Middle East.

David Rosen is probably one of the most active interfaith advocates in the world. Photos show him with John Paul II in Assisi in 1993, with Benedict XVI on three occasions in 2005 alone, during which he was made a Papal Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, conferred on him by Cardinal Walter Kasper.

5/8/2009 9:12 AM
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Israeli security say Popemobile
won't be protectivw in Nazareth

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

April 26, 2009

JERUSALEM -The Shin Bet security service does not want Pope Benedict XVI to use his so-called Popemobile in Nazareth next month, saying it may not be enough against any attack by radical Islamic groups. Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov will discuss the issue at Sunday's cabinet meeting.

The Holy See told the Israeli government that the Pope wants to get as close as possible to his followers, so the Vatican hopes the Pope will use the vehicle.

But the Shin Bet opposes this, citing pamphlets in Arab towns in the north calling for demonstrations during the visit. Other pamphlets by radical Islamists allegedly call for physical attacks on the Pope.

The Vatican said it understood the security concerns and wanted to find a solution.

The Pontiff is due to arrive in Israel on May 11 for a four-day stay, which will include visits to the Palestinian Authority and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

He will visit Christian sites in Jerusalem and Nazareth, as well as Yad Vashem. The Pope is also set to hold meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, who will be his official host.

Another factor raising concerns is the timing. It falls on May 14 - Nakba Day, when Palestinians mourn the events of 1948. The Shin Bet expects riots in the West Bank and over the Green Line.

The visit is only two weeks away, but several issues appear unresolved, notably security and financial arrangements. The Finance Ministry has only released 20 percent of its budget of NIS 43 million to other ministries.

The renovation of two Christian sites is not yet complete, including the church in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. Goats are currently kept in that area, which would prevent thousands of pilgrims from taking part in a Mass. [Since when have they kept goats there? There is a Church right next to that garden of olives, which has to be the most important part of the shrine!]

The Tourism Ministry hopes to use the visit to promote pilgrimages to Israel, something Misezhnikov will stress to the cabinet ministers.

The previous Pope, John Paul II, visited Israel in 2000. He was the Pontiff who established diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, in 1994.

The Polish-born Pontiff was also the first Pope to visit a synagogue, in Rome in 1986.

5/8/2009 9:14 AM
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I must thank Avvenire for leading me to find the English text online of a 1994 addreess by Cardinal Ratzinger about the Jewish-Christian relationship.

Cardinal Raatzinter in Jerusalem, 1994, with his then secretary, Mons. Josef Clemens.


by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Keynote Address
First International Jewish-Christian Conference
on Modern Social and Scientific Challenges
Jerusalem, February 2, 1994

The history of the relationship between Israel and Christendom is drenched with blood and tears. It is a history of mistrust and hostility, but also — thank God — a history marked again and again by attempts at forgiveness, understanding and mutual acceptance.

After Auschwitz, the mission of reconciliation and acceptance permits no deferral.

Even if we know that Auschwitz is the gruesome expression of an ideology that not only wanted to destroy Judaism but also hated and sought to eradicate from Christianity its Jewish heritage, the question remains:

What could be the reason for so much historical hostility between those who actually must belong together because of their faith in the one God and commitment to his will?

Does this hostility result from something in the very faith of Christians?

Is it something in the "essence of Christianity," such that one would have to prescind from Christianity's core, deny Christianity its heart, in order to come to real reconciliation? This is an assumption that some Christian thinkers have in fact made in the last few decades in reaction to the horrors of history.

Do confession of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of the living God and faith in the cross as the redemption of mankind contain an implicit condemnation of the Jews as stubborn and blind, as guilty of the death of the Son of God?

Could it be that the core of the faith of Christians themselves compels them to intolerance, even to hostility toward the Jews, and conversely, that the self-esteem of Jews and the defense of their historic dignity and deepest convictions oblige them to demand that Christians abandon the heart of their faith and so require Jews similarly to forsake tolerance?

Is the conflict programmed in the heart of religion and only to be overcome through its repudiation?

In this heightened framing of the question, the problem confronting us today reaches far beyond an academic inter-religious dialogue into the fundamental decisions of this historic hour.

One sees more frequent attempts to mollify the issue by representing Jesus as a Jewish teacher who in principle did not go beyond what was possible in Jewish tradition. His execution is understood to result from the political tensions between Jews and Romans. In point of fact, he was executed by the Roman authority in the way political rebels were punished.

His elevation to Son of God is accordingly understood to have occurred after the fact, in a Hellenistic climate; at the same time, in view of the given political circumstances, the blame for the crucifixion is transferred from the Romans to the Jews.

As a challenge to exegesis, such interpretations can further an acute listening to the text and perhaps produce something useful. However, they do not speak of the Jesus of the historic sources, but instead construct a new and different Jesus, relegating the historical faith in the Christ of the church to mythology.

Christ appears as a product of Greek religiosity and political opportunism in the Roman Empire. One does not do justice to the gravity of the question with such a view; indeed one retreats from it.

Thus the question remains: Can Christian faith, left in its inner power and dignity, not only tolerate Judaism but accept it in its historic mission? Or can it not?

Can there be true reconciliation without abandoning the faith, or is reconciliation tied to such abandonment?

In reply to this question which concerns us most deeply, I shall not present simply my own views. Rather, I wish to show what the Catechism of the Catholic Church released in 1992 has to say.

This work has been published by the magisterium of the Catholic Church as an authentic expression of her faith. In recognition of the significance of Auschwitz and from the mission of the Second Vatican Council, the matter of reconciliation has been inscribed in the catechism as an object of faith. Let us see then how the catechism sounds in relation to our question in terms of its definition of its own mission.


I begin with the text of the catechism explaining the significance of the account of the journey of the Magi from the East. It sees in the Magi the origin of the church formed out of the pagans; the Magi afford an enduring reflection on the way of the pagans. The catechism says the following:

The Magi's coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations.

Their coming means that the pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and savior of the world only by turning toward the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament.

The Epiphany shows that the "full number of the nations" now takes its "place in the family of the patriarchs," and acquires "Israelitica dignitas" (are made "worthy of the heritage of Israel").(CCC 528)

In this text we can see how the catechism views the relationship between Jews and the nations as communicated by Jesus; in addition, it offers at the same time a first presentation of the mission of Jesus.

Accordingly, we say that the mission of Jesus is to unite Jews and pagans into a single people of God in which the universalist promises of the Scripture are fulfilled which speak again and again of the nations worshiping the God of Israel — to the point where in Trito-Isaiah we no longer read merely of the pilgrimage of the nations to Zion but of the proclamation of the mission of ambassadors to the nations "that have not heard my fame or seen my glory.... And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord" (Is. 66:19, 21).

In order to present this unification of Israel and the nations, the brief text — still interpreting Matthew 2 — gives a lesson on the relationship of the world religions, the faith of Israel and the mission of Jesus: The world religions can become the star which enlightens men's path, which leads them in search of the kingdom of God.

The star of the religions points to Jerusalem, it becomes extinguished and lights up anew in the word of God, in the sacred Scripture of Israel. The word of God preserved herein shows itself to be the true star without which or bypassing which one cannot find the goal.

When the catechism designates the star as the "star of David," it links the account of the Magi furthermore with the Balaam prophecy of the star which shall come forth out of Jacob (Nm. 24:17), seeing this prophecy for its part connected to Jacob's blessing of Judah, which promised the ruler's staff and scepter to him who is owed "the obedience of the peoples" (Gn. 49:10). The catechism sees Jesus as the promised shoot of Judah who unites Israel and the nations in the kingdom of God.

What does all this mean? The mission of Jesus consists in leading the histories of the nations in the community of the history of Abraham, in the history of Israel. His mission is unification, reconciliation, as the Letter to the Ephesians (2:18-22) will then present it.

The history of Israel should become the history of all, Abraham's sonship become extended to the 'many.' This course of events has two aspects to it: The nations can enter into the community of the promises of Israel in entering into the community of the one God who now becomes and must become the way of all because there is only one God and because his will is therefore truth for all.

Conversely, this means that all nations, without the abolishment of the special mission of Israel, become brothers and receivers of the promises of the chosen people; they become people of God with Israel through adherence to the will of God and through acceptance of the Davidic kingdom.

Yet another observation can be important here. If the account of the Magi, as the catechism interprets it, presents the answer of the sacred books of Israel as the decisive and indispensable guide for the nations, in doing so the account of the Magi varies the same theme we encounter in John's Gospel in the formula: "Salvation comes from the Jews" (4:22).

This heritage remains abidingly vital and contemporary in the sense that there is no access to Jesus, and thereby there can be no entrance of the nations into the people of God without the acceptance in faith of the revelation of God, who speaks in the sacred Scripture which Christians term the Old Testament.

By way of summary we can say: Old and New Testaments, Jesus and the sacred Scripture of Israel, appear here as indivisible. The new thrust of his mission to unify Israel and the nations corresponds to the prophetic thrust of the Old Testament itself.

Reconciliation in the common recognition of the kingdom of God, recognition of his will as the way, is the nucleus of the mission of Jesus in which person and message are indivisible.

This mission is efficacious already at the moment when he lies silent in the crib. One understands nothing about him if one does not enter with him into the dynamic of reconciliation.


Nevertheless, the great vision of this text gives rise to a question. How will that which is foreshadowed here in the image of the star and those who follow it be historically realized?

Does the historic image of Jesus, do his message and his work correspond to this vision, or do they contradict it? Now there is nothing more contested than the question of the historical Jesus.

The catechism as a book of faith proceeds from the conviction that the Jesus of the Gospels is also the only true historical Jesus. Starting here, it presents the message of Jesus first under the all encompassing motto "kingdom of God," in which the various aspects of the good news of Jesus coalesce, so that they receive from here their direction and their concrete content (541-560).

Then the catechism goes on to show the relation Jesus-Israel from three vantage points: Jesus and the law (577-582), Jesus and the temple (583-586), Jesus and the faith of Israel in the one God and savior (587-591).

At this juncture our book comes finally to the decisive fate of Jesus, to his death and resurrection, in which Christians see the Passover mystery of Israel fulfilled and brought to its final theological depth.

The central chapter on Jesus and Israel interests us here particularly. It is also fundamental for the interpretation of the concept of kingdom of God and for the understanding of the Easter mystery.

Now, to be sure, the very themes of law, temple and the oneness of God are the volatile ones supplying the material for Jewish-Christian disputes. Is it even possible to view these things simultaneously in fidelity to history, according to faith, and under the primacy of reconciliation?

It is not only earlier interpretations of the history of Jesus which have given generally negative images to Pharisees, priests and Jews. Indeed, crass contrasts have become a cliché in modern and liberal descriptions where Pharisees and priests are portrayed as the representatives of a hardened legalism, as representatives of the eternal law of the establishment presided over by religious and political authorities who hinder freedom and live from the oppression of others.

In light of these interpretations one sides with Jesus, fights his fight, by coming out against the power of priests in the church and against law and order in the state.

The images of the enemy in contemporary liberation struggles fuse with those of Jesus's history, which is reduced to a struggle against religiously veiled domination of man by man, the inauguration of that revolution in which Jesus is to be sure the underdog but precisely by his defeat establishes a first step which will necessarily lead to definitive victory. If Jesus is seen thus, if his death must be conceived in terms of this constellation of antitheses, his message cannot be one of reconciliation.

It goes without saying that the catechism does not share this outlook. Rather it holds principally to the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, seeing in Jesus the Messiah, the greatest in the kingdom of heaven; as such he knew he was "to fulfill the law by keeping it in its all embracing detail ... down to 'the least of these commandments'" (578).

The catechism thus connects the special mission of Jesus to his fidelity to the law; it sees in him the servant of God who truly brings justice (Is. 42:3) and thereby becomes "a covenant to the people" (Is. 42:6; Catechism, 580).

Our text is far removed here from any superficial smoothing over of Jesus's conflict-laden history, however. Instead of interpreting his way superficially in the sense of an ostensibly prophetic attack on hardened legalism, it strives to fathom its real theological depth.

This is seen clearly in the following passage: The "principle of integral observance of the law not only in letter but in spirit was dear to the Pharisees. By giving Israel this principle they had led many Jews of Jesus' time to an extreme religious zeal. This zeal, were it not to lapse into 'hypocritical' casuistry, could only prepare the people for the unprecedented intervention of God through the perfect fulfillment of the law by the only righteous one in place of all sinners" (579). This perfect fulfillment includes Jesus taking upon himself the "'curse of the law' incurred by those who do not 'abide by the things written in the book of the law, and do them (Gal. 3: 10)'" (580).

The death on the cross is thus theologically explained by its innermost solidarity with the law and with Israel; the catechism in this regard presents a link to the Day of Atonement and understands the death of Christ itself as the great event of atonement, as the perfect realization of what the signs of the Day of Atonement signify (433; 578).

With these statements we find ourselves at the center of the Christian-Jewish dialogue, we reach the juncture where we are faced with the decisive choice between reconciliation and alienation.

Before we pursue further the interpretation of the figure of Jesus as it emerges here, we must, however, first ask what this view of the historic figure of Jesus means for the existence of those who know themselves to be grafted through him onto the "olive tree of Israel," the children of Abraham.

Where the conflict between Jesus and the Judaism of his time is presented in a superficial, polemical way, a concept of liberation is derived which can understand the Torah only as a slavery to external rites and observances.

The view of the catechism derived essentially from St. Matthew's Gospel and finally from the entirety of the tradition of the Gospels, leads logically to quite a different perception, which I would like to cite in detail:

The law of the Gospel fulfills the commandments of the law (= the Torah). The Lord's Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the old law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them:

It reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts but proceeds to renew the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and impure, where faith, hope and charity are found, and with them the other virtues. The Gospel thus brings the law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father. (1968)

This view of a deep unity between the good news of Jesus and the message of Sinai is again summarized in the reference to a statement of the New Testament which is not only common to the synoptic tradition but also has a central character in the Johannine and Pauline writings:

The whole law, including the prophets, depends on the twofold yet one commandment of love of God and love of neighbor (Catechism, 1970; Mt. 7:20; 22:34-40; Mk. 12:38-43; Lk. 10:25-28; Jn. 13:34; Rom. 13:8-10).

For the nations, being assumed into the children of Abraham is concretely realized in entering into the will of God, in which moral commandment and profession of the oneness of God are indivisible, as this becomes clear especially in St. Mark's version of this tradition in which the double commandment is expressly linked to the "Sch'ma Israel," to the yes to the one and only God.

Man's way is prescribed for him: he is to measure himself according to the standard of God and according to his own human perfection.

At the same time, the ontological depth of these statements comes to the fore. By saying yes to the double commandment man lives up to the call of his nature to be the image of God that was willed by the Creator and is realized as such in loving with the love of God.

Beyond all historic and strictly theological discussions, we find ourselves placed in the middle of the question of the present responsibility of Jews and Christians before the modern world.

This responsibility consists precisely in representing the truth of the one will of God before the world and thus placing man before his inner truth, which is at the same time his way.

Jews and Christians must bear witness to the one God, to the Creator of heaven and earth, and do this in that entirety which Psalm 19 formulates in an exemplary way: The light of the physical creation, the sun, and the spiritual light, the commandment of God, belong inextricably together.

In the radiance of the word of God, the same God speaks to the world who attests to himself in the sun, moon and stars, in the beauty and fullness of creation. In the words of the German hymn, "Die sonne ist des himmels ehr, doch dein gesetz, Herr, noch viel mehr." (The sun does honor to the heavens, Lord, but your law, far more.)


The inevitable question follows. Does such a view of the relationship between the law and the Gospel not come down to an unacceptable attempt at harmonization?

How does one explain then the conflict which led to Jesus' cross?

Does all of this not stand in contradiction to St. Paul's interpretation of the figure of Jesus?

Are we not denying here the entire Pauline doctrine of grace in favor of a new moralism, thereby abolishing the "articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae," the essential innovation of Christianity?

With respect to this point, the moral section of the catechism from which we took the discussion of the Christian way corresponds closely to the depiction of Christ taken from the dogmatic section.

If we attend carefully we see two essential aspects of the issue in which the answer to our questions lies.

a) In its presentation of the inner continuity and coherence of the law and the Gospel which we have just discussed, the catechism stands squarely within the Catholic tradition, especially as it was formulated by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

In this tradition the relationship between the Torah and the proclamation of Jesus is never seen dialectically: God in the law does not appear "sub contrario," as it were, in opposition to himself.

In tradition, it was never a case of dialectics, but rather of analogy, development in inner correspondence following the felicitous phrase of St. Augustine: "The New Testament lies hidden in the Old; the Old is made explicit in the New."

In regard to the interrelation of both testaments, the catechism cites a significant text of St. Thomas: "There were ..., under the regimen of the Old Covenant, people who possessed the charity and grace of the Holy Spirit and longed above all for the spiritual and eternal promises by which they were associated in the new law. Conversely, there exist carnal men under the New Covenant" (Catechism 1964; Sum. Theol. I-II 107, 1, ad 2).

b) The above also means that the law is read prophetically, in the inner tension of the promise. What such a dynamic-prophetic reading means appears in the catechism first in twofold form: The law is led to its fullness through the renewal of the heart (1968); externally this results in the ritual and juridical observances being suspended (1972).

But here, needless to say, a new question arises. How could this happen? How is this compatible with fulfillment of the law to the last iota?

For, to be sure, one cannot simply separate out universally valid moral principles and transitory ritual and legal norms without destroying the Torah itself, which is something integral, which owes its existence to God's address to Israel.

The idea that, on the one hand, there are pure morals which are reasonable and universal, and on the other that there are rites that are conditioned by time and ultimately dispensable mistakes entirely the inner structure of the five books of Moses.

"The Decalogue" as the core of the work of the law shows clearly enough that the worship of God is completely indivisible from morals, cult and ethos.

"In Jesus's exchange with the Jewish authorities of his time, we are not dealing with a confrontation between a liberal reformer and an ossified traditionalist hierarchy. Such a view, though common, fundamentally misunderstands the conflict of the New Testament and does justice neither to Jesus nor to Israel."

However, we stand here before a paradox. The faith of Israel was directed to universality. Since it is devoted to the one God of all men, it also bore within itself the promise to become the faith of all nations. But the law, in which it was expressed, was particular, quite concretely directed to Israel and its history; it could not be universalized in this form.

In the intersection of these paradoxes stands Jesus of Nazareth, who himself as a Jew lived under the law of Israel but knew himself to be at the same time the mediator of the universality of God.

This mediation could not take place through political calculation or philosophical interpretation. In both of these cases man would have put himself over God's word and reformed it according to his own standards.

Jesus did not act as a liberal reformer recommending and himself presenting a more understanding interpretation of the law. In Jesus's exchange with the Jewish authorities of his time, we are not dealing with a confrontation between a liberal reformer and an ossified traditionalist hierarchy.

Such a view, though common, fundamentally misunderstands the conflict of the New Testament and does justice neither to Jesus nor to Israel.

Rather Jesus opened up the law quite theologically conscious of, and claiming to be, acting as Son, with the authority of God himself, in innermost unity with God, the Father.

Only God himself could fundamentally reinterpret the law and manifest that its broadening transformation and conservation is its actually intended meaning.

Jesus's interpretation of the law makes sense only if it is interpretation with divine authority, if God interprets himself.

The quarrel between Jesus and the Jewish authorities of his time is finally not a matter of this or that particular infringement of the law but rather of Jesus's claim to act "ex auctoritate divina," indeed, to be this "auctoritas" himself. "I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10:30).

Only when one penetrates to this point can he also see the tragic depth of the conflict. On the one hand, Jesus broadened the law, wanted to open it up, not as a liberal reformer, not out of a lesser loyalty to the law, but in strictest obedience to its fulfillment, out of his being one with the Father in whom alone law and promise are one and in whom Israel could become blessing and salvation for the nations.

On the other hand, Israel "had to" see here something much more serious than a violation of this or that commandment, namely, the injuring of that basic obedience, of the actual core of its revelation and faith: Hear, O Israel, your God is one God.

Here obedience and obedience clash, leading to the conflict which had to end on the cross. Reconciliation and separation appear thus to be tied up in a virtually insolvable paradox.

In the catechism's theology of the New Testament the cross cannot simply be viewed as an accident which actually could have been avoided, nor as the sin of Israel with which Israel becomes eternally stained in contrast to the pagans for whom the cross signifies redemption.

In the New Testament there are not two effects of the cross: a damning one and a saving one, but only a single effect, which is saving and reconciling.

In this regard, there is an important text of the catechism which Christian hope interprets as the continuation of the hope of Abraham and links to the sacrifice of Israel: Christian hope has its origin and model in the hope of Abraham, who was blessed abundantly by the promise of God fulfilled in Isaac, and who was purified by the test of the sacrifice" (1819).

Through his readiness to sacrifice his son, Abraham becomes the father of many, a blessing for all nations of the earth (cf. Gn. 22).

The New Testament sees the death of Christ in this perspective, in analogy to Abraham. That means then that all cultic ordinances of the Old Testament are seen to be taken up into his death and brought to their deepest meaning.

All sacrifices are acts of representation, which in this great act of real representation from symbols become reality so that the symbols can be foregone without one iota being lost.

The universalizing of the Torah by Jesus, as the New Testament understands it, is not the extraction of some universal moral prescriptions from the living whole of God's revelation.

It preserves the unity of cult and ethos. The ethos remains grounded and anchored in the cult, in the worship of God, in such a way that the entire cult is bound together in the cross, indeed, for the first time has become fully real.

According to Christian faith, on the cross Jesus opens up and fulfills the wholeness of the law and gives it thus to the pagans, who can now accept it as their own in this its wholeness, thereby becoming children of Abraham.


The historic and theological judgment about the responsibility of Jews and pagans for the cross derives in the catechism from this understanding of Jesus, his claim and fate.

a) There is first the historic question of the course of the trial and execution. The headings to the four sections in the catechism which treat this matter already show the direction: "Divisions among the Jewish authorities concerning Jesus," "Jews are not collectively responsible for Jesus' death."

The catechism recalls that esteemed Jewish personages were followers of Jesus according to the witness of the Gospels, that according to St. John, shortly before Jesus' death, "many even of the authorities believed in him" (Jn. 12:42).

The catechism also refers to the fact that on the day after Pentecost, according to the report of the Acts of the Apostles, "a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).

St. James is also mentioned, who commented, "How many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20). Thus it is elucidated that the report of Jesus's trial cannot substantiate a charge of collective Jewish guilt.

The Second Vatican Council is expressly cited: "Neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion.... The Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture" (597; "Nostra Aetate," 4).

b) It is clear from what we have just now considered that such historical analyses — as important as they are — still do not touch the actual core of the question, since indeed the death of Jesus according to the faith of the New Testament is not merely a fact of external history but is rather a theological event.

The first heading in the theological analysis of the cross is accordingly: "Jesus handed over according to the definite plan of God;" the text itself begins with the sentence: "Jesus's violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God's plan" (599).

Corresponding to this, the part of the catechism which explores the question of responsibility for Christ's death closes with a section titled: "All sinners were the authors of Christ's passion." The catechism was able here to refer back to the Roman Catechism of 1566. There it states:

If one asks why the son of god accepted the most bitter suffering, he will find that besides the inherited guilt of the first parents it was particularly the vices and sins which men have committed from the beginning of the world up until this day and will commit from this day on till the end of time.... This guilt applies above all to those who continue to relapse into sin. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes 'crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt' (Heb. 6:6).

The Roman Catechism of 1566, which the new catechism quotes, then adds that the Jews according to the testimony of the apostle Paul "would never have crucified the Lord of glory had they recognized him" (1 Cor. 2:8).

It continues: "We, however, profess to know. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him" (Roman Catechism, 5,11; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 598).

For the believing Christian who sees in the cross not a historical accident but a real theological occurrence, these statements are not mere edifying commonplaces in terms of which one must refer to the historical realities.

Rather these affirmations penetrate into the core of the matter. This core consists in the drama of human sin and divine love; human sin leads to God's love for man assuming the figure of the cross. Thus on the one hand sin is responsible for the cross, but on the other, the cross is the overcoming of sin through God's more powerful love.

For this reason, beyond all questions of responsibility, the passage of the "Letter to the Hebrews" (12:24) has the last and most important word to say on this subject, namely, that the blood of Jesus speaks another — a better and stronger — language than the blood of Abel, than the blood of all those killed unjustly in the world.

It does not cry for punishment but is itself atonement, reconciliation. Already as a child — even though I naturally knew nothing of all things the catechism summarizes — I could not understand how some people wanted to derive a condemnation of Jews from the death of Jesus because the following thought had penetrated my soul as something profoundly consoling: Jesus's blood raises no calls for retaliation but calls all to reconciliation.

It has itself become, as the "Letter to the Hebrews" shows, a permanent Day of Atonement to God.

The presentation of the teaching of the catechism, which for its part intends to be an interpretation of Scripture, has taken a long time, longer than I foresaw.

Thus I cannot draw any detailed conclusions for the mission of Jews and Christians in the modern secularized world. But I think the basic task has nevertheless become clearer without my having to do this.

Jews and Christians should accept each other in profound inner reconciliation, neither in disregard of their faith nor in its denial, but out of the depth of faith itself.

In their mutual reconciliation they should become a force for peace in and for the world. Through their witness to the one God, who cannot be adored apart from the unity of love of God and neighbor, they should open the door into the world for this God so that his will be done and so that it become on earth "as it is in heaven;" "so that his kingdom comes."

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/8/2009 9:16 AM]
5/8/2009 9:35 AM
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Pope's visit sparks high hopes

April 30, 2009

Religious leaders representing the local Muslim, Catholic, Jewish and Protestant communities met at the Notre Dame Cultural Center in Jerusalem on Thursday to voice their expectations of the Pope during his visit to the Holy Land.

Dr. Munib Younan, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, said he hoped Benedict XVI would support a two-state solution and reject "occupation and settlements."

"The security of Israel is important to us," Younan said. "And this security depends on a just treatment of the Palestinian people. Jerusalem should be a city shared by all religions and serve as a model of peaceful religious coexistence. There are extremists on both sides who are trying to turn the conflict into a religious war. Religion must instead be a source of inspiration for peaceful coexistence."

The symposium was sponsored by the US State Department; Mercy Corps, a nondenominational Portland, Oregon-based aid organization; and the Inter-Religious Coordination Council in Israel, a coalition of 70 Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups.

Father William Shomali, rector of the Latin Seminary in Bet Jala, near Bethlehem, said he hoped the Pope would help Jews, Christians and Muslims to recognize the suffering of "the other."

"The Pope will visit Yad Vashem to recognize the suffering of the Jews, he will visit with the Armenians to remember their suffering and the 1.5 million who were killed, and he will also devote time to acknowledging the Palestinian people's suffering," Shomali said. "I hope the Holy Father will help all of us escape our complexities of victimization. Part of the process of reconciliation is admitting one's guilt."

Shomali, a Palestinian, called the present state of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue "an exercise in futility."

"Like Joshua in the Old Testament, we must break down the walls, all of the invisible barriers such as fears, phobias and hatred that prevent us from making peace."

Shomali recalled how during the visit of Pope John Paul II in 2000, suspicion between Muslim and Jewish religious leaders foiled attempts at religious dialogue.

"Until the last minute it was unclear whether the grand mufti of Jerusalem would arrive," Shomali said. "Neither rabbis nor muftis were willing to submit their speeches in advance. And they refused to join the Pope in a tree planting ceremony.

"And each side spoke exclusively about their own suffering."

Prof. Mohammed Dejani, founder and director of the American Studies Institute at Al-Quds University in east Jerusalem and founder of Wasatia, a new organization for the promotion of peace, said that "extremists have taken power on both [the Israeli and Palestinian] sides."

"Religion should lead politics, not the other way around," Dejani said. "The Pope should take the initiative in this endeavor."

Dr. Deborah Weissman, co-chairwoman of the Inter-Religious Coordination Council, said she hoped the Benedict's "ambivalence" on theological issues affecting Jews would be clarified.

The Pope still had not made it absolutely clear that Jews did not need to embrace the belief that Jesus was the messiah to be redeemed, she said. [Dear God, are we goiong to be hearing more of these absurd demands - each and every group with a vested interest appears to be interested only in exploiting the Pope's visit to their own ends!]

"Recently there have been certain errors in judgment made by the Vatican regarding the Jewish people," Weissman said, apparently referring to the Pope's attempt to heal a schism in the Catholic Church by readmitting four renegade bishops in January. The four had broken with the Church over the Vatican II reforms. One of them, Richard Williamson, is a Holocaust denier.

Weissman said she understood the tensions within the Church but added that she expected to hear a clear message from Benedict.

100 rabbis prepare to welcome
Pope Benedict XVI to Holy Land

JERUSALEM, APRIL 30, 2009 ( More than a hundred rabbis of various denominations will sign a message welcoming Benedict XVI to the Holy Land and encouraging dialogue between Jews and Christians.

The presidents of the International Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Education, Adalberta and Armando Bernardini, told ZENIT that the message is due to be published on the Web site of an Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The initiative is being promoted by one of the foundation's members, Rabbi Jack Bemporard, also director of the New Jersey based Center for Interreligious Understanding.

From May 8 to 15 the Pope will visit the Holy Land, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, in a visit described by the government of Israel as a "bridge for peace."

The Rabbi message, titled "United in Our Age," is inspired by Nostra Aetate, the statement that the Second Vatican Council issued on October 28, 1965, which motivated closer relations between Jews and Catholics.

In particular, the message cites the document that states: "Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues."

Addressing the Pontiff, the message affirms: "In this spirit, we -- rabbis and Jewish leaders -- warmly welcome you and your mission of peace to Israel.

"With one voice, we are united in our commitment to interreligious dialogue, to opening more paths to increased understanding, and to continually recognize and strengthen the important relationship between Catholics and Jews worldwide."

"And where better to reaffirm that relationship," it adds, "than in the Holy Land of Israel, a place both religions treasure as part of a shared heritage."

The message concludes: "B'shalom."

5/8/2009 9:36 AM
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The Vatican has now posted the missal for all the liturgies that the Pope will celebrate
during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It is 286 pp. long:

Muslims in Holy Land are cool
to the Pope's coming visit -
still angry over Regensburg


Excuse me, but did AP really expect the Muslims to be jumping for joy? I doubt whether the ordinary Muslim even cares that the Pope is visiting, unless he is prodded and drawn into any mass hysteria! But the way this item describes the Muslims of Nazareth is very disheartening, if not alarming for the Pope's security.

NAZARETH, Israel, April 29 (AP) — A banner across the main square in Jesus's boyhood town condemns those who insult Islam's Prophet Muhammad — a message by Muslim hard-liners for Pope Benedict XVI during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land next month. [The church in the photo background is the Basilica of the Annunciation.]

The Pontiff may have to tread carefully with his visit to Nazareth. Many Muslims are still angry over a 2006 speech in which Benedict quoted a medieval text depicting the prophet as violent.

Even some Christians are nervous that Benedict could stir up trouble for them. They worry that if he says anything contentious about Islam again, Muslims might lash out. [Why would 'Christians', for God's sake, expect the Pope to come to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage and say anything inflammatory about anybody???]

"He must know that every word he will utter will have an impact on Christian Palestinians and religious relations," said Naim Ateek, an Anglican reverend and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical Palestinian Christian group that includes Catholics. [And everyone now feels he must give tips to the Pope on how to behave himself!]

The banner was put up by followers of Nazem Abu Salim, a radical Muslim preacher, right next to the Church of the Annunciation, where tradition says the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus.

It is there for the Pope, Abu Salim said. "He is not welcome here."

The banner — clearly visible from the church, which Benedict is to visit — trumpets a verse from the Quran declaring, "Those who harm God and His Messenger — God has cursed them in this world and in the hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating punishment."

Municipal official Suheil Diab wouldn't say if the banner, along with a small sign in English with the verse, would be removed before the pope arrives May 14.

Benedict plans to meet with Muslim leaders, though not Abu Salim, throughout his May 8-15 tour of the Holy Land, which includes stops in Jordan, the West Bank, Jerusalem and Nazareth, one of Israel's largest Arab cities.

Islamic leaders in Israel are divided over the visit.

One of the leading Muslim groups in Israel, the Northern Islamic Movement, is calling for a boycott of meetings unless Benedict apologizes for his 2006 remarks, said a spokesman, Zahi Nujeidat.

The movement, which has not been invited to meet with the Pontiff, can marshal thousands of supporters, but has not yet decided whether to stage protests.

Other Muslim clerics said they would sit down with Benedict but ask for an apology. One of those is Sheik Taysir Tamimi, a leading cleric in the Palestinian Authority, which has welcomed the Pope's trip.

Muslims are a growing and increasingly assertive majority in Nazareth, which is 70 percent Muslim but has a communist mayor from the city's Christian community.

A decade ago, brawls erupted over Muslim attempts to build a mosque beside the Church of the Annunciation. The project was eventually thwarted. What remains is a stone-paved square and a small mosque, headed by Abu Salim.

Nazareth is one of the main cities for Israel's Arab minority, who make up around 20 percent of the country's 7 million people. Christians number around 120,000 of the Arab community, roughly half Catholic, half Eastern Orthodox.

Benedict's 2006 speech citing an obscure medieval text that characterized some of Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman" sparked protests in the West Bank and Gaza — though not in Israel. Attackers fired guns and threw firebombs at Palestinian churches.

Benedict later said the text did not reflect his views, but many Muslims believe he did not apologize properly.

In Nazareth, the Pontiff is to visit the Church of the Annunciation, host an interfaith discussion and meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He'll also celebrate Mass on nearby Mount Precipice, where many Christians believe a mob pursued Jesus and tried to throw him from a cliff.

The Pope will strive to improve interfaith relations throughout his tour, said Wadi Abunassar, a spokesman for the Pontiff's visit.

Nazareth's local government has set aside $5 million to spruce up the crowded, shabby city overlooking the Galilee hills, hoping the papal visit will boost tourism, Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy said.

Few in Nazareth's bazaar show any excitement, however. Many remain bitter over Israel's offensive in Gaza against Hamas militants, which killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in December and January.

"People here are tired and exhausted from this situation," said Amin Ali, 72, an antique seller who described himself as a secular Muslim. "And nobody likes this Pope, anyway."

Benedict should use his visit to censure Israel over Gaza and the lack of progress in reaching peace with the Palestinians, said Ateek, the Anglican reverend.

"If the Pope is brave enough to do that, people will respect him more," Ateek said. [SPARE US THIS SANCTIMONY, PUH-LEEZE!!!!]

Palestinian protesters chant slogans against Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg lecture following prayers
in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City,
on Friday, Sept. 22, 2006

But that Nazareth imam who's leading the protest is not about to miss his 15 minutes of fame on the world staGe. Here's another alarmist - and alarming - report:

Nazareth Muslim cleric
prepares insult for Pope

by Hana Levi Julian

NAZARETH, April 30( - Muslims led by a radical imam in the town where Jesus was said to be raised are not pleased at the prospect of a visit from the Pope, and have prepared a special insult with which to greet him.

Radical Imam Nazem Abu Salim inspired his followers to string up a banner across the main square of Nazareth with a blatant warning for Pope Benedict XVI: "Those who harm G-d and His Messenger – G-d has cursed them in this world and in the hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating punishment."

The words, lifted from the Koran, are translated into English in a small sign next to the banner, which is visible from the Church of the Annunciation, one of the sites the Pontiff will visit on May 18.

Abu Salim was clear that the purpose of the banner was to drive the Pope away: "He is not welcome here," he told an Associated Press reporter this week. [Thie manic imam is really bent on his jihad against the Pope!]

The Nazareth municipality has allocated some $5 million to upgrade its facilities in anticipation of the visit, hoping it will spark new tourism revenues, according to Mayor Ramiz Jaraisey, a Christian.

But another city official, Sueil Diab, refused to tell the AP reporter whether the offensive banner and sign would be removed before the Pope arrives.

More than half of the city's population – 70 percent – is Muslim, and has a record of occasionally intimidating the shrinking Christian community.

Relations have been tense between the two populations, particularly ten years ago, when Muslims attempted to build a mosque next to the church. Fist fights eventually put an end to the project, leaving a stone-paved square and a smaller mosque that serves Abu Salim's group.

The radical Northern Islamic Movement has called on all Muslim leaders to boycott interfaith meetings that are to be held throughout the Pope's visit to the region from May 8-15, unless he apologizes for remarks he made during a speech in 2006.

The Pope will meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and host an interfaith discuss while in Nazareth, and will celebrate Mass on nearby Mount Precipice. Benedict XVI will also be making stops elsewhere in the Palestinian Authority (PA) territories, as well as in Jerusalem and Jordan.

The Muslim anger at the pontiff is connected to his citation of an obscure medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of the founder of Islam as "evil and inhuman."

Benedict did not endorse the text, and made it clear that it did not reflect his own views, but Muslims insisted he issue a formal apology for using the citation, violently protesting and rampaging through streets in cities around the world.

Muslims attacked churches in the PA as well, firing guns and hurling firebombs at the buildings and worshippers.

5/8/2009 9:38 AM
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Pope's pilgrimage brings
peace message to a conflicted land

By John Thavis

VATICAN CITY, May 1 (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI is set to begin a weeklong visit to the Holy Land, a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Christ and a journey through a political and interreligious minefield.

In many ways, the May 8-15 visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories is the most challenging of the Pope's foreign visits to date, one that will test his skills of communication and bridge-building in a region of conflict and mistrust.

After recent communications missteps at the Vatican, the Pope can expect to find his every word and gesture under scrutiny by the world's media -- especially when it comes to relations among Christians, Muslims and Jews and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Although the world may measure the success of the visit in terms of international or interfaith diplomacy, Pope Benedict is going to the Holy Land first and foremost as a religious pilgrim.

"The priority is to witness to the truth of the Incarnation by visiting, as head of the church, the places where the events of our redemption took place. That's the point," Franciscan Father David Jaeger, an Israeli priest and adviser to the Vatican, told Catholic News Service.

The pilgrimage has a special focus on peace. The Pope, in announcing the visit, said he would be going to the Holy Land to pray for "the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and all humanity."

Father Jaeger said that's extremely important at a time when hopes for peace among the population are the lowest in many years.

"The worst thing that can happen is the loss of hope for peace. So for him to speak openly of the possibility and the necessity of peace and reconciliation should thrust those values into the fore," Father Jaeger said.

"It's not a political negotiation of course; he's not going to produce a peace treaty or try to. But the fact that he keeps the value of peace in front of the people of the region, that will be a tremendous contribution by the Church," he said.

The first leg of the Pope's trip will take him to Jordan for a series of carefully chosen liturgies and encounters, including a visit to a mosque in Amman. That event, and the fact that Pope Benedict is spending several days in Jordan, reflects his aim to reach a wide Muslim audience.

In 2006, Pope Benedict prayed in a mosque in Turkey, a gesture that spoke volumes to the Islamic world. In Amman, the Pope will deliver a speech outside the mosque to Muslim leaders, diplomats and rectors of the University of Jordan.

The audience and the setting make it likely that the pope will revisit the themes of his speech in 2006 in Regensburg, Germany, but this time making sure his remarks on reason and faith do not unintentionally offend his listeners.

For Jordan's Catholic faithful, who number about 75,000 in a population of 6.2 million, the big event will be the papal Mass in an Amman soccer stadium May 10.

Two smaller papal events in Jordan should not go unnoticed. His first appointment in Amman is at the Regina Pacis center, a special needs facility that has inspired Christian-Muslim dialogue and collaboration.

Here the Pope is likely to emphasize the importance of the "dialogue of life" and social cooperation among followers of the Abrahamic faiths.

The Pope also will lay the cornerstone of the University of Madaba, which is being built by the Latin patriarchate; blessing cornerstones is a common activity in papal visits, but establishing a Catholic-run university in a predominantly Muslim country makes this one special.

Much of the Pope's itinerary follows in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II's Holy Land pilgrimage in 2000.

Pope Benedict, for example, will pray at Mount Nebo in western Jordan, where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land before dying. And, like his predecessor, he will visit the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized -- the setting of the opening chapter of Pope Benedict's book, Jesus of Nazareth.

The Pope travels to Jerusalem May 11 and later that day visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, in what Vatican aides view as a central event of the trip.

When Pope John Paul spoke at the memorial in 2000, Israelis reacted with warm appreciation; many considered it a turning point in his pilgrimage.

Pope Benedict has spoken eloquently about the Holocaust, and as a German has recalled growing up as a witness to the brutality of the regime that targeted Jews for extermination.

Vatican sources said, however, that the Pope will not be going to Yad Vashem to apologize as a German, but to invoke a wider lesson on the dangers of racism and anti-Semitism.

On May 12, his first full day in Jerusalem, the Pope visits sites sacred to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. He begins at the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam's holiest shrines, and proceeds to the Western Wall, sacred to Jews. The two sites lie adjacent to each other and in the past have been the scene of bitter skirmishes between Palestinians and Israelis.

The same day the Pope will meet separately with the city's two chief rabbis and the grand mufti.

The Pope will make a daylong visit May 13 to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and today a key administrative city of the Palestinian Authority, whose officials will welcome the pontiff at the presidential palace. The main religious event of the day is a Mass in Manger Square.

That afternoon, the Pope will visit the Aida Refugee Camp, where some 5,000 Palestinians live. The visit is already politically charged.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem said recently that the camp, which has a giant key installed atop one of the camp's gates, symbolizes the "right to return," the principle that Palestinian refugees have a right to return to the homes in Israel that they have been forced to leave at various times since 1946, when the war for Israeli statehood began.

In addition, Israel has objected that the platform being built to host the Aida event is too close to the Israeli separation wall, which Israel has designed as a 400-mile-long security barrier through the West Bank and which Palestinians see as an instrument of repression.

The Pope will celebrate Mass May 14 in Nazareth, the city where Jesus grew up, and later visit the Grotto of the Annunciation and hold a prayer service with Catholic leaders of Galilee.

Like his Mass earlier in the week in the Josafat Valley near the Garden of Gethsemane, these liturgies are central to the Pope's pilgrimage, offering moral support to the dwindling Christian population in the land where the church was born.

U.S. Cardinal John P. Foley, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, said the Pope's visit would underline the importance of maintaining the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

"He will do what Peter always does: encourage the faithful, recognize them, give them a renewed sense of worth and let them know how much the universal church appreciates them and the importance of their faith," the cardinal said.

Rabbi says Pope's trip
will advance Catholic-Jewish ties

By John Thavis

VATICAN CITY, May 1 (CNS) -- A leading Jewish rabbi said Pope Benedict XVI's Holy Land visit was certain to consolidate the historic reconciliation process between Catholics and Jews.

The Pope's May 8-15 trip, which includes five days in Jerusalem, will demonstrate the Vatican's respect for the state of Israel as part of Jewish identity, said Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

Rabbi Rosen made the comments in an article in the April 29 English-language edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

"In visiting Israel and demonstrating the Holy See's respect for the Jewish state, reinforcing the impact of the pioneering visit of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI will undoubtedly further advance the historical process of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation," Rabbi Rosen wrote.

"Pope Benedict XVI will be walking in the footsteps of his great predecessor both literally and figuratively. Pope John Paul II -- very much the hero of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation in our times -- understood full well that the visit of a Pope to Israel has a special significance of its own," he said.

Rabbi Rosen said that even if the visit of Pope John Paul in 2000 was described as a pilgrimage "it was still a state visit with all the relevant trappings" and recognized the essential relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.

Pope Benedict, too, will be demonstrating more than good will to the 6 million Jews who reside in the Holy Land today, he said.

The rabbi said a papal visit can give wider expression to some of the principles and values familiar to dialogue experts.

"Most Israeli Jews and especially the more traditional and observant among them have never met a modern Christian," he said.

But when they saw Pope John Paul visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Western Wall and heard what he had to say, they realized the head of the Catholic Church was a "sincere friend," he said.

Pope Benedict will visit the Holocaust memorial and pray at the Western Wall, and will meet with the two chief rabbis of Jerusalem during his visit.

Rabbi Rosen also noted that papal visits can give rise to concrete initiatives.

During his visit in 2000, Pope John Paul proposed establishing a new dialogue commission between the Vatican and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. That commission's work over the last eight years has led to a relationship of genuine appreciation and friendship, and has affected the attitudes of people inside Israel, Rabbi Rosen said.

Rosen's article, which I remarked on in my caption summary for the 4/29/09 OR in the PRF, is the first article by a rabbi published by the OR. I meant to translate it for that reason and because it has to do with the Pope's coming trip, but it was one of those things I ended up not having time to do - I hope I still can.

It's time to open a thread for the Holy Land pilgrimage, too....

Pope to lay 'roots of peace'
in Beit Hanassi visit


April 30

Pope Benedict XVI and President Shimon Peres will inaugurate a new tradition when the Pope arrives in Israel in two weeks: They will plant an olive tree in a stretch of ground on the Beit Hanassi complex that has been designated as a peace garden.

All world leaders visiting Beit Hanassi in the future will be asked to add their olive trees to the peace garden so that world peace will symbolically take root.

Despite attempts in some quarters to envelop the papal visit in political connotations, Benedict XVI is coming to the Holy Land under the banner of peace with goodwill toward all faiths and all nations.

It is in this spirit that he will be greeted at Beit Hanassi by two children, one Christian and one Jewish, from Nazareth and Upper Nazareth who will welcome him to the land of milk and honey and present him with a basket of fruits containing the seven species.

The basket will also contain new fruits and grains developed in the Arava and in the Volcani Institute, and one of them will be named after the Pope.

Other gifts the Pope will receive at Beit Hanassi include a nanochip the size of a grain of rice containing the whole of the Bible, and a specially commissioned Menashe Kadishman painting.

Kadishman, one of Israel's foremost artists, is famous for his paintings of sheep. This painting will feature a shepherd, as the pope is considered the shepherd of his Catholic flock and is widely respected by other streams of Christianity.

Aside from a gala red carpet welcome, the Pope will be greeted by some 800 people, including Voices of Peace, a 50-member children's choir of Jewish, Christian and Muslim singers from Jaffa; righteous gentiles living in Israel; Holocaust survivors; bereaved families; representatives of the Negev and the Galilee; Nobel Prize laureates; leading academics; leaders of Jerusalem's three major faiths; and various dignitaries.

Special prayers for peace will be recited by Jewish, Christian and Muslim spiritual leaders.

Peres and the Pope will have a working meeting and will address the gathering before leaving for Yad Vashem.

Israel launches special stamp series
in honor of the Pope's visit

The Israeli Postal Authority is launching a special stamp series in honor of Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit,featuring churches across the country.

The Pontiff is due to arrive in Israel on May 11 for a four-day stay, which will include visits to the Palestinian Authority and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The stamp issue is not just out of good will, of course. The comments on the Haaretz page that carried this item more or less said, "Go to it! Make money out of all those Christian stamp collectors around the world who will not want to miss this!"

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I came across this just now while trolling around for items on the Papal trip to the Holy Land - and I was just as excited at the interview itself as by the tiny photo it came with, showing Rabbi Neusner with the Pope in Washington, DC last year.

The photo is not captioned on the blog, but it has been the only meeting so far bettween the Pope and the rabbi whose book he cited a lot in JESUS OF NAZARETH. And I had been looking for any photo of that meeting for a year now!*

Rabbi Neusner comments on
the Pope's coming trip to Israel

April 28, 2009

In an interview for a major European periodical that will appear next week, Professor Jacob Neusner comments on the Pope's trip to Israel. Here is a preview of his views with our thanks to Professor Neusner for sharing this perceptive interview with us.

Why is the Pope's trip to Holy Land important from your perspective? What are the stakes?
The Pope is a moral authority for the Catholic faithful and for humanity at large. The long-standing conflict between the state of Israel and the Arab neighbors represents an opportunity to exercise the moral authority that the world imputes to the Pope.

How could you describe the political context of the trip after the Gaza crisis last January?
It is a difficult mission, because Hamas refuses to negotiate peace with the state of Israel. The two-state solution is endangered by Hamas intransigence, and no other resolution of the conflict presents itself.

What is your main expectation?
Pope Benedict XVI has shown the capacity to speak bluntly to the world at large, as his address at Regensburg last year showed. He does not dissimulate or mince words. I expect that he will speak truth to all parties and preserve a balanced and just position for all concerned. That is his record.

At the same time the Roman Catholic Church has its interests in the Middle East, which will be on the Pope's mind. The Moslem countries do not accord to Christianity the rights of free expression that they demand and get from the Christian countries. The Pope is likely to pursue that matter too.

In what sense would this trip be a failure?
If one party claims to have been vindicated and the other party claims to have been dismissed unfairly, the imbalance would mark a disaster, because that moral authority that is the Pope's strength will have been wasted,

In what sense would this trip be a success?
If both parties are helped to find steps toward the path to peace in response to the Pope's presence, that will mark success.

How could you describe the symbolic context of this trip after the Williamson polemic or the Pio XII beatification polemic? What is your main expectation relating to latent anti-Semitism?
The Pope has repudiated the Holocaust denial of Williamson and his sect. He acknowledged the error of his original action. [Oops! Not his action - revoking the xcommunication - but that it was not properly prepared for , incluidng prior knowledge of Williamson's record.]

As to Pius XII, until the archives have been studied by all interested parties no determination on the facts of the matter can be reached. The Catholic Church has a long record of anti-Semitism, as shown by Jules Isaac The Teaching of Contemmpt, but from Pope John XXIII onward a record of respect for Judaism and friendship for the Jewish People has taken shape.

That does not mean that old habits of thought have been everywhere abandoned, only that there are now competing views. Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly shown himself part of the tradition begun by John XXIII and John Paul II. He wants to be - and to be known as - a friend of the Jewish people.

Does the fact that this Pope is German change anything or give more importance to the trip?
The Pope has taken pride in his German heritage and, given the record of Germany since 1945 in repudiating its shameful past and its policy of reparation and conciliation with the Jewish People and its consistent support for the state of Israel, there is much in which to take pride. He has shown sensitivity toward Jewish concerns and has corrected and acknowledged errors when they were made.

Above all this trip is a pilgrimage. How do you see it, as rabbi and Jewish intellectual?
When a century ago Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism, turned to the Pope for support for a Jewish state, he was told that until the Jewish people converted to Christianity, the Church would do nothing to establish a Jewish state.

Papal visits to the state of Israel - this is not the first and will not be the last - repudiate that original decision and affirm the legitimacy of Israel as the Jewish state. It is always important to recognize the implicit statement represented by the Pope's pilgrimage.

What is the main stake from an inter-religious perspective?
The relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the aftermath of Vatican II has defined the task of reconciliation and this visit represents a step toward the realization of amity between the two religions.

Could this trip be a new step in Jewish-Christian reconciliation or will there always be tensions?
This is not a new step, John Paul II took the new step, but in that tradition this is a step forward, beyond tensions.

Do you think that this Pope, as a theologian, has a special responsibility in this matter?
Pope Benedict XVI represents the tradition embodied by John Paul II and has taken it as his special responsibility to nurture that new tradition of friendship with the Jewish people and the state of Israel.

How do you assess the importance of his theological work on Catholic-Jewish relationships?
The ideas that Benedict XVI put forth in his writings mark him as an important figure in the Catholic-Jewish dialogue, he is a great scholar and philosopher and theologian - and the power of his ideas and critical thought will shape the mind of generations to come. Ideas matter and he is a man of great ideas.

In his book 'Jesus' the Pope refers to your book and research about Jesus. Was that a surprise to you? Did you continue am intellectual dialogue with him?
I am always happily surprised to find appreciation for my writing. Over the past decades Cardinal Ratzinger sent me articles he published aas well as his books, and I reciprocated. But JESUS OF NAZARETH stands by itself.

Who is Benedict XVI as you see him?
Before President Bush met with the Pope two years ago I was asked to the White House to offer advice to the President on the man he was about to meet. I told him that I did not know Pope Benedict XVI personally, only through letters, but I had formed the impression of a man who embodied the European tradition of culture and intellect, that he is not only very astute but also civilized, a model of a religious intellectual. His papacy concerns itself with all corners of the world but it embodies the Catholic message to Western civilization.

*I had a rather vivid account of that meeting between the Pope and the Rabbi from a New York rabbi who had witnessed the meeting and recounted what Rabbi Neusner told him about it. Also a red-letter day in my own life as I saw Benedict XVI for the first time, from fairly close, on two separate occasions that same afternoon.

BTW, I checked out some of the entries from the blog that yielded this preview, and found to my horror that the blogger is a stereotype Pope-hater - his topic list shows 81 entries so far for the Pope and the most recent two (not including this, which he ran because he happens to be an ardent supporter of Rabbi Neusner - he seels his books on a related booksite) were horrendous! He reminds me of every Jewish intellectual snob - men and especially women - who seem to typify the garden variety that thrives in the Upper West Side of New York where I live

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Holy See-Israel:
Progress but no agreement
before Pope’s visit

by Arieh Cohen

Tel Aviv, May 1 (AsiaNews) – The Holy See and the State of Israel have made significant progress but the long-awaited economic and tax agreement between the Catholic Church and Israel will not be signed before the visit of Benedict XVI to the Holy Land.

The Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel met yesterday in plenary session at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The delegations were headed, respectively, by Mgr Pietro Parolin, the Holy See's under-secretary for Relations with States, and Mr. Danny Ayalon, the deputy foreign minister of the Government of Israel.

After a half day of talks the two delegations released a joint communiqué in which they noted that “significant progress” had been made by working-level negotiators in the months since the previous plenary in December of last year, and announced that the next plenary is scheduled to take place on 10 December this year, at the Vatican.

Some in the media had been expecting the Bilateral Commission to complete its work on the ‘Economic Agreement’ in time for the Holy Father's pilgrimage to the Holy Land (8-15 May), although experts had been warning that that was not a realistic expectation.

The announcement of the next plenary for December means that negotiations are expected to last at least until then. At the same time the delegations repeated their commitment to accelerate the negotiations in order to reach agreement as soon as possible.

The delegations on the Commission are negotiating a treaty that would
- Recognise the Church's historic tax exemptions in the Holy Land (roughly equivalent to those in the United States and other Western countries),
- Establish rules for the protection of Church property, especially the Holy places, and
- Obtain the return to the Church of some lost properties, particularly sacred places, such as the church-shrine in Caesarea that was expropriated and razed to the ground in the 1950's.

These negotiations began on 11 March 1999.

One would think that in 11 years of twice-yearly meetings, something should have moced by now. For instance, rules for the protection of Church property should not be a matter of dispute.

The two other main poibnts on the agenda - Church tax exemptions and return of confiscated Church property - both involve financial considerations.

The state of Israel claims the Church owes tens of millions in back taxes, which religious institutions are exempt from, as a rule, in all democratic states; and presumably, the return of 'lost' property would involve restitution as well for whatever buildings (including centuries-old historic ones) may have been demolished by the Israelis as they put Church property to their own secular uses.

One particular issue that might have been the concession par excellence to start off the Holy Father's pilgrimage is that of control over the Cenacle - the room where the Last Supper was held - which is located in a building Jews believe was built over the tomb of King David and is, of course, one of the most important Jewish shrines (even if this location, according to tradition, does not gibe with the Hebrew Bible's account that indicates David was buried in Ophel (a place in Jerusalem known as 'the city of David') along with other Judean kings.

I haven't had time to research this except for the bare facts but if the Cenacle was located over the site of David's tomb, surely that was a fact significant enough to be mentioned in the Gospels!

The Vatican Press Offfice released this communique yesterday about the Thursday meeting:


The Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel has held a Plenary meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel today, Thursday 30 April 2009, for the purpose of advancing the negotiations pursuant to Article 10 § 2 of the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel (30 December 1993).

The Delegation of the Holy See was led by Monsignor Pietro Parolin, Under-Secretary for Relations with States at the Secretariat of State, and was composed, in addition, of the following Members:

- H.E. Archbishop Antonio Franco, Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, Chairman of the Commission at the "Working Level";
- H.E. Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar;
- Msgr. Krzysztof Nitkiewicz, Under-Secretary of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches;
- Msgr. Franco Coppola, Official of the Secretariat of State;
- Father David-Maria A. Jaeger, OFM, Legal Adviser;
- Fr. Jacek Dobromir Jasztal, OFM;
- Mr. Henry Amoroso, Legal Adviser;
- Father Giovanni Caputa, SDB, Secretary.

The Delegation of the State of Israel was led by Mr. Daniel Ayalon, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and was composed, in addition, of the following Members:

- Mr. Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, Head of World Jewish Affairs and Inter-Rreligious Affairs Department, MFA;
- Mr. Oded Brook, Head of the International Affairs Division of the Ministry of Finance;
- Mr. Bahij Mansour, Director of Inter-religious Affairs Department, MFA;
- Mr. Ronen Gil-Or, Adv., Director of General Law Department, MFA;
- Mr. Moshe Golan, State Attorney’s Office;
- Mr. Yael Weiner, Ministry of Justice;
- Mr. David Segal, Head of Deputy Foreign Minister’s Bureau;
- Ms. Idit Duvdevany, Legal Division, MFA.

The Plenary meeting of the Commission took place in an atmosphere of great friendship and a spirit of cooperation and good will.

The Plenary noted that the Working Level Commission achieved significant progress, on the eve of the upcoming important visit of the Pope in Jerusalem.

It was agreed to hold the next Plenary meeting on 10 December 2009, at the Vatican. In the meantime, the working-level Commission will hold meetings in furtherance of both Delegations’ pledge to accelerate the talks and conclude the Agreement at the earliest opportunity.


The Cenacle today is unmistakably Gothic, having been built by the Crusaders in the 13th century as part of a church, St. Mary of Zion, over what was believed to have been the historic site on Mt. Zion.

It is located on the second floor of a fairly nondescript stone building which is a 16th century reconstruction by the Franciscans, only to yield it to the Ottomans not long after, so that Muslims had control until after the Second World War. During that time the Cenacle was used as a mosque.

The site now known as David's Tomb (right photo)) is on the ground floor and except for the velvet covering draped over it with the appropriate Hebrew symbols, is otherwise found inside a stark and unadorned stone chamber.

The day I visited was a rainy day and visitors had to walk through a partly flooded hallway over an improvised ramp to get to the chamber with the tomb. There were no guards and no other personnel around except for the man at the entrance, and no need for a ticket or an admission fee, as I recall.

On the second floor, one had to go through a sort of walkway connecting to another wing of the building to get to the Cenacle itself, which has no markers and is completely empty. I suppose this is a result of the fact that Christians have no say over the space, the entire building being a property of a Jewish organizstion. (I understand the Cenacle has its own entrance now, through which visitors can go up to it directly, and then go down directly to David's Tomb.)

Tradition has conflated the Cenacle into both the room of the Last Supper, as well as the room where the Holy Spirit came to Mary and the Apostles on the first Pentecost.

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The Holy Father met today with trustees and representatives of the US-based Papal Foundation, and asked them to pray for his coming pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The Papal Foundation solicits contributions from the faithful and invests the funds in order to support the Pope's missionary and charitableprojects around the world, whether missionary, charitable and ecclesiastical projects around the world, including many in the Holy Land.

Its Board of Trustees is made up of leading US Cardinals:

Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua
Archbishop Emeritus, Philadelphia, PA

William Cardinal Keeler
Vice Chairman
Archbishop Emeritus, Baltimore, MD

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo
Galveston - Houston, TX

Edward Cardinal Egan*
New York, NY
[The new Archbishop of New York, Mons. Timothy Dolan,
is also a Foundation member
from when he was Archbishop of Milwaukee]

Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Chicago, IL

Roger Cardinal Mahony
Los Angeles, CA

Adam Cardinal Maida
Detroit, MI

Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop Emeritus, Washington, DC

Seán Patrick Cardinal O'Malley
Boston, MA

Justin Cardinal Rigali
Philadelphia, PA

Here is the text of the Holy Father's address to them delivered in English:

Dear Cardinal Keeler,
Brother Cardinals and Bishops,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to greet the members of the Papal Foundation once again, on your annual visit to Rome.

In this Pauline Year I welcome you with the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 1:7).

Saint Paul reminds us of how the entire human race yearns for God’s grace of peace. Today’s world is truly in need of his peace, especially as it faces the tragedies of war, division, poverty and despair.

In just a few days I will have the privilege of visiting the Holy Land. I go as a pilgrim of peace.

As you are well aware, for more than sixty years, this region — the land of our Lord’s birth, death and Resurrection; a sacred place for the world’s three great monotheistic religions — has been plagued by violence and injustice. This has led to a general atmosphere of mistrust, uncertainty and fear – often pitting neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother.

As I prepare for this significant journey I ask in a special way that you join me in prayer for all the peoples of the Holy Land and the region. May they receive the gifts of reconciliation, hope and peace.

Our meeting this year occurs during a time when the entire world is struggling with a very worrying economic situation. At moments such as these it is tempting to overlook those without a voice and think only of our own difficulties.

As Christians we are aware, however, that especially when times are difficult we must work even harder to ensure that the consoling message of our Lord is heard.

Rather than turning in on ourselves, we must continue to be beacons of hope, strength and support for others, most especially those who have no one to watch over or assist them. For this reason I am pleased to have you here today.

You are examples of good Christian men and women who continue to meet the challenges we face with courage and trust. Indeed, the Papal Foundation itself, through the great generosity of many, enables valuable assistance to be carried out in the name of Christ and his Church.

For your sacrifice and dedication I am most grateful to you: by means of your support the Easter message of joy, hope, reconciliation and peace is more widely proclaimed.

Entrusting all of you to the loving intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she who remains always in our midst as our Mother, the Mother of Hope, (cf. Spe Salvi, 50), I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and your families as a pledge of joy and peace in the Risen Savior

A list of the projects recently funded by the Papal Foundation can be found on:

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Pope’s visit to Israel
fraught with potential minefields

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

ROME, May 1 (JTA) — The official Israeli government Web site for Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming trip to Israel and the West Bank promotes the May 11-15 visit as a “Bridge for Peace.“

Others, however, describe it as a potential minefield where various factions may try to exploit the Pope’s presence for political gain. [Amd all these factions have already been busy pushing their own agenda on the Pope!]

“Both Jewish and Muslim ideologues are determined to stop the Pope crossing that bridge,” wrote Catholic religion journalist Damian Thompson in his blog for the U.K. Telegraph, “either by smearing him as an anti-Semite or by making his visit to a Palestinian refugee camp look like a politically motivated reproach to Israel.”

The German-born Pontiff leaves for the Middle East on May 8; he will spend three days in Jordan before flying to Israel.

The trip is the first by a Pope to Israel since the 2000 pilgrimage by Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II. [Well, DUH! There's been no other Pope after John Paul II but Benedict!] John Paul was a historic trailblazer who made promoting Vatican-Jewish relations a central policy goal.

Inevitably, Benedict’s words and actions are sure to be compared — and contrasted — with John Paul’s.

“It’s unfair, but John Paul’s warmth will be compared to the theological coldness of Benedict,“ Israeli political scientist Shlomo Avineri told JTA. “The fact that he was in the Hitler Youth, though involuntarily, will make everyone look at every move and turn of phrase.“

[Avineri is obviously speaking in terms of media sterotypes -as though Benedict had never made all those triumphal trips to Cologne, etc. Let's say Avineri did not pay attention to any of those trips (let alone the Wednesday and Sunday lovefests at the Vatican between Benedict and his flock) - surely, he must have had some inkling of how warn and human the 'cold theologian' was widely perceived in the United States where he got a wildly popular welcome from one of the most skeptical and negatively predisposed audiences a Pope could have!]

Several issues have strained Vatican-Jewish ties in recent months.

In Rome, Lisa Palmieri-Billig, the American Jewish Committee’s liaison with the Vatican, told JTA that both sides were striving to minimize lingering problems ahead of the papal trip.

“All the problems that might have loomed on the horizon before the Pontiff announced his trip are being muted within the perspective of the importance of the visit for bilateral relations,“ she said. “Both the Israelis and world Jewry are aware of this and want to nourish good relations.“

On April 12, Benedict, 82, said he would “emphatically” bring a message of “justice and truth, mercy, forgiveness and love” on his trip.

“Reconciliation — difficult but indispensable — is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful coexistence, and it can only be achieved through renewed, persevering and sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,“ he said.

The Pope’s itinerary mixes prayer, politics and pastoral teaching to local Christians with an attempt to improve interfaith relations with both Muslims and Jews.

It includes stops in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. There will be open-air Masses and meetings with Muslim and Jewish religious leaders.

The Pope will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the al-Aida Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem. He will hold meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Official Vatican policy is to maintain an equilibrium of sorts in its relations with Israel and the Arab world.

“Its diplomacy is different from that of other states because it is always aware of the Christian populations,“ Palmieri-Billig said.

In Jerusalem, Oded Ben-Hur, a former Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, said the Pope would be welcomed as a friend of Israel.

The visit, he told reporters, is proof that “relations between Israel and the Holy See are strong and solid.“ Ben-Hur said Benedict “has never missed an opportunity to reiterate his commitment to dialogue and to relations with Israel.“

The two states formalized full diplomatic relations in 1994. But years of fitful negotiations have failed to resolve several lingering issues, including fiscal status and tax issues regarding Church property in Israel and visa restrictions on Arab Christian priests.

Meanwhile, Arab and Muslim sentiment ahead of the visit appears to be mixed. One possible problem could be the Pope’s last day in the region, May 15, which coincides with the day Palestinians commemorate as the Nakba — the “catastrophe” of Israel’s birth in May 1948.

“The Pope’s Palestinian hosts will certainly ‘instrumentalize’ this,“ Avineri said.

Already the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, said Benedict’s visit to the al-Aida refugee camp would symbolize the Palestinians’ 'right of return' to the Holy Land, according to a
report on Israel’s Ynet news.

[One can sympathize and appreciate Mons. Twal's patriotism,as he is Palestinian, but it is unfair to impute a specific political motivation - and a very explosive one - to the Pope's humane and necessary visit to a refugee camp

Israeli media reports also said that officials were concerned that security and other infrastructure for the visit were not yet in place in the West Bank.

Pamphlets in some Arab towns have called for protests against the Pope because of remarks he made in 2006 that were construed as insulting Islam. At the time, the remarks sparked protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as elsewhere in the Arab world.

In Nazareth near the Church of the Annunciation, which the Pope is to visit, radical Muslims have hung a banner apparently aimed at Benedict that quotes a passage from the Koran: “Those who harm God and His Messenger—God has cursed them in this world and in the hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating punishment.”

“Everyone is crossing their fingers” that things go well, Avineri said.

Let us all offer special prayers this month, that indeed, all goes well on the Pope's pilgrimage,and that his Christian wisdom will prevail over the multiple conflicting agendas of the factions that so clearly want to exploit his visit for their own purposes.

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More than 60,000 gather
for Pope's 'Regina caeli' today

VATICAN CITY, May 3 (AGI) - More than 60,000 people gathered today in St. Peter's Square for the noontime Regina caeli led by the Pope, causing him to do this from his study window as usual, instead of on the front steps of the Basilica, as he usually does when the Angelus or Regina caeli follows a Papal Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

He started his pre-prayer message with an apology for arriving 15 minutes late. This was in part because the preceding ordination event in the Basilica lasted longer than planned, as Benedict XVI took time afterwards to greet the new priests and their families individually.

"I am late because we have just finished celebrating the ordination of 19 new priests, for which we are very happy," the Pope said, to enthusiastic applause from the crowd.

Here is what he said in English after the prayers:

To all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for today’s Regina Caeli, I extend a warm welcome. I pray that as you follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, you will grow ever closer to the Risen Lord and share his Gospel with all those you encounter.

This Friday I leave for my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where men and women first heard the voice of the Good Shepherd. I ask you all to join me in praying for the afflicted peoples of that region. In a special way I ask that you remember the Palestinian people who have endured great hardship and suffering.

May the Lord bless them and all those who live in the Holy Land with the gifts of unity and peace. Upon all of you visiting Rome during this Easter Season, I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God

The only pictures available so far are the thumbnails from Vatican Radio which cannot be enlarged much more than they are above..

As usual, the wire-service stories completely ignored the Pope;s homily at the Ordination Mass, preferring to rely on the English-language synthesis contained in the Vatican handout. The AFP story below typifies what the other wire services reported:

Pope asks faithful to pray
for 'afflicted' Middle East
as he prepares to leave for
the Holy Land on Friday

VATICAN CITY, May 3 (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday he was travelling to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories this week to ask God to bless all those who live in the Holy Land with the gifts of unity and peace.

"This Friday I leave for my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where men and women first heard the voice of the Good Shepherd," the head of the Roman Catholic Church said after his traditional Angelus [Regina caeli!] prayer.

"I ask you all to join me in praying for the afflicted peoples of that region.

"In a special way I ask that you remember the Palestinian people who have endured great hardship and suffering.

"May the Lord bless them and all those who live in the Holy Land with the gifts of unity and peace."

Benedict XVI will travel to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories May 8-15.

He will thus become only the third Pope after Paul VI in 1964 and John Paul II in 2000 to visit what Christians, Jews and Muslims refer to as the Holy Land.

On Saturday, he said he was going to the Middle East as a pilgrim of peace in a region plagued by violence and injustice, mistrust, uncertainty and fear.


Dear brothers and sisters:

I am late because we have just finished celebrating the ordination of 19 new priests, for which we are very happy.

[The original sentence in the written text was:
We concluded shortly before now the Eucharistic celebration at St. Peter's Basilica during which I consecrated 19 new priests of the Diocese of Rome.]

Once more, I chose this fourth Sunday of Easter, for such a happy event, because it is characterized by the Gospel on the Good Shepherd (cfr Jn 10,1-18), and thus offers a particularly appropriate context.

For the same reason, the Church marks today the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In my annual message for this occasion, I proposed "Faith in God's initiative and the human response' as the theme for reflection.

Indeed, trust in the Lord, who continuously calls all of us to holiness and some in particular to a special consecration, is expressed in prayer. Both individually and in community, we must pray hard for vocations, so that the grandeur and beauty of God may attract more to follow Christ on the path of priesthood and the consecrated life.

We must pray also for saintly couples who are capable of showing their children, by example most of all, the high horizons towards which they must project their freedom.

The saints, male and female, whom the Church proposes for the veneration of all the faithful, testify to the mature fruit of that linkage between divine calling and the human response. Let us entrust our prayers for vocations to their heavenly intercession.

There is another intention which today I ask you all to pray for: the trip to the Holy Land which I will undertake, God willing, from Friday May 8, to Sunday, May 15.

In the footsteps of my venerated predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II, I will be a pilgrim to the principal holy places of our faith.

I hope, with this visit, to confirm and encourage the Christians of the Holy Land who must daily face not a few difficulties. As Successor of Peter, I will make them feel the closeness and the support of the entire body of the Church.

Moreover, I will be making a pilgrimage of peace, in the name of the one God who is the Father of all. I will bear witness to the commitment of the Catholic Church to all those who strive to carry out dialog and reconciliation in order to reach a stable and lasting peace in justice and reciprocal respect.

Finally, this trip cannot but have a noteworthy ecumenical and inter-religious significance. Jerusalem is, from this point of view, the city-symbol par excellence: there, Christ died in order to reunite all the dispersed children of God (cfr Jn 11,52).

Turning now to the Virgin Mary, we invoke her as the Mother of the Good Shepherd so that she may watch over the new priests of the Diocese of Rome, and so that in all the world, numerous holy vocations
of special consecration to the Kingdom of God may flourish.

After the prayers, he had special words for the Spanish-speaking pilgrims:

I affectionately greet the Spanish-speaking faithful who are taking part in this Marian prayer. I wish to express my closeness and assure my prayers for the victims of the influenza virus that is affecting Mexico and other nations.

Dear brothers in Mexico, stay firm in the Lord - he will help you overcome this difficulty. I ask you to pray as a family during this time of trial. May our Lady of Guadalupe assist and protect you always.

In Polish, he had a special greeting for pilgrims gathered in Jasna Gora:

I join in spirit the bishops and faithful gathered in Jasna Gora who, today, with Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone presiding, render glory to Mary, Queen of Poland.

I pray that the Mother of Christ protect the Church in Poland, that she may teach and help all to do what her Son says, and to ask for all the nation the gift of peace and everything good. God bless you.

5/8/2009 9:48 AM
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Vatican plays down differences
on the eve of Pope's Israel trip

by Steven Gutkin

JERUSALEM, May 4 (AP) – The Vatican's representative to the Holy Land on Monday played down the controversies that could mar a visit next week by Pope Benedict XVI: the conduct of a wartime predecessor, a Roman Catholic prayer for converting the Jews and the church's perceived lenience toward a Holocaust-denying bishop.

A papal visit to the Holy Land is not the time to "quarrel for this or that," said Monsignor Antonio Franco, the Apostolic Nuncio to Israel.

The Pope is scheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories May 11-15. It's only the second official papal visit to the Jewish state and comes nine years after a groundbreaking trip by Pope John Paul II, who moved many by praying at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

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

Franco said a joint Jewish-Catholic commission is working hard to resolve the controversy over whether Pius XII, the pope who reigned during World War II, did enough to try to stop the Holocaust — the issue that has emerged as perhaps the most difficult in relations between the two religions.

"We are widening the vision and the understanding of a very difficult period of history," Franco said at a news conference in Jerusalem. "For sure this will not be an issue of discussion on the visit of the Holy Father."

Rosen, who held a news conference right after Franco's, had a different take.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it were mentioned in passing" during Benedict's visit, he said.

At issue is a caption under a photo of Pius at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum alleging that he did not protest as Nazis rounded up Jews in Europe and sent them to their deaths.

Benedict has referred to Pius as a "great" churchman and the Holy See insists he used quiet diplomacy to try to help Jews. In September, he praised what he called Pius's "courageous and paternal dedication" in trying to save Jews.

"Wherever possible, he spared no effort in intervening in their favor either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church," Benedict said. A movement inside the church has been seeking Pius's beatification for the past 25 years — stirring great opposition among Jews.

"It's not the business of the Jewish people to tell the Catholic church who its saints are," said Rosen, who heads the American Jewish Committee's Department for Inter-religious Affairs and is the first Orthodox rabbi to receive a papal Knighthood.

However, he said making Pius a saint "would be seen as some sort of whitewashing of the period of the Shoah," using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.

[In what way is it a whitewash at all? Beatification of Pius XII does not stop anyone interested to go on 'researching' Pius XII's true actions in World War II. And earlier than that, they can all have the chance to present their case against Pius XII during the beatification and canonization processes which require rigorous examination of the candidate's entire record. All the Jewish militants keep ignoring this obvious fact deliberately!]

Two other controversies have also caused tensions with Jews during Benedict's tenure. Earlier this year, the Pope lifted the excommunication of a bishop who had denied the Holocaust. He later acknowledged mistakes by the Vatican in reaching out to the renegade.

[NO! The Pope acknowledged mistakes in the Vatican's internal and external communications procedures, but not the fact that Williamson happens to be one of four bishops whose excommunication has been lifted, because the excommunication issue has nothing to do with ideology or morals or dogma but with a violation of canon law.]

Benedict's 2007 decision to relax restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass also caused consternation by restoring to prominence a prayer for the conversion of the Jews recited during Easter Week.

[It does nothing of the sort - no one has paid attention to that prayer (said once a year) in over five decades until militant Jews chose to call attention to it. But they never protested even if it was in use by traditionalist groups given an indult during the John Paul II years, when it was used in an even more 'archaic' form which the Jews resented because it referred to their 'blindness' in not recognizing Jesus.]

Franco on Monday said both those issues have been resolved, stressing that Catholics do not pray for the conversion of Jews.

"We leave to God the conversion," he said.

Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic ties in the early 1990s, but they still must resolve a number of issues such as the status of church property in the Holy Land and tax exemptions for the church.

Benedict's visit to Israel is also imbued with a certain poignance because he is German. As a teenager named Joseph Ratzinger, he served in the Hitler Youth movement, though he has written that the Nazis forced him to do so.

Both Franco and Rosen on Monday denied reports that Benedict's decision not to visit Yad Vashem's museum section had something to do with the Pius controversy.

[Why not mention that John Paul II did not visit the museum either when he went to Yad Vashem? It is a huge complex, and the museum is really not an imperative except for regular tourists who want to have the whole Yad Vashem experience. That's not the point of the Pope's visit! Even 'lesser' vhisiting heads of state do not ncessarily visit the Museum. The Memorial Halls are the hearr of Yad Vashem, and that is where one best renders homage to the victims of the Holocasut.]

Like most dignitaries visiting Israel, Benedict will lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem memorial and is scheduled to meet with Holocaust survivors there.

During his visit, the Pope will also head to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, in addition to visits to the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of Jesus's crucifixion and burial.

He will hold open-air Masses in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.

Benedict has a strong record in building Catholic-Jewish relations [even long before he became Pope, and he provided the theological underpinning for John Paul II's gestured towards the Jews!] He has visited the Nazi death camp Auschwitz in Poland and synagogues in Germany and the United States.

Rosen, who has known Benedict for many years, said the Pope at one point told him that Jews "are the living roots of the Church."

"It's an important comment and he deeply believes in it," Rosen said.

Israeli President proposes
yielding Christian sites
to Vatican control in
goodwill gesture

President Shimon Peres wants to give up Israeli sovereignty over key Christian holy sites to the Vatican, according to an Army Radio report Monday, a proposition which is reportedly opposed by Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

According to the report, the issue ruffled feathers among senior Israeli officials.

Beit Hanassi [the Israeli presidential residence] could not be reached for comment, as it does not issue statements to the press while the President is abroad.

Army Radio said that the President was exerting pressure on the government to give up sovereignty over six sites including the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Coenaculum on Mount Zion, Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and the Church of the Multiplication on the Kinneret.

On Sunday, according to the report, Beit Hanassi requested that the Interior Ministry sign documents conceding sovereignty on the sites, however the interior minister refused.

Yishai was quoted as saying that he opposes all yielding of sovereignty.

"Every concession like this limits the Israeli government's ability to function as a sovereign government in the area," he said.

Referring to Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the region scheduled for May 11-15, he said, "I am certain that the aim of the Pope's visit is not to cause damage and not to gain sovereignty."

Relinquishing sovereignty over the sites would mean that they would legally belong to Vatican City, and that any Israeli request to pave roads, or lay water, sewerage or electrical infrastructure would have to be approved by the Vatican.

"If we were sure that this present to the Christian world would bring millions of Christian pilgrims here, then we would have a good reason to think about it," Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov was quoted as saying.

"But since we're not sure that it will happen, why should we give out gifts?"

Former Meretz chair Yossi Beilin, however, was quoted in the report as saying that Israel had not behaved satisfactorily in recent dealings with the Vatican. "We need to compromise with them," he said.

The Army Radio report also quoted Beit Hanassi as saying that the negotiations had been going on for long enough, and that the time had come to compromise with the Vatican and come to an agreement.

Vatican denies rumors
of Baghdad visit by the Pope

BAGHDAD, May 4 (dpa) - A report published in a leading Baghdad daily that Pope Benedict XVI may visit Iraq in mid-May as part of his tour of the Middle East momentarily sparked excitement among Iraq's Christians on Monday, until the Vatican quashed the rumour.

Baghdad's al-Sabbah newspaper quoted an unnamed lawmaker as saying that the Vatican was considering a visit to Baghdad on invitation from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

But chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, speaking to reporters in Vatican City later on Monday, said the reports did "not appear serious."

Pope Benedict XVI is expected to visit Jordan, Israel and the West Bank on his tour of the Middle East, which is scheduled to begin Friday.

"I don't expect improvised (changes of plan). The schedule has already been defined," Lombardi said.

The Pope's visit "would let him see situation on the ground, particularly for the (Iraqi) Christian community," al-Sabbah had quoted an unnamed Iraqi lawmaker as saying.

The newspaper has a record of predicting unscheduled visits to Iraq. Most recently, in March, al-Sabbah reported that US President Barack Obama would visit Baghdad in the beginning of April, weeks before the US president arrived in an unannounced visit.

Since the fall of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government in 2003, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled the country, driven from their homes in part by the bloodshed that has stalked the country, and in part by specific threats and intimidation from extremist groups specifically targeting them as Christians.

Fewer than 600,000 Christians remain in Iraq, down from an estimated 1.2 million before the 2003 US-led invasion.

5/8/2009 9:49 AM
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In addition to the website on the papal visit launched by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism,
the Israeli Foreign Ministry has also opened a special site on the papal visit.

Here is their welcome message:

And of course, it links to the site opened by the Ministry of Tourism in March:

The Jordan Tourism Board has a very snazzy website with great graphics and videos that mainly promote the Christian sites in Jordan with lots of good information, as well as biographical date on Pope Benedict XVI and an account of Pope John Paul II's visit to Jordan in 2000.

5/8/2009 9:50 AM
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Damian Thompson has written a profile of the Pope for an Abu Dhabi newspaper.

Unfortunately, I can't be overly enthusiastic about it because, like John Allen, Thompson appears to have a tendency to pander to readers of every persuasion by citing and sharing quite a few opinions that simply perpetrate the wrong impressions about the Pope.

Here is the article:

Benedict XVI will pay his first visit as Pope to the Holy Land on Friday. His itinerary will bring him into proximity to the sacred shrines of three religions in Jordan, Israel and Palestine.

Those famous red shoes – not Prada, as legend has it – will be tiptoeing through a religious minefield.

[Benedict XVI, thank God, never tiptoes, literally or figuratively. He will stride forward as briskly as he always does, surrounded by his guardian-angel 'minesweepers' who will clear the way of the real 'mines', but not, alas, of any new mines that the media and other self-interest factions will be strewing willy-nilly!]

This is a gruelling challenge for an 82-year-old theologian who, until 2005, was convinced that he was going to spend his retirement browsing happily in libraries and listening to his beloved Mozart.

And matters are not made easier by the fact that this Pope has upset both Muslim and Jewish communities in the past three years, by accident rather than design.

The world was surprised when the name of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who had been John Paul II’s doctrinal watchdog for many years, was proclaimed from the balcony of St Peter’s four years ago.

Many Catholics were dismayed. One of them was Ratzinger himself, who had assumed that, at 78, he was safely out of the running. When conservative cardinals put him forward as a candidate he tried to dissuade them. He was too old for the job, he felt – and perhaps too controversial.

On the morning after the election, The Daily Telegraph in London announced that the leadership of the world’s billion Catholics had gone to “God’s Rottweiler”. That was indeed Ratzinger’s nickname, acquired when he disciplined renegade theologians and approved documents reiterating the Catholic Church’s strict line on homosexuality.

Some liberal Catholics were beside themselves with rage and disappointment when they heard of Ratzinger’s election – one Vatican commentator, Robert Mickens, burst into tears on the spot.

They envisaged the Church being taken over by a hard-faced, ultra-conservative Bavarian, stroking a white cat like a Bond villain as he fed Catholic lefties and gays to the Vatican piranhas.

They soon changed their minds. These days, no one thinks that Benedict XVI is by nature a cruel enforcer. Now that his job no longer involves snapping at liberal heels, he has changed breed [DIM88pt[=DIM][In the eyes of some observers, perhaps. He never has 'changed breed' - he is still the same Joseph Ratzinger who, in his 1977 memoir, called himself 'God's donkey...carrying my load to Rome".]

As they say in Rome, the Rottweiler has revealed himself to be a German shepherd. ['Revealed himself"? Everyone who knew him and met him knew this for decades!]

This does not mean, however, that Pope Benedict’s liberal opponents inside the Church have been won over to his policies. They realise that many of his instincts are profoundly, even radically, conservative.

They strongly disapprove of his attempts to revive the traditional Latin Mass (effectively outlawed in 1970 after the Second Vatican Council) and they scan the media eagerly, anxious to exploit any papal misjudgements. They have been having a field day in the last few months.

Until this year Pope Benedict was judged by world opinion to have made only one gaffe. In September 2006, addressing the University of Regensburg in Germany, he quoted a medieval Byzantine emperor’s damning opinion of Islam.

He was not endorsing the opinion; the quotation formed part of a complex argument about faith and reason, but the clumsy translation of the Pope’s German text into English made matters worse.

Benedict’s speech was carefully nuanced and certainly not crudely anti-Islamic. Nevertheless, the Pontiff and his advisers had failed to anticipate the predictable outrage of many Muslim commentators.

Suspicions that this exceptionally clever Pope ['clever' is somehow quite inappropriate when applied to someone like Benedict XVI, since it connotes calculation and even scheming, whereas he is genuinely wise and astute!] lacked media skills were confirmed this year when, in a move designed to heal a tortuous dispute with the rebel traditional Catholics of the Society of St Pius X, he lifted the excommunications on four bishops, one of whom, an Englishman named Richard Williamson, was a Holocaust denier.

This was a crisis of the Vatican’s making: evidence of Williamson’s extreme views could be found all over the Internet [Thompson is perpetrating this terrible untruth - it was not, before January 21, 2009, yet apparently no one had warned Benedict that he was about to make a gesture that would outrage the worldwide Jewish community.

Likewise, when the Pope visited Africa in March he answered a question about Aids and condoms aboard the papal plane in a way that could be taken to imply that condoms spread, rather than contained, the disease.

In fact, neither the Pope nor the Church has made a definitive statement about the morality of using condoms against disease. The Vatican press office later tried to tinker with the transcript of the interview to make the comments less controversial, confirming Catholic anxieties that Pope Benedict was badly advised. [Again, a wrong term, because low-level decisions like some translator's wrong-headed initiative in the Secretariat of State to tamper with the Pope's actual words are obviously never cleared with the Pope!]

What went wrong? The answer lies in the remarkable fact that Joseph Ratzinger, despite working for nearly 30 years in the Vatican, is a loner.

[Again, perpetrating a wrong impression. That he spends a lot of time by himself is not because he shuns company but because it's his only time, outside of official duties, to read and write and pray - in other words, to keep up the routine he has kept since he became a priest and which he advocates to all priests. He is a loner only in the sense that he has never been identified with a cabal or faction within the Curia, even if some of them are his personal friends.]

There are few visitors to the Apostolic Palace: the Pope wants to spend his spare time reading, writing and playing the piano (badly, alas). [Is this comment really necessary? The Pope is an amateur pianist, after all, not a professional one!]

He does not possess, or want to possess, allies among the ambitious and gossipy monsignori of the Curia.

This gentle, cultivated Bavarian policeman’s son did not seek to become a bishop, let alone a cardinal or the supreme Pontiff. His personality bears the mark of the flowery piety of his childhood Bavaria and, in contrast, the dry rigour of the German universities where, as a young priest-professor, he made friends with Protestants and Catholic leftists.

Well into middle age he sometimes dressed in a suit and tie, just like the fashionable radical professors of the era. (These days, however, he proudly wears beautiful antique vestments [for official and liturgical events, obviously, not as regular wear! The Vatican is not spending money on these vestments - they are already there - and the Pope is paying tribute to other Popes by wearing vestments they wore] , much to the horror of liberal puritans.)

Ratzinger’s compulsory membership in the Hitler Youth is utterly irrelevant to his thinking: nowhere in his writings is there the slightest sympathy for the clerical fascism embraced by Catholic ultra-traditionalists.

His politics, in so far as he has any, seem to be middle-of-the-road Christian Democrat. He flirted with mild theological liberalism at the time of the Second Vatican Council, but abandoned that after he became convinced radicals were interpreting the Council – which affirmed the role of lay people, reached out to other faiths and prepared the way for vernacular worship – as a moment of total rupture with the past.

Cardinal Ratzinger saw the papacy of the charismatic John Paul II as an opportunity to reassert the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church while reaching out to new audiences. His own project depends less on personal charisma or the thunderous condemnation of modern society.

At the heart of Benedict’s papacy is the belief that Catholics must worship God properly. He wants to heal the wounds caused by the liberals’ cruel repudiation of beautiful Latin services. In 2007 he dramatically removed all the restrictions on the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. Old and new worship should live side by side, enriching each other, he believes.

This policy has alarmed a generation of middle-aged and elderly Catholics (including bishops) brought up to regard Vatican II as a new beginning, a year zero.

And Benedict has paid a price for his lack of allies in the Vatican: some cardinals sought to exploit the crisis.

However, the new generation is on the side of the Pope, for younger active Catholics are surprisingly conservative. They see the Pope as a grandfatherly figure who is introducing them to ancient treasures rejected by their hippy parents. Rome these days is full of black-clad seminarians inspired by this “Benedictine” conservatism.

There are interesting parallels here with Islam. Benedict does not believe that Christianity and Islam can converge theologically [a thoroughly gratuitous and illogical statement, since nowhere in the Church is there any assumption that inter-religious dialog means 'convergence' on doctrine! Inter-religious dialog is not meant to promote syncretism, or to interfere with each other's religious doctrines!] , but he shares an understanding with Muslim leaders who believe that the strength of a religious community lies in its traditions.

Liberal Catholicism and liberal Islam have one thing in common: they have a very poor track record of attracting followers. [I don't know about liberal Catholicism's track record - it has a very good track record of attracting liberals in the West, who predominate in the ruling cultural classes. As for for 'liberal Islam' - is there is any such thing at all? There is a 'moderate Islam' at best, perhaps, but 'liberal Islam"? If they were liberal in the sense of the 'liberal' Catholics, they would promptly be the object of worldwide fatwas!]

Benedict rejects extremists of all faiths, but he is also unimpressed by diluted religion. And he is curious to learn more about how Islam is walking the tightrope of modernising without surrendering its identity because he is walking a similar tightrope.

[Excuse me, but what evidence is there that Islam, as a rule, is modernizing, or even wanting to modernize? It remains inflexible about its adherence to the very letter of the Koran and the approved commentaries on it, along with the sharia law that is based on their fundamental scriptures. Yes, King Faisal and the Jordanian Royal Institute and many moderate Muslim intellectuals are now reaching out for dialog with other faiths, but that does not mean modernizing Islam itself, any more than Vatican II 'modernized' Catholic doctrine.]

His visit to the Middle East is fraught with difficulties. So many things could go wrong. But Pope Benedict has a secret weapon: a deep, unaffected charm that breaks out through the shyness to win friends in unlikely places.

When he was a senior cardinal, he walked across St Peter’s Square every morning. He did not march ahead with an entourage of advisers: he was often on his own and only too delighted to chat to pilgrims, sometimes for as long as 20 minutes. That is the side of Joseph Ratzinger that the Muslims, Jews and Christians of the Holy Land are about to discover. Whether it is enough to produce a diplomatic triumph remains to be seen.

This is the rather questionable biographical outline that goes with the article:

April 16 1927 born Joseph Alois Ratzinger in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, son of a police officer.

1941 enrolled in the Hitler Youth.
[The way it is presented, one would think he did it voluntarily!]

1943 called up to join the German anti-aircraft corps.

1945 placed in a prisoner of war camp by US troops and released at the end of the war.

June 29 1951 ordained with his brother in Freising.

1959 appointed professor at the University of Bonn.

1963 becomes Archbishop of Munich and Freising.

1966 takes up a chair in dogmatic theology at the University of Tübingen.

1977 made a cardinal.

Nov 25 1981 named Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Holy Office, the historical Inquisition.

Sept 1991 suffers stroke, temporarily impairing his eyesight.

April 19 2005 elected the successor to Pope John Paul II by papal conclave.

Sept 12 2006 upsets Muslim world by quoting a medieval Byzantine emperor’s damning comments on Islam during an address at the University of Regensburg
[If this was going to be singled out because the newspaper audience addressed is mainly Muslim, why not include the response A COMMON WORD and the Catholic-Muslim Forum that was born as a result of Regensburg?].

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