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00Friday, May 8, 2009 5:01 AM



May 8-15, 2009


Friday, May 9


09.30 Departure from Leonardo da Vinci International Airport for Amman, Jordan.


14.30 WELCOME CEREMONY at Queen Alia International Airport.
- Address by the Holy Father.

- Address by the Holy Father.

Royal Palace al-Husseinye

Saturday, May 9


07.15 Private Mass at the Chapel of Apostolic Nunciature.


- Address by the Holy Father.



- Address by the Holy Father.




Al-Hussein bin-Talal Mosque
- Address by the Holy Father.

Greek-Melkite Cathedral of St. George.
- Address by the Holy Father.

Sunday, May 10


10.00 HOLY MASS at the International Stadium of Amman.
- Homily by the Holy Father.
- Remarks by the Holy Father.

12.45 Lunch with the Patriarchs and Bishops at the Latin Vicariate of Amman,
Bethany beyond the Jordan


Bethany beyond the Jordan.
- Address by the Holy Father.

Monday, May 11


07.30 Private Mass, Chapel of the Apostolic Nunciature.

10.00 DEPARTURE CEREMONY, Queen Alia International Airport.

10.30 Departure for Tel Aviv.



11.00 ARRIVAL CEREMONY, Ben Gurion International Airport.
- Address of the Holy Father.


- Address by the Holy Father

- Address by the Holy Father

Auditorium, Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center.
- Address by the Holy Father

Tuesday, May 12

09.00 VISIT TO THE DOME OF THE ROCK, Temple Mount.
- Address by the Holy Father


Hechal Shlomo Center
- Address by the Holy Father

at the Cenacle
- Address by the Holy Father

12.30 Brief visit to the Co-Cathedral of the Latins of Jerusalem.

13.00 Lunch with the bishops and abbots of the Holy Land, and the papal entourage,
at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

16.30 HOLY MASS, Josaphat Valley.
- Homily by the Holy Father

Wednesday, May 13


09.00 WELCOME CEREMONY, Square in front of the Presidential Palace
- Address by the Holy Father.

10.00 HOLY MASS, Manger Square
- Homily by the Holy Father.

12.30 Lunch with the bishops of the Holy Land, the Franciscan community, and the papal entourage,
Franciscan Convent of Casa Nova.



- Address by the Holy Father.

Presidential Palace.

18.40 FAREWELL CEREMONY, Courtyard of the Presidential Palace.
- Address by the Holy Father.

Thursday, May 14


10.00 HOLY MASS, Precipice Mount.
- Homily by the Holy Father

12.30 Lunch with local bishops, the Franciscan community and the papal entourage,
at the Franciscan convent.

Auditorium of the Shrine of the Annunciation.
- Address by the Holy Father


Upper Basilica of the Annunciation.
- Address by the Holy Father

Friday, May 15


07.30 Private Mass, Chapel of the Apostolic Delegation.

09.15 ECUMENICAL ENCOUNTER, Throne Room of the Greek Orthodox See in Jerusalem.
- Address by the Holy Father

- Address by the Holy Father

- Address by the Holy Father


13.30 DEPARTURE CEREMONY, Ben Gurion International Airport
- Address by the Holy Father.

14.00 Departure for Rome.


16.50 Arrival at Ciampino airport.

Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories
are 1 hour ahead of Rome.

NB: For security reasons, the program does not include details of the Holy Father's travel and displacements
in the course of the pilgrimage.


Lord Jesus, history has always had in the Successor of Peter a guide and a pastor who has shown the way to fulfilling the will of the God the Father.

We entrust to you these months of preparation for the visit of our Pope Benedict. Give us your Holy Spirit that we might know how to prepare ourselves in prayer so that this visit may be a time of renewal and particular grace for the Holy Land

This thread consolidates all the reports on the Pope's Holy Land pilgrimage from the time he announced the trip last March.
00Friday, May 8, 2009 5:27 AM

Pope Benedict XVI announces
Holy Land trip May 8-15
to pray for 'peace and unity'


VATICAN CITY, March 8 (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday he would visit the Holy Land from May 8-15 in the first papal trip to the area since 2000.

The visit would be the second official trip by a Pope to Israel.

Announcing the dates of the long-planned pilgrimage, the Pope said he would go to sites Jesus visited and would pray for "the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and all of humanity."

Benedict told a crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square for the traditional noontime blessing that he was asking the faithful for their spiritual support for the Holy Land pilgrimage and a trip to Africa from March 17-23.

Benedict said the African trip would show "the concrete closeness of myself and of the Church to the Christians and the people of that continent, which is particularly dear to me."

The Pope will stop in Cameroon and Angola, meeting with local bishops, Muslim representatives and women's rights advocates.

The Pope's Mideast tour will touch Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, with stops in cities including Amman, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, the Vatican said.

Though a detailed program has not yet been announced, officials in destination countries have said they expect Benedict to visit an Amman mosque, hold public Mass in Jordan and Nazareth and make a stop at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

There has been only one other official visit by a Pope to the Jewish state, Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage in 2000. Pope Paul VI made an unofficial trip there in 1964.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, who invited Benedict to visit, called the trip "an important and thrilling event of the first order, that emanates a wind of peace and hope."

Benedict's pilgrimage comes at a time of strained relations between Israel and the Holy See.

Israel was offended when senior Vatican Cardinal Renato Martino said during Israel's recent military campaign to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip that Gaza resembled a "big concentration camp."

Ties were further rattled when the German-born Pope reinstated an excommunicated bishop who has questioned the extent of the Holocaust. Benedict later condemned the bishop's remarks and spoke out against anti-Semitism.

The two sides are also at odds over the legacy of the wartime pontiff Pius XII, who some historians say did not do everything in his power to prevent the Holocaust.

That dispute centers on a caption of a photo of Pius at Yad Vashem's museum that says he did not protest the Nazi genocide of Jews and maintained a largely "neutral position." The Vatican says Pius made every effort to help Jews and other victims through quiet diplomacy and wants the caption changed. [You would think the writer would mention here that Yad Vashem is hosting an international study session this week to study new documents that relate to Pius XII's wartime activities!]

Vatican-Muslim ties were also tested by a 2006 speech in which Benedict linked Islam to violence. Amid angry reactions from the Muslim world, expressed regret for any offense caused by his remarks.

Jordan will be the first stop on Benedict's Mideast tour. Bishop Francis Solikat, the papal nuncio in Amman, said the Pope's visit to the Hussein bin Talal mosque, the largest in the country, will be "another gesture on the part of the Holy Father to promote inter-religious dialogue, especially in Jordan."

The Pope will also stop at the site on the Jordan River where, according to tradition, Jesus was baptized, Solikat said.

Church officials in Amman scheduled a news conference about the Pope's visit around the time of the Angelus for a timely announcement from the Pope himself.

Here is how the Holy Father announced the Holy Land pilgrimage:

Dear brothers and sisters, in the climate of more intense prayer that characterizes Lent, I entrust to your remembrance in prayer the two apostolic trips that, God willing, I will be making soon.

Next week, from March 17-23, I will go to Africa - first to Cameroon and then to Angola - to show concretely my nearness and that of the Church to the Christians and other peoples of that continent which is particularly dear to me.

Then, from May 8-15, I will make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to invoke the Lord, while visiting the places sanctified by his earthly passage, the precious gift of unity and peace in teh Middle East and for all mankind.

I count on the spiritual support from all of you so that God may accompany and fill with his graces all those whom I will encounter on these trips

Right photo shows, rom right to left, Jordanian Bishop Selim Sayegh, Vatican ambassador to Jordan Bishop Fransis Shalikaf,and Jordanian Bishop Yaser Ayash at the Amman news conference earlier today.

OR for 3/9-3/10:

Illustration: Mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, 6th cent.,
Orthodox Church of St. George, Madaba, Jordan.

Announced at the Sunday Angelus:
The Pope in the Holy Land in May

The Pope's coming pilgrimage took priority over the news of his visit to the Campidoglio yesterday, which merited
a front-page editorial.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 5:33 AM

Pope Benedict XVI to visit
Dome of the Rock and Western Wall


JERUSALEM, March 10 (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI will show solidarity with Jews and Muslims during his first papal trip to the Holy Land with visits to Jerusalem's Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, the papal envoy in Jerusalem said Tuesday.

Benedict announced this week that he would visit in May. His presence could help ease the sometimes rocky relations between the Vatican and Israel, and between the Vatican and Muslims.

It will be his first official visit to the region since he became Pope in 2005.

Archbishop Antonio Franco, the papal nuncio in Jerusalem, said visits to key Jewish and Muslim holy sites would be on the Pope's agenda. The Dome of the Rock is one of Islam's most sacred shrines, and the nearby Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray.

"The intent of the Holy Father's visit is to express his solidarity and closeness to the people of Israel and Palestine, and through them all the people of this region," Franco said.

Benedict will also visit Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, meet with top Palestinian and Israeli leaders and make a stop in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The Pope will end his visit by celebrating Mass in Galilee — the area in northern Israel where Jesus lived and preached.

Franco said the Vatican has asked Israeli authorities to ease movement restrictions on Palestinian Christians from the blockaded Gaza Strip to allow them to attend parts of the pope's visit.

The papal envoy said Benedict's tour will be a religious pilgrimage, not a political mission. Still, the visit could help mend strained relations between Israel and the Roman Catholic Church.

Ties were rattled recently when Benedict tried to reinstate an excommunicated bishop who denied the Holocaust. Benedict condemned the bishop's remarks, spoke out against anti-Semitism and called off the reinstatement until the bishop satisfies his demands.

The controversy came shortly after a senior Vatican Cardinal, Renato Martino, described the Gaza Strip as a "big concentration camp" during Israel's fierce military assault on the blockaded territory in January. The offensive was meant to halt rocket fire into Israel.

The two sides also disagree over the legacy of the wartime pontiff Pius XII, who some historians say did not do everything in his power to prevent the Holocaust or limit its scope.

"We are trying to clarify the issues," Franco said.

Benedict will also meet the top Muslim official in the Holy Land, Grand Mufti Mohammed Hussein, who will accompany the pope into the Dome of the Rock shrine.

Vatican-Muslim ties were strained by a 2006 speech in which Benedict linked Islam to violence. Amid angry reactions from the Muslim world, he expressed regret for any offense caused by his remarks.

Franco said they asked Israeli authorities allow two busloads of Palestinian Christians from Gaza to attend the pope's Mass in Bethlehem.

Local Christian officials said they expected at least 40,000 people to attend the Galilee Mass, which will take place on a hilltop outside the northern Israeli city of Nazareth.

Palestinian Christians are a tiny, diminishing minority in the Holy Land, their community whittled away by low birthrates and emigration.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 5:37 AM

The Pope meets delegation
from Israel's Chief Rabbinate


The Holy Father met today with a delegation from the Grand Rabbinate of Israel and from the Commission for Religious Relations
with Judaism headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper.

Cardinal Kasper leads in Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, and head of the Israeli delegation.
At Benedict XVI's invitation, Rabbi Cohen became the first Jew to address a Catholic bishops' synod last October

Here is the address the Pope delivered in English:

Distinguished representatives
of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel,
Dear Catholic Delegates,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you, the delegation of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, together with Catholic participants led by the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

The important dialogue in which you are engaged is a fruit of the historical visit of my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II to the Holy Land in March 2000.

It was his wish to enter into a dialogue with Jewish religious institutions in Israel and his encouragement was decisive to attaining this goal. Receiving the two Chief Rabbis of Israel in January 2004 he called this dialogue a "sign of great hope".

During these seven years not only has the friendship between the Commission and the Chief Rabbinate increased, but you have also been able to reflect on important themes which are relevant to the Jewish and Christian traditions alike.

Because we recognize a common rich spiritual patrimony a dialogue based on mutual understanding and respect is, as Nostra Aetate (n. 4) recommends, necessary and possible.

Working together you have become increasingly aware of the common values which stand at the basis of our respective religious traditions, studying them during the seven meetings held either here in Rome or in Jerusalem.

You have reflected on the sanctity of life, family values, social justice and ethical conduct, the importance of the word of God expressed in Holy Scriptures for society and education, the relationship between religious and civil authority and the freedom of religion and conscience.

In the common declarations released after every meeting, the views which are rooted in both our respective religious convictions have been highlighted, while the differences of understanding have also been acknowledged.

The Church recognizes that the beginnings of her faith are found in the historical divine intervention in the life of the Jewish people and that here our unique relationship has its foundation.

The Jewish people, who were chosen as the elected people, communicate to the whole human family, knowledge of and fidelity to the one, unique and true God. Christians gladly acknowledge that their own roots are found in the same self-revelation of God, in which the religious experience of the Jewish people is nourished.

As you know, I am preparing to visit the Holy Land as a pilgrim. My intention is to pray especially for the precious gift of unity and peace both within the region and for the worldwide human family.

As Psalm 125 brings to mind, God protects his people: "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people, from this time forth and for evermore".

May my visit also help to deepen the dialogue of the Church with the Jewish people so that Jews and Christians and also Muslims may live in peace and harmony in this Holy Land.

I thank you for your visit and I renew my personal commitment to advancing the vision set out for coming generations in the Second Vatican Council's declaration Nostra Aetate.

Pope tells rabbis that dialogue
between Catholics and Jews
is 'necessary and possible'

Vatican City, March 12 (AsiaNews) - Dialogue between the Catholic Church and Jews is "necessary and possible," and the Pope hopes that his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, expected to take place in May, can contribute to this, "so that Jews and Christians and also Muslims may live in peace and harmony in this Holy Land."

During his trip, "my intention is to pray especially for the precious gift of unity and peace both within the region and for the worldwide human family."

Benedict XVI made these remarks today at an audience with a delegation from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and from the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

The Pope met the Jewish rabbis today, after an episode during which the Grand Rabbinate of Israel said it was "suspending" relations with the Catholic Church because of the Williamson case, but issued a statement a few days later to say they nad not suspended the relations at all.

However, the episode did lead to a two-week delay in the regular meeting between the Grand Rabbinate representatives and the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

The Pope expressed his gratitude and desire to renew "my personal commitment to advancing the vision set out for coming generations in the Second Vatican Council's declaration Nostra Aetate."

Also today, Benedict XVI expressed his gratitude to the Jews in a letter to the bishops of the whole world made public today, where he pointed out that "our Jewish friends" have understood better than many Catholics the meaning of the lifting of excommunication for the Lefebvrists.

For the Rabbinate, today's encounter with the Pope "marks a positive change in the renewal of dialogue between us," The statement was made according to chief rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, who stressed the 'clear and unequivocal statements condemning denial of the Holocaust' made by the Pope.

The rabbi also expressed his "profound concern about the clearly anti-Semitic nature of the text proposed for the UN conference" on racism, Durban 2.

The rabbis asked the Pope for an open criticism of the UN statement from the Vatican.

"We appreciate," he said, "the constructive role of the Vatican observer in the attempt to resist the distorted declaration, and we hope that the Holy See will make its voice heard in deploring this attack on the Jewish state."

00Friday, May 8, 2009 5:39 AM

Frankly, I fail to see a rational basis for John Allen's conlusion as expressed in his title for this commentary. Why should the Jews be offended if he chooses not to visit a photo gallery that 'enshrines' one of his predecessors in a Hall of Shame? Yad Vashem is a huge sprawling institution, of which the Museum is but one part, adn the Photo Gallery a still smaller part. The whole place is a Memorial to the Holocaust. You pay tribute to its victims just by being there.

I don't think most VIP guests visit the Museum either unless they have a few hours to spare! (They are not exhibits that you wlrk through without full absorbed attention!] VIPs are taken to the Memorial Halls whose design and special effects are meant to evoke - and do, with numbing, chilling, spine-tingling horror! - the entire tragic weight of that human catastrophe, without need for the detailed evidence and milieu-creating minutiae that one sees in the Museum-proper.

As for the letter explaining why he recalled the exocmmunications, fie on what 'the Jews' may think - if by Jews Allen means the usual strident voices every ready with their Pavlov's-dog reflexes of berating the Pope and the Vatican at the slightest pretext. They have no say on what the Church does in its internal governance - nor about the practice of Christian charity, even if there does not seem to be a Jewish equivalent for it.

Pope Benedict decision might further irritate Jews:
He won't enter Israel’s main Holocaust museum

March 11, 2009

In moves that may further aggravate Jewish/Catholic tensions, a Vatican envoy has announced that Pope Benedict XVI will not enter Israel’s main Holocaust museum during his May 8-15 trip to the Holy Land, though he will stop at a memorial connected to the site, and the Pope has also sent a letter to the world’s Catholic bishops defending his controversial decision to lift the excommunication of four traditionalist prelates, including one who has denied the Holocaust.

Archbishop Antonio Franco, the Pope’s ambassador in the Holy Land, presented details of Benedict’s itinerary during a news conference Tuesday in Jerusalem. Franco said the Pope will not visit the museum section of Yad Vashem, Israel’s most important Holocaust memorial, though he will lay a wreath at the site’s Hall of Remembrance.

Vatican spokespersons pointed out that this was the same protocol followed by Pope John Paul II during his historic visit to Israel in March 2000. So why should Benedict XVI be expected to do something more? Surely, not even the Jews expect he would 'sanctify' their Hall of Shame and the ignominy to which they have subjected Pius XII!]

Other foreign dignitaries, however, typically go into the museum during state visits to Israel.

Benedict’s decision not to enter the museum itself is widely understood to be linked to an on-going dispute between Yad Vashem and the Vatican over the museum’s presentation of Pope Pius XII, the wartime pontiff accused by critics of “silence” during the Holocaust. Debate over Pius XII has long been a sticking point in Jewish/Catholic relations.

A caption below a large photo of Pius XII at Yad Vashem currently reads: “Even when reports about the murder of Jews reached the Vatican, the pope did not protest, either verbally or in writing. In December 1942, he abstained from signing the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews. When Jews were deported from Rome to Auschwitz, the pope did not intervene. The Pope maintained his neutral position throughout the war, with the exception of appeals to the rulers of Hungary and Slovakia toward its end. His silence and the absence of guidelines obliged churchmen throughout Europe to decide on their own how to react.”

[I must reiterate that more offensive than the caption is that the photographs of Pius XII are in the Museum's Hall of Shame!]

Church officials, including Benedict himself, have repeatedly objected to that caption, arguing that Pius lodged public protests where possible against Nazi atrocities, and also acted behind the scenes to save lives.

“He often acted secretly and in silence because, given the actual situation of that complex historical moment, he saw that this was the only way to avoid the worst and save as many Jews as possible,” Benedict said last September during a Mass marking the 50th anniversary of Pius’ death in 1958.

In response to those protests, Yad Vashem convened a behind-closed-doors summit of experts on Pius XII in early March to discuss the caption. A statement issued by museum officials, however, appeared to suggest that no changes are on tap: “The presentation of the subject in the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem is based on the best research regarding this topic,” it said.

While in Jerusalem, Franco said, Benedict XVI will also become the first pope to visit the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Muslims believe it marks the spot where Muhammad ascended to Heaven in the company of the angel Gabriel.

Meanwhile, Benedict XVI has sent a letter to Catholic bishops around the world defending his decision to lift the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops who form part of the Society of St. Pius X. One of those prelates, Bishop Richard Williamson, has a long record of casting doubt on the historical reality of the Holocaust.

The pope’s letter was reported March 11 by veteran Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli.

The Williamson affair, Benedict acknowledged in the letter, “has aroused, both inside and outside the Catholic church, a debate of a kind of vehemence that hasn’t been seen for a long time.”

Benedict called it an “unforeseen misfortune” that Williamson’s views on the Holocaust have obscured the real motives for lifting the excommunications, which, he suggested, had nothing to do with Jewish/Catholic relations or the Holocaust, but rather with healing the only formal schism within the Catholic church in the last 100 years.

“A discrete gesture of mercy towards four bishops, ordained validly but not legitimately, suddenly seemed like something totally different: like a denial of reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and therefore like a rejection of what the [Second Vatican] Council had taught in this regard for the path of the church,” the pope wrote.

Benedict said that reaction has been personally frustrating for him, since reconciliation between Christians and Jews has been “an aim of my personal theological work from the very beginning.” He also said that in the future the Vatican will have to pay more attention to the Internet as a source of information, since Williamson’s views on the Holocaust were easily available on-line.

The Pope made clear that although the bishops are no longer excommunicated, they still have no authority to exercise any ministry in the church, and their Society of St. Pius X is not recognized. For that to happen, the pope suggested, the traditionalists must accept the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), including respect for Judaism: “The magisterial authority of the church can’t be frozen in 1962. That must be completely clear to the society,” he wrote.

While conceding that the motives for revoking the excommunication were not “explained in sufficiently clear fashion” at the time the decision was made, Benedict nevertheless defended the aim of reconciliation.

“Can we remain completely indifferent to a community with 491 priests, 215 seminarians, 117 brothers, 164 sisters and thousands of faithful?” the pope wrote. “Do we truly have to allow them to drift farther and farther from the church?”

Benedict seemed to bristle at suggestions that such outreach is unjustified: “Sometimes one has the impression that our society needs at least one group for which it has absolutely no tolerance, a group which it can hate with a clean conscience,” he wrote. “Then when someone dares to come close to that group – in this case, the pope – he too loses his right to tolerance, and he too can be treated with hate without any fear or reservation.”

The Pope also chided Catholics who criticized his move: “I’ve been saddened by the fact that even some Catholics, who ought to know how things stand, instead have struck at me with a kind of aggressive hostility,” the Pope wrote. “For precisely this reason, I want to thank all the more those Jews who have helped to remove misunderstanding, and to reestablish an atmosphere of friendship and trust.”

On March 17, Benedict XVI will begin a week-long trip to Africa, visiting the West African nations of Cameroon and Angola. He will then return to Rome for the celebrations of Holy Week and Easter, in addition to marking his 82nd birthday on April 16, before setting out again in May to visit Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 5:42 AM

I was just getting set to translate a bunch of snippets from Italian news agencies on the Holy Fahter's meeting today with a delegation from the Grand
Rabbinate of Israel, from statements made by the rabbis at a news conference held afterwards at Vatican Radio headquarters [whose papal mural makes
a great background for any newscon held there!

But dpa has come up with a good round-up that also includes its report on the Pope's letter, which has a surprisingly good lead that does not follow
the MSM herd mentality for a change!

Pope 'saddened' by attacks,
thanks 'Jewish friends'

By Peter Mayer

Vatican City, March 12 (dpa) - In an unusually strongly-worded letter, Pope Benedict XVI has admitted that the Vatican made mistakes in efforts to reinstate four ultra-traditionalist bishops, while saying he was "saddened" by Catholics who attacked him over the issue.

At the same time, he thanked "Jewish friends" for their support in the matter.

The March 10 letter by the German-born pontiff to Roman Catholic bishops was made public by the Vatican on Thursday in six languages.

It also came on the day in which Benedict received a top-level delegation of Israeli rabbis who had initially threatened to cut links with the Vatican over views on the Holocaust held by one of the ultra-traditionalist clerics, British-born Bishop Richard Williamson.

In the letter, Benedict also provided a spirited defence of his decision in January to lift excommunication orders issued in 1988 against the four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX).

He "deeply deplored" that his "discreet gesture of mercy" was seen as "the repudiation of reconciliation between Christian and Jews," because of Williamson's remarks on the Holocaust.

Williamson, in a television interview broadcast around the time the excommunications were lifted, denied the scale of the Holocaust, saying he believed the Nazis had not used gas to kill Jews.

A row ensued with many Jews, but also Catholics and government officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, demanding an explanation.

The Vatican subsequently said it was not aware of Williamson's views, but critics have pointed out that remarks written by the bishop in which he cast doubt on the historical veracity of the Holocaust have been available on the internet for some time.

Benedict, in the letter, acknowledged this, writing: "I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news (the internet)."

"Another mistake, which I deeply regret, is the fact that the extent and limits of the provision of 21 January 2009 were not clearly and adequately explained at the moment of its publication," Benedict said referring to the lifting of the excommunication orders.

Still, the Pontiff said he was saddened by the "open hostility" which some Catholics, who should have known better, had shown him.

"Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which - as in the days of Pope John Paul II - has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist," Benedict wrote.

On Thursday, the US-based World Jewish Congress (WJC), which had initially led some of the criticism levelled at the Vatican over the Williamson affair, praised Benedict in a statement.

The Pontiff's letter "conveys the essential requirements for inter-religious dialogue: candour and the willingness to tackle difficult issues squarely, " WJC President Ronald Lauder said. statement.

Last month the WJC and other Jewish representative bodies welcomed a Vatican demand that Williamson repudiate his Holocaust claims, as well as statements from Benedict deploring denial of the Holocaust.

Since then, ties have improved further with an announcement that Benedict will visit Israel in May, a point stressed on Thursday by Israel's Chief Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen during an audience with the pontiff.

Rabbi Cohen at the news conference after the meeting with the Pope; in the right photo, with Oded Wiener, secretary-general of Israel's Grand Rabbinate..

The meeting marked a "turning point in the renewal of dialogue between us," Cohen, who in the immediate wake of the Williamson controversy had suspended contacts with the Vatican, told Benedict.

Cohen also urged the Pontiff to make the history of the Holocaust a "required" teaching subject in Catholic schools worldwide to reinforce what he said was the pontiff's declaring anti-Semitism as a "sin against God."

Benedict devoted the final and longest portion of the letter to explaining in detail the reasoning behind his overtures to the four dissident bishops and the SSPX.

He recalled how the SSPX's rift with mainstream Catholicism came about when, in 1988, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a critic of the 1960s reform process known as the Second Vatican Council, consecrated the four bishops without a papal mandate.

The SSPX still does not enjoy canonical status within the church and its ministers "do not exercise legitimate ministries," unless there is an acceptance of the Second Vatican Council.

Among the reforms was the replacing of the Latin Rite Mass with services in local languages, and a commitment to improved relations between Catholic and Jews.

"The Church's teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962 - this must be quite clear to the Society," Benedict said of SSPX strict adherence to pre-Council traditions.

But he justified his decision to lift the excommunications, saying they formed part of the mission of his pontificate: "the unity of all believers," and that working for a return of those Catholics represented by SSPX to the mainstream Church, formed part of this.

"Can we be totally indifferent about a community which has 491 priests, 215 seminarians, 6 seminaries, 88 schools, 2 university- level institutes, 117 religious brothers, 164 religious sisters and thousands of lay faithful? Should we casually let them drift farther from the Church?" Benedict asked in the letter.

World Jewish Congress praises
Pope Benedict's letter to bishops

March 12, 2009

Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), praised Pope Benedict XVI for issuing a personal letter to Catholic bishops explaining the circumstances of the Williamson affair.

"The Pope has found clear and unequivocal words regarding Bishop Williamson's Holocaust denial, and he deserves praise for admitting that mistakes were made within the Vatican in the handling of this affair," Lauder said.

"The pope's letter conveys the essential requirements for inter-religious dialogue: candor and the willingness to tackle difficult issues squarely. His expressed anguish at the events following the Holocaust-denying statements by Williamson reflects the similar emotional pain felt by Jews worldwide during this affair," he continued.

"We reciprocate his words of appreciation for Jewish efforts to restore inter-religious dialogue and will continue to work with the Catholic Church to further strengthen mutual understanding and respect," the WJC president stated.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 5:49 AM

The following 2 items were posted by benefan in the PRF:

Rabbis after meeting Pope:
Crisis over


Mar. 12, 2009

"The Jewish people, who were chosen as the elected people, communicate to the whole human family knowledge of and fidelity to the one, unique and true God," Pope Benedict XVI told a delegation from Israel's Chief Rabbinate on Thursday in Rome.

Also present at the papal audience were representatives of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews.

"This was not just another meeting," commented Haifa Chief Rabbi She'ar-Yashuv Cohen, who headed the delegation. "This was a special experience, a turning point, the end of a crisis. We could not have expected a warmer reception."

The crisis in question was the case of Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson, whose excommunication from the Catholic Church was lifted last December along with that of three other priests who, together with Williamson, had refused to accept the reforms of Vatican II and ordained other priests without permission.

In a letter to the German Episcopate, released Thursday, Benedict admitted his error in the case, stating that a "mishap" had taken place due to the insufficient study of information taken from the Internet.

"I have learned the lesson that in the future, the Holy See will have to pay greater attention to that source of news," he declared.

Benedict said Williamson's views had made his efforts of "mercy" toward the excommunicated bishops seem like a repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews.

"That this overlapping of two opposing processes took place and momentarily upset peace between Christians and Jews, as well as peace within the church, is something I can only deeply deplore," the pope said.

He added that he was saddened that even Catholics "thought they had to attack me with open hostility."

"I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust, [which,] thank God, continues to exist," he said.

Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee's international director of interreligious affairs, confirmed that all members of the delegation had been convinced of the pope's deep commitment to Catholic-Jewish relations.

"Moreover," Rosen said, "the pope clarified that no member of the Lefebvrist Pius X Society can be reinstated without accepting the important Vatican II reforms regarding dialogue with Jews and other religions, religious liberty, ecumenism, etc." Rosen was speaking of the order to which Williamson and the others belonged.

Periodic meetings of the Chief Rabbinate and Vatican representatives were initiated by Pope John Paul II in 2004.

Other members of the delegation were Chief Rabbinate Secretary-General Oded Wiener, Kiryat Ono Chief Rabbi Rasson Arussi and Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See Mordechai Lewy.

Cohen, the delegation leader, said it now seemed more likely that there would be positive consequences for the delegation's request that Catholic schools all over the world teach about the Holocaust.

The Vatican expressed continued commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, and both sides mentioned that full preparations were underway for the pope's forthcoming visit to Israel in May, which will be of both a religious and diplomatic nature. President Shimon Peres will accompany Benedict throughout the visit.

"My intention is to pray especially for the precious gift of unity and peace," Benedict said.

He quoted Psalms 125, saying, "God protects his people: 'As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people, from this time forth and for evermore.'"

In his letter Thursday, which was released in six languages, Benedict defended his attempts to bring ultraconservative Catholics loyal to the anti-modernization movement of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre back into the church's fold.

But he acknowledged that "another mistake, which I deeply regret," had been made in not properly explaining his intentions and the limits of the procedure, and that some groups had accused him of seeking to "turn back the clock."

"That the quiet gesture of extending a hand gave rise to a huge uproar, and [that] this became exactly the opposite of a gesture of reconciliation, is a fact which we must accept," Benedict said.

But he added that the church could not be indifferent to a movement that numbered 491 priests, 215 seminarians and six seminaries.

"Should we casually let them drift farther from the church?" he asked.

Pope to visit Rome synagogue in autumn

ROME, March 12 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict will make his first visit to Rome's synagogue in the autumn, Jewish community officials and the Vatican said on Thursday.

The late Pope John Paul became the first pope since the times of the apostles to enter a synagogue when he visited Rome's temple on the banks of the Tiber in 1986 and made a historic speech calling Jews "our beloved elder brothers."

Benedict has already visited synagogues in his native Germany and in the United States.

But a visit to Rome's temple is thick with historical significance because of the troubled relationship over the centuries between the papacy and the local Jewish community, the oldest in the diaspora.

The date for the visit has not been set.

Relations between Catholics and Jews have been under severe strain in the past few months over the pope's decision to lift the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who denies the Holocaust.

The pope has since made several major declarations to repudiate Bishop Richard Williamson's views and condemn anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Jewish officials from Israel met the pope on Thursday and later declared the crisis over.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 5:57 AM

Sometimes you have to doubt the common sense and good faith of some Jews. Look at this outrage!

Western Wall rabbi says Pope
should not wear cross at site


March 18, 2009

Ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's May visit to Israel, the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, has said that it is not proper to come to the site wearing a cross.

[You know what, Mr. Rabbi? John Paul II visited the Western wall in 2000 without any problem.

Everyday, hundreds of Christian tourists visit the Western Wall, many of them wearing a crucifix or carrying a rosary (or rosaries, as well as many crucifizes of all kinds, as any Chrstian tourist would stock up on when visiting Jerusalem) - I have done it a couple of times myself.

The Wall is an open space in old Jerusalem that can be approached or viewed from three sides openly. There is no admission, and there certainly were no policmen checking out what tourists wore or carried.

Besides, the Western Wall is, in a way, a Christian place itself because it is what is left of the Temple that replaced the temple on the same site where Jesus worshipped.

Also, the Muslims have not made any fuss about the crosses worn by either John Paul II or Benedict XVI, and all the bishops and cardinals who are in their entourage.

Suddenly, you see your chance to make international headlines by springing this on the eve of the Pope's visit. Shame on you for your cheap trick and narrow mind!]

The Pope wears a cross in all public appearances and is slated to visit the Western Wall on May 12 after a meeting with Muslim religious leaders at the Dome of the Rock.

After the visit, which will include a meeting with Rabinovitch, the Pope is slated to meet with Israel's two chief rabbis, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar.

"My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross," said Rabinovitch in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post Monday. "I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church." [Except that, the Catholic Church is 'catholic' and [Sanyone may enter a Catholic church provided there is no intent to desecrate the Church - and wearing phylacteries or whatever certainly does not - whereas wearing immodest clothes, in the case of women, is frowned upon because it shows lack of respect for the House of God.]

"In coming days I intend to discuss the issue with the Pope's people," Wadie Abunassar, media coordinator for the Pope's visit to the Holy Land, said in response to reports that the Pontiff would not remove his cross. "I cannot imagine the Holy Father removing his cross."

On a historic visit to the Holy Land in 2000, Pope John Paul II prayed at the Western Wall, stuffing a written prayer between the cracks. Pictures from the visit clearly show him wearing a golden cross while praying.

Despite this precedent, Rabinovitch maintains his position against the display of religious symbols. In recent years there have been at least two incidents in which Rabinovitch has barred access to the Western Wall by Christian clergy wearing crosses.

In November 2007, he refused to allow a group of Austrian bishops led by the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schonborn, access to the site after the clergymen refused to remove or hide their crosses.

At the time Rabinovitch told the Post that "crosses are a symbol that hurt Jewish feelings."

In May 2008, a group of Irish prelates from both Catholic and Protestant churches were prevented from visiting the Western Wall for the same reason.

Rabinovitch also opposes security arrangements that would prevent worshipers from reaching the Kotel for several hours before and during the pope's visit.

"Police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) authorities met with me and presented certain demands for security during the visit that include closing the Western Wall to people who want to pray," said Rabinovitch.

"For the past 42 years, no one has ever been prevented from praying at the Western Wall and, God willing, no one ever will. A solution needs to be reached that provides adequate security for the pope without infringing on the right of everyone to pray. The Western Wall belongs to everyone."

A senior Catholic church official said in response that the security arrangements for the Pope were an internal Israeli affair that had nothing to do with the Church.

Before 1967, when the Western Wall was under Jordanian rule, Jews were forbidden to pray there. In the Six Day War, Israel conquered east Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, from Jordan and prayer was opened to all religions.

This rabbi is either out of his mind or a serious headline hound. I hope he is open to the Holy Spirit.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 6:08 AM

So much for the deluded rabbi's headline-baiting. And thank God!

Israeli ambassador confirms
Pope Benedict may wear the Cross
at the Western Wall

Rome, Italy, Mar 18, 2009 (CNA).- Contrary to comments attributed to an Israeli rabbi, Pope Benedict XVI will not be barred from entering the holy area of Jerusalem’s Western Wall while wearing a cross.

On Tuesday the Jerusalem Post quoted Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who oversees worship matters at the Western Wall, as saying that the Pope should not wear a cross during his visit to the area.

“It is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross,” the rabbi reportedly said, according to SIR. [In the preceding page of this thread, I posted the Jerusalem Post article.]

Mordechay Lewy, Israel’s Ambassador to the Holy See, issued a clarifying statement saying that the Jerusalem Post’s quotation was “misleading.”

Ambassador Lewy said that Israel will “respect, as a matter of course, the religious symbols of the Holy Father and of his entourage, as expected in accordance with rules of hospitality and dignity,” following the same procedure applied in Pope John Paul II’s papal visit to Israel in 2000.

“This was confirmed to a high Official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Jerusalem personally by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch,” the ambassador’s statement continued.

Pope Benedict is scheduled to visit the Western Wall on May 12 as part of his journey to the Holy Land.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 6:18 AM

A 'mea culpa' is due from those
who said Benedict XVI is not
a friend of the Jewish people

by Giorgio Israel
Translated from

March 24, 2009

A truly extraordinary document destined to pass into history is the letter of Benedict XVI wrote to the bishops of the Catholic Church about his lifting the excommunication of four bishops consecrated by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Extraordinary first of all for the absolute clarity with which he examines the case in all its aspects, confronting its associated controversies and pronouncing blunt judgments.

Not a detail is neglected (not even acknowledging the need to use the Internet more), not a single aspect is left obscure, particularly that which has to do with the scandalous implications of the Williamson case, arising from the bishop's condemnable negationist statements about the Nazi gas chambers.

But above all, the letter is extraordinary for the impassioned way in which the Pope laid bare his own state of mind and the motives which led him to openly face this episode.

This proved right those who have, through the tempests of recent months, always maintained that Jewish-Christian relations had not been in any way compromised by the decisions made by Benedict XVI.

Indeed, Rabbi Jacob Neusner, with whose texts the Pope had fashioned a theological dialog for his book JESUS OF NAZARETH, has always said that it is thanks to men like Joseph Ratzinger that the Jewish-Christian dialog is alive and prospering.

He has always acknowledged the good intentions of the Pope, noting that the new course set by Vatican-II on Catholic relations with the Jews, was reaffirmed by how, "with a pure heart, the Pope cited my imaginary conversations with Jesus in his book".

The course of Jewish-Christian relations, said Neusner, may have its occasional stumbling blocks, but it is irreversible.

And the overwhelming majority of the world Jewry thinks the same way, even as it proceeds to resume in full along the path of dialog.

It also supports what this writer has written about, along with other Italian Jews like Guido Guastalla, which resulted in not a few stones cast at us by other Italian Jews.

I would have prefered not to write about personal experience in an article, but there are occasions when one has the right to rid one's shoes of those little bits of stone that have settled in.

When we claimed, for instance, that the revised Good Friday prayer for the Jews should not be understood as an expression of Catholic intention to proselytize Jews, we were stigmatized as the Pope's 'court Jews'.

When it was proposed to suspend Jewish-Christian relations, we expressed our dissent quite peaceably. But God forbid! Some representatives of the Italian Jewry, presuming to have dogmatic authority, attacked us violently along the lines "Shut up now - only we can speak to this regard".

Then came the Williamson case, and we were among the very first to request maximum clarity, certain that such would come from the Pope himself, because we are convinced that his intentions are transparent.

This time the fallout came from some Catholics who believe that to show they are Catholics, they have to exceed in zeal to the point of being fanatical. They called us - who had defended the Pope from unfounded accusations - presumptuous and arrogant Jews who dared to meddle in Church affairs!

Now that the Pope himself has given the most authoritative confirmation that we were right in what we stand for, and that the facts have shown how unjust and detestable was all the stone-throwing from both sides of the issue, it would be natural to expect some sincere apologies.

Only one has come from our side so far, and from a person who only had a secondary role in the attacks. Otherwise, nothing but silence.

On the other hand, some of the protagonists of the uncivil aggression shown towards us for being on the side of the Pope are now grooming themselves to be the leading players in the resumption of the Jewish-Christian dialog. 'No comment'.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 6:23 AM

Pope Benedict XVI and the Jews

Mar. 29, 2009

The writer, former chief rabbi of Ireland, heads the American Jewish Committee's Department of Interreligious Affairs and is also the chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Inter-Religious Consultations. He has met with Pope Benedict XVI several times in the past four years..

The recent controversy over the lifting of the excommunication ban on Richard Williamson and his fellow bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X generated the impression that there might be some backtracking in the Vatican concerning the latter's commitment to Catholic-Jewish relations and in particular to combating anti-Semitism.

The statements from the Vatican Secretariat of State and then by the Pope himself, most recently when he received the delegation of the bilateral committee of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See's Commission for Religious Dialogue with Jewry, have clarified that nothing could be further from the truth.

The Vatican and the Pope have made it clear that the lifting of the excommunication ban is not a re-instatement of these bishops, who will not be accepted back into the Church until they affirm the teachings of the Second Vatican Council which include the positive teachings on Jews and Judaism.

But above all the Pope has not only reaffirmed the Church's unqualified repudiation of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, he has reiterated the importance of Holocaust education and he has especially repeated his own profound commitment to continuing the path of his predecessor in advancing Catholic-Jewish relations.

Those who are familiar with Pope Benedict XVI's record will not at all be surprised by this. [And yet Rosen made one of the most unfair rremarks about Benedict XVI shortly after the FSSPX excomrecall was announced.]

He was first pope to invite Jewish leaders both to the funeral of Pope John Paul II and, above all, to the celebration of his own ascension to the throne of St. Peter in 2005.

Little more than a month later he received a delegation of the International Jewish Committee for Inter-Rreligious Consultations. This roof body, embracing the principle Jewish advocacy organizations as well as the major streams of contemporary Judaism, is the official partner of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with Jewry.

Notably he received this Jewish delegation almost immediately into his pontificate, before he had even received delegations from representative bodies of other branches of Christianity, let alone other religions.

At this meeting he declared, "In the years following the [Second Vatican Ecumenical] Council, my predecessors Pope Paul VI and in a special way, Pope John Paul II, took significant steps toward improving relations with the Jewish people. It is my intention to continue on this path."

Moreover, the first place of divine worship of another religious community visited by Pope Benedict XVI was the synagogue in Cologne, which he visited in August 2005 during his journey to Germany for the World Youth Day.

On that occasion, he referred to the above mentioned meeting stating that "Today I wish to reaffirm that I intend to continue with great vigor on the path toward improved relations and friendship with the Jewish people, following the decisive lead given by Pope John Paul II."

On both occasions he outlined more of his thinking on the nature and purpose of this relationship. While acknowledging the tragic past and deploring resurgent anti-Semitism, he asserted that "the 'spiritual patrimony' treasured by Christians and Jews is itself the source of the wisdom and inspiration capable of guiding us toward a future of hope in accordance with the divine plan."

"At the same time, remembrance of the past remains for both communities a moral imperative and a source of purification in our efforts to pray and work for reconciliation, justice, respect and human dignity, and for that peace which is ultimately a gift from the Lord Himself. Of its very nature, this importance must include a continued reflection on the profound historical moral and theological questions posited by the experience of the Shoah."

STILL IN THE FIRST year of his pontificate, Pope Benedict continued to meet with an array of Jewish organizations and leaders including the chief rabbis of Israel and the chief rabbi of Rome.

In receiving the latter he declared, "The Catholic Church is close and is a friend to you. Yes we love you and we cannot but love you, because of the Fathers: through them you are very dear and beloved brothers to us."

The Pope also expressed his gratitude for the divine protection of the Jewish people that has guaranteed its survival over the course of history: "The people of Israel have been delivered from the hands of enemies on frequent occasions and in the centuries of anti-Semitism and during the tragic moments of the Shoah, the hand of the Almighty sustained and guided them."

These ideas have been recurrent in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger. In December 2000 in an article entitled 'The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas" published in L'Osservatore Romano, he wrote:

Abraham, father of the people of Israel, father of faith, has become the source of blessing, for in him 'all the families of the earth shall call themselves blessed.'

The task of the Chosen People is therefore to make a gift of their God - the one true God - to every other people.

In reality, as Christians we are the inheritors of their faith in the one God. Our gratitude therefore must be extended to our Jewish brothers and sisters who, despite the hardships of their own history, have held on to faith in this God right up to the present and who witness to it...

In this same article, the then Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the question of anti-Semitism and the degree to which Christianity has been associated with it. He stated:

Down through the history of Christianity, already strained relations deteriorated further, even giving birth in many cases to anti-Jewish attitudes which throughout history have led to deplorable acts of violence.

Even if the most recent loathsome experience of the Shoah was perpetuated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians.

THIS CONDEMNATION of anti-Semitism includes a description of Nazism that not everyone would share. The Pope repeated this idea when he visited the site of the extermination camps in Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 2006.

In describing the intentions of Nazism, he declared:

Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down the principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid.

If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to Himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone - to the men who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world.

By destroying Israel, by the Shoah, they ultimately wanted to tear out the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention...

While many would argue with Pope Benedict XVI's analysis, there surely can be no more powerful an argument for Christians to avoid all anti-Semitic prejudice than the one he provides in these statements.

It is significant to condemn anti-Semitism as evil and it is remarkable to condemn it as "a sin against God and man" as did Pope John Paul II (words that have been reiterated by Pope Benedict XVI himself).

However to describe anti-Semitism as an assault against the very roots of Christianity means that for a Christian to harbor such sentiment is to attack and betray his or her own faith - a message of enormous pedagogical importance in the struggle against hatred directed toward Jews and Judaism.

AS ALREADY INDICATED, Benedict XVI sees the Church as having a special - indeed unique - relationship with the Jewish people. This inevitably must take into account the central affirmations of the Jewish faith and of contemporary Jewish identity.

In this regard the Pope has a profound understanding of the significance of the State of Israel for the Jewish people. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was on the Special Committee of the Holy See that reviewed and authorized the establishment of full relations between Israel and the Vatican.

Among his close friends in Israel of many years standing (which included the late mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek) is Prof. Zwi Werblowsky, one of the Jewish Israeli pioneers of interfaith dialogue.

The then Cardinal Ratzinger phoned Werblowsky in Jerusalem to express his joy over this development, describing it as the fruit of the work of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

Not everyone in the Church has appreciated the central role that Israel plays in contemporary as well as historic Jewish identity. Pope Benedict XVI does, and he fully realizes that the relationship between the Vatican and the State of Israel is inextricably bound up with the relationship between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church.

Of course this is not without its complications both in terms of the interests of the local Church in Israel and the Palestinian territories and the Holy See's interests within and in relation to the Arab world and Muslim society as a whole. These often conflicting interests are obviously substantially affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here's a companion piece to David Rosen's piece two posts above.

Benedict XVI and the State of Israel
By David P. Goldman

Monday, March 30, 2009

May 14 is Israel’s Independence Day (celebrated according to the Jewish rather than the Gregorian calendar), recalling the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948.

For Palestinian Arabs the following day, May 15, is a day of mourning, “Disaster (Naqba) Day.” It has gone unmentioned that Pope Benedict’s Holy Land pilgrimage falls on just these days. On May 15, the final day of his visit, the Pope will share a podium in Israel’s capital Jerusalem with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The Pope’s appearance in Jerusalem with Israel’s head of state on Naqba Day underscores his commitment to the State of Israel. From the founding of the State of Israel to 1993, when the Vatican at length established diplomatic relations with the Jewish State, the Holy See has had to balance its commitment to Middle Eastern Christians with its efforts to improve relations with the Jewish people.

Christians endured in the birthplace of their religion under Muslim rule as a dhimmi, or subject people, anxious to avoid giving offense to the far more powerful majority.

With the advent of the State of Israel and the hostile Muslim response, dhimmitude became less viable. It is estimated that thirty-five percent of the Christians in the West Bank and Gaza have emigrated since the 1967 war, mostly in response to harassment by radical Islamists.

Although Arab Christians have suffered at the hands of Muslim militants who oppose the existence of the Jewish State, many of them blame the Jews for rousing the Muslim militants in the first place.

Well before the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1993, then Cardinal Ratzinger repeatedly explained to Jewish representatives that the delay in diplomatic recognition solely reflected the concern of the Holy See for the vulnerable Arab Christian communities.

His pilgrimage this May devotes considerable time to pastoral meetings with the Arab Christian community. Nonetheless, Benedict has made clear that his concern for Arab Christians is embedded within an unwavering commitment to the Jewish community in the Holy Land.

It is hard not to see an evolution in Vatican policy towards Israel, from a pragmatic approach to the problems of religious constituencies, to explicit theological sympathy for the Jewish State. Benedict XVI is first of all a theologian, and he views the Jewish presence in the Holy Land as a theological matter.

In 2008, on the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s independence, Benedict XVI told Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, “The Holy See is united with you and thanks God for the full realization of the Jewish people’s aspirations to live in its homeland, the land of its forefathers.”

Meeting with the Israeli rabbinate on March 12, the Pope affirmed the election of the Jewish people “to communicate to the whole human family knowledge of and fidelity to the one, true and unique God.”

Theologically it is difficult to separate the election of the people from the promise of the land, and Benedict’s commitment to Israel seems strongly grounded in theology.

The Magisterium of the Church does not take an explicit position on the question of Jewish statehood. Officially, the Catholic Church instructs, “The existence of the State of Israel and its political options should be envisaged not in a perspective which is in itself religious, but in their reference to the common principles of international law,” in the formula given in “Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church” (1985).

But the Church also knows that Israel is more than just another small country like Finland or Ecuador, for the very next sentence of the 1985 document cites John Paul II’s recognition of the theological significance of Jewish survival:

The permanence of Israel (while so many ancient peoples have disappeared without trace) is a historic fact and a sign to be interpreted within God’s design. . . . It remains a chosen people, ‘the pure olive on which were grafted the branches of the wild olive which are the gentiles.’

Middle Eastern Christians remain an important constituency opposing Vatican support for the Jewish State. Their position is difficult.

On March 25, the Holy See expressed “profound concern” about Middle Eastern Christians in the Middle East in the wake of the Israeli incursion into Gaza.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and Archbishop Antonio Maria Franco emphasized the pastoral function of the Pope’s visit, nothing that he

constantly comforts Christians, and all the inhabitants of the Holy Land, with special words and gestures, coupled with his desire to make a pilgrimage in the historical footsteps of Jesus . . . The wounds opened by violence make the problem of emigration more acute, inexorably depriving the Christian minority of its best resources for the future . . . The land that was the cradle of Christianity risks ending up without Christians.”

That is not quite true, for although Arab Christians are indeed leaving areas controlled by Muslims, Christians are immigrating to Israel itself, whose Christian community has doubled in size in the past fifteen years.

Nearly 300,000 Eastern European immigrants are Christians, as well as many Filipinos and others who came as guest workers and have settled in Israel. Hebrew-speaking Israeli Christians are becoming a more numerous constituency than Arab-speaking Palestinian Christians.

The retirement in 2008 of Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, a vocal critic of the Jewish State, was symbolic of the generational change that shifted the balance of Christian life to Hebrew-speaking Israelis. Patriarch Sabbah belonged to an older generation that blamed Israel for the disruption of Christian life in the Holy Land.

The most important issues outstanding between the State of Israel and the Holy See involve the practical life of Church institutions ministering to Catholic citizens of the Jewish State, including taxation, the status of Church property, and so forth.

It is possible to look forward to a happy day in which the most important source of antagonism between Catholics and Jews will be tax treatment of Church propertyc—cprovided, of course, that the Holy Father’s theological sympathy for the existence of the Israeli state prevails in the Church.

His predecessor John Paul II transformed Catholic–Jewish relations during his pilgrimage nine years ago, and the image of the Pope praying at the Western Wall did more to persuade Jews of Christian goodwill than all the conference resolutions in history.

Benedict’s presentation of the theology of election adds an inestimably important dimension to the story. But nothing strengthens the bond between the Church and the Jews as plainly as the Pope’s appearance in Israel on the anniversary of its independence.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 6:35 AM

Netanyahu, peace problems
and the Pope’s visit

by Arieh Cohen

TEL AVIV, March 31 (AsiaNews) – Israel’s new government led by Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to take office this afternoon.

For the Church, one fact in particular stands out about the new Israeli Government to be headed by Binyamin Netanyahu: The fundamentalist party Shas will once more control the Interior Ministry.

Last time a Shas member was the Interior Minister, earlier this decade, there was a complete cessation of the issuance and renewal of entry and residence permits, “visas”, to Church personnel.

It took a very great deal of heavy international pressure to induce the Ministry to start issuing such visas once more, and when it did, it was on noticeably worse terms than ever before.

Meanwhile scores of priests and men and women religious have been reduced to the status of “illegal aliens”, they can be stopped in the street by immigration police, and none could risk leaving the country, for whatever reason, for fear they might not be allowed back in.

The “visa” question, with its series of conseqyent difficulties and recurrent “crises”, has never actually been properly resolved, and now there is concern in ecclesiastical circles that it may become, once again, even more acute.

The hope is, of course, that this will not actually happen, and that instead the issue will be settled by an agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel. Such agreement has been on the agenda of negotiators for the two sides since their 1993 Fundamental Agreement, but other issues have had to be dealt with first.

Israelis too, especially the well-educated and the more secular (the “elites”, as they are called by right-wing populists), look at the new government with some concern and not much expectation of progress on peace with Israel’s neighbours, particularly the Palestinians.

Incoming Prime Minister Netanyahu has famously refused to speak of a Palestinian State, even as a long-term goal, let alone as a subject of actual peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

This is why Israel’s largest party, Kadimah, the party of outgoing Prime Minister Olmert and outgoing Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni, has declined his invitation to join the governing coalition. Olmert and Livni have been speaking for some time now of the need to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories which began in 1967.

Surprisingly, the once-dominant and now much-reduced Labour party (only 13 out of 120 members of Parliament) has nonetheless joined Netanyahu’s coalition. The unnatural alliance between this social democratic party and the right wing parties, which form the rest of the new governing coalition, has been the subject of much comment, perplexity and even deploration.

Yet the presence of Labour’s ministers, alongside those of the extreme right and the fundamentalists, is also reassuring. The expectation is that they will be able to prevent the worst excesses that the ultra-nationalist and fundamentalist elements of the government might otherwise be capable of.

To many in Israel, it is particularly reassuring that Labour’s leader, Ehud Barak, will continue to be at the head of the powerful Defence Ministry. This is especially so since many are saying that the most crucial task of the new government will be to decide what, if anything, to do about the perceived threat from Iran.

The chief of military intelligence recently warned that Iran would be able to build an atomic weapon within a year, and all Israelis, whether left or right wing, religious or secular, are extremely anxious about this prospect.

There is widespread disgust with the insufficient determination of the West to prevent Iran’s military nuclearisation by effective sanctions.

More and more, the feeling is that Israel will now be facing the terrible choice between simply resigning itself to living henceforth in the shadow of a nuclear threat from a country that is publicly committed to the annihilation of the Jewish State – or taking direct military action to neutralise Iran’s military nuclear capacity, with unforeseeable and possibly devastating retaliatory consequences to Israel itself.

Labour party advocates of joining the government – and of ensuring General Barak’s place at the head of the Defence Ministry – have made much use of the argument that Israelis will feel much safer that way than if Netanyahu were left to his own devices.

Israelis well remember Mr. Netanyahu’s worrisome handling of national security matters when he was last the head of the government (1996-1999). It was then, for example, that he gave the order to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mesh’al in the streets of Amman, the capital of a friendly Arab State (Jordan), and when the assassination was botched, Mr. Netanyahu panicked at the reaction of King Hussein.

Netanyahu went out of his way to appease the King: First, he sent Amman the antidote to the poison injected by the failed agents into the body of Mr. Mesh’al, saving his life to continue to direct terrorism against Israelis; then he freed from prison the founder and ideologue of Hamas, Ahmad Yassin, who used his freedom to preside over even more terrorism against Israeli civilians.

A failure of judgement in the matter of attacking (or not attacking) Iran could of course be much costlier, and Israelis will be less nervous about such a possibility with Mr. Barak in the government as Defence Minister. Or so the argument is being made.

Mr. Netanyahu is well aware of his image-problems at home and abroad, and has been working hard to deal with them. Bringing Labour into his government is an important part of his efforts.

So is his talk of improving the daily lives of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, under the heading of “economic peace” (without political freedom). But he is certainly not helped by his choice as foreign minister, Mr. Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of a largely secular nationalist party, Israel Beiteinu, notorious for his extreme rhetoric against Israel’s Arab minority, and for aggressive statements about Egypt and its President Hosni Mubarak.

It is not certain though how long Mr. Liebermann will be able to remain at the foreign ministry. He is the subject of several police investigations on suspicion of corruption and money-laundering, and may well have to face criminal charges within weeks, or so the press reports.

Benedict XVI’s visit

The feeling in Israel is that the season of actively seeking peace, the “peace process”, which was inaugurated by the 1993 “Oslo accords” is now definitively over.

This is reinforced by the renewed prospects, on the Palestinian side, of 'reconciliation' between President Abu Mazen’s Fatah movement and the Hamas organisation, which rejects the Oslo agreements, and with them, the possibility or desirability of a definitive peace with Israel.

This is the context in which the Holy Land is awaiting the arrival, in May, of Pope Benedict XVI.

In 2000 John Paul II came into a land that was believed to be on the cusp of a definitive end to the bloody conflict between the two nations that call it home - a time of great hope and high expectations. Very little of that remains.

Yet precisely in this present time of disillusionment and anxiety, the Pope’s witness to Him Who is our Peace is surely more urgently necessary than ever.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 7:04 AM

Another post from Benefan:

Pope to ride Aerial Odyssey in Jerusalem

Jerusalem's Time Elevator new attraction to officially open
with Benedict XVI's visit to Israel in less than two months

BY Danny Sadeh

April 6, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI, who will be arriving in Israel for a short visit in a month-and-a-half, will also get to take a 40-minute trip through the country's skies, without even having to leave the holy city of Jerusalem.

The pope will be visiting Jerusalem's Time Elevator site, and get to inaugurate its new attraction – the Aerial Odyssey.

The new attraction is being prepared for the pope's visit. During a tourism fair in Rome some two months ago, the project was presented to Cardinal Vallini, who was reportedly moves to tears and told the pope all about the attraction.

A few days later a letter was sent to Israel from Vatican City asking those responsible for organizing the pope's visit to allow him to catch the show during his stay in Israel.

The Aerial Odyssey is an aerial adventure in which visitors get to fly over Israel and gain a unique new perspective as the past and present of this land are revealed.

During the journey, visitors are exposed to a variety of natural and human treasures, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else. The ride shows the people, the places and the religions that make up the holy land.

Aerial Odyssey includes a flight all over Israel, from its snow capped peaks to its dessert lands, from its rolling hills to its bare plateaus, to its crystalline seas.

The show takes place in the Time Elevator hall and includes 102 seats. Ninety of the seats are mobile for the complete experience, and 12 seats are stationary, to accommodate pregnant woman, and people with heart or other conditions.


What a brilliant idea this 'aerial odyssey' is! Israel lends itself perfectly for this sort of presentation because it is small enough to be covered comprehensively but with an incredible history and unique blend of cultures.


A trailer for the Aerial Odyssey:

00Friday, May 8, 2009 7:11 AM

Prince behind 'A Common Word'
to host the Pope on his visit
to the baptismal site of Jesus

ROME, April 8 (Translated from ASCA) - During his visit to Jordan on May 8-11, Pope Benedict XVI will meet with Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, who started the initiative (and is the primary signatory) for the October 2007 letter A Common Word initially signed by 138 Muslim religious leaders and intellectuals, and is one of the closest advisers to his cousin, King Abdullah II of Jordan.

This was announced by the Jordanian Minister of Tourism at a news conference in Jordan's embassy to Italy today.

Prince Ghazi, born in 1966, was educated in Princeton and Cambridge, with degrees in literature and in medieval and modern languages. He is also the chairman of the Royal Aal-Al Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought based in Amman, the umbrella organization for A COMMON WORD.

The prince will be accompanying the Pope when he visits Bethany beyond the Jordan, thought to be the site of Jesus's Baptism. Prince Ghazi was the principal sponsor of the construction there of a baptism center for Christians, which he inaugurated last March along with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"Jordan can be a model for religious tolerance and inter-religious dialog," said Madame al Khatib, who met newsmen after meeting the Pope this morning following the General Audience.

"Our Constitution provides for freedom of worship and religion, and many of our high functionaries are involved in inter-religious dialog", she pointed out.

The Pope will be visiting Jordan before proceeding to Israel and the Palestinian territories during his May 8-15 pilgrimage to the Holy Land, his first as Pope.

Can anyone hazard a guess what is contained in the gift chest presented by the minister to the Pope? They look like chains and ropes of gold to me! (It could also be 'straw' packing for something breakable.)

Somehow, I like the idea of having the Pope wear his pectoral crosses on a chain given to him by a Muslim (especially since Arab goldsmiths generally use only 24-karat gold), just as for years he wore a pectoral cross that belonged to the father of a Greek Orthodox friend of his.


It turns out that tomorrow's issue (4/9/09) of L'Osservatore Romano also carries a story about the Jordanian minister with a completely different angle, and without any mention of Prince Ghazi. The picture that OR uses was obviously taken before the picture it released to the wire services used with the story above

Jordanian minister tells Pope
so many Muslims are awaiting his visit

Translated from
the 4/9/09 issue of

"In Jordan, the Muslims are awaiting the Pope as much as the Christians", said the Jordanian Minister for Tourism and Antiquities
Madame Maha Khatib, who was at the General Audience in St. Peter's Square yesterday.

After the catechesis and his multilingual greetings to the faithful, Pope Benedict XVI was able, as is customary, to meet some of the pilgrims, including sick persons and newlyweds, with tickets allowing them to be near the Pope when he walks about to greet the faithful.

Among them was Minister Khatib, who was accompanied by engineer Rustom Moukhjian, an Orthodox Christian in charge of the archeological site thought to be the place where Jesus was baptized (Bethany beyond the Jordan) and by Tayseer Ammary, a Catholic adviser to the tourism ministry.

The three are among the principal members of the organizing committee for Jordan's official welcome to the Pope, who, one month from now, will land in Amman, the Jordanian capital, on the first stage of his week-long pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

"We are here," she said, "to thank the Pope for the honor he renders us by visiting our country. In the name of the sovereigns, of the government, and all the Jordanian people, we wish to assure the Pope that Jordan is doing everything to assure a worthy and warm welcome for him."

Madame Khatib said that in Jordan, Benedict XVI "will be able to see with his own eyes a nation where the faithful of various religions live together peacefully - a model for the whole Middle East".

The Jordanian group later met with Mons. Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with other states.

There were some 40,000 pilgrims at St. Peter's Square yesterday. Many of them were young people - seminarians, vocational groups, university students, such as those of the new Sophia University Institution. This was founded in December 2007 with the approval of the Vatican, by the Focolari movement's Chiara Lubich a few months before she died. Its first student group represents 16 countries.

Sophia graduates will receive a diploma of specialty in the fundamentals and perspectives of a culture of unity. The institution was a concrete response to Benedict XVI's challenge "to widen the horizon of reason in the dialog between cultures and scientific disciplines while bringing the light of Christ to the world".

More than 4000 youths from 32 countries were also present as participants in UNIV 2009, an annual meeting of university students inspired by the spiritual ideals of St. Jose Escriva de Balaguer, who founded Opus Dei.

This is the 42nd year of the international meeting held in Rome during Holy Week, this year on the theme "Universitas: knowledge without frontiers".

A special group of children and adolescents from Naples are wards of a foundation that takes care of young school dropouts. Said their guardian, Don Luigi Merola: "They are aged between 6 to 14. Many of them would otherwise end up being exploited by organized crime. We try to give them the right schooling and train them eventually in work skills so they can be, as Don Bosco loved to say, honest citizens and good Christians."

And Mark, a 28-year-old Australian, wearing a kangaroo pelt over his clothes, presented the Pope with a 'message stick', a traditional carved staff that the Australian aborigines use to transmit important messages or to communicate with high-ranking personages.

Mark's gift to the Pope however was inscribed with the logo of the Sydney WYD and figures of characteristic Australian animals. He said he wanted to thank the Pope again for coming to Australia.

Mark belongs to the Wiradjuri tribe and was at Barangaroo wharf with them to welcome Benedict XVI on July 17 last year.

"I am a teacher," he says, "and my students have great memories of the days they spent with their contemporaries from all over the world."

00Friday, May 8, 2009 7:23 AM

Posted by benefan:

Palestinian Christians look
forward to papal visit

By Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D.


JERUSALEM (Inside Catholic) - Palestinian Christians are wondering aloud whether the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Holy Land will bring greater media attention to their dwindling numbers.

They fear that, at the top, the Pope's agenda will be dominated by his continuing effort to smooth the ruffled feathers of Muslims (after his 2006 Regensburg speech) and Jews (following the recent trouble over the anti-Semitism of Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X).

Building better relations with Israel, the international Jewish community, and Muslims is the "story line already written by the media for the papal visit," one Vatican observer told me.

But the real motive behind the visit, according to the same observer with close ties to the Vatican, is the Pope's desire to make a "personal pilgrimage" to the holy sites. His message will be a message to the Church, he continued, and should not be expected to target "specific problems" on the ground.

It's impossible, however, for a papal visit to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan not to be scrutinized from every possible angle. Everyone in the region, and many around the world, will be listening for any possible comment on the ongoing occupation by Israel of the West Bank and its impact on the historic Christian communities of places like Bethlehem, Nazareth, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour.

Opinions differ on the primary cause for the departure of Christians out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Some point to the rigors of the occupation, especially restrictions on the freedom of movement imposed by checkpoints and security walls.

Others talk about the mounting tensions between Christians and Muslims in towns like Bethlehem, where their families once lived side by side without rancor as far back as anyone can remember. Indeed, on this, my fourth trip to the Holy Land in six years, I have heard more about Muslim hostility to Christians than ever before.

My own observation is that, when people are locked in a prison with little hope of ever getting out, they turn their gaze inward. Divisions that once didn't matter become very relevant. Similarly, when two peoples live together under an occupation without the freedom of movement, they start finding more fault with each other.

Bernard Sabella, a professor at Bethlehem University and a Christian member of the Palestinian legislature, offers another explanation for the exodus. "The main reason is unemployment. If the young people can't find work, they leave, it's that simple."

Sabella's research has found that in good economic years, about 200 to 300 Palestinian Christians between the ages of 25 and 30 leave the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In bad economic times, the numbers shoot up to between 900 and 1,000 a year.

With only 50,000 Christians in those areas, the net result is a steadily shrinking community whose recovery is dependent on the return of a robust economy.

Sabella adds, "How can you have a strong economy with plenty of jobs for young people out of college when they cannot, for example, even leave the city of Bethlehem but only rarely?"

Without freedom of movement, Sabella argues, the economy cannot grow, more and more Palestinians will depend on foreign aid for subsistence, and young Christians will choose to leave in search of better lives. Sabella's analysis, although beginning with the problem of unemployment, points back to the impact of the Israeli occupations and, particularly, the more stringent measures taken since theintifada that began in 2000.

If Benedict addresses the root causes for the declining Christian presence in the Holy Land, he will very likely offend both Israelis and Muslims, the very parties with whom he might have hoped to strengthen ties. Yet this is the moment when Christians living under the occupation need a word of support from the leader of the Church.

After the Gaza campaign and the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, they have little hope that Israel will pursue a two-state solution. They also put little faith in the promises of the Obama administration -- not because of Obama himself, but because of their disappointments in previous U.S. presidents.

One frustrated Christian put it to me bluntly: "The Pope must do something for his Christians here in the Holy Land, or there will be none of us here in 20 years."

This father of two young children, living in Bethlehem and struggling to keep his family on the West Bank, is considering the option of immigrating for the first time in his life. His attitude, I am told, is becoming widespread among educated Palestinian Christians.

Benedict has already shown himself capable of rising to the occasion to overcome controversy, as on his trip to the United States a year ago when he defused the criticism awaiting him about the priest sex scandal. His proactive comments to the media on the flight to Washington, D.C., let the air out of the balloon of invective that was ready to burst upon his arrival.

The Holy Father may well find a way to navigate through the more rocky shores of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Palestinian Christians caught in the middle.

Deal W. Hudson is the director of InsideCatholic.com and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster).



While we can all understand and sympathize with the frustration of the Palestinian Christians, I think it is most unrealistic - and unfair - of them to expect the Pope to be able to do anything about the poitical situation that is at the root of the socio-economic problem that is driving away Christians from the places like Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

And very wrong of the Western media to feed their unrealistic expectations with agenda articles like this, no matter how well-meaning.

Fourteen years and two Popes - and still, the Vatican has been unable to finalize a status agreement for the Catholic Church in Israel! And we have just been warned that the Pope's coming visit is not bringing the question to any conclusion soon.

If something that should not be a problem - the Israeli Parliament passed a 'general' agreement 14 years ago, cynically leaving all the devils loose in the details - has proven so intransigent, what makes the Palestinian Christians think the Pope will be able to do something about their infintely more complicated problems that decades of undoubtedly well-meaning work by the great political powers have failed to resolve?

I'm sure every conscientious Christian prays constantly for 'peace in teh Middle East and a good life for all its peoples'.

But he must also ask himself over and over why the land where God walked the earth has been the world's bloodiest battleground driven by sheer hatred for much of its history. The more so if the Christian happens to live in the Middle East today.

And the best answer one can give is that God's ways are unfathomable. One must live with the situation given each of us by Providence which does not necessarily play favorites. Different trials are imposed on each of us, and in different degrees. And we must each respond to these trials as best we can.

The Pope and the Church will continue to do what they have been able to do - give moral support and prayers, along with whatver material support it is able to do through Caritas and other Church-based or Church-associated institutions.

But it is totally unrealistic to expect that the Church can ensure the material terrestrial future of Christians in the Midcle East.

One frustrated Christian put it to me bluntly: "The Pope must do something for his Christians here in the Holy Land, or there will be none of us here in 20 years."

This father of two young children, living in Bethlehem and struggling to keep his family on the West Bank, is considering the option of immigrating for the first time in his life. His attitude, I am told, is becoming widespread among educated Palestinian Christians.

If immigration is the better option, then why not? Iraqi Christians have been forced to do it in the past 6 years, and some of them are starting to come back now. It's a decision parents have to make with the good of their children in mind, and for which they have to temporarily renounce sentiments of patriotism and attachment to one's native land.

But history has shown that in situations like these, there will always be a chosen few who will remain and persevere and survive - placeholders for those who are constrained to leave, as well as, perhaps, the stuff of saints.

The Pope has always spoken of this trip as a pilgrimage to pray for peace. More than anyone else, he knows none of us can read God's mind. And that it is part of man's lot to ask unanswerable questions.

Why does a child get cancer? Why did the Holocaust happen? Why is the Middle East so torn apart by hatreds? And if the last two, for instance, are traceable to political and ideological reasons, their undeRLying question is: why is man capable of such evil? But that is why we all need salvation. And why ultimately, we only have our faith to live by.


00Friday, May 8, 2009 7:25 AM

Pope Benedict to find Holy Land
changed since predecessor's visit

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM. April 9 (CNS) - Pope Benedict XVI will encounter a Holy Land that has changed greatly since Pope John Paul II visited in 2000.

Pope John Paul arrived in Israel and the Palestinian territories when, despite stumbling blocks in the peace process, the Jubilee Year celebrations seemed to buoy the Holy Land with a booming tourism industry.

But Pope Benedict will visit amid continued Israeli-Palestinian tensions -- months after a controversial Israeli invasion of Gaza and during continuing Palestinian rocket attacks against southern Israeli towns.

On his visit to Bethlehem, West Bank, Pope John Paul was received by a united Palestinian Authority, led by longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In May Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is struggling to unite the Palestinian factions following a 2007 split with the Islamic fundamentalist political party and militia Hamas, will welcome Pope Benedict.

Israel's recent election brought to power a conservative government whose new foreign minister declared in his first public speech that the U.S.-sponsored 2007 Annapolis peace declaration -- which calls for two states, Israeli and Palestinian -- has "no validity."

The new Israeli government also has an interior minister from the religious Shas party; when a Shas official held that position in previous governments, he limited the issuance and renewal of entry and residence permits for Christian clergy.

Despite numerous protests to rectify the situation, clergy are still struggling with visa and permit issues.

Pope Benedict will face a land torn asunder and scarred by the violence and physical barriers of the second intifada, which broke out just months after the 2000 papal visit.

He will stand before people who have lost hope in the future and no longer trust their politicians, and he will see precarious economies still reeling from the effects of the intifada and feeling the sting of the current international economic downturn -- still waiting for the additional influx of pilgrims and tourists they dreamed of following the earlier papal visit.

Yvonne Friedman, a history professor at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, said that perhaps since people have experienced one papal visit and did not get the expected results, they might have lowered their expectations, and that could actually make for a better visit for Pope Benedict.

Though Pope Benedict has insisted, as did Pope John Paul, that his visit is a spiritual pilgrimage and not meant as a political statement, both Israelis and Palestinians say they have expectations ranging from bringing about a renewal of the stalled peace talks, bringing an economic boost to the area with an influx of pilgrims, helping refocus international attention on the political situation and initiating a spiritual strengthening of the local Catholic faithful.

So while the pilgrimage is planned to follow, almost step by step, the earlier papal visit, in Bethlehem, West Bank, the Palestinian hosts will take Pope Benedict to visit the Aida refugee camp, rather than the larger Dehiyshe camp that Pope John Paul visited.

From Aida, the Israeli-built separation barrier surrounding Bethlehem and restricting its residents can be clearly seen. The wall is a stark reminder of the daily struggle Palestinians face just trying to move from place to place.

Israel decided in 2002 to go ahead with plans to build the separation barrier -- a series of barbed wire fences, security roads and looming cement slabs which, if completed as planned, would stretch nearly 400 miles and restrict the movements of 38 percent of residents of the West Bank.

Israel maintains that the barrier contributed significantly to a decrease in the number of terrorist attacks [but there are objective statistics to back this], while Palestinians contend that the barrier is simply another Israeli land grab, imprisons them and imposes travel limitations.

The Pope's representative to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Archbishop Antonio Franco, has emphasized that Pope Benedict has no intention of making any political statements during his trip.

However, in places such as the Aida camp, the Pope will find it difficult to keep journalists and others from taking his remarks out from the spiritual realm and putting them into the political arena.

Israelis felt a great deal of affection toward Pope John Paul and viewed him as a friendly pope, citing his openness about childhood friendships with Jewish children, his many statements against anti-Semitism -- specifically his apology for historical Catholic persecution -- and his condemnations of the Holocaust.

Pope Benedict comes to Israel as a German pope, a member -- though unwilling -- of the Hitler Youth, and someone who lifted the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who denied the Holocaust.

While the Pope's statements to explain and apologize for the misstep may have calmed the apprehension of some Israeli political and religious leaders, the man on the street remembers the splashing headlines about the Pope welcoming the bishop back into the church's fold.

As did his predecessor, Pope Benedict will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, lay a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance and meet with Holocaust survivors.

Also like his predecessor, he will not tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum; this means he will not have to walk by a controversial placard in front of a picture of Pope Pius XII that questions the wartime pope's lack of actions to save Jewish lives.

The sign was put up as a part of the renovations of the museum in 2005 and was not an issue during Pope John Paul's visit to the Holy Land.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 7:33 AM

Posted by benefan:

Israel launching Web site
for papal visit

April 13, 2009

NEW YORK (JTA) -- The Israel Ministry of Tourism is launching a Web site dedicated to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel in May.

The site, www.holyland-pilgrimage.org will be launched Wednesday and be available in seven languages. It will feature background information, photographs and video footage related to Christian holy sites in Israel, as well as detailed information on the pope's itinerary and trip highlights.

Benedict is making his first visit to Israel. His May 8-15 trip also includes stops in Jordan and the Palestinian territories.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 7:45 AM

I replaced the original title given by the magazine to this article because I find it in bad taste.

Benedict at 82:
Four years as Pope
and counting

April 17, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI turned 82 on Thursday, and on Sunday he’ll mark the fourth anniversary of his election to the papacy -- in American argot, what we might call the end of his first term.

Media outlets have prepared analyses to mark the occasion, most of which collect predictable commentary from the usual suspects (my own sound-bites very much included.)

Here’s one striking wrinkle, however, by way of a “dog that didn’t bark” dynamic: Despite the fact that Benedict XVI is now 82 years old, there’s been virtually no drumbeat this week about papal succession.

By the time John Paul II turned 82 in May 2002, speculation about what might come next was very much in the air, fueled by the Pope’s visible decline.

The absence of talk about the papal horserace is probably the best measure of Benedict’s essentially robust health. The buzz in Rome is that we could be looking at another Leo XIII, who died in 1903 at the age of 93.

Of course, God alone knows what the future holds, but for now it’s full steam ahead. In fact, Benedict XVI is approaching what is likely to be not only a defining moment of his pontificate, but also one of the most important news stories of 2009, and not just on the religion beat: his May 8-15 trip to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories.

In the run-up, comparisons inevitably will be drawn with John Paul II’s dramatic March 2000 voyage to the Holy Land, when the Polish Pope, who grew up in the shadow of Auschwitz, stood at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and left behind a handwritten note apologizing for Christian anti-Semitism.

Benedict XVI’s visit may or may not feature a similar iconic image, but at the level of substance, there’s arguably even more at stake this time around. (This despite the fact that organizers have taken great pains to emphasize the trip is not “political,” and to frame it primarily as a spiritual pilgrimage for an 82-year-old Pontiff who will probably never have another chance to visit the land of the Bible.) [Even if it were, it is morbidly inappropriate, to say the least, to verbalize it this way! This is the line that was the original title for the column.]

The following are five storylines destined to run through the trip, illustrating why it’s worth getting a head start on pondering its prospects.

Catholic/Jewish relations

Ties between Catholicism and Judaism were badly frayed by the recent fiasco involving the lifting of the excommunications of four traditionalist Catholic bishops, including one who is a Holocaust-denier.

The Vatican has repeatedly insisted that the gesture did not signal a rollback in relations, but many Jews still have their doubts – especially because it came hard on the heels of a similar eruption in 2007, when Benedict XVI authorized wider celebration of the old Latin liturgy that includes a controversial Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews.

(The latest irritant on that front came just last week. The German chapter of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, to which the four reinstated bishops belong, insisted upon praying the classic version of the Good Friday prayer, which refers to the “blindness” of the Jews, and not the version issued by Benedict XVI in February 2008 that removed much of the contested language.)

Also lurking in the background are on-going disputes over the memory of Pius XII, the wartime Pope sometimes accused of “silence” during the Holocaust, as well as over the tax and juridical status of church properties in Israel.

The Vatican formally recognized Israel in 1993, with assurances that side agreements on these matters would follow. More than fifteen years later, the two sides have yet to nail down a deal.

More broadly, Catholic/Jewish relations today stand at a crossroads. The pioneers of dialogue on the Catholic side, many of whom felt a personal commitment to improving ties with Judaism because of their memories of the Holocaust, are passing from the scene.

Leadership in Catholicism is increasingly coming from Africa, Latin America and Asia, where Judaism is not generally a significant demographic presence.

Moreover, Catholics in the global south often don’t have the same sense of historical responsibility for the Holocaust as Europeans, which they tend to see in terms of Western, rather than Christian, guilt.

While these leaders recognize the Biblical roots of the Christian/Jewish relationship, they often don’t feel the same biographical commitment to it, nor do they have the same experience of regular interaction and personal friendships with Jews.

As a result, there’s a risk of drift in Catholic/Jewish dialogue, especially as other relationships – Islam above all – come to loom larger in the Catholic mind. Benedict XVI thus faces the challenge of laying an enduring foundation for the relationship, and of persuading Jews around the world that the Catholic church is serious about it.

At this level, probably the most-watched moment of the trip will come on May 11, when Benedict XVI visits the renowned Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. In what many will see as a reminder of the tensions that plague the relationship, the pope will not enter the museum at Yad Vashem, which contains a placard critical of Pius XII to which the Vatican has long objected.

Catholic/Muslim relations

When Benedict XVI lands in Jordan on May 8, it will be his first visit to an Arab nation and his first to a predominantly Muslim country since Turkey in late November/early December 2006.

As it turned out, the Turkey trip became a kiss-and-make-up exercise in the wake of the Pope’s famous September 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, which inflamed sentiment across the Muslim world because of its incendiary citation of a 14th century Byzantine emperor with some nasty things to say about Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

The iconic image from Turkey was Benedict XVI standing inside the Blue Mosque, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, for a moment of silent prayer in the direction of Mecca.

Because the Turkey trip was hijacked by damage control, Jordan offers Benedict his first real opportunity to lay out his vision of Catholic/Muslim relations while on Islamic turf. [How could it have been 'hijacked by damage control' when it turned out to be such a great triumph even with the Turkish media????]

That vision goes under the heading of “inter-cultural dialogue,” and it boils down to this: Benedict XVI believes the real clash of civilizations in the world today runs not between Islam and the West, but between belief and unbelief. In that struggle, he believes Christians and Muslims should be natural allies.

As a result, he has deemphasized the fine points of theological exchange – how Christians and Muslims each understand atonement, for example, or scripture.

Instead, his priority is a grand partnership with Muslims in defense of a robust role for religion in public affairs, as well as shared values such as the family and the sanctity of life. (Among other things, that means joint efforts against abortion and gay marriage.)

The price of admission to that partnership, Benedict believes, is for Islam to denounce violence and to accept the legitimacy of religious freedom.

In that sense, he sees himself as a friend of Islam, promoting reform from within a shared space of religious and moral commitment. To date, however, he has not found an argot for making that pitch successfully to the Muslim “street.”

The Jordan leg of the trip may well be the Pope’s best opportunity to get it right, especially because Jordanian Muslims have tried hard to meet the Pope halfway, seeing themselves as natural leaders of Islam’s moderate majority.

In the wake of the Regensburg contretemps, it was Jordan’s Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought that took the lead in organizing Islamic scholars to respond and to foster new Muslim/Catholic dialogue. If Benedict can’t connect here, it’s an open question what chance he stands anywhere else.

[Now why would Allen even raise the question of whether the Pope 'can connect here'? King Abdullah of Jordan was one of the first Muslim leaders ever to visit him as Pope, followed by a separate visit the next year by his Queen.

His cousin Prince Talal is the primary mover behind A COMMON WORD and the Royal Institute of Islamic Thought. Both are young men below 50 who were highly educated in England and the United States. Benedict is probably as conversant about Islam on a farily sophisticated level than more than the rest of the Church hierarchy. He'd have to be extremely insensitive - or the Jordanian royals extremely unfriendly, which they are not - for them not to connect.]

Certainly the Pope’s schedule reflects a desire to reach out. On May 9, he’ll meet with a delegation of Muslim leaders at the Al-Hussein bin-Talal Mosque, the largest mosque in Jordan.

On May 11 he addresses an inter-religious assembly in Jerusalem that will include Muslims, and the next day he will become the first Pope ever to visit the Dome of the Rock, the oldest extant Islamic building in the world, believed by Muslims to mark the spot from which Muhammad ascended to Heaven alongside the angel Gabriel.

Indeed, the very fact that Benedict XVI has elected to spend three full days in Jordan before moving on to Israel has been presented as a sign of his interest in deepening ties with Muslims, and with the Arab world. In 2000, John Paul II devoted only 24 hours of his seven-day itinerary to Jordan.

Exodus of Christians from the Holy Land

Though Europe may be the cradle of Christendom, the Holy Land is where it all began. At a psychological and spiritual level, it’s impossible to overstate the significance of holy places such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth for the Christian imagination.

Moreover, the presence of Christian communities in those locations creates a natural bridge among the three great monotheistic religions. Especially for Christian/Muslim relations, having a group of Christians who speak Arabic and who know the situation on the ground is invaluable.

Those realities make the present “exodus” of Christians out of the Holy Land a source of deep angst for the Pope and other Christian leaders.

The numbers are stark: In 1948, at the time of the partition, Christians amounted to 15-20 percent of the population in what was to become Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Today, the Christians are estimated at less than 2 percent. There are more Palestinian Christians living in émigré communities in Europe, Canada, the United States and Australia than in Palestine itself.

Like everything else in the Middle East, who’s responsible for this exodus is a matter of debate. Palestinians tend to blame the Israeli occupation, while Israelis and American conservatives often fault a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.

Others say the plain fact is that given the political and economic paralysis of the region, anybody who has a chance is likely to at least consider fleeing, and Palestinian Christians often have access to overseas networks of support that make it easier to relocate.

Whatever the case, a growing number of analysts warn ominously that Christianity faces the prospect of “extinction” in the land of its birth.

It’s not clear how much Benedict XVI, or any Christian leader, can do to arrest this trend. Local Jews and Muslims both have clear demographic strategies for bolstering their presence: Israel encourages aliyah, meaning Jewish immigration to the country, while Yasser Arafat once famously said that his most potent weapon is “the womb of the Arab woman.”

There’s no similar push for Christians to beef up their numbers, suggesting that at least in the short run, the decline may be irreversible.

What Benedict XVI may be able to accomplish, however, is to galvanize Christians around the world to support the struggling Christian communities of the Holy Land financially, politically, and spiritually. Concretely, he could encourage pilgrimage to the Holy Land as an act of Christian solidarity.

Benedict’s stop in Jordan should also afford him the opportunity to address another group of embattled Christians, from another Middle Eastern hot spot: Iraqi Christians, tens of thousands of whom have taken refuge in the country.

(Some estimates put the number of Iraqi refugees currently in Jordan as high as one million, representing 18 percent of the overall population. Christians are over-represented among the refugees, which ironically makes Jordan the one country in the Arab world where the Christian share of the population has actually gone up.)

A logical moment for the Pope to meet Iraqis, and to address Iraq’s future, may come on May 10, when he’s scheduled to bless the first stone of a new Catholic church at Bethany beyond the Jordan (known in Arabic as Wadi al Kharran), which Christian tradition regards as the site where Jesus was baptized by John.

The Wadi al Kharran stop will also be significant for a different reason: officials in Jordan want it to become a new “capital” of Christian-Muslim dialogue. [Prince Talal, who sponsored the building of the new church in Bethany, will also be the Pope's guide on this important stop.]

The Vatican and the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

Catholicism is unique among world religions in that it has its own diplomatic corps, and aspires to act as a voice of conscience in global affairs.

Beyond that humanitarian logic for engaging in the peace process, the Vatican also feels a direct stake in the outcome, seeing it as key to preserving what’s left of the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

Benedict will have a chance to see the human face of the conflict up close, visiting a Caritas-operated hospital for infants on May 13, as well as the fifty-year-old Aida Camp, with a population of more than 3,000 long-term refugees.

On that level, perhaps the key difference between the visits of John Paul II and Benedict XVI is that back in the spring of 2000, the prospects for peace seemed far brighter.

When John Paul touched down in March, preparations were already underway for the Camp David Summit in July, when Arafat and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack walked up to the brink of a deal.

Benedict, meanwhile, arrives on the other side of Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza, as well as the election of a new government in Israel whose foreign minister has cast doubt on the very idea of a two-state solution.

Further complicating Benedict’s peace-making effort is the Vatican’s reputation among many Israelis as less than a fair broker. Officially, the Holy See is even-handed: it supports the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to sovereignty and security, and calls for an “internationally guaranteed special status” for the holy places that does not prejudice the question of whether Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel, a Palestinian state, or both.

In reality, however, the Vatican has long been sort of a mirror image of American Evangelicals: A Christian force in the West that, for reasons both theological and political, takes a keen interest in the Middle East, only in this case tending to favor the Palestinians rather than the Israelis.

(One small but telling symbol of where the Vatican’s heart lies is that an ivory set of the Stations of the Cross, which currently adorn the chapel of the Synod Hall, were a gift to John Paul II from Arafat.)

[What then? Benedict should replace the Stations - placed there by his predecessor - just to show the Vatican does not take sides? Sometimes, fairly trivial things are analyzed needlessly and over-read!]

This pro-Palestinian tilt is informed by a variety of factors, but probably none so decisive as the simple fact that the Christians on the ground, from whom the Vatican often takes its cues, are mostly Palestinians. If Christianity is to have a future in the Holy Land, its center of gravity will inevitably be in a Palestinian state.

{I have to check it out, but I saw a recent article which states a surprising number of Israeli Christians, much larger than the estimate of Palestinian Christians!]

Perceptions of pro-Palestinian bias have long been a sore point in Vatican/Israeli relations, most recently when a senior Vatican official compared the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip to a “giant concentration camp.”

That was hardly unprecedented: In the spring of 2002, Israel repeatedly protested L’Osservatore Romano’s insistence on referring to a standoff at the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem as an Israeli “siege,” even though it began when Palestinian gunmen stormed the church.

[I am starting to be quite skeptical of the OR's objectivity, even under Vian - it becomes more questionable the closer one follows what they report day to day and how they report it. They do what the Western MSM do - more often than not, their writers insert their personal biases into their news reports on secular events and in their headlines. It is a disservice to the Pope because it gives the impression that he sanctions such biases!]

In July 2005, when Israel complained that Benedict XVI had not included an Israeli town on a list of places hit by recent terror attacks, a Vatican spokesperson testily replied that the Pope was reluctant to denounce such attacks for fear of legitimizing disproportionate military responses from Israel that violate international law.

Just in the last few days, Israelis objected that the Vatican has chosen to participate in the U.N.’s “World Conference Against Racism” in Geneva April 20-24, rather than joining the United States, Canada, Italy, and other nations in distancing themselves from the event (also known as the “Durban Review Conference”) on the grounds that it equates Zionism with racism, and singles out Israel for blame.

If the Catholic Church wishes to serve as a catalyst for peace, its leadership obviously must convince both Israelis and Palestinians of their impartiality. Benedict thus has to walk a tightrope:

Reassuring Israelis that he’s sympathetic to them, despite the history sketched above, while not creating alarm among Palestinians that the Vatican is abandoning their cause.

The Vatican, American Catholics, and Obama

This week’s big Vatican story was its denial of reports circulated in the Italian and American press that several Obama nominees as ambassador to the Holy See have been rejected, including Caroline Kennedy, on the basis of their pro-choice politics.

One senior Vatican diplomat testily told me on Monday that these reports are “all lies,” fueled by a penchant among some Italian journalists for penning romanzi, meaning novels, rather than facts.

This attempt to downplay conflict with the White House is symptomatic of a clear difference in tone between the Vatican and conservative Catholic circles in the States vis-à-vis Obama.

While the Vatican yields pride of place to no one in its pro-life commitment, it also has other interests where it senses the potential for a meeting of minds with the new American administration, including poverty relief, multilateralism in foreign policy, arms control and conflict resolution.

In particular, the Vatican likes what it’s heard so far from the Obama team on the Israeli/Palestinian problem. Another senior Vatican diplomat told me this week that the Holy See has been “encouraged” by Obama’s reiteration of support for a two-state solution, and by his desire to reach out to Iran.

(Given that Iran is a major backer of Hamas, the Vatican, like many international observers, believes the Iranians must be part of a resolution.)

Benedict’s trip to the Holy Land thus represents the first opportunity to “road test” the prospects for collaboration between the United States and the Vatican with regard to a critical shared objective – peace in the Middle East.

That’s an especially live prospect given the likelihood that Benedict and Obama will meet in person shortly afterwards, on the occasion of the G-8 summit in Italy in July.

This storyline may be particularly beguiling in view of a notable coincidence: Benedict’s trip to the Holy Land wraps up on May 15, just two days before Obama’s much-ballyhooed May 17 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame.

Jordanian and Israeli websites
on the Pope's visit now open

As previously announced, the national tourism offices of both Jordan and Israel have each opened a website for teh papal visit. So far, both have background ionformation - much more on the Jordanian site (including a lookback at John paul II's visit in 2000), which is also better-designed.



Meanwhile, the Israeli post office has issued its commemorative stamps for the visit.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 7:50 AM

The story on Vatican participation in the Geneva conference of the United Nations following through on the 2001 Durban conference against racism, discrimination and intolerance, has now taken a journalistic life of its own. So I have decided to take out the following developments from the P.S. that I had made of them originally to my 4/19 post about the Geneva conference, as follows:

The first negative reaction I have come across today to the Vatican decision to take part in the Geneva conference on racism
comes from Damian Thompson:

Why is Pope Benedict supporting
the UN's 'anti-racist' hatefest
against Israel?

Posted on Apr 19, 2009

I don't often have a go at Pope Benedict XVI, but WHY is he supporting the United Nations conference on "racism" in Geneva? You know, the one where leading anti-racist (and Holocaust denier) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a major participant.

The one convened by that celebrant of human rights, Libya.

The one where speaker after speaker is lined up to gibber about the most evil racist regime the world has ever known, ie the Zionist entity.

I've been reading the preparatory documents for this ridiculous event, known as Durban II, and I can see why the Obama administration, together with PC Australia and Canada, is boycotting it. Even the BBC is having doubts about it, which is saying something....

There's more on


I think Thompson is referring to the declaration passed in Durban, not to the edited declaration which is the basis for the discussions at the Geneva Conference.

As I tried to rationalize in my own comments after the Pope's statements yesterday, the Vatican is simply being 'Christian' in trying to see good faith in every apparently well-meaning initiative like many questionable ones that the UN and its agencies have been taking in the past decade.

It doesn't thereby indicate its support of what is being done - but being an observer within the conference enables it to state its position officially within the UN as it did in the declaration about homophobia.

The news this morning (4/20) is that the UK and several other European delegations walked out of the Geneva conference when Iran's openly anti-Israel President Ahmadinejad addressed the conference and called Israel 'racist'.

I have not seen whether the Vatican delegation also walked out.

P.S. It did not. Here is a compendium of reports translated from


Vatican delegation opts
to stay after Ahmadinejad's speech
but calls his statements
on Israel 'extremist and unacceptable'

The Holy See, through its press director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said tonight that Iran President Ahmadinejad's statements about Israel and racism were "extremist and unacceptable'.

But the Vatican delegation did not join the walkout by many European nations led by France and the United Kingdom.

Mons. Silvano Tomaso, the Vatican's permanent observer to the UN in Geneva, said "Ahmadinejad used extremist expressions with which one cannot agree, but at the same time, in any debate which takes place in an international context, there are at times radical opinions one cannot share but one must listen to them, because this is the environment and the nature of the United Nations - to be the forum in which everyone can express himself".

Further, he said, "The point pursued by the Iranian President was the racism of the state of Israel against the Palestinians, but he did not say anything against the Holocaust, he did not deny this historical phenomenon, he did not mention teh destruction of Israel nor the elimination of this state. For this reason, we decided along with other European nations, all the nations of Latin America, Asia and Africa, to stay in the hall to affirm the right to free expression which is part of the battle we are fighting to change the wording of the final document against racism after the Durban Declaration."

I wish Mons. Tomasi had qualified Ahmadinejad's charge against Israel's 'racism' against the Palestinians as 'alleged' racism, because without the qualification, he is implying he agrees that Israel is 'racist' against the Palestinians.

The Israeli-Palestinian issue is not about race per se, and never has been. It's about territorial rights claimed over the same territory by two peoples who each believe they have historical reasons to claim the territory for their own.

Here is Fr. Lombardi's full statement:

The conference in itself is an important occasion to promote the battle against racism and intolerance. It is with this intention that the Holy See is taking part, wishing to support the efforts of international institutions to make progress in this direction.

The great majority of the nations of the world are taking part, and the revised Durban declaration approved last Friday is now acceptable,

Obviously, statements like those made by the Iranian President are in the wrong direction, because even if he did not deny the Holocaust or Israel's right to exist
[not in Geneva today, that is], he used extremist and unacceptable expressions.

For more reason it is important to continue affirming clearly respect for the dignity of the human being against every form of racism and intolerance.

And, as I had feared when I posted the Pope's statements about the Geneva conference at Sunday's Regina Caeli, Rome's hyper-ventilating, ueber-touchy Chief Rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, did promptly come out with an accusation against the Pope for those statements, indicating by his words that he has not done his homework at all about the declaration that the Geneva conference is working on.

I am starting to think Di Segni has discovered, like many entertainers, that bashing the Pope is a surefire way to earn headlines. God forgive me, but I have really taken an active dislike for this combative man, always so ready to find fault with Christians. I find every word he says truly hateful.

'The nth careless initiative by the Pope':
Di Segni calls Pope's statements
disturbing and contradictory

ROME, April 19 (Translated from Apcom) - The Chief Rabbi of Rome does not mince words in an interview with La Stampa to denounce the Vatican decision to take part in the UN's Geneva conference on racism, referred to as Durban-2.

"It's a signal difficult to understand, the nth careless initiative of this Pope," Di Segni said, "to add to the list of his previous backsliding in relationships with Judaism: from revoking the excommunication of the negationist Williamson to the beatification of Pius XII to the Hood Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews".

He claims that "the reality of Durban is in profound contradiction with the announced and praiseworthy anti-xenophobic intentions of the Pope" and that it is 'particularly serious that this disturbing and contradictory intervention of Benedict XVI comes on the eve of his visit to the Holy Land".

He adds: "After this ill-advised intervention, the scenario will be a wave of international indignation, followed by a 'route correction' by the Vatican. But in the meantime, the damage is done because the Vatican has re-legitimized Durban-2, in effect, rendering the boycott of many nations like the USA and Italy [and Israel, he forgets to mention!] in vain."

Mons. Tomasi explains the declaration
on the table in Geneva

reports an interview Mons. Tomasi gave to Vatican Radio [available only as an audio service) before Ahmadinejad's speech. It is the sort of information Rabbi Di Segni should have informed himself about before indulging in his usual rant.

"The Holy See is not tied to any political position, it simply goes to the heart of a problem, which in this case is a human problem of great importance," said Mons. Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, in an interview with Vatican Radio.

The dignity of every person should be valued and respected. It cannot be accepted that there are categories of persons who are considered inferior or less 'valuable' because of race or ethnic identity or religious affiliation.

It is important that all persons are protected and respected without distinction. This is the basic reason that the Holy See is taking part in this conference, as the Holy Father said yesterday at the Regina Caeli.

We are acting accordingly, to do our part in ameliorating the situation, through dialog not through aggressive methods. We are looking at the substance of the conference, which is considering new forms of racism that have emerged, as for example discriminating against migrants, against indigenous communities. against economically marginalized groups.

There is therefore a need for the international community to renew a common effort against racism in all its forms.

The point of departure is that this is an ethical question regarding respect for human dignity, that all men are children of God, of equal value.

In view of this need, it seems to us that the presence of the Holy See in the negotiations and in the Conference itself is necessary, in the hope of paving the way for the international community to find new ways to fight discrimination.

Of course, the absence of some countries is disquieting, in the sense that it is hard to understand since the draft document for this Conference has already eliminated the points which raised objections from many countries.

This document, which will be the basis for the final declaration of the conference, reaffirms that every form of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Christianophobia must be fought.

There is explicit mention of the Holocaust, that it should never be forgotten, and there is a reformulation expressing the right to freedom of expression which is very clear, saying that this right should be supported and maintained.

Mons. Tomasi concluded: "The Conference started quite peaceably. the UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, departed the absence of the boycotting nations, citing President Franklin Roosevelt who once said that it is better to be in the arena, fighting, than to be absent."

00Friday, May 8, 2009 7:52 AM

Here's a belated post that would be outrageous, except it comes from one of the most extremist Islamist groups and is therefore not surprising. But should we be worried - more than usual, that is - for the Pope's security?

Jordan Islamists call for Pope Benedict
to postpone Mideast trip, and demand
an apology for statements on Islam!

AMMAN, April 19 (dpa) - Jordan's influential Muslim Brotherhood movement on Sunday urged Pope Benedict XVI to postpone his planned Middle East visit next month and to apologize for statements that the group considers "injurious" to Islam.

"We hope that the Vatican will take a decision to postpone the visit until certain issues are cleared," Muslim Brotherhood official spokesman Jamil Abu Bakr said in a statement. [He actually held a news conference for this purpose, and the news agencies have released photos.]

"The Pope's visit to the region should reflect collaboration of Muslims and Christians throughout history, but sticking to provocative attitudes will not serve this message."

The head of the Roman Catholic Church is due to arrive May 8 in Jordan for a four-day visit to be followed by stops in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Abu Bakr urged the Pontiff to "apologize to Muslims for his remarks against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad."

"Ignoring Muslims' sentiments by Pope Benedict XVI will only block the healing of wounds his statements caused," he said without specifying the statements made previously by the Pope against Muslims.

During a 2006 lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany, where he once taught theology, Benedict quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, one of the last Christian rulers before the fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Empire: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The quote sparked an uproar in the Muslim world, and Benedict later apologized for giving any offense in a historical lecture that he said was meant to encourage mutually respectful dialogue with Muslims. He emphasized that the offensive words were not his own.

Abu Bakr expressed Islamists' objection to the pope's scheduled visit to the Holocaust memorial in Israel, saying the visit "will take place only a short time after the Zionist entity killed hundreds of Palestinian children, women and old men in the Gaza Strip. We ask if the Pope of the Vatican will visit Gaza to explore how humanity is being violated, or this does not deserve his visit?"

An estimated 1,300 Palestinians died during a 22-day conflict in December and January between Israel and the Palestinian militant movement Hamas, which rule Gaza.

During his trip to Jordan, Benedict is scheduled to visit a mosque in Amman and meet with a number of prominent Muslim scholars.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 7:54 AM

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

00Friday, May 8, 2009 8:00 AM

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!.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 8:02 AM

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.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 8:07 AM

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.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 8:10 AM

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.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 8:54 AM

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.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 9:09 AM

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.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 9:12 AM

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.

00Friday, May 8, 2009 9:14 AM

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."

00Friday, May 8, 2009 9:35 AM

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 (Zenit.org).- 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."

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