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Benedetto XVI Forum Luogo d'incontro di tutti quelli che amano il Santo Padre.


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    00 5/3/2009 6:00 PM

    Earlier posts today on preceding page:
    May 3 'almanac' - Saints of the day, capsule view of 5/2.05/3/09 issue of L'Osservatore Romano

    Pope ordains 19 new priests at St. Peter's Basilica - Photos and full translation of the homily.

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

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

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

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

    Here is what he said in English after the prayers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Dear brothers and sisters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/4/2009 12:15 AM]
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    Remember the online petitions in support of the Pope soon after the Williamson brouhaha in the media? A picture posted by Flo in the PRF and a link she provided led me to the story below, translated from

    Then, going to the sites of the 'movers', I was able to get a few more pictures from their Facebook entries.

    As announced on February 25 on the site,
    Pope Benedict personally received on April 22, after the General Audience, all the messages collected in three months by
    benoîtjaiconfiancenetoi, soutienàbenoitXVI, tHEe Confédération des Associations Familiales Catholiques, and tHE 30 Facebook groups that came together for the April 19 Benoithon.

    The book presented to the Pope contained more than 120,000 messages of affection, support and loyalty for the him in the face of the violent media campaign against him in particular and the Church in general after he lifted the ecommunication of the four bishops of the FSSPX.

    At the initiative of Frigide Barjot (a comedian who started the initiative Touche pas a mon Pape) and Antoine Picard d’Estelan (representing Transept, a collective of various Catholic lay organizations in Paris, numerous messages, photos and commentaries, along with the lists of signatories, were put together into a 'golden book' handed to the Pope, thanks to the facilitation of one of the members of benoîtjaiconfiancenetoi, Pierre-Marie de Berny, president of the association Unitas.

    "What wonderful news!", the Pope exclaimed, visibly enthused about the mobilization. He was accompanied by the Bishop of Toulon-Frejus, and spent some time greeting the various French communities and parishes who attended this General Audience.

    They responded to him with chanting, “Saint-Père, la France vous aime!” and “Benoît, Benoît, on a confiance en toi!”

    The following pictures are from the Benoithon venue in front of Notre Dame de Paris on April 19:

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/4/2009 4:51 AM]
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    Misrepresentations of
    the thought of Benedict XVI:
    When the Pope is 'inconvenient'

    by Giandomenico Mucci
    Translated from

    as published in the 5/2/-5/3/09 issue of

    Editor's Note: We preview excerpts from an article in the current issue of La Civilta Cattolica.

    Catholics know well that there exists in Italy and in Europe, an a priori hostility against the doctrine of the Church, especially in the field of ethics.

    The press, which is an expression of certain powers and powerful interests, is the optimal propagator of this hostility.

    This negative prejudice can be attenuated or blocked by those social and pastoral choices which, though always guided by Christian doctrine, can be shared on the practical level by the 'secular' front.

    For obvious reasons, the a priori hostility is directed against the Pope, who represents and proposes the doctrine of the Church with the maximum authority.

    What is constantly exercised against him is hypercriticality, irritation, uneasiness with respect to his magisterium and to his person.

    As a Cardinal, they called him John Paul II's Rottweiler, the inflexible and cold controller over doctrine, this man whom all those who have known him for years esteem as "a man of great kindness, of profound spiritual intensity, of great intellectual curiosity, and above all, of supreme internal tranquillity", as the late Richard John Neuhaus wrote once in Il Foglio.

    The media campaign to discredit the Pope is fueled by the most outlandish interpretations of pontifical discourses. Most of these are viewed through a prism of preconceptions.

    We would like to show the reader the cultural direction [the word used for direction is regia, i.e., as in a movie or play] which makes that campaign a part of the much larger campaign tending to discredit the Catholic Church on the universal level.

    Does this tendency provoke a loss of consensus in the Church? Renato Mannheimer said that the facts behind last year's La Sapienza episode brought the Pope's popularity to greater than 90 percent - that is, well beyond the threshold that pollsters usually consider as maximum for public personalities.

    Certainly, the Pope does not advocate the anthropology of Claude Levi-Strauss. What he offers is an ethical project aimed at the formation of a person in his totality, a cultural and spiritual project which is firm and clear in its inspiratory doctrine but indulgent towards individual failings.

    People sense in his words an awareness of daily common experiences dominated by the slavery of drugs, violence towards the weak, hidden and rejected lives, the weakening of the sense of humanity and solidarity.

    It has been noted that among those who seek to discredit the Pope are some who were once distinguished for having been in cultural connivance with totalitarian regimes [i.e., liberal ex-Marxists and socialists], who today accuse the Church of cultural totalitarianism because. with its defense of human rights and its pro-active witness in favor of the defenseless and the poor of the world, it has acquired a singular authoritativeness.

    The very same pundits often call on the Church to contribute to forming good citizens, and then accuse her, inconsistently, of violating the secularity of the State or of coercing the consciences of the faithful when she speaks of life, the family, and illness.

    There is no lack of illustrious scholars who, on particular occasions, have called attention to the communicative capacity of the Pope not only through words but also through certain symbolic actions.

    But generally, the Magisterium of Benedict XVI is read as an attempt by an interlocutor who is always on the defensive - and worse, on the side of pessimism - in relation to the prevailing relativism and nihilism in Western culture.

    This attitude, in which political interests are not extraneous, gives rise to the systematic hostility against the Pope who is made out to be incapable of dialog with society, someone who alienates the faithful towards whom he shows no mercy, and who silences lay Catholics with his dogmatism.

    Every honest and free observer will see through this gross distortion.

    The Italian press tends to purvey an image of the Pope that is almost always hypercritical, almost like a consolidated verdict. But there is no lack of voices, either, who do not think that Benedict XVI is an inconvenient Pope!

    Guido Guastalla, for example, cultural adviser to the Jewish community of Livorno, expresses esteem and admiration for the Pope. [Strange that the author should mention Guastalla and not Giorgio Israel - nor Marcello Pera, Giuliano Ferrara, or Enresto Galli delle Loggia, for that matter.]

    A very positive evaluation on how the Pope is carrying out his function comes from two English historians. Michael Burleigh, who taught at Oxford, Harvard and the London School of Economics, contrast the teaching of Benedict XVI with "the banality of a discredited multiculturalism that exists only in universities of the left [Aren't most Western universities that these days?] and in some local governments, none of whom are in the avant-garde of European thinking". [Some local governments? What about all the rabidly anti-Church bureaucrats and politicians who hold the true levers of power in the European Union??? They may be in the rearguard of European thinking, but they pass the laws and resolutions that affect European life and culture here and now, and possibly in generations to come!!!!]

    They note: "In the place of religion, the liberal elite prefer the incessant recital, like a mantra, of some buzz words like 'diversity', 'human rights' and 'tolerance' almost as if they had invented them, and unaware or ignorant of how much those words go back in fact to a more profound Christian culture. A culture based on ideas and structures in which we are so immersed that we can hardly recognize them."

    According to Paul Johnson, who was editor of the weekly New Statesman, the overwhelming majority of mankind recognizes in religion its function as a vital dimension in the existence of men.

    And the Pope is committed to sustain the contact of reason with the transcendent. But "all the forces of modern society are against him".

    But not Andre Gluckmann, who has not hesitated to declare himself in favor of the Pope whose opposition to any form of post-modern relativism he shares.

    These authors represent different cultural circles, but they have in common a recognition that the secular neo-Enlightenment movement is exhausted and the conviction that there cannot exist a conflict between religion and science, between the activity of reason and openness to transcendence.

    That is why they do not see the Pope as an inconvenient man but rather, the herald of a new humanism.

    In Italy, the secular front has certainly radicalized its opposition to the Church. They like to describe the Church and Catholicism as being in difficulty. To some, this strategy might appear revelatory of more than just ancient acrimony, but of a secret nervousness, almost a case of adolescent psychology, when the son is unable to detach himself from his parents and can only affirm his personality by continuing to talk about them.

    Moreover, the secularists never mention those activities - like subsidiarity and the social services that would would never have existed if they had not been nourished by the doctrine of the institutional church - which are embodied in the Catholic laity.

    The Magisterium of Benedict XVI reflects limpidly that of Vatican II, apart from some statements that need to be contextualized, and shows a fundamental concern about the developments in that culture to which his opponents have entrusted themselves.

    The Pope - as he clarified on December 8, 2005, in his homily at the Mass to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican-II - looks at contemporary man as someone who, being heir to a secular history, "harbors the suspicion that God will take something away from his life, that God is a rival who would limit our freedom, and that we shall be fully human only when we will have set him aside... Man does not wish to count on a love which does not seem reliable to him - he will rely only on knowledge insofar as it gives him power... with which he wishes to autonomously take charge of his own life".

    "There are some," the Pope said in his address to the plenary session of the Pontifical Biblical Commission on April 27, 2006 - who have come to theorize the absolute sovereignty of reason and freedom in the field of moral standards: such norms would constitute the field of an ethic that is solely 'human' - that is, it would be the expression of a law which man gives to himself. The advocates of such 'secular morality' affirm that man, as a rational being, not only can, but indeed must, freely decide the value of his own behavior".

    The Pope's concern extends from the cultural to the pastoral field: "Secularization," the Holy Father underscored to the plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Culture in March 2008, "is not just an external threat to believers, but has manifested itself for some time in the very bosom of the Church. It perverts Christian faith from the inside and profoundly - and consequently, the lifestyle and daily actions of believers. They live in the world and are often marked, if not conditioned, by the culture of images which imposes contradictory models and impulses, in the practical negation of God - that there is no more need for God, to think of him or to return to him. Moreover, the predominant hedonistic and consumeristic mentality favors, among the faithful as with their pastors, a drift towards superficiality and selfishness which harms ecclesial life... There is the risk of falling into spiritual atrophy and a void in the heart".

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/4/2009 4:49 AM]
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    May 4
    Blessed Michael Giedroyc (+1485, Cracow)
    Augustinian hermit

    No OR today.


    The Holy Father met today with

    - Cardinal William Joseph Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

    - Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka, emeritus President of the Pontifical Commission for the State of Vatican City
    and of its Governatorate

    - Bishops of Peru (Group 2) on ad-limina visit.

    - Participants in the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, Address in English.

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/4/2009 6:54 PM]
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    Vatican plays down differences
    on the eve of Pope's Israel trip

    by Steven Gutkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Vatican denies rumors
    of Baghdad visit by the Pope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/5/2009 12:14 AM]
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    On natural law, human rights,
    and the Church's social doctrine

    The Holy Father Monday received participants in the current plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences at the Consistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace.

    The session is meeting May 1-5 on the theme "Catholic social doctrine and human rights". After a greeting from Mary Ann Glendon, President of the Academy, the Holy Father delivered the following address in English:

    Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
    Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

    As you gather for the fifteenth Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, I am pleased to have this occasion to meet with you and to express my encouragement for your mission of expounding and furthering the Church’s social doctrine in the areas of law, economy, politics and the various other social sciences.

    Thanking Professor Mary Ann Glendon for her cordial words of greeting, I assure you of my prayers that the fruit of your deliberations will continue to attest to the enduring pertinence of Catholic social teaching in a rapidly changing world.

    After studying work, democracy, globalisation, solidarity and subsidiarity in relation to the social teaching of the Church, your Academy has chosen to return to the central question of the dignity of the human person and human rights, a point of encounter between the doctrine of the Church and contemporary society.

    The world’s great religions and philosophies have illuminated some aspects of these human rights, which are concisely expressed in "the golden rule" found in the Gospel: "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Lk 6:31; cf. Mt 7:12).

    The Church has always affirmed that fundamental rights, above and beyond the different ways in which they are formulated and the different degrees of importance they may have in various cultural contexts, are to be upheld and accorded universal recognition because they are inherent in the very nature of man, who is created in the image and likeness of God.

    If all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, then they share a common nature that binds them together and calls for universal respect.

    The Church, assimilating the teaching of Christ, considers the person as "the worthiest of nature" (St. Thomas Aquinas, De potentia, 9, 3) and has taught that the ethical and political order that governs relationships between persons finds its origin in the very structure of man’s being.

    The discovery of America and the ensuing anthropological debate in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe led to a heightened awareness of human rights as such and of their universality (ius gentium).

    The modern period helped shape the idea that the message of Christ – because it proclaims that God loves every man and woman and that every human being is called to love God freely – demonstrates that everyone, independently of his or her social and cultural condition, by nature deserves freedom. At the same time, we must always remember that "freedom itself needs to be set free. It is Christ who sets it free" (Veritatis Splendor, 86).

    In the middle of the last century, after the vast suffering caused by two terrible world wars and the unspeakable crimes perpetrated by totalitarian ideologies, the international community acquired a new system of international law based on human rights.

    In this, it appears to have acted in conformity with the message that my predecessor Benedict XV proclaimed when he called on the belligerents of the First World War to "transform the material force of arms into the moral force of law" ("Note to the Heads of the Belligerent Peoples", 1 August 1917).

    Human rights became the reference point of a shared universal ethos – at least at the level of aspiration – for most of humankind. These rights have been ratified by almost every State in the world. The Second Vatican Council, in the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae, as well as my predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II, forcefully referred to the right to life and the right to freedom of conscience and religion as being at the centre of those rights that spring from human nature itself.

    Strictly speaking, these human rights are not truths of faith, even though they are discoverable – and indeed come to full light – in the message of Christ who "reveals man to man himself" (Gaudium et Spes, 22). They receive further confirmation from faith.

    Yet it stands to reason that, living and acting in the physical world as spiritual beings, men and women ascertain the pervading presence of a logos which enables them to distinguish not only between true and false, but also good and evil, better and worse, and justice and injustice.

    This ability to discern – this radical agency – renders every person capable of grasping the "natural law", which is nothing other than a participation in the eternal law: "unde…lex naturalis nihil aliud est quam participatio legis aeternae in rationali creatura" (St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II, 91, 2).

    The natural law is a universal guide recognizable to everyone, on the basis of which all people can reciprocally understand and love each other. Human rights, therefore, are ultimately rooted in a participation of God, who has created each human person with intelligence and freedom. If this solid ethical and political basis is ignored, human rights remain fragile since they are deprived of their sound foundation.

    The Church’s action in promoting human rights is therefore supported by rational reflection, in such a way that these rights can be presented to all people of good will, independently of any religious affiliation they may have.

    Nevertheless, as I have observed in my Encyclicals, on the one hand, human reason must undergo constant purification by faith, insofar as it is always in danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by disordered passions and sin; and, on the other hand, insofar as human rights need to be re-appropriated by every generation and by each individual, and insofar as human freedom – which proceeds by a succession of free choices – is always fragile, the human person needs the unconditional hope and love that can only be found in God and that lead to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 18, and Spe Salvi, 24).

    This perspective draws attention to some of the most critical social problems of recent decades, such as the growing awareness – which has in part arisen with globalisation and the present economic crisis – of a flagrant contrast between the equal attribution of rights and the unequal access to the means of attaining those rights.

    For Christians who regularly ask God to "give us this day our daily bread", it is a shameful tragedy that one-fifth of humanity still goes hungry. Assuring an adequate food supply, like the protection of vital resources such as water and energy, requires all international leaders to collaborate in showing a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the natural law and promoting solidarity and subsidiarity with the weakest regions and peoples of the planet as the most effective strategy for eliminating social inequalities between countries and societies and for increasing global security.

    Dear friends, dear Academicians, in exhorting you in your research and deliberations to be credible and consistent witnesses to the defence and promotion of these non-negotiable human rights which are founded in divine law, I most willingly impart to you my Apostolic Blessing

    Very rarely, we are provided with the text of the words addressed to the Holy Father by the ranking member of any group that has a private audience with him, and ZENIT has done this service for Prof. Glendon's opening address on this occasion:

    'Academy focus has always been
    the dignity of the human being'

    President, Ponitifical Academy of Social Sciences

    Holy Father,

    Your Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences comes before you this morning with immense gratitude for the encouragement you have given us, as we strive to be ever more useful to the Church in the development of her social teachings.

    Over the years, no matter what aspect of economics, law, sociology or political sciences claimed our attention, there has been one central theme, one golden thread that has stitched all our work together. Our central focus has always been on the dignity of the human person and the common good.

    This week, Your Holiness, our Plenary Session has been entirely devoted to the way that theme has found expression in the concept of universal human rights.

    In so doing, we have been mindful of the Church's long engagement with human rights, of her own decisive contributions to the dignitarian vision of rights embodied in so many human rights instruments, including a Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and of the Holy See as a fearless champion of that vision in international settings.

    That engagement has been characterized by a prudent recognition that the modern human rights project, like all human enterprises, constantly needs to be called to what is highest and best in its aspirations.

    We have also been mindful of the fact that in today's world, ironically, many threats to the dignity of the person have appeared in the guise of human rights.

    As you pointed out in your memorable speech to the United Nations last year, there are mounting pressures to "move away from the protection of human dignity towards the satisfaction of simple interests, often particular interests."

    Accordingly in these days, with the help of experts in all the social sciences, we have reviewed the long reciprocal relationship between Christianity and human rights ideas.

    We have explored the expanding circle of human rights protection in an effort to discern how new rights claims are, or are not, conducive to human flourishing.

    We have paid special attention to rights that are currently under assault such as the right to life, the right to found a family, freedom of conscience and religion, and to rights that have too long awaited fulfillment such as the right to decent subsistence.

    Then building on our previous studies of globalization, we have taken up the question of the proper roles of states, private actors, and international entities in bringing human rights to life.

    I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of all our members for your teachings on faith, hope and charity that provide an unconditional foundation for human rights, and for the example you set in the difficult Petrine mission to which Providence has called you.

    We are deeply grateful for your constant solicitude towards our Academy, which is also manifested in the appointment of our new Academician Lubomir Mlcoch.

    It only remains for me, dear Holy Father, to ask you to bless this Academy and all those who have generously shared their wisdom with us over the past few days. We thank you most sincerely for the gift of this encounter.

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/5/2009 12:58 PM]
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    In addition to the website on the papal visit launched by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism,
    the Israeli Foreign Ministry has also opened a special site on the papal visit.

    Here is their welcome message:

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

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

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/5/2009 2:12 PM]
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    00 5/5/2009 2:48 PM

    May 5

    St. Hilary of Arles (France, 400-449)

    OR for 5/4-5/5:

    Benedict XVI reaffirms to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences
    that human rights require a solid ethical base:
    'Hunger in the world is a shameful tragedy'

    Other Page 1 stories: The Holy Father's appeal to the faithful last Sunday to pray for his coming pilgrimage to the Holy Land
    and his ordination of 19 new priests for the Diocese of Rome. In world news: Syrian President Assad calls on President Obama
    to dialog with Hamas and Hezbollah; and the Taliban violate ceasefire in Pakistan's Swat valley, as the US expresses concern
    that terrorists may get hold of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

    The Holy Father has no scheduled events today.

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/5/2009 2:49 PM]
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    Damian Thompson has written a profile of the Pope for an Abu Dhabi newspaper.

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

    Here is the article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    June 29 1951 ordained with his brother in Freising.

    1959 appointed professor at the University of Bonn.

    1963 becomes Archbishop of Munich and Freising.

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

    1977 made a cardinal.

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

    Sept 1991 suffers stroke, temporarily impairing his eyesight.

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

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


    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/5/2009 5:36 PM]
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    00 5/5/2009 6:02 PM

    Robert Moynihan, editor of INSIDE THE VATICAN magazine, has written a very informative article on Patriarch Kirill's stewardship so far of the Russian Orthodox Church, and signs that he may yet come around to meeting with Benedict XVI as the Patriarch of Moscow, breaking the logjam to greater Catholic-Russian Orthodox rapprochement that has persisted since the days of Pope John paul II and Patriarch Alexei.

    Moynihan is one of the few writers about religion in the West today who has followed the affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church closely and appears to have the necessary inside contacts to write authoritatively about it.

    Will Kirill and Benedict meet?

    Just about 100 days ago, on January 27, Russian Orthodox Church leaders chose a new Patriarch, Kirill,
    to succeed the later Patriarch Alexi II, who had died on December 5, 2008.

    What has Kirill done since his election, and what are the prospects for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI?

    By Robert Moynihan

    April 30, 2009

    The new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, 62, has met Pope Benedict XVI, who turned 82 a few days ago, three times already — but that was before Kirill became Patriarch.

    Now, after nearly 100 days in office, Vatican observers are sensing that Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict may meet again — and that such a meeting will be a major step on the way to the long-hoped-for reunion of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which have been divided for nearly 1,000 years, since 1054. But where and when could such a meeting be held?

    Kirill is an imposing figure, with a grey-flecked beard and sonorous voice. And he has important friends. When he was enthroned Alexi’s successor in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, the church was filled with celebrities and political leaders, and the first person to receive communion from him was... President Dmitry Medvedev’s wife, Svetlana.

    Patriarch Kirill took charge of the Russian Orthodox Church, becoming the first leader of the world's largest Orthodox church to take office after the fall of the Soviet Union.

    In the Soviet era, the officially atheist Communist government treated the devout like moral lepers, imprisoning tens of thousands of clerics of all creeds. Now the Orthodox Church “has become a serious power in society,” former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told The Associated Press in March.

    Kirill met most recently with Pope Benedict XVI a year and a half ago, on December 7, 2007, privately at the Vatican. The Vatican did not release any details about the meeting, but an interview with Metropolitan Kirill was published on the same day by L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

    The meeting with the Pope was "very positive and very beautiful," Kirill said at the time. "On our agenda there are many important themes such as the promotion of basic values."

    But great obstacles still remain to a closer collaboration between the two Churches, not to speak of full reunion.

    Indeed, Metropolitan Kirill's December 2007 meeting with the Pope came just four days after Russia's Interfax news agency quoted him as saying that the four Roman Catholic dioceses John Paul II established in Russia in 2002 should be downgraded again to their prior status of "apostolic administrations."

    "We shall never recognize them and will always dispute the presence of ordinary Catholic dioceses in the territory of Russia and consider it a challenge to our common idea" of Church organization, Interfax quoted Kirill as saying.

    Kirill said then that when the Orthodox or the Catholics have communities outside their traditional homelands, a bishop should be in charge of their pastoral care, but that bishop should be an administrator, not the head of a normal diocese erected on a territory already assigned to another bishop.

    (Russia’s Catholic community numbers an estimated 600,000 people in a country of 144 million where about 80% of the people identify themselves as Orthodox.)

    Still, Kirill added that regular contact between Vatican and Russian Orthodox officials was "essential" for promoting the growing understanding of the other needed to resolve the tensions and the theological differences that keep Catholics and Orthodox apart.

    And there has been regular contact since Benedict's election as Pope in April, 2005, and especially since Kirill's election as Patriarch in January, as representatives of the Holy See and representatives of the Russian and other Orthodox Churches have met many times in many different venues.

    One milestone occurred in the fall of 2007, when Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians, after a week of meetings in Ravenna, Italy, drafted a joint document that acknowledges in a certain sense the primacy of the Pope.

    The 46-paragraph “Ravenna Document” envisages a reunified Church in which the Pope could be the most senior patriarch among the various Orthodox churches.

    Another milestone also occurred in 2007, on June 16, when Pope Benedict XVI told a visiting Greek Orthodox leader, Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus, that he hoped the Catholic and Orthodox Churches could be united, despite centuries of painful division, and discussed how Catholics and Orthodox could work together on social, moral and bioethical issues, including opposition to same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research.

    Chrysostomos had offered to play the role of mediator to try to arrange a groundbreaking meeting between the Pope and the then-Patriarch of Moscow, Alexi II.

    In a speech to the archbishop after their private session, Benedict said he held “firm hope” of uniting the two Churches. Despite “centuries-old divisions, diverging roads and despite the hard work of closing painful wounds, the Lord has never ceased to guide our steps on the path toward unity and reconciliation,” Benedict told Chrysostomos.

    Chrysostomos then told reporters that the chief problem was a "lack of communication" between the Pope and the Patriarch. He said he would pursue his offer to help organize a possible meeting when he met with Alexi in Moscow in mid-2007.

    Chrysostomos believed Benedict’s background as a theologian with a good grasp of Orthodox theology would help the process of reuniting the two churches, but he failed to broker a meeting between Benedict and Alexi II.

    Now, four years into Benedicts's pontificate and nearly 100 days into Kirill's patriarchate, nearly all Vatican observers agree that, as Pope John Paul II was driven by the desire to end the scourge of atheist Communism, so Pope Benedict XVI still hopes passionately to see the restoration of a unified Church.

    And the path toward achieving that vision passes by way of Kirill.

    Benedict's hopes for reunion stem from his religious conviction that Christians should present a united witness to the world, but also from his pragmatic judgment that the increasingly relativistic and "anti-life" West needs the spiritual and moral support of the Orthodox world to overcome a secular mindset which has begun to penetrate into the western Church herself.

    This explains why Benedict has, since the moment Kirill was elected, made numerous gestures toward him of welcome and appreciation.

    Benedict XVI publicly expressed his joy at Kirill's January 27 election at a general audience the next day in Rome, saying, "I invoke upon him the light of the Holy Spirit for a generous service to the Russian Orthodox Church, entrusting him to the special protection of the Mother of God."

    In a telegram sent to the newly-elected Patriarch, the Pope wrote:

    "May the Almighty bless your efforts to maintain communion among the Orthodox Churches and to seek that fullness of communion which is the goal of Catholic-Orthodox collaboration and dialogue. I assure Your Holiness of my spiritual closeness and of the Catholic Church's commitment to co-operate with the Russian Orthodox Church for an ever clearer witness of the truth of the Christian message and to the values which alone can sustain today's world along the way of peace, justice and loving care of the marginalised."

    The Catholic Archbishop in Moscow, Paolo Pezzi, called the election "very positive news" and said that it promised "continuity and recognition of the work of the former patriarch, Alexi II."

    The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity noted that Kirill was "a Patriarch with whom we have maintained fraternal relations for many years, and who met the Holy Father immediately following his election in April 2005, and again in the months of May 2006 and December 2007."

    The Council statement continued: "We trust we will be able to continue together down the path of mutual understanding we have already begun. We do not, of course, wish to lose sight of the difficulties that still remain, but we are ready and willing to co-operate in the social and cultural fields in order to bear witness to Christian values while, nonetheless, not forgetting that the ultimate aim of dialogue is the realisation of the testament of Jesus Christ our Lord: the full communion of all His disciples."

    The John Paul II of the Orthodox Church?

    Who is Patriarch Kirill?

    He is relatively young — at age 62, he is 20 years younger than Pope Benedict is, and nearly the same age, 58, as Pope John Paul II was when he was elected Pope in 1978.

    And Kirill is energetic. For years he has hosted his own weekly television program "Words of a Pastor." He has traveled widely around the world. and he is willing to take risks to preach the Gospel (he recently agreed to speak to Russian young people in a sports stadium, something previous Patriarchs would have found unthinkable).

    He is also open to new ways of doing things. This winter, while he was acting Patriarch, he went to a rock concert in Kiev and delivered a homily to tens of thousands of young people.

    "Today Church and society are in fact one and the same thing," a spokesman for Kirill later explained. "Our Church believers go to discos and rock-concerts, and if there's a chance to give some Church tinge to such youth meetings, if young people are glad to hear a few words from a priest, why doesn't he go there and say these few words?

    "The example of the Patriarch will surely inspire bishops, priests and laymen. When we speak about mission, we mean that we will go and preach, not that people will come to us. We mean that priests should come out from their churches, officials of Church departments should step out of their organizations. We should go and meet people, even at the so-called youth hangouts, even if it's not usual to see a man in cassock there," the Russian Church official said.

    And Kirill is evidently a capable administrator. He has gathered around himself a "team" of well-trained and capable younger clerics and laymen to help him implement his vision for the Russian Church and nation, including the man he has chosen to take the post he himself held as head of the External Relations Department of the Patriarchate, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev (now promoted to archbishop).

    On March 31, the news agency Interfax reported that the Holy Synod, the group of seven leading Russian Orthodox archbishops who form the highest ruling council of the Russian Orthodox Church, had named Bishop Hilarion as External Church Relations chief "unanimously."

    The agency reported that several other young clerics who are close to Kirill were promoted:

    (1) Archpriest Nikolay Balashov was named Patriarchate Secretary for relations with other Orthodox Churches;

    (2) Priest Georgy Ryabyh was named acting secretary for liaison between the Church and public, and both were appointed deputy chairmen of the Department for External Church Relations;

    (3) Bishop Mark of Yegoryevsk, a former deputy chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, was appointed Patriarchate Secretary for the Church's institutions abroad;

    (4) Priest Antony Ilyin was put in charge of the Church's relations with European international organizations; and

    (5) Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a 41-year-old, gravel-voiced cleric close to Kirill, was appointed to be the first head of a new Department for Relations between the Church and Society set up within the Church's administrative structure.

    On April 22, a further promotion was announced:

    (6) Fr. Igor Vyzhanov, 38, secretary for Inter-Christian relations in the Department for External Church Relations, the Patriarchate official responsible for relations with non-Orthodox confessions, was ordained an Archpriest by Patriarch Kirill personally during a Divine Liturgy in Moscow.

    The promotions of Hilarion, Mark and Chaplin, all relatively young men in their early 40s, are perhaps the most significant of these first appointments during Kirill's first 100 days.

    What has happened to these three "rising stars" is not without precedent. At the beginning of his own clerical career, Patriarch Kirill was the personal secretary to Metropolitan Nikodim (1929-1978) of Leningrad and Novgorod. Metropolitan Nikodim had encouraged Kirill to become a priest and was a very important figure in Kirill's early life.

    Nikodim was himself a very rapidly rising star. He had become the head of the Church's Department of External Relations at the very young age of 30.

    Nikodim, who many consider a saint, persuaded the Soviet government to allow the Russian Orthodox Church at have contacts with the world churches.

    From this, the Soviet government was able to create an appearance of freedom of religion in the USSR, while the Church in turn received a little breathing room in which to exist.

    Nikodim was also allowed to mentor and advance within the Church certain very bright and talented young men. These young men, such as Kirill, Juvelany, and Alexi, later became the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    Tragically, on September 5, 1978, Metropolitan Nikodim died of a heart attack at the age of 48 in the presence of Pope John Paul I.

    A decade later, on November 13, 1989, Kirill was appointed to be head of the External Relations Department and a permanent member of the Holy Synod. Kirill was 42 at the time — the same age as Hilarion today.

    Like his mentor Nikodim, Kirill created in his department a small group of very talented and bright young men — the best of the best. These men advanced to key positions within the External Relations Department. They are now Bishop Hilarion, Bishop Mark, and Father Vsevolod. They are all extremely talented, hard-working, and articulate.

    Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that in the first session of the Holy Synod since the enthronement of Patriarch Kirill, these three have been given key positions in the Moscow Patriarchate.

    In this regard, it appears that the former functions of the External Relations Department may have been divided in three parts. The part relating to the interface with the Russian government and civil society has been given to Father Vsevolod, the supervision of foreign parishes to Bishop Mark, and the general functions of the department and the key permanent seat in the Holy Synod to Bishop Hilarion.

    Among Catholic observers of the Russian Orthodox Church, all of these appointments are regarded as "good news" because of the deep faith, learning and openness of these men.

    Bishop Hilarion was the first person to propose an alliance between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches — an idea that has been subsequently echoed by many in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

    He is also active in the culture field, as an accomplished pianist and composer of sacred music. Bishop Hilarion's monumental composition, Passion According to St. Matthew, first performed in Moscow and Rome in March 2007, was recently performed (on April 8) by the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir in St. Stephen's Basilica, the most famous Catholic church in Budapest.

    A capacity crowd of more than 2,000 attended and the basilica was not able to accommodate all that came. The concert was broadcast live by "Radio Maria." Among the guests of honor were Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest, the apostolic nuncio to Hungary (Archbishop Juliusz Janusz), Archabbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma (Asztrik Varszegi), and the prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Tihany (Dr. Korzensky Richard).

    Before the concert, Cardinal Erdo welcomed the crowd. He stated, "Today's event is not just another musical event but a sign of genuine and long-awaited collaboration between our Churches. I wholeheartedly congratulate Bishop Hilarion on his appointment to the high and responsible post of Chairman of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. I sincerely hope that our cooperation, rooted in his tenure as head of the Hungarian diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, will continue in his new capacity." (Photo: Bishop Hilarion with Cardinal Erdo.)

    Father Vsevolod, though the living embodiment of "toughness," has been a very positive influence in the dialogue between the Russian Orthdoox and the Catholic Church in the Russian Federation. Father Vsevolod was also one of the very few non-Catholic Church officials to come to the defense of the Pope in the recent worldwide "condom controversy" which erupted during the Pope's March trip to Africa.

    Bishop Mark, a deeply spiritual man, who has lived and worked in Jerusalem, has traveled several times to Italy and to the Vatican, and is also a very positive influence.

    That a Catholic can appreciate these men does not mean that the three will not be zealous defenders of Orthodoxy, but it does mean that they are reasonable men open to dialogue. And for this reason, they can count on our prayers in the great responsibilities that they are assuming.

    Arguably, today Kirill is one of the 10 or 20 most influential men in Russia, one of the key countries in the world, and his relative youth means that he will likely be an important factor in national decisions for years to come.

    Kirill now heads of a Church with more than 100 million adherents — larger than the Anglican Church — including millions of Russian Orthodox living abroad, which gives the Russian Orthodox Church a "global" aspect.

    Statistically, the Russian Orthodox Church is the second most numerous Christian Church after the Roman Catholic Church itself.

    But statistics are less important here than suffering and faith. The Russian Orthodox Church is a Church that suffered greatly under Soviet rule. Now it has "re-emerged from the catacombs" following the dissolution 18 years ago of the USSR (1991) to take on an ever-greater role in post-Soviet Russia.

    Russia's powerful Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, and its President, Dmitry Medvedev, both attend church on feast days. Other Slavic leaders, like Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, do so as well.

    So it a time of hope for Russian Orthodoxy — despite the enormous challenges the faith confronts in Russia, which has become highly secularized. Kirill evidently hopes it will be a "Orthodox Moment" for his country, and his Church.

    Collaboration with Catholics

    Following the new Patriarch's enthronement on February 1, Benedict sent a second message, reiterating the importance of collaboration in seeking Christian unity.

    The Pope recalled his meetings with the new Patriarch in Kirill's previous role as the president of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

    The Pope characterized these encounters as full of "good will" and recalled Kirill's role in "forging a new relationship between our Churches, a relationship based on friendship, mutual acceptance and sincere dialogue in facing the difficulties of our common journey."

    On March 8 in Moscow, Kirill showed the type of spirit he is bringing to his pastoral task.

    He warned his hearers during a Sunday sermon not to trust some radical Orthodox fighters for the "purity" of faith, whose motto is "Orthodoxy or Death!"

    "When we meet a man who claims to be fighting for the purity of Orthodoxy, but in his eyes is lit the fire of anger, someone ready to shake the foundations of Church life to defend orthodoxy, if we do not find love and find anger, this is the first sign of that we have a wolf in sheep's clothing," the Patriarch said in his Sunday sermon at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

    "In the eyes of these people you will not find love; they shine with the fire of pride. The most important criterion for evaluating any Church leader — from a Patriarch to a simple layman — is 'love' because 'where there is love, there is Christ.'"

    On April 8, Kirill wrote to Benedict, expressing his condolences over the loss of life in an earthquake in Italy's Abruzzo region and said he was praying for the peace of the victims' souls.

    "I am conveying my most profound condolences over the loss of hundreds of lives in the earthquake in Abruzzo,"Kirill wrote to Benedict. "Sharing the grief of the families and relatives of those who have fallen victim to the natural disaster, we remember the Gospel saying: 'God is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.'" The message was published on the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate. (According to reports, 207 people were killed in the earthquake, 15 remain unaccounted for, and 178 people were injured, of whom 100 seriously.)

    Then the authoritarian leader of Belarussia came onto the stage. Just a few days ago, on April 26, Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, joining the "club" of Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, Tony Blair and other heads of state who have recently paid a visit to Pope Benedict XVI, came to the Vatican.

    Before the meeting, the Belarusian president said he was going to present the Pope with a number of questions from the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Kirill.

    Talking to the Pope, he also expressed hope that Benedict XVI would come to Belarus. The Belarusian leader seems to want to play a role in organizing the meeting of the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow (the "third Rome").

    If Lukashenko’s proposal is accepted, Belarus will play an important role as a conciliator and a peacemaker. In this sense, Lukashenko is improving Belarus’ image on an international level and doing a favor for Kirill who seems interested in meeting the Pope yet a fourth time — this time, as Patriarch.

    Kirill's vision seems to have "Europe-wide" scope. Just yesterday, on April 29, an Interfax report cited the acting representative of the Moscow Patriarchate at the European International Organizations Archpriest Antony Ilyin, as saying that the Russian Orthodox Church believes it is "crucial" for the Russian Church “to introduce problems of Christian values on the agenda of the next European Parliament.”

    And today comes the news from Moscow that the consecration of a Russian Orthodox church of Great Martyr Saint Catherine being built in Rome on the hillside above St. Peter's Basilica, under the direction of a committee headed by Kirill, has been set for three weeks from now: May 24.

    It is not clear whether Kirill himself will come to Rome for the consecration.


    A medieval Catholic prophecy states that the Eastern and Western Churches will indeed one day unite again.

    And, in this prophecy — which admittedly has no authority from any religious or scientific perspective — the Cistercian Abbot Joachim* of Fiore, writing sometime before his death in 1202, "foresaw" that the reunion would come about through the efforts of an extraordinary Pope. (The prophecy is cited in Edward Connor, Prophecy for Today, Tan Books, Rockford, Illinois, 1984, pp. 31-32).

    Here is the text from more than 800 years ago (about 150 years after the East-West schism began).

    A remarkable Pope will be seated on the pontifical throne, under special protection of the angels. Holy and full of gentleness, he shall undo all wrong, he shall recover the states of the Church, and reunite the exiled temporal powers. As the sole Pastor, he shall reunite the Eastern to the Western Church… This holy Pope shall be both pastor and reformer. Through him the East and West shall be in everlasting concord. The city of Babylon shall then be the head and guide of the world. Rome, weakened in temporal power, shall forever preserve her spiritual dominion, and shall enjoy great peace…

    The writings of Joachim of Fiore happen to have been be the starting point for Prof. Joseph Ratzinger's study of St. Bonaventure, past of which became his dissertation for his Habilitation process to receive official authority to serve as a professor in German universities. Surely, when he was elected Pope, he would have recalled Joachim's prophecy!

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/5/2009 9:54 PM]
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    00 5/5/2009 7:44 PM

    Jerusalem prelates urge media
    not to overlook true aims
    of the Pope's pilgrimage -
    they give assurances that
    papal security is not at risk

    Translated from
    the Italian service of

    May 5, 2009

    Before a large crowd of journalists and newscameramen, the Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco; the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Mons, Fouad Twal; his Vicar, Mons. Marcuzzo; and Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, held a news conference to update the media on preparations for the Pope's visit to the Holy Land.

    Correspondent Robnerto Piermarini reports:

    "We invited you because, as newsmen, you have a mission: to present this visit to the world to the best of your ability, understanding the specificity of this papal pilgrimage, which will be an unending prayer the search for unity and peace in this land that has been so tormented."

    This is the spirit in which Benedict XVI would like his visit to be seen, according to Mons. Franco and Mons. Twal at a news conference held today in the Notre Dame Center of Jerusalem.

    In particular, Mons. Twal conceded that the papal trip could be instrumentalized in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been an explosive political situation for the past six decades.

    Nonetheless, the Pope wished to visit a Palestinian refugee camp - the Aida camp near Bethlehem - to immerse himself in the reality of life for thousands of Palestinian refugees who are often neglected by teh international community.

    Mons. Twal said that the local church in Gaza has requested travel permits for 250 Christians to travel to Bethlehem for the Pope's Mass
    in Bethlehem, but so far, only 100 permits have been issued.

    A journalist asked, "Why isn't the Pope going to Gaza?"

    Mons. Twal explained that the Gaza Catholics represent only a tiny minority compared to the 15,000 who live on the West Bank, of whom 11,000 so far have been given permits to transit Israeli territory in order to attend a papal event.

    On the question of a possible security risk to the Pope in Nazareth, Mons. Marcuzzo gave assurances that there is no reason for concern, because the protests reported in recent days came from a fringe group of extremists who have now been isolated by Israeli security.

    he said, the Pope will use the Popemobile at the Mass on Mount Precipice in Nazareth.

    The prelates were also asked about the report that Israeli President Shimon Peres has recommended giving the Catholic Church control over some of the most important Christian holy sites in Israel.

    "This has been the object of long-standing consultations," Mons. Franco said, "but there is nothing conclusive yet."

    About the Pope's visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where a photogallery displays Pius XII in the Hall of Shame, Mons. Franco said Pope Benedict XVI never once linked his visit to Yad Vashem with the controversy, since his visit was a sign of respect and a homage to the victims of the Holocaust.

    Mons. Marcuzzo called on the media not to forget the primarily pastoral and spiritual significance of the Pope's pilgrimage. He said that the Pope would face specific themes at various stages of the pilgrimage" in Jordan, the Church; in Nazareth, issues about life; in Jerusalem, peace and reconciliation; and in Bethlehem, the family.

    Finally, Mons. Franco recalled the Pope's words at the Regina caeli last Sunday, when he underscored that he was visiting the holy places to confirm and encourage Christians in the Holy Land, going as a pilgrim for peace who wishes to re-emphasize the need for dialog and reconciliation.

    Here is a translation of Piermarini's interview with Mons. Twal:

    MONS. TWAL: We await the Holy Father with joy, with hope, with enthusiasm - we consider him a sign of Providence who is coming to pray with us, for all of us, for peace for all the inhabitants of the Holy Land.

    He is a father who will begin with encouraging the faithful in Jordan and will then proceed here.

    We need to have a big heart and not limit ourselves to little things, to ill will. On the contrary, we should reciprocate his beautiful gesture in coming to see us with our hospitality and courage.

    Mons. Twal, at the Regina caeli on Sunday, the Pope said he was coming, among other objectives, to encourage the Christians of the Holy Land in facing the considerable difficulties of their daily life. What are these difficulties? You have spoken about 'the calvary of the [Palestinian] Christian communities".
    You only have to go to Bethlehem or to Nazareth to see it: all the checkpoints one must go through, the wall which Israel has put up along the border( with Palestinian territory)...

    [One must note that all these 'difficulties' - inconveniences, really - are not directed against Palestinian Christians in particular, but against all Palestinians, as legitimate security measures on the part of Israel in defense of its own people. Unfortunate but necessary measures.

    Just imagine what the situation would be if the conditions were reversed and Palestinians had the economic and military power that Israel has: they would not just put up a wall against Jews - they would not allow them on the land at all and drive them into the sea, as their leaders have often expressed!]

    It is difficult for Palestinians to go to the airport, we have problems getting visas, there is the problem of reunifying families who life in East Jerusalem and those who are in Ramallah. And there was the destruction of homes [in the last Israeli offensive in Gaza].

    [They Palestinian Christians surely realize that the Catholic Church itself as an institution is officially persecuted, in effect, by the state of Israel, in overt ways that the Israelis cannot do against Christians as individuals and as a community, much less against the Muslims who life in Israel.]

    That is the Calvary for Palestinian Christians, but we must not forget that after Calvary comes the Resurrection. We look forward to the Resurrection and should not linger on Calvary.

    Do you suffer about the slow but gradual emigration of Christians away from the Holy Land?
    Of course, we suffer. At present, we have barely 10,000 Christians in Jerusalem - Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants combined - compared to 250,000 Muslims and 550,000 Jews.

    But the Christians must realize that their presence here is a mission, they have to accept the obstacles and not give up in the face of these difficulties. This is the Holy Land - here we have the roots of our religion.

    Is everyone - Jew, Christian, Muslim - aware of the Pope's visit?
    Everyone is aware. Just as we are aware that we are 'constrained' to live together, and so, we should be able to live together peacefully.

    How does this visit shape up in the ecumenical sense?
    Beautifully. One of the Pope's events [his encounter with leaders of other Christian Churches and confessions] will take place at the residence of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem to underscore this.

    We have had good relations with the various religious communities in Jerusalem. Once in a while, there may be an incident [the perennial squabbling among the various churches that share the custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre], but in the overall context of the Holy Land, we should not over-dramatize these.

    Is it difficult to have courage for peace in the Holy Land today?
    Not at all. We must restore to the Holy Land its vocation of holiness. Rather than fighting over territorial rights, we should be committed more to encouraging reconciliation, forgiveness, brotherly charity, holiness. We need all of that, and working for it is our courage.

    The photos I added above to illustrate the above story from Vatican Radio actually came from the site of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. which has changed its look from when I first started visiting it in April. From this, which I find has an archaic charm:

    to this, very streamlined, to go with a new contemporary layout and more efficient site organization:


    It also adds more information about that press conference, in a French report translated here:

    Mons. Twal: Above all, this is a pastoral visit. But one cannot forget its political dimension.
    Mgr Marcuzzo: Since the Pope first expressed his desire to visit the Holy Land, it was always the pastoral aspect that was the most important. That is why there is a theme attached to each of the important places: in Jordan, the Church; in Jerusalem, peace; in Bethlehem, life; and in Nazareth, the family... The logo for the visit, which says TU ES PETRUS, stresses the pastoral content of this visit.

    On the visit to the Aida refugee camp
    Mons. Franco: With this visit, the Pope wants to show 'a gesture of solidarity, as John Paul II did when he came here. For Benedict XVI, it will be occasion to meet the people who suffer more than others as a consequence of the experience here.

    To a newsman who asked where the ceremony would be held in Aida, he replied: "From the very beginning, it was always planned to hold the ceremony in the courtyard of the UNESCO school." [Israel had said that for security reasons, it would not allow the Aida ceremony to take place from a stage that the Palestinians had built right next to Israel's security fence.]

    About the Christians of Gaza
    Mons Twal: Since it is difficult for the Pope to go to Gaza [security arrangements would be impossible], then the Gazans will go to the Pope.
    Mons. Franco: We asked for 250 permits for the Gaza Catholics who will be going to the Pope's Mass in Bethlehem, along with some Gaza Muslims. We have 286 Catholics living in Gaza City, so if we get the 250 permits, that would be great.

    The Catholics of the West Bank
    Mr. Abunassar: Eleven thousand permits were requested from the Israeli authorities for the West Bank Christians.
    Mons. Twal: They were granted the permits for a period that began with Easter up to May 15, the last day of the Pope's visit.
    [That seems very lenient of the Israelis - and the time period indicates that the travel permit does not apply only to going to Bethlehem for the Papal Mass.]

    The Mass in Jerusalem
    Fr, Pizziballa: The site can accommodate 5,00-6,000 persons. But we have received another 1,000 requests.
    Mons. Franco: It would be sad if some do not come to the Mass because of fear. (Responding to a journalist who remarked that some Christians from outside Jerusalem may not want to come to Jerusalem for the Mass because of all the Israeli security checks,)

    The Holy Places
    Mons. Twal: The Holy Father is not coming to see the sites. He is here for the people. [A newsman asked which Holy Place was Benedict XVI's 'favorite'].

    The situation in Nazareth
    Mons. Marcuzzo: Almost everything is ready in Nazareth. We have started distributing the tickets for the mass at Mount Precipice. Some agitators had been distributing leaflets expressing hostility to the Pope;s visit to Nazareth, But that protest has been an isolated case. The townspeople have not responded. [In answer to a question on a threatening protest by some Muslim extremists.]

    The LPJ site also has a clean copy of the official poster for the visit:

    The poster was designed for the Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land to welcome teh Holy Father 'in the name of all the children of Jordan, Israel and Palestine'.

    The photo of the Pope underscores that he is coming above allas a pastor to confirm adn rnew the faith among the flock of Christ. The same aspect is underscored in the official logo which is based on a sculpture of Christ naming Peter to take care of his flock - the statue is found in Tabhga, a lakeside town in Galilee, which is also associated with the miracle of loaves and fishes.

    The five Holy Places shown on the poster are the Holy Sepulchre in jerusalem; teh Church of the Nativity in bethlehem; the grotto of teh Annunciation in nazareth; the site of Christ;'s baptism in Bethany beyond the Jordan; and the city of Madaba in Jordan.

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/6/2009 7:45 AM]
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    TERESA BENEDETTA, 04/05/2009 2.26:


    GREAT!!!! I'm very glad he could appreciate that special gift! [SM=g7841] [SM=g7841] [SM=g7841] [SM=g7841] [SM=g7841] [SM=g7841] [SM=g7841] [SM=g7841] [SM=g7841] [SM=g7841] [SM=g7841] [SM=g7841]

    Papa Ratzi Superstar

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    00 5/6/2009 2:18 AM

    Jordan's King Abdullah says
    Pope's visit will be
    a stimulus to peace

    Interview by
    Antonio Ferrari
    Translated from

    May 5, 2009

    Benedict XVI received King Abdullah and Queen Rania in Castel Gandolfo in September 2005.

    AMMAN - "I will be a pilgrim for peace".

    Pope Benedict XVI's message to the peoples of the Holy Land was received with trepidation [WHY????] in the Jordan hospital, where on Friday, the Pope begins the most delicate and difficult mission so far in his Pontificate.

    It will start in an atmosphere of good will and concord, but it may all go downhill from there. [How odd to begin a report in these pessimistic there!]

    The four days (exactly the same number of days he will spend in Israel-Palestine) that will be spent by the head of the Catholic Church in the first Arab country he is visiting, are obviously laden with expectations, as expressed by the Pope himself in the words he has used to describe the themes of his visit: reconciliation, hope, and peace.

    But Jordan's King Abdullah II, with royal discretion, says he will not speak in terms of expectations.

    In an interview with Corriere della Sera before leaving for Egypt and Germany, the King said: "His Holiness is our guest. That being so, we in Jordan will not speak of expectations but rather of our best wishes that this spiritual journey will have full success".

    Your Majesty, you have always said that your kingdom is a land of coexistence and tolerance, that it is the very symbol of brotherhood between Muslims and Christians.
    It has always been our objective, and it is our constant commitment.

    To welcome the Pope, as we did his predecessor in 2000, is for us a great honor adn reason to be proud.

    On Sunday, for the Pope;s Mass, not only the Christians of Jordan will be there, but Christians from teh entire region. We expect that there will be pilgrims from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and, hopefully, from the West Bank.

    It will be an event of great spiritual intensity and a sign of our common commitment to bring ever closer together the three great monotheistic religions which have their roots in this land.

    As I said, teh Pope is our guest, so we do not speak of expectations. But his words will be a stimulus addressed to all of us to urge us to make haste along the road to peace.

    Peace among the peoples or peace among the leaders?
    In teh United states and in Europe, leaders feel as we do. Religious conflicts must be avoided, particularly fundamentalist ones. Jordan has always maintained that churches, mosques and synagogues should create 'a common world', and therefore, they have the great responsibility of avoiding conflicts among religions and peoples.

    Look, in Israel, the people don't believe in the two-state solution because they think their own leaders do not believe in it. And in Palestine, it is widely believed that such a solution will never see the light of day. And yet, 85% of both Israelis and Palestinians support the need for a negotiated peace.

    We all know that only by having two separate states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, can lead to peace. We have many reasons - serious ones - for concern. What Israel is doing about the settlements [Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory] and with the Muslims and Christian properties in teh Holy Land is not at all reassuring, but rather serious and dangerous.

    What should be done then?
    It requires courage, determination and a long-range vision. It is a time when the leaders concerned should really give peace an opportunity.

    Benedict XVI is arriving at a particular time - there is a new American administration, and there seem to be hopes that peace negotiations may resume.
    I recently met with both president Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. The US is clear about two things: that it is in their national interest to reach a two-state solution urgently, and that the steps must take place within an overall context that would include dialog between Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, Israel and the other Muslim nations [besides the dialog with Palestinians].

    I believe Obama understands the regional context very well. If we cannot capitalize on these elements, then the risks will simply multiply.It is impossible to resume negotiations in a void.

    Your Majesty, it appears Barack Obama availed well of your visit, drawing from your experience and knowledge of the region. He made his most significant statements about teh Middle East after meeting with you in teh White House.
    We received a very warm welcome, and my conversation with the President was not subjected to a time limit. I met him before [when Obama visited teh Middle East during the presidential campaign] and he wants to reach a solution as soon as possible. [Good luck to him! So did Regan, Carter, Bush-1, Clinton adn Bush-2!] He is very hopeful. He will be meeting soon with the Palestinian President, the Egyptian President and the Israeli Prime Minister.

    The extreme delicacy of the moment as well as the need not to waste any more time are equally clear. After these meetings, particularly the one with Netanyahu, then the United States will have a clearer strategy.

    What do they intend? Is it the two-state solution under the Saudi plan of 2002 [in which the 97 Muslim nations will normalize their relations with Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal from all the territories they occupied after the 1967 War]?

    Che cosa si aspetta? La soluzione dei due Stati e l'accettazione del piano sau­dita del 2002, che prevede la normalizza­zione dei rapporti con Israele di 57 Pae­si musulmani in cambio del ritiro da tut­ti i territori occupati nel 1967?
    I would not presume to tell the United States what to do. But I do think that the possibility of finding an overall solution is in view. The two-state objective should be firmly in place within this year.

    We have discussed this with the Us, we will continue to discuss it with the European leaders who share our hopes and fears.

    If nothing of the sort happens in 2009-2010, then the risk will be very great indeed that the enemies of peace in the region [Iran?] will provoke greater tragedies.

    If everything goes well. do you see a date when a negotiated peace could be reached?
    We all know ti's dangerous to speculate on dates. But I think the will to reach a settlement would be clear pretty soon - without room for misunderstanding.

    [From his mouth to God's ear, insh'Allah! But Netanyahu is more hawkish and less likely to concede anything than any of the previous Israeli leaders, and how can one trust Hamas whose charter clearly states its goal to 'eliminate Israel'?]

    Abdullah II of Jordan, born in 1962, and King since 1999, when his father Hussein died. The Hashemite royal dynasty was established after World War I when Abdullah I proclaimed himself king. [The Hashemites trace their origin to a great grandfather of the prophet Mohammed and therefore consider themselves to be direct descendants of the prophet]. In 1999, Abdullah II married Rania al Yasin, a Palestinian born in Kuwait. They have four children.

    Here's a religious 'perspective' about the first stage of the Pope's pilgrimage. It is the transcript (provided) of a videoclip from H20, a multimedia and multilingual Catolic news resource that I haveneglected to tap since it was set up a year ago::

    Jordan ‘not a transit route’
    to Israel for Pope

    Jordan has witnessed three papal visits in its modern history: Pope Paul VI visited Jordan in 1964, Pope John Paul II in 2000, and now Pope Benedict XVI will begin the apostolic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Jordan.

    But Jordan is not a transit route, but rather a sacred destination -- a state with a living Christian community.

    Everyone is anticipating Benedict XVI's visit to the Holy Land. What is its significance? What are its objectives? What would be its impact and consequences to the situation in the Middle East?

    In this interview, the official spokesman to the media on behalf of the Catholic Church in Jordan and editor of Catholic website speaks about the importance of the Holy Father's visit to Jordan.

    "The Pope's visit is important from many points of view. First, to confirm the Christian presence in Jordan. We have, thank God, a good number of Christians from various denominations of Christianity -- the majority belong to the Orthodox Church -- and there is also the Catholic Church, which has, in all branches, more than eighty or ninety thousand Catholic citizens.

    "But the Pope is not only coming for Catholics, but also to unite Christians. Secondly, there is a formal relationship between Jordan and the Vatican since 1994 and these relations have been described as good and friendly.

    "This year, 2009, we celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Jordan and the Holy See, a relationship that is destined for further cooperation to build peace, especially since Jordan is a moderate voice in the peace process in the Middle East, particularly in the two hot spots: Iraq and Palestine.”

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/6/2009 7:46 AM]
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    'Jerusalem welcomes
    this peacemaker'

    President of Israel
    Exclusive to and
    translated from

    Issue for May 10, 2009

    In the name of the State of Israel and my own, I wish to express the sentiment of participation with which we look forward to the visit of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.

    It will be a privilege to welcome him with a word which is one of the most frequently used in the Hebrew language but which expresses at the same time the most profound aspiration of our people: SHALOM! Peace!

    The story of Abraham's descendants has known bitter conflicts, wars in the name of religion, intolerances, prejudices and persecutions.

    It is time to build bridges of understanding, reciprocal respect adn reconciliation in order to overcome ancient divisions and allow peace to prevail in a dialog among nations, and for inter-religious dialog to become rooted more strongly.

    This is a noble purpose and it is our duty to invest in the future of the young generations and those of the future, to teach them that all men have equal rights, and that equality of rights includes the right to be different.

    The visit of His Holiness Benedict XVI is a significant step towards the construction of such bridges. He is coming as the Good Shepherd, the symbol of moral values and the voice of conscience, and his message of peace and tolerance will be heard by all his flock and by all of us.

    His words will give strength to our hopes for the future, not only for the relationship among the different religions, but also for those among the peoples and the cultures of the region.

    Jerusalem welcomes this peacemaker with open arms. It was in the Holy City, where the prophets of Israel set up a universal code of peace, brotherhood, tolerance and love of fellowman, in the very land where Jesus left the imprint of his footsteps.

    We offer His Holiness the mantle of our hospitality and we will give him a welcome with all our warmth.

    Pope Benedict XVUI will be in Israel, homeland of teh Jewish people, built upon the indestructible foundation of teh Bible and animated by a people who have contributed significantly to the development of mankind in fields such as science, technology, medicine, culture and the arts.

    Sixty years have elapsed sine Auschwitz but we still have not reached a place that is completely secure. Anti-Semitism, negationists who deny the Holocaust, the politics of terror, and the appeals to destroy our people and state continue to threaten us.

    But despite all this, and despite the wars which we were constrained to wage and the threats that continue against us, we continue to to search for peace and we have not given up hope of seeing the day when our dream will be realized and, together with our children, we shall be able to live securely and in peace.

    Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the Holy Land is for our hearts a supplement of hope in the fact that our prayers will be answered.

    In his mission of peace, tolerance and faith, may His Holiness bring his entire flock to follow his pilgrimage to our region, a trip of solidarity and hope that is capable of lifting the spirit.

    I join in the prayers for peace of the people of Israel and anticipate the joy of giving the Pope a welcome of the peace.

    I do not know if President Peres was aware, when he wrote this piece, that the motto
    Benedict XVI chose for this pilgrimage was from Matthew:

    which appears on the cover of the Missal prepared by the Vatican for the visit:

    About President Peres, there is now a clarification about what he really prposed about the Christian Holy Sites whose status remains the subject of engotiations between the Vatican and Israel:

    Israeli, Vatican officials deny reports
    about control of holy sites

    By Judith Sudilovsky
    Catholic News Service

    JERUSALEM, May 6 (CNS) -- Israeli and Vatican officials denied reports that Israeli President Shimon Peres had asked the government to relinquish sovereignty over several holy places as a gesture of good will for Pope Benedict XVI.

    Reports abounded in the Israeli press in early May claiming internal discord between Peres and officials from the Tourism and Interior ministries after the President allegedly had urged them to yield key Christian holy sites to the Vatican.

    "What was published was taken out of context," a spokeswoman for the President's office said May 6. "The Israeli media published it as if the President was asking to give up sovereignty over holy sites, and there is a great distance between that and the reality."

    The spokeswoman said Israel already has pledged to the Vatican that it will not confiscate land around six Christian sites for any sort of national development purpose such as the widening of roads.

    She said Peres had asked the ministries, as a gesture of good will before the Pope's May 8-15 trip to the Holy Land, to confirm the pledge and to speed up the negotiations.

    The holy sites mentioned include the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth; Gethsemane in Jerusalem; Capernaum, which served as Jesus' home base during his Galilean ministry; Tabgha, where Jesus called several of his apostles to follow him; Mount Tabor, believed to be the site of the Transfiguration; and the Cenacle, the site of the Last Supper and the Pentecost descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles.

    Archbishop Antonio Franco, papal nuncio to Israel, said the reports were a "big mess, a confusion of things."

    "I don't know where they got their confusion but I regret the wrong message was given," Archbishop Franco said in answer to a question about the report at a May 5 press conference about Pope Benedict's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories following his three-day visit to Jordan.

    "Honestly, we are working in good faith in trying to face different aspects of Catholic faith and Catholic life in Israel. We are still negotiating. To say this or that is simply the wrong message."

    Legal and fiscal issues remained unresolved following the signing of the 1993 Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Vatican, despite its stipulation that an agreement had to be reached on remaining matters within two years. Bilateral permanent working commissions have been meeting since 1999 to try to resolve the differences.

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/7/2009 5:31 PM]
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    May 6
    Saints Marian, Lector,
    and James, Deacon
    (North Africa, d. 259)

    OR today.

    The only papal item is an editorial commentary by a Holy Land friar about the Pope's coming trip there.
    Other Page 1 stories: Growing worries over the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as President Obama
    prepares to meet their presidents in Washington; Afghan President Karzai to seek re-election; and
    proposed Fiat-Opel merger opposed by their labor unions.

    General audience today.

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    00 5/7/2009 4:36 AM


    At his Wednesday General Audience, the Holy Father spoke about St. John Damascene in his catechetical cycle on the great Christian writers of the Middle Ages.

    Here is how he synthesized it in English:

    Saint John Damascene was a towering figure in the history of Eastern theology.

    He was born into a wealthy Christian family at a time when his native Syria was already under Arab rule. He left a promising career in government in order to enter monastic life.

    His best-known works are his Discourses against the Iconoclasts, which offer an important contribution to the proper theological understanding of the veneration of sacred images.

    Saint John Damascene was among the first to distinguish between adoration, which is due to God alone, and veneration, which can rightly be given to an image in order to assist the Christian to contemplate him whom the image represents. It is true that in the Old Testament, divine images were strictly forbidden.

    But now that God has become incarnate and has assumed visible, material form in Jesus, matter has received a new dignity. The wood of the Cross, the book of the Gospels, the altar of sacrifice: all have been used by God to bring about our salvation.

    Matter now serves as a sign and sacrament of our encounter with God. When we participate in the sacraments, when we venerate icons, if we do so in faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, they truly become a means of grace.

    Despite human sinfulness, God has chosen to dwell within men and women, making them holy, making them sharers in his infinite goodness and holiness. Let us welcome him with joy into our hearts.

    At the close of his multilingual greetings,the Holy Father delivered a special message in English to the Peoples of the Holy Land whom he will be visiting soon:

    My dear friends, this Friday I leave Rome for my Apostolic Visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. I wish this morning to take the opportunity through this radio and television broadcast to greet all the peoples of those lands.

    I am eagerly looking forward to being with you and to sharing with you your aspirations and hopes as well as your pains and struggles. I will be coming among you as a pilgrim of peace.

    My primary intention is to visit the places made holy by the life of Jesus, and, to pray at them for the gift of peace and unity for your families, and all those for whom the Holy Land and the Middle East is home.

    Among the many religious and civic gatherings which will take place over the course of the week, will be meetings with representatives from the Muslim and Jewish communities with whom great strides have been made in dialogue and cultural exchange.

    In a special way I warmly greet the Catholics of the region and ask you to join me in praying that the visit will bear much fruit for the spiritual and civic life of all who dwell in the Holy Land.

    May we all praise God for his goodness. May we all be people of hope. May we all be steadfast in our desire and efforts for peace.


    Dear brothers and sisters,

    I wish to speak today of John Damascene, a personage of the first order in the history of Byzantine theology, and a great Doctor in the history of the Universal Church.

    He is above all an eyewitness of the passage from Greek and Syriac Christian culture, which prevailed in the Oriental part of the Byzantine Empire, to the culture of Islam, which found its way through military conquests in the territory generally known as the Middle East or the Near East.

    John, born to a rich Christian family pf Damascus, assumed as a young man the economic responsibility - perhaps aided by his father - for the caliphate. Soon, however, dissatisfied with life at court, the choice of monastic life matured in him, and he entered the Monastery of St. Saba near Jerusalem. That was around the year 700.

    Mover once going far afield from the monastery, he dedicated himself to asceticism add literary activity, not disdaining some pastoral activity, of which his numerous homilies give abundant proof.

    His liturgical commemoration is marked on December 4. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him a Doctor of the Universal Church in 1890.

    He is best remembered in the Orient for the three Discourses against those who calumniated sacred images, which would be condemned after his death by the iconoclastic Council of Hieria (754).

    These discourses were also the fundamental reason for his rehabilitation and canonization by the orthodox Fathers who met in the Second Council of Nicaea (787), the seventh of the Church's ecumenical councils.

    In these texts it is possible to trace the first important theological attempts to legitimize the veneration of sacred images, linking them to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

    John Damascene was, moreover, among the first to distinguish, in the public and private worship of Christians, between adoration (latreia) and veneration (proskynesis): Adoration can only be addressed to God, who is supremely spiritual, while veneration can make use of an image to address him/her who is represented by the image.

    Obviously, the saint cannot in any way be identified with the material of which the image is made. This distinction soon showed itself to be very important for the Christian response to those who maintained that the severe prohibition in the Old Testament against the worship of images was universal and for always.

    This was also greatly discussed in the Islamic world, which accepted the Jewish tradition of the complete exclusion of images from ritual worship.

    Christians, however, in this respect, had considered the problem and found a justification for venerating images. The Damascene wrote:

    In other times, God was never represented in images, since he is incorporeal and without a face. But since God has now been seen in the flesh and has lived among men, I represent what is visible of God.

    I do not venerate the material, but the creator of that material, who became material for me and who deigned to live in the world of material things and to work out my salvation through material things.

    Therefore I will not cease to venerate the matter through which salvation came to me. But not absolutely as God! How can anything which receives its existence from nothing be God?... Nevertheless, I venerate ndn respect the rest of the matter that has obtained salvation for me, as something full of holy energies and graces.

    Is not the wood of the thrice-blessed Cross matter?... Are not the ink and the most holy paper of the Gospels matter? Is not the salvific altar which offers us the Bread of Life matter?... And above all things, are not the Flesh and Blood of my Lord matter?

    One would have to deny the sacred character of all this, or concede to the tradition of the Church which venerates the images of God and not the friends of God who are sanctified by the name they bear, and for this reason, are inhabited by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

    Therefore, do not offend matter: it is not to be deprecated because nothing that God has made is deprecable." (Contra imaginum calumniatores, I, 16, ed. Kotter, pp. 89-90).

    We see then that because of the Incarnation, matter appears divinized - it is seen as God's dwelling. This is a new vision of the world and of material realities. God became man, and flesh truly became the dwelling of God, whose face shines on us in the human face of Christ.

    That is why the arguments of this Oriental Doctor of the Church are still of extreme relevance today. Matter receive the greatest of honors in the Incarnation, being able to become, in the faith, the sign and effective Sacrament of man's encounter with God.

    Thus, John Damascene remains a privileged witness for the worship of icons which would become one of the most distinctive aspects of Oriental theology and spirituality even today.

    It is a form of worship that belongs only to the Christian faith, to the faith in that God who became flesh and made himself visible. Thus, St. John Damascene's teaching finds its place in the tradition of the Universal Church, whose sacramental doctrine allows material elements from nature to become objects of worship through grace, by virtue of invoking the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) while confessing one's true faith.

    Linked to these fundamental ideas, John Damascene likewise situates the veneration of the relics of saints, based on the conviction that Christian saints, having taken part in the resurrection of Christ, cannot simply be considered 'dead'.

    Enumerating, for instance, those whose relics or images are worthy of veneration, John specifies in his third Discourse in defense of images: "Above all (we venerate) those among whom God has dwelt in holiness (cfr Is 57,15), like the Holy Mother of God and all the saints. It is they who, as much as possible, made themselves similar to God through their will and God's indwelling and help, who can truly be called 'gods' (cfr Ps 82,6 - "I have said 'you are gods'"). not by nature, but by contingency, just as the red-hot iron is called fire, not by nature but by contingency and by participating in the fire. In fact, God says: ]Be holy, for I am holy' (L 19,2)." (III, 33, col. 1352 A).

    After a series of citations like these, the Damascene could serenely deduce: "God, who is good and superior to every goodness, was not content with contemplating himself, but wished that there may be beings endowed by him who could participate in his goodness: and that is why he created all things visible and invisible, including man, out of nothing - visible and invisible realities.

    And he did this, thinking and realizing a being capable of thought (ennoema ergon), enriched by language ((logoi sympleroumenon) and oriented towards the spirit (pneumati teleioumenon)" (II, 2, PG 94, col. 865A).

    To further clarify this thought, he adds: "One must allow oneself to be filled with wonder (thaumazein) at all the works of Providence
    (tes pronoias erga), to praise and accept everything, overcoming the temptation to identify only those aspects which to many seem unjust or iniquitous, admitting instead that God 's plan (pronoia) goes far beyond man's cognitive and comprehensive capacities (agnoston kai akatalepton), while on the contrary, only He knows our thoughts, our actions and even our future" (II, 29, PG 94, col. 964C).

    Plato had said that all philosophy begins with wonder: even our faith begins with the wonder of creation, the beauty of God made visible.

    The optimism of natural contemplation (physikè theoria), of seeing in creation the good, the beautiful, and the true - this Christian optimism is not ingenuous: it takes into account the injury to human nature made by the freedom of choice given by God and imporoperly used by man, with all its consequences in widespread disharmony.

    From this derives the exiegency, clearly preceived by the theologian from Damascus, that Nature in which God's beauty and goodness are reflected had been wounded by our sin, "was reinforced and renewed' by the dsecent of the Son of God into flesh, after which - in many ways and in different occasions - God himself has sought to demonstrate that he created man not only into 'being' but also into 'well being' (cfr La fede ortodossa, II, 1, PG 94, col. 981°).

    With passionate transport, John explains: "It was neceessary that nature should be reinforced and renewed, and that the path of virtue(didachthenai aretes hodòn) be indicated and concretely taught, the path that keeps us clear of corruption and leads to eternal life... Thus, the great ocean of God's love for man (philanthropias pelagos) appears on the horizon of history ."

    He continues: "He imself, the Creator and the Lord, fought for his creature, transmitting his example to him through his teaching... And thus, the Son of God, although subsisting in the form of God, brought down the heavens and descended... to be among his servants... fulfilling the newest thing of all, the only thing truly new under the sun, through which the infinte power of God was demonstrated in fact. (III, 1. PG 94, coll. 981C-984B).

    We can imagine the comfort and the joy that these words - rich with such fascinating images - left in the hearts of the faithful.

    We too should listen today, sharing the same sentiments of Christians in that time: God wishes to dwell in us, he wishes to renww nature through our conversion; he wants us to participate in his divinity.

    May the Lord help us to make these words the substance of our life.

    I am sorry to be very late with my posts for 5/6/09, which will also necesssarily be fewer. I underrwent a minor medical procedure today, but I had a severe reaction to light anesthesia which rendered me completly unable to even sit up for the rest of the day (I am still assailed by a terrible malaise that ;eaves me half-functional).

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/7/2009 8:37 AM]
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    I disagree with Magister's title because the Pope is not going to the Holy Land to 'win over' Christians - he's going to 'confirm and encourage them in the faith'. It is up to them if they are willing to be so confirmed and encouraged. It is not within his power to improve their living conditions with a prayer and a blessing.

    The Pope's toughest job in the Holy Land:
    Winning over the Christians

    The Israelis invited him, the Muslims are in favor of his visit.
    But not his own faithful in the area: most of the opposition to his trip has come from them.
    The reasons for the rejection. And the unknowns.

    ROME, May 6, 2009 – The Sunday before leaving for the Holy Land, in a Saint Peter's Square overflowing with faithful, Benedict XVI said in a few words what the aim of his trip will be:

    With my visit, I intend to strengthen and encourage the Christians of the Holy Land, who must face numerous difficulties on a daily basis.

    As successor of the apostle Peter, I will communicate to them the closeness and support of the entire body of the Church.

    Moreover, I will be a pilgrim of peace, in the name of the one God who is Father of all. I will bear witness to the Catholic Church's efforts on behalf of those who strive to practice dialogue and reconciliation, in order to reach a stable and lasting peace in justice and mutual respect.

    Finally, this trip cannot help but have significant ecumenical and inter-religious importance. From this point of view, Jerusalem is the city-symbol par excellence: it is there that Christ died in order to gather together all of the scattered children of God.

    From these words – reiterated at the general audience on Wednesday, May 6 – it can be gathered that in order to promote peace and dialogue among the peoples and religions in the Holy Land, the pope is relying first of all on the Christians living there.

    A bold wager. It's not only that Christians has been reduced to a tiny minority in the region, less than 2 percent of the population, which is mainly Jewish and Arab.

    It must also be kept in mind that the Christians in the area have been the most skeptical in reacting to the announcement of the Pope's trip. Many of them, including priests and bishops, have said that his visit is inopportune.

    It has taken a great deal of effort to smooth over this front of rejection. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, has confirmed this in an interview: the reasons of the opponents were even explained to Benedict XVI in person.

    The main concern of the opponents was that the Pope's trip – in part because of his extremely positive stance on religious dialogue with Judaism – could be to Israel's political advantage. [A very selfish and most un-Christian attitude. It's more unworthy even than Bishop Williamson's mild Holocaust engiationism!]

    Benedict XVI firmly stood his ground. For its part, Vatican diplomacy did all it could to pacify the opposition.

    This explains, for example, the benevolence that the Vatican showed toward Israel's arch-enemy, Iran, during and after the controversial Geneva conference on racism: a benevolence that many observers judged as disproportionate. ['Benevolence' is hardly the word for it - it's Realpolitik: why antagonize anyone unnecessarily? Even Israel (and the Pope's usually reliable Jewish detractors in Rome] did not squawk over the Vatican's well-grounded decision not to boycott eh Geneva conference on racism, which did come out with a fair and not remotely anti-Israeli conclusive declaration on the second day of the meeting when there were still three days remaining of it!]

    It may also explain the silence of the Vatican authorities and the Pope himself on the treacherous hanging of the young Iranian woman Delara Dalabi in Tehran. {I must confess I never heard of this case before! In the United States, the emphasis has been on the Iranian-Japanese American journalist who has been convicted by Iran of spying.]

    In cases of this kind, publicized all over the world, the Holy See almost always raises its voice in defense of the victims of human rights violations: but this time, it decided to remain silent.


    It must be noted that Iran, in turn, is treating the Holy See with unusual benevolence. [Again, hardly genuine benevolence, since Iran has been trying to instrumentalize seeming good relations with the Vaticna in its campaign for world opinion!]

    Receiving the new apostolic nuncio to Tehran, Archbishop Jean-Paul Gobel, in April of last year, President Ahmadinejad called the Vatican a positive force for justice and peace in the world.

    Shortly afterward, he sent a high-level delegation to Rome, headed by Mahdi Mostafavi, a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed, the president of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization in Tehran, and a former foreign minister: one of Ahmadinejad's trusted men and "spiritual advisers," with whom he meets "at least twice a week."

    The Iranian delegation and an authoritative Vatican delegation held a closed door meeting from April 28-30, on the theme "Faith and reason in Christianity and Islam," which concluded with a meeting with Benedict XVI.

    There is a tiny Catholic community in Iran, which is subjected to smothering supervision. This also helps to explain the "realism" demonstrated by Vatican diplomacy in this and other Muslim countries. Discretion is believed to be more effective than open denunciation in order to save what can be saved.

    For example, the Vatican has stigmatized Ahmadinejad's repeated anathemas against the existence of Israel only once, and in veiled form. It did this in a statement from the press office back on October 25, 2005. Since then, silence.

    But diplomatic "realism" does not explain everything. Ahmadinejad's anti-Jewish anathemas sound familiar to a significant portion of the Arab Christians living in the Holy Land. For them as well, the very existence of Israel is the cause of all evils.

    It must be kept in mind that such thoughts do not circulate only among Arab Christians, but also among leading representatives of the Catholic Church who live outside of the Holy Land, and in Rome.

    One of these, for example, is Jesuit Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian by birth, one of the Islamologists most respected at the Vatican, who two years ago, in a "decalogue" for peace in the Middle East, wrote:

    [The root of the Israeli-Palestinian problem is not religious or ethnic; it is purely political.

    The problem dates back to the creation of the state of Israel and the partitioning of Palestine in 1948 – following the persecution systematically organized against the Jews – decided by the great powers without taking into consideration the populations present in the Holy Land. This is the real cause of all of the wars that followed.

    In order to remedy a grave injustice committed in Europe against one third of the world's Jewish population, Europe itself, supported by other powerful nations, decided to commit and committed a new injustice against the Palestinian population, which was innocent in the slaughter of the Jews.

    [A view typical of those who only see the 'injustice' done to Palestinians but not the injustice done to the Israeli Jews. History can't be undone, and if the other Arab nations had shown towards Palestinians the accommodation that Jordan did (and continues to do) to them, assimilating them into Jordan as full citizens, rather than leaving them in refugee camps like all the other Arab nations did, the story might be very different.

    Any modern history of the region known in colonial times as 'Palestine' (what is now Israel and Jordan, and parts of present Lebanon and Syria) shows that there were no 'Palestinian' people as such through the centuries, but a motley assortment of Muslim Arabs, who mostly never thought of themselves as 'Palestinians' but Muslims living under the British Mandate, and certainly never thought in terms of accommodating a single Jew on what was the historic Jewish homeland millennia before Islam came into being.

    In fact up to the eve of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, it was the Israeli Zionists (champions since the 19th century of re-establishing the Jewish homeland on their historic territory) who kept using the name 'Palestine' for their homeland, as it was known at the time of Christ.

    Perhaps the most striking historical fact that all pro-Palestinian liberals forget is that:

    On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions, in favour of a plan to partition the territory [what was Palestine under the British Mandate] into separate Jewish and Arab states, under economic union, with the Greater Jerusalem area (encompassing Bethlehem) coming under international control.

    Zionist leaders (including the Jewish Agency), accepted the plan, while Palestinian Arab leaders rejected, it and all independent Muslim and Arab states voted against it. Almost immediately, sectarian violence erupted and spread, killing over the ensuing months hundreds of Arabs, Jews and British.

    It is estimated that some 300,00-350,000 Arabs living in the territory that would become the State of Israel were displaced by the hostilities and the overwhelming majority chose to leave the territory to settle in neighboring Arab countries. (These are those who now insist on the 'right of return' - except that the population explosion after three generations has made them large enough to overwhelm the Jewish population of Israel!)

    The Ottoman Turks who held sway over the region for the longest time [1515-1917, with a 10 year hiatus in 1831-1841 when the Egyptians conquered and occupied it) did not call the area Palestine at all!

    Palestine did not begin to be spoken of as a 'nation' - as in the two-state/two-nation solution - until the 1980s with the rise of Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) - since when the whole world, including almost all journalists and certainly all political leaders outside of Israel, speak about this Palestine as if it were a sacrosanct entity that had been there all along. As a concept it's not even three decades old.

    And worse, to act as though Palestinians alone are 'victims' in this whole unfortunate situation. Why blame the Western nations now for the compromise solution that the UN eventually arrived at? The Arabs rejected the two-state solution offhand in 1947, and chose to engage Israel in four wars instead, each of which they lost ignominiously.]

    Having said this, Fr. Samir maintains in any case that the existence of Israel is today a matter of fact that cannot be rejected, independently of its original sin. [What original sin? To want their own homeland on territory that was historically their homeland? It's bad enough that historic Judea - the region that gives them their name - and Samaria are now what is the Palestinian territory of the West Bank! This is also the official position of the Holy See, which has long been in favor of two states, Israeli and Palestinian.

    Not only that. For Fr. Samir, the Arab Christians living in the Holy Land, although they are few in number, are "the only ones capable of promoting peace in the region, because they do not want to address the issue in religious terms, but according to justice and law." [The problem is there is only a handful of them in the epicenter of the political fault line - Israel and Palestine - and obviously, none in any position of political influence! Israel is an avowedly Jewish state, and the Palestinians are militantly Muslim.]

    According to Fr. Samir, in fact, the Arab-Israeli conflict will not end as long as there is a religious war between Judaism and Islam. Only if it is brought back to its political and "secular" characteristics can it find peace. And the Christians are the ones best equipped for the task. [A commendable but very quixotic idea!]


    On the eve of Benedict XVI's trip to the Holy Land, Fr. Samir expanded on these ideas about the role of Christians in the region in an interview with the Italian weekly Tempi.

    He said, among other things:

    Previously, the Nahdah, the Arab renaissance that took place between the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century was essentially produced by the Christians.

    Now once again, a century later, the same thing is happening, although the Christians are in the minority in Arab countries. Today the 'new' elements in Arab thinking are coming from Lebanon, where the interaction between Christians and Muslims is the most lively.

    Here there are five Catholic universities, in addition to the Islamic and state institutions. There are radio and television stations, newspapers and magazines of Christian origin, for which everyone writes, Muslims, secularists, Christians.

    Today, the cultural impact of the Christians in the Middle East takes place through the means of communication: Lebanon has become the leading center for book publication in the entire Arab world, printing Saudi books, Moroccan...

    The Muslims also understand that the Christians are the most active groups and the most dynamic cultural elements, as is often the case with minorities.

    Christians in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries also have connections and contacts with the West, and for this reason their cultural role is fundamental.

    Many Muslims, including authoritative leaders, in both Lebanon and Jordan, but also in Saudi Arabia, have stated this publicly: we do not want the Christians to leave our countries, because they are an essential part of our societies.

    [Easy for them to say, but Fr. Samir's view is limited to Lebanon and Jordan, where undoubtedly, Christians have not been persecuted as they are in the rest of the Middle East other than some of the tiny Gulf states.]

    To this optimistic picture, Fr. Samir naturally adds the caution that Christians are in danger almost everywhere in Muslim countries.

    Beginning with Saudi Arabia, another country that the Holy See approaches from an impartially "realistic" stance, which culminated on November 6, 2007, with the welcoming of the Saudi king with full honors at the Vatican, avoiding any mention of the systematic violations of human rights in the country.

    Returning to the Israeli-Palestine question, the role of Christians is seen more pessimistically by another leading expert on the region, the Custodian of the Holy Land, Franciscan Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa. In his view, today in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "Christians no longer count for anything, politically." [Have they ever, since the brief ascendance of the Crusaders? Christians have been marginal in the Middle East since Islam overwhelmed the region in the 7th century!]

    Moreover, they are the most chilly in welcoming the Pope's visit, despite the fact that he put them first on the list of the reasons for his trip.

    Benedict XVI has a tough job ahead of him in the Holy Land. More than the Israelis, who invited him, more than the monarchy of Jordan, which has thrown open the doors for him, he will first have to win over the Christians in the region.

    [I continue to believe that Christians in the Holy Land should consider their situation the Cross they have to bear along with Christ, especially since they cannot change the political order in any way. Buddhists in Tibet and Burma, and Christians in India and most other Muslin countries, are perhaps under worse - because overt - persecution.

    Christians are not 'persecuted' in the Holy Land - inconvenienced a great deal, yes, and in the case of the 286 Catholics who live in Gaza, they had to suffer along wither Muslim fellow Gazans a situation that was brought on the Palestinian terrorists to begin with! {God knows what persecutions they get at the hands of Hamas, though they neveer say anything about that!]

    As Christians we ere taught that each of us has a cross to bear,as pur participation in the Cross of Christ. It is for each of us to bear it as best we can, with the sources and resources of Christian living.

    The Pope's visit is an occasion for joy, a point of light in an otherwise bleak prospect. It is not right to place unrealistic political expectations on him. His trip is pastoral and spiritual, and it should be seen in that light.]

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/7/2009 6:56 AM]
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    May 7

    Blessed Rose Venerini (Italy,1556-1528)
    Founder, Venerini Sisters

    OR today.

    Illustration: St. John Damascene, Fresco, 1458, St. Simeon Monastery, Novgorod.
    After the Pope's Wednesday catechesis on St. John Damascene,
    he addresses a message to Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians:
    'To the Holy Land to share the hopes and sufferings of all'

    Other Page 1 stories: President Obama meets the presidents of Pakistan
    and Afghanistan at the White House; terrorist murders continue to plague
    Baghdad; and the Holy Father meets the new members of his Swiss Guard.
    In the inside pages are two stories devoted to the film 'Angels and Demons'
    whose director has been slamming the Vatican recently for 'obstructing'
    the film shooting in Rome.


    - H.E. Elías Antonio Saca González, President of El Salvador, with his wife and delegation
    - Members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard and their families, on the occasion of the annual
    oathtaking of new members. Multilingual address.

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/7/2009 5:32 PM]
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    Benedict follows John Paul's footsteps
    in the Holy Land but times have changed


    VATICAN CITY, May 7 (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI begins a weeklong tour in the Middle East on Friday, a self-described "pilgrim of peace" seeking to strengthen frayed ties with Muslims and Jews and give support to his beleaguered Christian flock in the region.

    The trip is designed along the lines of Pope John Paul II's historic pilgrimage in 2000 to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, including stops associated with Biblical events and the life of Christ.

    But the conditions for the German-born Benedict's visit are vastly different since the Polish-born John Paul, who grew up in the shadow of Auschwitz, stood at Jerusalem's Western Wall and left a handwritten note apologizing for anti-Semitism by Christians.

    In his fours years in the papacy, Benedict has infuriated both Muslims and Jews, first with a speech linking the Prophet Muhammad to violence, then when he lifted the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop.

    A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that seemed so near at the time of John Paul's visit has proven elusive. Benedict's trip was put in doubt by Israeli anger after a Vatican cardinal said earlier this year that the Gaza Strip during an Israeli military offensive resembled a "big concentration camp."

    Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the fact the trip is happening is in itself "a sign of hope" that the Pope can contribute to reconciliation in the Middle East.

    "There were those after the Gaza conflict who wondered whether the trip would take place," the Rev. Lombardi told reporters this week.

    The stop in Jordan will be Benedict's first visit as Pope to an Arab country, although he visited predominantly Islamic Turkey three years ago.

    Addressing himself to Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians during his general audience Wednesday, Benedict said he shared their "aspirations and hopes as well as your pain and struggles. I will be coming among you as a pilgrim of peace."

    While officials in Jordan and Israel are seeking to play down any controversy, differences remain.

    Jordan's King Abdullah II, who is scheduled to greet Benedict upon arrival, said in an Italian newspaper interview Tuesday that he expected Benedict to be a force for peace.

    But the country's powerful Muslim Brotherhood has demanded that Benedict apologize for his September 2006 speech in which he quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

    The Pope has already said he was "deeply sorry" over the reaction to his speech and that the passage he quoted did not reflect his own opinion.

    Lombardi said the Vatican has made all possible clarifications, telling Associated Press Television News that "we cannot continue until the end of the world to repeat the same clarifications."

    During his three-day stay in Jordan, Benedict is scheduled to meet with Muslim religious leaders at Amman's largest mosque — his second visit to a Muslim place of worship since becoming Pope in 2005.

    He prayed in Istanbul's famed Blue Mosque, a gesture that helped calm the outcry over his remarks.

    Benedict, who visited Israel three times before becoming Pope, faces a different set of issues in the Jewish state.

    The Pope's forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism and acknowledgment of Vatican mistakes have softened Jewish anger over the bishop who denied the Holocaust. Benedict had lifted his excommunication along with three other ultraconservative prelates in a bid to end a church schism. Amid the uproar, the Church has not allowed the bishop to resume his duties as bishop. {Another display of ignorance - a persistent one: The excommunications were lifted but that has not at all regularized the illegal consecration of the four bishops that occasioned the excommunication.]

    Lombardi said rabbis who recently visited the Vatican "were very happy and said that maybe some misunderstanding is a good occasion to have a better understanding."

    Another sore point is the figure of World War II Pope Pius XII, whom Benedict has called a "great churchman." Jews and others say he failed to do all he could to stop the extermination of European Jews.

    Benedict will meet with a group of Holocaust survivors at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial, though he will skip its museum, which houses a picture of Pius that has been criticized by the Vatican. The photo's caption says Pius did not protest the Nazi genocide of Jews and maintained a largely "neutral position."

    Despite the dispute, Jewish leaders say Benedict, who served in the Hitler Youth corps as a young man [he was a teenager!] in Germany and then in the army before deserting near the end of the war, has an excellent record in fighting anti-Semitism. He has already visited synagogues in Cologne, Germany, and New York, and is expected at Rome's central synagogue later this year.

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

    Lombardi said Benedict will deliver all his speeches on the trip in English. This avoids any potential problem from his speaking in his native German, which could upset Holocaust survivors. [What a ridiculous statement! Why would he speak German in a place where thelanguages are Hebrew and Arabic? Englis happens to be itnernational llingua franca. Where does German come into the question at all in non-Germanophone countries?]

    The Pope also has Christian interests to look after, particularly seeking to stem the exodus of Christians from their ancient communities in the Middle East because of war and economic hardships.

    He is expected to meet in Jordan with Iraqi Christians, driven from their homeland by violence, and with representatives of the tiny Catholic community of Gaza when he stops in Bethlehem. Israel is expected to allow Gaza's Catholics to travel to the West Bank to celebrate Mass in the town of Jesus's birth.

    "Today's world is truly in need of (God's) peace, especially as it faces the tragedies of war, division, poverty and despair," Benedict told a crowd Sunday in St. Peter's Square.

    Associated Press writer Josef Federman contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

    And here's something that Catholic prelates alreaday announced at the Jerusalem news conference the other day [See 5/5/ post from Vaticna Radioa dn the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on this page]:

    Palestinians scrap plan
    to host Pope near barrier

    RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 7 (AP) – An official says the Palestinian Authority has scrapped plans to receive Pope Benedict XVI next week on a stage near Israel's West Bank separation barrier.

    Palestinians hoped receiving the Pope next to a towering cement wall and military watchtower inside the Aida refugee camp would highlight suffering under Israeli occupation.

    Palestinian lawmaker Essa Qaraqie said Thursday that the location was changed to a U.N. school after military officials forbade them to erect the stage near the barrier.

    The Pope's convoy will still pass near the wall.

    Israeli officials accuse the Palestinians of politicizing the Pope's Holy Land visit.

    Israel says the barrier is meant to keep out attackers. Palestinians say it's a land grab. [How cna it be a land grab if it is located on the boundary line, which it is? The Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory are a land grab, which cann ot be justified under any excuse!]

    Palestinian plans for the Pope's visit
    hit a wall in Bethlehem

    By Ilene R. Prusher

    May 6, 2009

    Bethlehem, West Bank - For weeks, laborers have been laying new tiles and leaders have been finalizing their plans for welcoming one of the most important visitors the Aida Refugee Camp has ever seen: Pope Benedict XVI, who will embark on a historic visit to the Holy Land next week.

    But despite giving the stone amphitheater here a face-lift – with funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) – their plans to host the pope have hit a glitch, or to be exact, a wall.

    The Vatican has informed Palestinian officials that the papal visit will be held at a nearby United Nations school instead of on the stage they were preparing for him, raising a wave of local ire. [The papal nuncio in Jerusalem said the other day the plan was always for teh pope to speak at the UN school.]

    What's in a stage?

    There is no other venue in the world with a backdrop quite like this one. It sits in the looming shadow of the West Bank separation barrier built by Israel, complete with a forbidding watchtower.

    The massive concrete slabs here are painted with anti-Israeli graffiti, calls for Palestinian freedom, and a white patch on which the camp's community center sometimes screens films. From the point of view of Palestinians who live here, there is no vista which conveys their reality better than this one.

    "We want to show the Pope the wall, and the big prison that the Israelis have put us in," says Samir Oudeh, head of the Popular Committee of Aida Refugee Camp, as he stands atop the long, narrow, open-air theater that hugs the wall. "This is our catastrophe, and we know that they don't want the world to see it."

    Vatican officials made several visits here in recent weeks, but about a week ago, says Mr. Oudeh, he was informed that the Pope would speak in a nearby school – and not on the stage. "We learned later that the Israelis put pressure on the Vatican to change the venue," he says.

    An Israeli official in Jerusalem rejects the claim that Israel interfered with the decision, but expressed approval of the Holy See's move to avoid "politicizing" the papal visit.

    However, about a week ago, Israeli soldiers came and took pictures of the site and warned those working on it that the structure was illegal and could be torn down soon.

    A youth who lives in the camp and works as a volunteer on the site describes their arrival. "The Israelis came and said, 'You're not allowed to continue this work.' They even took pictures of us and threatened to put us in jail if we continued,' " says Atieh Abu Akr.

    Oudeh shows reporters photographs of Israeli soldiers filming the workers, and a copy of the stop-work order they left behind. The land here is designated as Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli military control.

    The local welcome committee for the Pope, however, has decided to march on with their plans, setting the stage for a less-than-comfortable atmosphere on the eve of the visit. On Wednesday, workers were still busy preparing the site as if nothing had changed.

    "As the official committee to welcome the Pope, we have decided that we will insist on finishing this area and welcoming the Pope here," says Oudeh. To his left, the wall blocks the view of the rolling landscape and of Rachel's Tomb of biblical fame. Nearby, ramshackle buildings overflow with people and laundry lines.

    A UN study released Wednesday says that only 13 percent of Bethlehem land is available for Palestinian use, much of it fragmented. Moreover, 66 percent of the land is designated as Area C, where Israel retains control over building and planning, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found.

    The residents, who number about 4,000, are disappointed. "Last night, we had a meeting in the camp, and when we told the residents that the Pope won't speak here, they were very angry," Oudeh says.

    The frustration, local Palestinians say, is not just with Israel or the Vatican, but what they describe as the PA's acquiescence.

    "If the PA agrees to this, there will be real disgust," says Abdelfattah Abusrour, who runs the Alrowwad Cultural Theatre and Training Center here. "But at the end of the day, the Pope will pass by here and the wall will be visible in every way. Even if he doesn't sit in front of it, they can't hide it."

    The spokesman for the Vatican in Israel says there has been no change in venue, and that officials decided several weeks ago that the school was the most appropriate place for the Pope's address.

    "The Holy Father will pass by the wall on his way in and out of Bethlehem, and regardless of where he will sit, the misery of the Palestinians will be known," says Wadie Abu Nassar. "It is a very sensitive matter there, but this issue was agreed on since the beginning. There are several factors no one can hide. First, that there is a wall. Second, the Palestinian refugees live in terrible conditions, and third, there's an occupation."

    A spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry said that the papal visit should focus on bringing the religions together, not highlighting political issues.

    "We believe that the choices the Vatican is making are the right ones," says Andy David, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. "This visit is intended to bring the three religions together to create an atmosphere of cooperation and send a message of peace. Trying to use the visit to emphasize disputes, we think, is not the right way to treat the Pope's visit."

    [It is, of course, an obvious and deplorable attempt to exploit the Pope's visit. He is neither stupid or uninforemd. He knows about the Israeli security fence, and probably disapproves of it, but he is a state guest in Israel, and outside of elenentary courtesy considerations, he would not in any case lend himself to any cheap propaganda exploitation.

    The UN findings on land use availabi8lity in Bethlehenm is distressing, but if existing agreements give the Israelis military control over most of Bethlehem, then that's the way it is, unfortunately. Palestinians surely do not expect Israel to voluntarily give up an agreement that has been in force for years; they would never do it if the shoe were on the other foot.]

    Pope's visit boosts Jordanian
    site of Jesus's baptism

    By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

    BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN, May 7 (Reuters) – When Pope Benedict stops to pray at a pool of still green water here on Sunday, his visit will bolster the case that Jesus was baptized at this spot on the east bank of the Jordan River.

    The exact location is unclear and a rival spot across the narrow muddy river has long claimed to be the place where John the Baptist and Jesus met for the cleansing ritual.

    But for over a decade now, Jordanian experts have unearthed ruins of ancient churches amid the tamarisk trees here and found early pilgrims' writings about the site. Christian denominations have begun building new churches for modern pilgrims nearby.

    Rustom Mkhjian, assistant director of the Baptism Site Commission developing the area, said the archaeological evidence showed early Christians saw this as the true site.

    "Why did they insist on building churches on this point?" he asked at an observation post on the wooded flood plain a short walk inland from the river. "The answer is clear. This is where Jesus was baptized."

    The Pope, who tours Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories from May 8 to 15, will visit the site and lay cornerstones for two Catholic churches on higher ground nearby.

    What's not done may be just as telling as what is. Benedict will not visit the rival site at Qasr al Yahud on the west bank. When Pope John Paul visited the region in 2000, he celebrated Mass at Bethany but slotted in a quick stop at Qasr al Yahud.

    The Vatican nuncio (ambassador) in Amman, Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikat, said confirming the site's authenticity or not "was not the point of the Holy Father's visit."

    But the local Catholic Church has joined Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, heads of world Lutheran and Baptist groups and several Orthodox leaders backing it. The star United States evangelical pastor Rick Warren recently joined in.


    Winning recognition for Bethany as the authentic baptism site is not simply a matter of local pride. It boosts Jordan's image as an important Holy Land pilgrimage site.

    "Tourism accounts for 12 percent of our gross domestic product, and 25 percent of those tourists go to the baptism site," said a senior official in Amman who asked not to be named. "We want more tourists to come here."

    Jordan's generous support in developing the site, offering land for churches and pilgrimage centers and trying to keep its dwindling Christian minority from emigrating also fits into a wider policy of fostering religious harmony here, he said.

    Religion is not a divisive issue in this mostly Muslim country, but some analysts fear it could become one if the Christian minority, now down to about 1.5 percent, disappeared and Islam became a point of dispute in Jordanian politics.

    "Christian-Muslim harmony is a national security issue," the official said. Keeping religious harmony helps maintain a social and political balance among majority Palestinians, minority tribes and other groups.

    Christians are guaranteed nine percent of parliamentary seats, reflecting the size the minority once had. That level has dropped because of falling birth rates, regional instability and a higher education level that enabled many to emigrate.


    Isolated in a closed military zone from 1967 to 1994, the Bethany baptism site was discovered in the late 1990s by experts heeding St. John's Gospel, which described the place three times as being "beyond the Jordan" rather than on the west bank.

    Writings by pilgrims from the 4th to 12th centuries spoke of a stairway to the water and pillars holding up churches against occasional flooding. Excavations have uncovered the stairs, foundations of five churches and several other sites.

    Floods and earthquakes destroyed those churches, but persistent rebuilding on the site and early pilgrimages there convinced the Jordanians this was the right location.

    Palestinian Tourism Minister Khouloud Daibes, a Christian, told Reuters: "According to our religion, the whole river is a site of baptism, but for the past 2,000 years pilgrims have been coming to this site (on the west bank)."

    I completely missed this April 30 column by John Allen which was on three subjects, leading off with LA Cardinal Roger Mahoney's thoughts about the future of Catholic ministry, and then coimmenting on the Pope's visit to the Abruzzo, before ending with the item about teh Holy Land trip. Much of it has been previously reported, and since then, some of the issues have been resolved even, one way or the other:

    Headaches in the Holy Land

    April 30, 2009

    I’ve written for the last couple of weeks about the multiple balancing acts Benedict will have to perform on his May 8-15 visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Reminders keep rolling in of the headaches awaiting the Pope.


    - Followers of Sheikh Nazem Abu Salim, a fiery Muslim preacher in Nazareth, have put up a large banner, right next to the famed Church of the Annunciation, condemning those who insult Muhammad -- an obvious reference to Benedict XVI’s 2006 speech in Regensburg, in which he cited a Byzantine emperor with nasty things to say about the founder of Islam.

    (In a verse lifted from the Qur’an, the banner reads: “Those who harm G-d and His Messenger -- G-d has cursed them in this world and in the hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating punishment.”)

    Given that Benedict XVI is scheduled to be in Nazareth on May 14, the anniversary of the declaration of the State of Israel, and that he’s planning to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that day, the situation seems particularly combustible.

    An Israeli newspaper reported this week that Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, has counseled Benedict against using the partially exposed popemobile in Nazareth out of concern for potential threats.

    - In Jordan, members of the Muslim Brotherhood have demanded a public apology from the pope for his Regensburg speech; otherwise, they’ve threatened to stage protests while the pope is in Amman. The Vatican’s position is that such an apology has already been delivered, and more than once.

    - A petition on the Internet asking Benedict XVI to visit the Gaza Strip while he’s in the Holy Land has collected around 3,000 signatures, including several dozen Catholic priests, sisters, and brothers. (A couple members of the Community of Sant’Egidio initiated the petition, albeit on their own initiative.]

    Privately, Vatican officials say that a visit to Gaza has not been seriously considered -- in part for reasons of security, and in part because it would likely become an occasion for anti-Israeli agitprop. The Pope will address the situation in Gaza, they say, while he’s in the region.

    - Israeli and Palestinian officials are squabbling over the location of the stage for Benedict’s visit to the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem on May 13.

    Palestinians want to put the stage immediately next to a large concrete wall that’s part of Israel’s security barrier in the West Bank, while the Israelis want it somewhere else.

    Ostensibly it’s a dispute over permits and logistics, but the obvious political subtext is that the Palestinians want to make a statement about what they see as an illegitimate Israeli occupation. In the end, it may not matter, since locals say there’s no point in the camp from which the wall isn’t visible.

    (One coincidence worth recalling: Benedict XVI will be in Bethlehem on May 13, which is not only the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, but also the anniversary of the 1981 assassination attempt against John Paul II.)

    - A Jewish anti-missionary organization in Israel called Yad L’Achim has called on Benedict XVI to use his trip to appeal to Catholics worldwide for help in identifying Jewish children saved from the Nazis by being placed in Catholic homes, who were never told of their Jewish origins.

    The group issued an open letter to Benedict, charging that the families withheld this information on instructions from Pius XII, the wartime pontiff whose alleged “silence” during the Holocaust has long been a source of friction in Jewish/Catholic relations.

    - On Thursday, municipal officials in Jerusalem ordered the demolition of a two-story addition to a monastery and church owned by the Armenian Catholic church in the Old City. The addition had been built, church officials said, to house Vatican dignitaries visiting Jerusalem.

    Some local Christian leaders charged that the demolition order is part of an Israeli effort to wipe out the Christian presence in the Old City, thereby “Judaizing” the area, and vowed to raise the issue with the Pope.

    - Last week, Israel’s Tourism Minister, Stas Misezhnikov, publicly demanded that Benedict XVI not meet the mayor of Skahnin, a large Arab town inside Israel, at the end of his General Audience in Rome on April 29.

    The mayor, Mazen Ghanaim, had planned to greet the pope, but Misezhnikov accused him of supporting terrorism, insisting that any acknowledgement from the Pope would be “in complete contradiction” with the spirit of his visit.

    Arab leaders reacted angrily, charging that Misezhnikov’s comments are part of a racist campaign to paint Arabs in the country as fifth columnists. In the end, Ghanaim was notified that his tickets for the audience had been withdrawn.

    Yet all is not heartburn in the run-up to the trip.

    This week brought a story out of Bethlehem, for example, about a Muslim calligrapher named Yasser Abu Saymeh who was commissioned by the city’s mayor to prepare a copy of the Gospel of Luke for the Pope in traditional Arabic script.

    While Abu Saymeh said he’d never before read the New Testament, he was struck by what the two faiths have in common, and said he comes out of the experience with a new commitment to “brotherly relations” between Christians and Muslims.

    - Meanwhile, more than 100 rabbis, representing all the major branches of Judaism, are planning to take out an ad in Ha’Aretz, the oldest and most influential paper in Israel, welcoming the Pope and expressing support for his “mission of peace.”

    The ad features a quote from Nostra Aetate, the document of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) on other religions, and directs readers to a web site where they can learn about what the rabbis call a “transformation” in Jewish-Catholic relations since Vatican II.

    The idea for the ad came from American Rabbi Jack Bemporad, a Holocaust refugee from Italy and founder of the Center for Inter-Religious Understanding in New Jersey.

    [Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/7/2009 4:31 PM]
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    Afterthoughts to
    the Pope's Abruzzo visit

    April 30, 2009

    Given the atrocious PR run Benedict XVI has suffered of late, it’s probably par for the course that he turned in one of his best public performances of the year this week, and, at least outside Italy, almost no one was paying attention.

    [Treating the Pope at work as a 'public performance' is most deplorable and unworthy, but unfortunately, throughout this item, Allen stays with his perspective of the Pope as an actor on the public stage who must curry popular favor and 'do PR'.

    He is 'reviewing' the Pope's 'performance' here rather than reporting it as the wire services and the Italian media did at the time of the event. And if he felt that the story received scant attention then, it behooved him to file a story at the time, not after the fact.]

    With the economy and swine flu dominating global headlines, Benedict’s three-hour visit on Tuesday to Abruzzo, the epicenter of an April 6 Italian earthquake that left almost 300 dead and 50,000 homeless, drew relatively scant international interest.

    Those who were watching, however, saw Benedict deliver some sleeves-rolled-up, retail-level pastoral care, and his instincts seemed almost pitch-perfect.

    Given the highly scripted nature of most papal activity, perhaps the day’s most striking feature was that the bulk of Benedict’s time was devoted to impromptu one-on-one encounters with survivors, family members, rescue workers, and local clergy.

    He delivered just two brief speeches, and didn’t even celebrate a liturgy (save for reciting the Regina Caeli at the end of the morning.) [What, not a word ab about the Madonna of Roio and the Golden Rose he offered her, or the visit to Celestine V and leaving his inaugural pallium in homage???? The Madonna of Roio, in particular, is one of those precious local stories that normally, Allen would make a great deal of.]

    At a large tent city in Onna, a small town almost completely wiped out by the quake, Benedict consoled a couple who lost all their children, as well as a local journalist whose father and two young children died when their house collapsed.

    The day’s most vivid images were of the Pope holding the hands of survivors, embracing them, smiling and wiping their tears, and listening to their stories.

    “If it were possible, I would have liked to go to every town and to every neighborhood, to go into all the tent cities and to meet everyone,” the Pope said, and it seemed that he meant it. [What do you mean, "It seems....'? Does anyone doubt the sincerity and literal truth of that statement? if he were 60 years old and not 82, is there a doubt in anyone's mind that he would not have done just that?]

    Benedict had been scheduled to take a helicopter from Rome to Abruzzo, but a driving rain prevented it from lifting off, so the pope went by car instead. Temperatures hovered around freezing for most of the morning, but he never seemed in a rush to move on. [He never is, anywhere, under any circumstances!]

    The day’s stagecraft also seemed designed to promote intimacy. When the Pope arrived in L’Aquila, a city of 100,000 which houses the famed medieval Basilica of Collemaggio, he made several turns through the crowd in a large piazza while standing in the back of an open-air jeep.

    The scene evoked memories of a simpler era, as this is how the late Pope John Paul II used to greet pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square before the 1981 assassination attempt forced the Vatican to adopt the more secure popemobile.

    Benedict offered a few brief words of consolation, without attempting a facile “explanation” of the tragedy.

    “The entire Church is here with me, standing with you in your suffering,” the Pope told the victims, adding that The Lord “is not deaf to the anguished cry of so many families who have lost everything.”

    Yet the Pope did not restrict himself to pieties, also calling for “effective solutions, as soon as possible, for those who are living in tents,” drawing sustained applause.

    He also urged “a serious examination of conscience” from civic authorities, another line that generated strong applause, given that poor building standards and construction materials are widely believed to have contributed to the quake’s toll.

    A local prosecutor has opened an investigation that could lead to criminal charges, and an official with Italy’s Civil Protection agency said that “in California, an earthquake like this would not have killed a single person.”

    The sharp comments from the Pope formed the main headlines in most Italian papers, and seemed to articulate the country’s sentiments.

    Of course, Benedict’s bravura performance arguably would have captured the world’s imagination to a far greater extent had he made his way to Abruzzo sooner.

    [The 'timing' of the earthquake, Holy Monday, and the severity of its consequences which required massive and serious emergency work, both argued against a 'grandstand' gesture of rushing to the quake zone and interfering with the work, because the security and logistical arrangements necessary for a Pope's visit would have detracted from the emergency work.

    Rushing to a disaster area is not a Pope's duty. Benedict's responses were prompt in terms of the statements he made over the next few weeks till he could personally visit, and the actual aid he personally sent: Vatican firemen were on the scene immediately to help out, he consecrated oil and Chrism specially for the diocese of L'Aquila on Maundy Thursday; he sent the Archbishop funds at his personal disposition to be given out to displaced victims and tide them over the immediate emergency; he sent the Secretary of State and his own personal secretary as his personal representative to the Funeral Mass which he could not attend.]

    If he had come to celebrate the funeral Mass on April 10, for example, the visit would have fallen on Good Friday, making it irresistible for many media outlets. [The same arguments as above. Besides, the Pope does not do or say anything 'for PR' - which seems to be Allen's main concern - but because it is the right thing to do or say.]

    But at least on this day, no matter how comparatively small the stage, Benedict XVI seemed at the top of his craft. {Again a statement that suggests the Pope keeps an eye on the PR aspect of what he does, and ending with the sort of throwaway colloquialism that has always bothered me about Allen because he does so even at the most inappropriate occasions. In this case, his entire metaphoric line of thought is to see the Pope as an actor playing to an audience.)

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