DAY 4 IN ISRAEL:
MEETING WITH RELIGIOUS LEADERS OF GALILEE
From his visit to the Grotto of the Annunciation, the Holy Father proceeded to the auditorium of the Basilica for a meeting with leaders of other religious faiths represented in Galilee.
THE HOLY FATHER'S ADDRESS
Grateful for the words of welcome offered by Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo and for your warm reception, I cordially greet the leaders of different communities present, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Druze and other religious peoples.
I feel particularly blessed to visit this city revered by Christians as the place where the Angel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here too, Joseph, her betrothed, saw the Angel in a dream and was directed to name the child “Jesus”. After the marvelous events surrounding his birth, the child was brought to this city by Joseph and Mary where he “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Lk 2:40).
The conviction that the world is a gift of God, and that God has entered the twists and turns of human history, is the perspective from which Christians view creation as having a reason and a purpose. Far from being the result of blind fate, the world has been willed by God and bespeaks his glorious splendor.
At the heart of all religious traditions is the conviction that peace itself is a gift from God, yet it cannot be achieved without human endeavor.
Lasting peace flows from the recognition that the world is ultimately not our own, but rather the horizon within which we are invited to participate in God’s love and cooperate in guiding the world and history under his inspiration.
We cannot do whatever we please with the world; rather, we are called to conform our choices to the subtle yet nonetheless perceptible laws inscribed by the Creator upon the universe and pattern our actions after the divine goodness that pervades the created realm.
Galilee, a land known for its religious and ethnic diversity, is home to a people who know well the efforts required to live in harmonious coexistence.
Our different religious traditions have a powerful potential to promote a culture of peace, especially through teaching and preaching the deeper spiritual values of our common humanity. By molding the hearts of the young, we mold the future of humanity itself.
Christians readily join Jews, Muslims, Druze, and people of other religions in wishing to safeguard children from fanaticism and violence while preparing them to be builders of a better world.
My dear friends, I know that you accept cheerfully and with a greeting of peace the many pilgrims who flock to Galilee. I encourage you to continue exercising mutual respect as you work to ease tensions concerning places of worship, thus assuring a serene environment for prayer and reflection here and throughout Galilee.
Representing different religious traditions, you share a desire to contribute to the betterment of society and thus testify to the religious and spiritual values that help sustain public life.
I assure you that the Catholic Church is committed to join in this noble undertaking. In cooperation with men and women of good will, she will seek to ensure that the light of truth, peace and goodness continue to shine forth from Galilee and lead people across the globe to seek all that fosters the unity of the human family.
God bless you all.
The last speaker, a Jewish rabbi and cantor, led the assembly in singing a specially composed hymn with only the words, "Salaam, Shalom, Lord grant us peace", in typical Jewish religious musical mode.
The short hymn was sung over and over, and for the last repetition, the cantor inserted after 'Lord grant us peace', the German words 'Gibt uns Frieden' (Give us peace).
It was quite a surprise - and a wonderful gesture - that a religious Jew used German, obviously in honor of Benedict XVI
, given the acrimony that lingers about the Holocaust.
The session ended with an unusual moment for a Pope:
I must not omit to say that the Muslim representative who addressed the meeting gave one of the best and most informative interfaith addresses I have yet heard from a Muslim or a Jew. I hope I can get a transcript of it. He gave a beautiful explanation of how Islam was born as a religion of love and peace.
CNA's story takes note of the Jewish rabbi's hymn but not the Muslim leader's address:
Pope sings for peace at
site of Muslim-Christian clashes
Nazareth, Israel, May 14, 2009 (CNA) - Muslims, Christians, Jewish and Druze leaders met with Pope Benedict XVI in the auditorium of the Shrine of the Annunciation this afternoon.
Thanking the leaders for their efforts to help form younger generations dedicated to peace, the Pope appealed for their cooperation in easing tensions over religious places of worship in Galilee.
Benedict XVI began by noting that it is a blessing to be able to visit Nazareth, the place where the angel Gabriel announced Jesus' birth and where Jesus was raised.
Recalling these historical events led the Pope to reflect on the conviction that “the world is a gift of God, and that God has entered the twists and turns of human history.” This perspective is the source of Christians' belief that creation has “a reason and a purpose,” he explained.
Peace, the Pope noted, is “a gift of God, yet it cannot be achieved without human endeavor.” However, he said, “We cannot do whatever we please with the world; rather, we are called to conform our choices to the subtle yet nonetheless perceptible laws inscribed by the Creator upon the universe... .”
The fact that the Pope is in Galilee, a religiously diverse region of Israel, gave him the opportunity to call for the numerous religions to “promote a culture of peace.” This can be done, he asserted, through educating the younger generations in “the deeper spiritual values of our common humanity.”
The Holy Father pledged Christians' eager participation in joining “Jews, Muslims, Druze and people of other religions in wishing to safeguard children from fanaticism and violence while preparing them to be builders of a better world.”
The issue of violence surrounding religious sites was also touched on by the Pope.
In the late 1990s, tensions flared in the square that holds the Basilica of the Annunciation because of plans by Muslims to build a large mosque that would have blocked the view of the basilica.
The confrontation over the Israeli government-approved mosque brewed over into clashes between Muslims and Christians just before Pope John Paul II's visit in 1999.
In 2003 the Israeli government intervened by sending in troops to demolish the mosque's foundations.
Pope Benedict, aware of the conflict, said in his speech today, “I know that you accept cheerfully and with a greeting of peace the many pilgrims who flock to Galilee. I encourage you to continue exercising mutual respect as you work to ease tensions concerning places of worship, thus assuring a serene environment for prayer and reflection here and throughout Galilee.”
At the end of the meeting, the Pope smiled as the leaders joined hands and sang "Shalom, Salam, May the Lord's peace be with you" - a song composed and led by Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi was asked if this marked the first time on the trip that the Pope prayed with Muslim and Jewish leaders.
He replied, "I'd say that the rabbi had a ingenius and creative idea because nobody can object to singing peace."
[I do not think praying together at this interfaith meeting would have been out of place. The setting is an auditorium, used for other civic occasions, and definitely not a place for liturgy, even if it is a facility attached to the Basilica....
And I am still trying to find a satisfactory explanation as to why praying together with people of other faiths inside a temple of worship that is not Catholic is frowned upon - especially if the prayers are silent (each one prays privately even if physically present together), or if a common prayer to the one God is said aloud.]
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/15/2009 4:01 AM]