00 5/17/2009 6:50 PM

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Some of you probably came across this before I did today belatedly, but it is one of those short throwaway pieces that cry out for fisking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Modest successes and missed chances
in Pope’s trip


Published: May 16, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel gives Pope Benedict its blessing

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

by Aluf Benn

Monday 11 May 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 7/20/2009 2:18 PM]