Pope's pilgrimage brings
peace message to a conflicted land
By John Thavis
VATICAN CITY, May 1 (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI is set to begin a weeklong visit to the Holy Land, a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Christ and a journey through a political and interreligious minefield.
In many ways, the May 8-15 visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories is the most challenging of the Pope's foreign visits to date, one that will test his skills of communication and bridge-building in a region of conflict and mistrust.
After recent communications missteps at the Vatican, the Pope can expect to find his every word and gesture under scrutiny by the world's media -- especially when it comes to relations among Christians, Muslims and Jews and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Although the world may measure the success of the visit in terms of international or interfaith diplomacy, Pope Benedict is going to the Holy Land first and foremost as a religious pilgrim
"The priority is to witness to the truth of the Incarnation by visiting, as head of the church, the places where the events of our redemption took place. That's the point," Franciscan Father David Jaeger, an Israeli priest and adviser to the Vatican, told Catholic News Service.
The pilgrimage has a special focus on peace. The Pope, in announcing the visit, said he would be going to the Holy Land to pray for "the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and all humanity."
Father Jaeger said that's extremely important at a time when hopes for peace among the population are the lowest in many years.
"The worst thing that can happen is the loss of hope for peace. So for him to speak openly of the possibility and the necessity of peace and reconciliation should thrust those values into the fore," Father Jaeger said.
"It's not a political negotiation of course; he's not going to produce a peace treaty or try to. But the fact that he keeps the value of peace in front of the people of the region, that will be a tremendous contribution by the Church," he said.
The first leg of the Pope's trip will take him to Jordan for a series of carefully chosen liturgies and encounters, including a visit to a mosque in Amman. That event, and the fact that Pope Benedict is spending several days in Jordan, reflects his aim to reach a wide Muslim audience.
In 2006, Pope Benedict prayed in a mosque in Turkey, a gesture that spoke volumes to the Islamic world. In Amman, the Pope will deliver a speech outside the mosque to Muslim leaders, diplomats and rectors of the University of Jordan.
The audience and the setting make it likely that the pope will revisit the themes of his speech in 2006 in Regensburg, Germany, but this time making sure his remarks on reason and faith do not unintentionally offend his listeners.
For Jordan's Catholic faithful, who number about 75,000 in a population of 6.2 million, the big event will be the papal Mass in an Amman soccer stadium May 10.
Two smaller papal events in Jordan should not go unnoticed. His first appointment in Amman is at the Regina Pacis center, a special needs facility that has inspired Christian-Muslim dialogue and collaboration.
Here the Pope is likely to emphasize the importance of the "dialogue of life" and social cooperation among followers of the Abrahamic faiths.
The Pope also will lay the cornerstone of the University of Madaba, which is being built by the Latin patriarchate; blessing cornerstones is a common activity in papal visits, but establishing a Catholic-run university in a predominantly Muslim country makes this one special.
Much of the Pope's itinerary follows in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II's Holy Land pilgrimage in 2000.
Pope Benedict, for example, will pray at Mount Nebo in western Jordan, where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land before dying. And, like his predecessor, he will visit the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized -- the setting of the opening chapter of Pope Benedict's book, Jesus of Nazareth
The Pope travels to Jerusalem May 11 and later that day visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, in what Vatican aides view as a central event of the trip.
When Pope John Paul spoke at the memorial in 2000, Israelis reacted with warm appreciation; many considered it a turning point in his pilgrimage.
Pope Benedict has spoken eloquently about the Holocaust, and as a German has recalled growing up as a witness to the brutality of the regime that targeted Jews for extermination.
Vatican sources said, however, that the Pope will not be going to Yad Vashem to apologize as a German, but to invoke a wider lesson on the dangers of racism and anti-Semitism.
On May 12, his first full day in Jerusalem, the Pope visits sites sacred to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. He begins at the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam's holiest shrines, and proceeds to the Western Wall, sacred to Jews. The two sites lie adjacent to each other and in the past have been the scene of bitter skirmishes between Palestinians and Israelis.
The same day the Pope will meet separately with the city's two chief rabbis and the grand mufti.
The Pope will make a daylong visit May 13 to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and today a key administrative city of the Palestinian Authority, whose officials will welcome the pontiff at the presidential palace. The main religious event of the day is a Mass in Manger Square.
That afternoon, the Pope will visit the Aida Refugee Camp, where some 5,000 Palestinians live. The visit is already politically charged.
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem said recently that the camp, which has a giant key installed atop one of the camp's gates, symbolizes the "right to return," the principle that Palestinian refugees have a right to return to the homes in Israel that they have been forced to leave at various times since 1946, when the war for Israeli statehood began.
In addition, Israel has objected that the platform being built to host the Aida event is too close to the Israeli separation wall, which Israel has designed as a 400-mile-long security barrier through the West Bank and which Palestinians see as an instrument of repression.
The Pope will celebrate Mass May 14 in Nazareth, the city where Jesus grew up, and later visit the Grotto of the Annunciation and hold a prayer service with Catholic leaders of Galilee.
Like his Mass earlier in the week in the Josafat Valley near the Garden of Gethsemane, these liturgies are central to the Pope's pilgrimage, offering moral support to the dwindling Christian population in the land where the church was born.
U.S. Cardinal John P. Foley, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, said the Pope's visit would underline the importance of maintaining the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
"He will do what Peter always does: encourage the faithful, recognize them, give them a renewed sense of worth and let them know how much the universal church appreciates them and the importance of their faith," the cardinal said.
Rabbi says Pope's trip
will advance Catholic-Jewish ties
By John Thavis
VATICAN CITY, May 1 (CNS) -- A leading Jewish rabbi said Pope Benedict XVI's Holy Land visit was certain to consolidate the historic reconciliation process between Catholics and Jews.
The Pope's May 8-15 trip, which includes five days in Jerusalem, will demonstrate the Vatican's respect for the state of Israel as part of Jewish identity, said Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.
Rabbi Rosen made the comments in an article in the April 29 English-language edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano
"In visiting Israel and demonstrating the Holy See's respect for the Jewish state, reinforcing the impact of the pioneering visit of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI will undoubtedly further advance the historical process of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation," Rabbi Rosen wrote.
"Pope Benedict XVI will be walking in the footsteps of his great predecessor both literally and figuratively. Pope John Paul II -- very much the hero of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation in our times -- understood full well that the visit of a Pope to Israel has a special significance of its own," he said.
Rabbi Rosen said that even if the visit of Pope John Paul in 2000 was described as a pilgrimage "it was still a state visit with all the relevant trappings" and recognized the essential relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.
Pope Benedict, too, will be demonstrating more than good will to the 6 million Jews who reside in the Holy Land today, he said.
The rabbi said a papal visit can give wider expression to some of the principles and values familiar to dialogue experts.
"Most Israeli Jews and especially the more traditional and observant among them have never met a modern Christian," he said.
But when they saw Pope John Paul visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Western Wall and heard what he had to say, they realized the head of the Catholic Church was a "sincere friend," he said.
Pope Benedict will visit the Holocaust memorial and pray at the Western Wall, and will meet with the two chief rabbis of Jerusalem during his visit.
Rabbi Rosen also noted that papal visits can give rise to concrete initiatives.
During his visit in 2000, Pope John Paul proposed establishing a new dialogue commission between the Vatican and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. That commission's work over the last eight years has led to a relationship of genuine appreciation and friendship, and has affected the attitudes of people inside Israel, Rabbi Rosen said.
Rosen's article, which I remarked on in my caption summary for the 4/29/09 OR in the PRF, is the first article by a rabbi published by the OR. I meant to translate it for that reason and because it has to do with the Pope's coming trip, but it was one of those things I ended up not having time to do - I hope I still can.
It's time to open a thread for the Holy Land pilgrimage, too....
Pope to lay 'roots of peace'
in Beit Hanassi visit
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
Pope Benedict XVI and President Shimon Peres will inaugurate a new tradition when the Pope arrives in Israel in two weeks: They will plant an olive tree in a stretch of ground on the Beit Hanassi complex that has been designated as a peace garden.
All world leaders visiting Beit Hanassi in the future will be asked to add their olive trees to the peace garden so that world peace will symbolically take root.
Despite attempts in some quarters to envelop the papal visit in political connotations, Benedict XVI is coming to the Holy Land under the banner of peace with goodwill toward all faiths and all nations.
It is in this spirit that he will be greeted at Beit Hanassi by two children, one Christian and one Jewish, from Nazareth and Upper Nazareth who will welcome him to the land of milk and honey and present him with a basket of fruits containing the seven species.
The basket will also contain new fruits and grains developed in the Arava and in the Volcani Institute, and one of them will be named after the Pope.
Other gifts the Pope will receive at Beit Hanassi include a nanochip the size of a grain of rice containing the whole of the Bible, and a specially commissioned Menashe Kadishman painting.
Kadishman, one of Israel's foremost artists, is famous for his paintings of sheep. This painting will feature a shepherd, as the pope is considered the shepherd of his Catholic flock and is widely respected by other streams of Christianity.
Aside from a gala red carpet welcome, the Pope will be greeted by some 800 people, including Voices of Peace, a 50-member children's choir of Jewish, Christian and Muslim singers from Jaffa; righteous gentiles living in Israel; Holocaust survivors; bereaved families; representatives of the Negev and the Galilee; Nobel Prize laureates; leading academics; leaders of Jerusalem's three major faiths; and various dignitaries.
Special prayers for peace will be recited by Jewish, Christian and Muslim spiritual leaders.
Peres and the Pope will have a working meeting and will address the gathering before leaving for Yad Vashem.
Israel launches special stamp series
in honor of the Pope's visit
The Israeli Postal Authority is launching a special stamp series in honor of Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit,featuring churches across the country.
The Pontiff is due to arrive in Israel on May 11 for a four-day stay, which will include visits to the Palestinian Authority and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The stamp issue is not just out of good will, of course. The comments on the Haaretz page that carried this item more or less said, "Go to it! Make money out of all those Christian stamp collectors around the world who will not want to miss this!"