- In what is perhaps a case of stating the obvious, the Jerusalem Post reports that Pope Benedict will be making his journey not only as a pilgrim to the Holy Land but as a promoter of peace and ecumenical dialogue:
The pope would deliver "a very clear message" to the leaders and their people about the importance of trying different methods to achieve peace, Wadie Abunassar told journalists during a briefing at the Latin Patriarchate.
The pope is scheduled to meet with King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan in Amman on May 8, President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on May 11, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on May 13, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Nazareth on May 14.
"It is very complicated in our part of the world," Abunassar said. "There is a new government in Israel. It's not clear what will be the fate of the Palestinian internal [Fatah-Hamas] dialogue. It is not clear what will be the fate of the region. Now we have the Iranian issue. Iraq is not settled. Soon we will have elections in Lebanon. God knows how things will develop."
Abunassar added that the pope, the local church and local Christians believe that nonviolence is the only solution.
- In view of Benedict XVI's upcoming Holy Land visit, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has launched a worldwide appeal for testimonies of Jews saved by Catholics during the Holocaust (Zenit News, April 21 2009):
The foundation explained in a statement: "During World War II, a great number of Catholic men and women in the European continent risked their own lives to save the Jews persecuted by the Nazis. Only a fraction of these saviors were duly recognized."The foundation can be located at www.raoulwallenberg.net.
The mission of the foundation is to "develop educational programs and public awareness campaigns based on the values of solidarity and civic courage, ethical cornerstones of the saviors of the Holocaust."
- Jenna Lyle says that Christians in the Gaza Strip are having mixed feelings about Pope Benedict XVI and his upcoming visit to Israel (Christianity Today April 21, 2009):
There is only one Catholic church in Gaza, which has around 200 members. The leader of the church, Father Manuel Mussalem, said, "We will ask him [the Pope] why he came, what he intends on saying to the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims and why he isn't coming to Gaza," reports AFP.IslamOnline.net escalates the matter by depicting it as a deliberate "snub" by the Holy Father. (As previously reported, The Latin Patriarch of the Holy Land, Fouad Twal, has a somewhat different take on the situation).
"We'll tell him that this is not the right moment to come and visit the holy places, while Jerusalem is occupied."
Around 2,500 Christians live in Gaza amongst a population of 1.5 million Muslims. Dozens of Christians left the territory of Gaza following the rise to power of Hamas in the area. Those that remain have said the Pope, who wants to encourage believers to stay in the Holy Land, should have visited Gaza.
- Catholic News Service reports that carpenters in Nazareth are working "around the clock" in construction of a new municipal amphitheater for the papal mass:
Nizar Muammar, a Catholic and one of the project architects, said April 20 that the site will be ready: It will include a stage, 7,000 permanent seats and more than 30,000 temporary chairs set up on what is becoming a terraced hillside.
The covered stage, which will serve as the platform for the altar with seating for 500 cardinals, bishops and priests, was still a hole with concrete forms and reinforced beams sticking up.
Muammar said there are three access roads to the site; there will be two big parking lots for pilgrim buses and seating for more than 40,000 people. [...]
He said he was hoping Catholic officials would give final approval to his design for the stage, altar and papal throne. (read the rest)
- Catholic News Service also reports that the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television network will be making history by having its first correspondent on a papal flight:
Barbara Serra, an Italian-born, London-based presenter for Al Jazeera’s English-language channel, will fly with Pope Benedict XVI to Jordan and Israel May 8-15.
The list of 70 journalists admitted to the papal flight was posted at the Vatican Saturday. CNS Rome bureau chief John Thavis also is accredited for the flight.