- In reflections ahead of the Easter prayer, the Regina Caeli, Benedict XVI asked for prayers for vocations and for his imminent journey to the Holy Land (AsiaNews.it May 3, 2009):
“With my visit – explained the pope – I aim to confirm and encourage the Christians in the Holy Land, who are faced with no small amount of difficulties each and every day. As successor to the Apostle Peter, I will bring to them the support and closeness of the entire Church. Moreover, I will be a pilgrim of peace, in the name of the one God, the Father of all. I will be a witness of the Catholic Churches commitment in favour of all those who struggle to practice dialogue and reconciliation, to reach a stable and lasting peace in justice and shared respect. Finally, this voyage cannot avoid being of notable importance for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. Jerusalem is, from this point of view, the symbolic city par excellence: there Christ died to unite all of Gods lost children (Jn 11,52)”.
- Benedict XVI's May 8-15 trip to the Holy Land is a pilgrimage, not a political event, emphasized Father Federico Lombardi in the most recent edition of Vatican Television's "Octava Dies." Zenit News reports:
He called the journey the "most awaited" trip the Pope has made thus far, and possibly the "most binding."
Father Lombardi clarified that it is "above all a journey of faith," even if events in the Middle East are always interpreted in a political key.
the "political situation in the area is very uncertain, and also the possibilities of peace are fragile. But the Pope all the same sets out, with an admirable courage that is based on faith, to speak of reconciliation and peace."
"All of us," he affirmed, "should accompany him not only with ordinary prayer, but also with that spiritual movement that John Paul II called the 'great prayer' -- so that the Church is renewed in its sources, so that the union between Christians grows closer, and so that hate finally gives way to reconciliation." [More]
- According to Haaretz, Israel's police and the security establishment have no specific information about potential attacks targeting Pope Benedict XVI:
Speaking at a briefing ahead of the pontiff's visit, Maj. Gen. Shimon Koren said the police will deploy thousands of personnel around the site of the planned mass on Precipice Mountain and at the Basilica of the Annunciation. The police and the Shin Bet are providing security for the events.
Koren also said that as of yesterday, no requests had been filed to demonstrate against the Nazareth visit. The police will approve protest requests so long as they do not overshadow or disrupt the pope's visit, he said.
- An Israeli research group reports that the Christian population of Jerusalem has shrunk to 14,000, down from 31,000 at the end of the British Mandate – only 2 percent of the city's population, and far fewer than the 20 percent it constituted in 1946 (Israel National News May 2, 2009):
The report, prepared by Dr. Amnon Ramon of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, says that most of the younger generation of Christians who were born in Jerusalem have left the city – many emigrating abroad, to the United States, Canada, and South America. "Actually, the vast majority of the non-Arab Christian population has already left the city," Dr. Ramon said, adding that many members of the Arab Christian communities have left as well, with many moving to Jordan. Out of the 14,000 Christians living in the city today, 2,600 are nuns, monks, and clergy studying in the city. [More]
- Israel Police and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) have announced that the Western Wall will not be closed to Jewish worshippers during the Pope’s visit (Israel National News May 3, 2009):
The two bodies made the decision, overturning their previous intention, in response to a request by the Rabbi of the Holy Sites, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch.
The original decision had caused a minor uproar among the religious community, hundreds of whose members never miss their regular daily prayer service at the holy site.
- Nazareth: Off the beaten track in Jesus' hometown - Matti Friedman (USA Today) profiles the stomping grounds of our Lord and Savior:
NAZARETH, Israel — When Pope Benedict XVI pays a visit next month to the town where Jesus grew up, he will bring brief attention to a Holy Land destination that is at once world famous and unjustly overlooked.The Washington Post also has a lengthy article on Nazareth, and the town's hopes that the Pope's visit will bring about a revival in the tourist trade:
Like the tour groups bused into Nazareth for lightning visits on their way to somewhere else, the pope will see the Basilica of the Annunciation, on the site where Christian tradition says an angel told Mary she would bear the child of God.
Like most visitors, the pope likely won't have the chance to savor the shabby Ottoman chic of the Old City, consume too many of Abu Ashraf's honey-drenched pastries, or watch the young and hip show off their clothes and cars opposite the Dandana restaurant. It's safe to assume he will not experience the ear-spitting repertoire of Chaos, Israel's only Arab heavy metal band. ...
"People will be told, 'Nazareth, Nazareth, Nazareth.' We believe this is the most important Christian city in the world," said Tareq Shehada, general manager of the Nazareth Cultural and Tourism Association.
"Nazareth has been a day-tripper's site," where tour buses often stop for a few hours before delivering passengers to hotels in other cities, he said. "We feel it should be a tourist city. Not a tourist site."
- Test for a reluctant pope (The National May 1, 2009). A profile of the Holy Father written by Damian Thompson (Holy Smoke).
- Pope to Confront Myriad Challenges in Holy Land Trip, by Francis X. Rocca. (Religion News Service) May 1, 2009.