Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pope Benedict in Israel - The Aftermath



  • 6-4-09: Francis Cardinal George of Chicago devoted a column to summarizing the key points of the papal journey in "The Holy Father in the Holy Land" (The Catholic New World).

  • 6-04-09: EWTN’s Skewed Commentary on the Pope’s Holy Land Trip - CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) takes aim at biased remarks from Brother Aloysius Florio (Vicar of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land located in Washington, D.C.).

  • 5-31-09: "A tale of three narratives", by Jonathan Mirvis (Haaretz):
    Now that this month's visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Israel has been relegated to history, it might be useful to examine the distinctly different ways in which the trip was understood by different populations.

    We can point to three contrasting "narratives" by which the event was described. The first reads as follows: "Pope visits Israel and refuses to apologize for Holocaust"; the second reads, "Pope visits Holy Land and prays at the holy places." One can find the first narrative in the Israeli media while the second is typical of the Catholic media, as well as of some of the general world media that covered the visit. There is a third narrative reflected in Israel's traditional religious media, according to which the papal visit was a non-event. For that public, the lead story of the week in question was the celebrations of Lag Ba'omer and the pilgrimage of tens of thousands to Mt. Meron.

    These narratives reflect three contrasting views relating to this region. ... [read more].

Monday, May 18, 2009

Assessing Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to Israel and the Holy Land

Note -- as we receive or come across further substantial assessments of the Pope's pilgrimage to Israel, we will append them to this post.

Before praying of the midday Regina Caeli with those gathered in St. Peter's Square, the Pope reflected on his recent eight-day tour of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories (Zenit News):

"The Holy Land, symbol of God’s love for his people and for the whole of humanity, is also a symbol of the freedom and the peace that God wants for all his children," the Holy Father said. "In fact, however, the history of yesterday and today shows that precisely that Land has become the symbol of the opposite, that is, of divisions and interminable conflicts between brothers."

The Pontiff explained that the Holy Land "has been called a 'fifth Gospel,' because here we see, indeed touch, the reality of the history that God realized together with men -- beginning with the places of Abraham’s life to the places of Jesus’ life, from the incarnation to the empty tomb, sign of his resurrection."

"Yes, God came to this land, he acted with us in this world," he continued. "But here we can say still more: The Holy Land, because of its very history, can be considered a microcosm that recapitulates in itself God’s arduous journey with humanity.

"A journey that implicates even the cross with sin, but -- with the abundance of divine love -- the joy of the Holy Spirit too, the resurrection already begun, and it is the journey, through the valley of our suffering, to the Kingdom of God, the kingdom that is not of this world, but that lives in this world and must penetrate it with its power of justice and peace."

"Salvation history begins with the election of one man, Abraham, and of people, Israel, but its aim is universality, the salvation of all nations," Benedict XVI added. "Salvation history is always marked by this intersection of particularity and universality."

You can retrace Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to the Holy Land in day-by-day detail here; what follows is a roundup up reflections and wrap-ups of this momentous trip.

  • In Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Where the Foundations of the Faith Can Be "Touched" - Sandro Magister provides his own selection of excerpts from the Pope's remarks, commenting:
    it would be simplistic and misguided to give a purely political interpretation to the overall message that Benedict XVI wanted to address to the Christians of the Holy Land.

    In the pope's judgment, the Church will be influential – on the political terrain as well – if it is able to do something different: if it helps above all to "remove the walls that we build around our hearts, the barriers that we raise against our neighbor."

    Benedict XVI's main goal is to convert hearts and minds to God. He has said and written this repeatedly.

    And he has remained absolutely faithful to this "priority" even on a trip so loaded with political significance as the one he is making to the Holy Land.

  • The Pope, Arabic Islam and the West, by Samir Khalil Samir (Asia News May 14, 2009). According to Samir, it is in Jordan that the Pope "laid the basis for collaboration between Muslims and Christians, East and West." While the Arab press focused on past resentments toward the Regensburg address, Fr. Samir encountered an atmosphere that "was serene, welcoming and of shared trust." He offers an analysis of the Pope's remarks at the University of Madaba, for him "the key point of the pilgrimage":
    It’s very important that in a Muslim (and Christian) world, often theocratic, the pope, before speaking of religion, speaks of culture and science. And the aim of science is to love and discover truth. He insists that this intellectual formation “will sharpen their critical skills, dispel ignorance and prejudice, and assist in breaking the spell cast by ideologies old and new”.

    “Critical skills” are important in the Arab world: without criticism faith can become fanaticism, superstition or even manipulation. The pope touched on a point that is vital for the growth of the region: the absence of the critical eye, results in people following one or other political leader, without ever questioning the need for democracy, freedom, human rights, coexistence. People religiously follow, without ever questioning the principals of their own faith; holding onto traditions for fear of drowning in freedom of conscience. This is true of all religions not just Islam. Ignorance or prejudice, for the pope, threatens peace and dialogue.

    And when he speaks of the “enchantment of ideologies” he alludes to the easy way people let themselves become consumed by fanaticism and violence.

    He says: “Religion, of course, like science and technology, philosophy and all expressions of our search for truth, can be corrupted. Religion is disfigured when pressed into the service of ignorance or prejudice, contempt, violence and abuse”.

    Benedict XVI puts all of these realities into the same boat because everything can be disfigured – even science. For him, what is important is that religion is not abused or disfigured.

    Read the rest of Fr. Samir's analysis.

  • Three great ironies about Benedict's Holy Land visit, by John Allen Jr. (National Catholic Reporter May 15, 2009):
    After the most demanding high-wire act of his papacy, a grueling week that saw the 82-year-old pontiff deliver 28 speeches while shuttling among Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, it seems terribly simplistic to offer a report card, but here we go nonetheless: Give Benedict XVI an A for effort, and a B for execution.
    John Allen offers comprehensive analysis with some good insights. For example, on the sometimes harsh and abrasive criticism by Israelis of the Pope's words at Yad Vashem:
    "In effect, they argued, the very fact that Israelis weren't content just to see a pope at Yad Vashem, or at the Western Wall, is itself a sign of progress. It means that a pope coming to Israel is no longer a revolution or a cause célèbre, but rather an expression of a basically normal relationship.

    Historically inclined Israelis see a progression from Paul VI's visit in 1964, when the pontiff refused to utter the words "state of Israel" or to refer to the country's president as anything other than "mister"; to John Paul in 2000, a trip that transformed relations; to Benedict in 2009, a visit reflecting a now-routine friendship, with its ups and downs, but fundamentally there's no turning back.

    As far as the "three great ironies" of the Pope's trip, Allen notes first that the "wordsmith pope, whose métier is generally ideas rather than images, often seemed to have more success at the level of symbolism"; secondly, that for one "notoriously resistant to attempts to turn the Catholic church into a political action committee, or the message of the Gospels into a revolutionary manifesto," Pope Benedict's "strongest moments came in the political arena"; and finally, that while Pope Benedict "is arguably the pope most inclined to be sympathetic to Israel since the Jewish state was founded six decades ago, yet the Israelis in some ways were his toughest crowd":
    Benedict XVI thus arrived in Israel not only as a pope committed to theological and spiritual fraternity with Judaism, but also one less instinctively hostile to concrete Israeli policies than many other Catholic leaders.

    Perhaps the point was invisible to most of the Israeli public, but local Palestinian Christians actually complained before, and during, the trip that the pope was caving in to Israeli sensitivities at every turn -- not travelling to Gaza, not protesting when the Israelis refused to allow the residents at Aida to erect the stage immediately below the wall, and not protesting when the Israelis closed down a Palestinian press center in East Jerusalem. Even his schedule reflected deference to Israeli sensibilities. Benedict made sure to fly out of Tel Aviv well before sundown on Friday, so as not to disrupt the Sabbath.

    Most Israeli leaders seemed to recognize this, which is probably why they rushed to Benedict's defense when the criticism began. At the inter-faith event in Nazareth, for example, Bahij Masour, who heads the religious affairs division of Israel's Foreign Ministry, made a point of saying during his introduction that the pope "has clearly condemned anti-Semitism and denial of the Holocaust." Certainly Israel's President, Shimon Peres, went out of his way to be gracious to the pope, including hosting a lavish gala in his honor at the presidential palace in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

    As Israelis sort through the images left behind by the pope's trip, perhaps more of this will become clear.

    Read the rest.

  • Commenting on the Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the Holy Land, the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, said on Wednesday: "The entire message of the Pope is positive and could spark important reflection" (Catholic News Agency):
    In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Peres said, in order to "have a clear idea of the message left by Benedict XVI," it is "necessary to combine his discourse at the airport" in which he deplored anti-Semitism and encouraged Christians to promote peace, with "the one at Yad Vashem," in which he reiterated the commitment to the Church to denounce all hatred.

    Peres told the Vatican newspaper that there was no one better than the Pope to express rejection for any religion that justifies violence. He said the Holy Father’s strongest message was "perhaps his arrival speech. More than once the Pope has spoken of the role of the three monotheistic religions in the building of a lasting peace."

    Referring to the search for peace, Peres noted that a new trend is emerging in the Middle East. People are no longer "satisfied with bilateral agreements, but rather seek regional agreements for peace and peaceful coexistence with the understanding that modern democracy does not consist of the right to be equal, but in the equality of rights to be different; in which all prayers can reach heaven without interference or censure."

  • In Holy Land, pilgrim pope delivers religious, political challenges - A decent recap by John Thavis (Catholic News Service):
    Pope Benedict XVI's eight-day visit to the Holy Land was a biblical pilgrimage, an interfaith mission and a political balancing act all rolled into one.

    It was also a gamble. In a region hardened by decades of conflict and simmering social and religious tensions, there was no guarantee of success.

    The long-range verdict is yet to come on this "pilgrimage of peace," but the pope certainly delivered a clear and challenging message to his diverse audiences in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories May 8-15. That alone was an achievement. ...

  • "Singing away theological differences in Nazareth" - Tom Heneghan comments on poignant-if-curious moment for the former Prefect of the CDF:
    This sing-along started at an interfaith meeting when a rabbi began singing a song with the lyrics “Shalom, Salaam, Lord grant us peace.” At some point, the 11 clerics on the stage stood up and held hands to sing the simple tune together. Never very spontaneous, Benedict looked a little hesitant but then joined in. It was something of a “kumbaya session” — a “religious version of We Are The World,” one colleague quipped — but it was good-natured and well meant. The pope has been preaching interfaith cooperation at every stop on his tour and it seemed appropriate that it culminate in a show of unity among the religions in Galilee.

    But wait a minute. This is the same Joseph Ratzinger who, when he was a cardinal heading the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, frowned on Pope John Paul’s pray-in with other religions at Assisi in 1986. He even declined to attend what became one of the landmark events of his predecessor’s papacy. [More]

  • Papal Pilgrimage Ends With a Bang: Benedict XVI Sums Up Message in Packed Address, by Father Thomas D. Williams, LC (Zenit News):
    Benedict took advantage of his last meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres to reiterate the key messages of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This Pope -- whom many consider incapable of uttering a sound bite -- managed to condense his week’s message into an 859-word address that lasted no more than three minutes. Somehow in this brief interval he was able to encapsulate the gist of the 29 different encounters that he had throughout this action-packed week. It seemed as if he were back in the university classroom once again, summing up his day’s lecture to keep his more distracted students on track. ...

  • Pope in Holy Land where fear breeds criticism, by Franco Pisano (AsiaNews):
    In Lebanon As Safir, a pro-Syrian newspaper close to the extremists of Hizbollah and Hamas, wrote that the moral authority of the Pope “has no influence on the Arab East that it can leave a trace to shape change.” A Hamas leader accused the Pontiff of not saying things which he had actually said, whilst an imam in Nazareth, who wanted to build a mosque close to the Church of the Nativity, said he “was not welcome.” Israeli closer to the opposition and the ultra-orthodox right attacked him, also forgetting what he said the same day. Part of the Western media echoed such views. If extremists and others, those who are against him on principle, attack him, then Benedict XVI has achieved some results for one does not attack someone who is irrelevant.

  • Fr. Raymond J. de Souza: Pope Benedict XVI's visit "a reason to give thanks" (National Post May 16, 2009):
    Pope Benedict returned to Rome likely content with the workmanlike success of his trip. A spectacular triumph it wasn't. Yet the principal task was accomplished just by coming, lest it be said that the German pope declined to visit Israel. To get here was a struggle, with the Vatican having to overrule local Catholics who were lukewarm to the visit, and the more determined opposition of other Christian leaders. The Christian Arabs here thought the visit would be an undeserved propaganda triumph for an Israeli government they deeply mistrust. They asked the Pope not to come. He came anyway.

  • Commonweal's Paul Moses on Benedict’s effort to reach Arab world:
    Benedict made a strong effort to speak to the Arab world on this trip. I haven’t made a line-for-line comparison of their remarks, but my sense is that Benedict was more pointed than John Paul was in his defense of the Palestinian people. ...

    This may turn out to be the most significant aspect of the trip - more so than the debate on whether the pope should have spoken more personally about the Holocaust. One must suspect that at least some of the negative reaction in Israel was driven by the pope’s take on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Or, as an editorial in the Jerusalem Post put it, “The past week showed that on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Pope Benedict XVI just doesn’t get it. ” But maybe he does.

  • Photographer Stefano Spaziani has some amazing footage of the Pope's visit to Israel

  • Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, believes the Pope's trip to Israel was a success and laments those Jewish critics declining to attend the papal events, and says "there is no question that this pope deeply respects Judaism and stands solidly for the security of the state of Israel" (Wall Street Journal):
    As someone who has dedicated the past 35 years to fostering respect between Jews and Christians, I was deeply encouraged by the pope's visit and believe that it has contributed significantly toward supplanting the dark and violent history between Jews and the church.

    The world desperately needs this model of reconciliation. I pray that it extends to our Muslim cousins too, so that all the children of Abraham might find peace with one another.

  • Benedict XVI's visit to the Holy Land brought with it a "renaissance" in relations between Jews, Muslims and Christians, says Father Caesar Atuire, delegate administrator of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, the Vatican institution whose mission is to evangelize through pastoral tourism and the ministry of pilgrimage. (Zenit News)

  • Leading rabbis in interfaith relations applauded Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, countering criticism from Israeli politicians and journalists (MetroCatholic):
    “I really think it is purposeless to parse every word of the pope, and to read into [his remarks] nuances that were not intended,” said Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal, Executive Director of the National Council of Synagogues.

    Rabbi Rosenthal made his comments at a press conference with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York following the spring meeting of the consultation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) with the National Council of Synagogues (NCS) of America, May 12, in Manhattan.

    Rosenthal added that “the Holy Father went to Yad Vashem; he prayed at the Wall; he reiterated the fact that the Shoah must never be forgotten and that the names of the six million victims must never be erased from historic memory.”

    Rabbi Alvin Berkun, President of the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly, stood with Rabbi Rosenthal, and said the pope’s visits to both the memorial and the Western Wall, where he placed a prayer for peace among the religions and states of the region, build on the successes of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who visited the Holy Land in 2000.

  • "My encounter with the Pope", by Rabbi Benjamin Blech. An eyewitness to the Pope's encounter at Yad Vashem responds to the inquiry, "how does a rabbi feel when he meets the pope?"

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI bids farewell - Departure Ceremony at Ben Gurion Internaional Airport

Mr President, you and I planted an olive tree at your residence on the day that I arrived in Israel. The olive tree, as you know, is an image used by Saint Paul to describe the very close relations between Christians and Jews. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans how the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the cultivated olive tree which is the People of the Covenant (cf. 11:17-24). We are nourished from the same spiritual roots. We meet as brothers, brothers who at times in our history have had a tense relationship, but now are firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship.
The ceremony at the Presidential Palace was followed by one of the most solemn moments of my stay in Israel – my visit to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, where I paid my respects to the victims of the Shoah. There also I met some of the survivors. Those deeply moving encounters brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews - mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends - were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred. That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied. On the contrary, those dark memories should strengthen our determination to draw closer to one another as branches of the same olive tree, nourished from the same roots and united in brotherly love.
Mr President, I thank you for the warmth of your hospitality, which is greatly appreciated, and I wish to put on record that I came to visit this country as a friend of the Israelis, just as I am a friend of the Palestinian people. Friends enjoy spending time in one another’s company, and they find it deeply distressing to see one another suffer. No friend of the Israelis and the Palestinians can fail to be saddened by the continuing tension between your two peoples. No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades. Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice, let there be genuine reconciliation and healing. Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream. And let peace spread outwards from these lands, let them serve as a “light to the nations” (Is 42:6), bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict.
One of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands was the wall. As I passed alongside it, I prayed for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation, but rather respecting and trusting one another, and renouncing all forms of violence and aggression. Mr President, I know how hard it will be to achieve that goal. I know how difficult is your task, and that of the Palestinian Authority. But I assure you that my prayers and the prayers of Catholics across the world are with you as you continue your efforts to build a just and lasting peace in this region.
-- Pope Benedict XVI. Departure ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (May 15, 2009)

Pope Benedict XVI - Visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Saint John’s Gospel has left us an evocative account of the visit of Peter and the Beloved Disciple to the empty tomb on Easter morning. Today, at a distance of some twenty centuries, Peter’s Successor, the Bishop of Rome, stands before that same empty tomb and contemplates the mystery of the Resurrection. Following in the footsteps of the Apostle, I wish to proclaim anew, to the men and women of our time, the Church’s firm faith that Jesus Christ “was crucified, died and was buried”, and that “on the third day he rose from the dead”. Exalted at the right hand of the Father, he has sent us his Spirit for the forgiveness of sins. Apart from him, whom God has made Lord and Christ, “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Standing in this holy place, and pondering that wondrous event, how can we not be “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37), like those who first heard Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost? Here Christ died and rose, never to die again. Here the history of humanity was decisively changed. The long reign of sin and death was shattered by the triumph of obedience and life; the wood of the Cross lay bare the truth about good and evil; God’s judgement was passed on this world and the grace of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon humanity. Here Christ, the new Adam, taught us that evil never has the last word, that love is stronger than death, that our future, and the future of all humanity, lies in the hands of a faithful and provident God.
The empty tomb speaks to us of hope, the hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the Spirit of life (cf. Rom 5:5). This is the message that I wish to leave with you today, at the conclusion of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. May hope rise up ever anew, by God’s grace, in the hearts of all the people dwelling in these lands! May it take root in your hearts, abide in your families and communities, and inspire in each of you an ever more faithful witness to the Prince of Peace! The Church in the Holy Land, which has so often experienced the dark mystery of Golgotha, must never cease to be an intrepid herald of the luminous message of hope which this empty tomb proclaims. The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome, and that a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise for every man and woman, for the whole human family, and in a special way for the people who dwell in this land so dear to the heart of the Saviour.
This ancient Memorial of the Anástasis bears mute witness both to the burden of our past, with its failings, misunderstandings and conflicts, and to the glorious promise which continues to radiate from Christ’s empty tomb. This holy place, where God’s power was revealed in weakness, and human sufferings were transfigured by divine glory, invites us to look once again with the eyes of faith upon the face of the crucified and risen Lord. Contemplating his glorified flesh, completely transfigured by the Spirit, may we come to realize more fully that even now, through Baptism, “we bear in our bodies the death of Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our own mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4:10-11). Even now, the grace of the resurrection is at work within us! May our contemplation of this mystery spur our efforts, both as individuals and as members of the ecclesial community, to grow in the life of the Spirit through conversion, penance and prayer. May it help us to overcome, by the power of that same Spirit, every conflict and tension born of the flesh, and to remove every obstacle, both within and without, standing in the way of our common witness to Christ and the reconciling power of his love.
-- Pope Benedict XVI, excerpts from Visit to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (May 15, 2009)

Pope Benedict XVI - Ecumenical Meeting of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Standing in this hallowed place, alongside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the site where our crucified Lord rose from the dead for all humanity, and near the cenacle, where on the day of Pentecost “they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1), who could not feel impelled to bring the fullness of goodwill, sound scholarship and spiritual desire to our ecumenical endeavors? I pray that our gathering today will give new impetus to the work of theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, adding to the recent fruits of study documents and other joint initiatives.
Extending his arms on the Cross, Jesus revealed the fullness of his desire to draw all people to himself, uniting them together as one (cf. Jn 12:32). Breathing his Spirit upon us he revealed his power to enable us to participate in his mission of reconciliation (cf. Jn 19:30; 20:22-23). In that breath, through the redemption that unites, stands our mission! Little wonder, then, that it is precisely in our burning desire to bring Christ to others, to make known his message of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor 5:19), that we experience the shame of our division. Yet, sent out into the world (cf. Jn 20:21), empowered by the unifying force of the Holy Spirit (ibid. v. 22), proclaiming the reconciliation that draws all to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (ibid. v. 31), we shall find the strength to redouble our efforts to perfect our communion, to make it complete, to bear united witness to the love of the Father who sends the Son so that the world may know his love for us (cf. Jn 17:23).
Some two thousand years ago, along these same streets, a group of Greeks put this request to Philip: “Sir, we should like to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21). It is a request made again of us today, here in Jerusalem, in the Holy Land, in the region and throughout the world. How do we respond? Is our response heard? Saint Paul alerts us to the gravity of our response: our mission to teach and preach. He says: “faith comes from hearing, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17). It is imperative therefore that Christian leaders and their communities bear vibrant testimony to what our faith proclaims: the eternal Word, who entered space and time in this land, Jesus of Nazareth, who walked these streets, through his words and actions calls people of every age to his life of truth and love.
-- Pope Benedict XVI, excerpt from Ecumenical meeting in the Throne Hall of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem (May 15, 2009)

Day 8 - Benedict's final day in Jerusalem; Ecumenical meeting with Greek Orthodox; Church of the Holy Sepulchre; Armenian church of St. James

On the Schedule Today (Friday May 15, 2009)
This post will be updated with news and commentary on the day's events


  • 07.30 - Private Mass in the Chapel of the Apostolic Delegation to Jerusalem
  • 09.15 - Ecumenical meeting in the Throne Hall of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem
  • 10.15 - Visit to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
  • 11.10 - Visit to the Armenian patriarchal church of St. James in Jerusalem

Tel Aviv

  • 13.30 - Departure ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv Address of the Holy Father
  • 14.00 - Departure by plane from the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (Israel) for Ciampino Airport (Rome)


  • 16.50 - Arrival at Ciampino Airport

Spoken words of Pope Benedict XVI

Coverage and Commentary

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI - Vespers at the Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth

What happened here in Nazareth, far from the gaze of the world, was a singular act of God, a powerful intervention in history, through which a child was conceived who was to bring salvation to the whole world. The wonder of the Incarnation continues to challenge us to open up our understanding to the limitless possibilities of God’s transforming power, of his love for us, his desire to be united with us. Here the eternally begotten Son of God became man, and so made it possible for us, his brothers and sisters, to share in his divine sonship. That downward movement of self-emptying love made possible the upward movement of exaltation in which we too are raised to share in the life of God himself (cf. Phil 2:6-11).
The narrative of the Annunciation illustrates God’s extraordinary courtesy (cf. Mother Julian of Norwich, Revelations 77-79). He does not impose himself, he does not simply pre-determine the part that Mary will play in his plan for our salvation: he first seeks her consent. In the original Creation there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of his creatures, but in this new Creation he does so. Mary stands in the place of all humanity. She speaks for us all when she responds to the angel’s invitation. Saint Bernard describes how the whole court of heaven was waiting with eager anticipation for her word of consent that consummated the nuptial union between God and humanity. The attention of all the choirs of angels was riveted on this spot, where a dialogue took place that would launch a new and definitive chapter in world history. Mary said, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” And the Word of God became flesh.
When we reflect on this joyful mystery, it gives us hope, the sure hope that God will continue to reach into our history, to act with creative power so as to achieve goals which by human reckoning seem impossible. It challenges us to open ourselves to the transforming action of the Creator Spirit who makes us new, makes us one with him, and fills us with his life. It invites us, with exquisite courtesy, to consent to his dwelling within us, to welcome the Word of God into our hearts, enabling us to respond to him in love and to reach out in love towards one another.
-- Pope Benedict XVI, excerpts from Celebration of Vespers with the Bishops, priests, men and women religious, ecclesial and pastoral movements of Galilee in the upper Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth (May 14, 2009)

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates mass at Mount Precipice, Nazareth

All of us need, as Pope Paul VI said here, to return to Nazareth, to contemplate ever anew the silence and love of the Holy Family, the model of all Christian family life. Here, in the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we come to appreciate even more fully the sacredness of the family, which in God’s plan is based on the lifelong fidelity of a man and a woman consecrated by the marriage covenant and accepting of God’s gift of new life. How much the men and women of our time need to reappropriate this fundamental truth, which stands at the foundation of society, and how important is the witness of married couples for the formation of sound consciences and the building of a civilization of love!
As we reflect on these realities here, in the town of the Annunciation, our thoughts naturally turn to Mary, “full of grace”, the mother of the Holy Family and our Mother. Nazareth reminds us of our need to acknowledge and respect the God-given dignity and proper role of women, as well as their particular charisms and talents. Whether as mothers in families, as a vital presence in the work force and the institutions of society, or in the particular vocation of following our Lord by the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, women have an indispensable role in creating that “human ecology” (cf. Centesimus Annus, 39) which our world, and this land, so urgently needs: a milieu in which children learn to love and to cherish others, to be honest and respectful to all, to practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness.
Here too, we think of Saint Joseph, the just man whom God wished to place over his household. From Joseph’s strong and fatherly example Jesus learned the virtues of a manly piety, fidelity to one’s word, integrity and hard work. In the carpenter of Nazareth he saw how authority placed at the service of love is infinitely more fruitful than the power which seeks to dominate. How much our world needs the example, guidance and quiet strength of men like Joseph!
Finally, in contemplating the Holy Family of Nazareth, we turn to the child Jesus, who in the home of Mary and Joseph grew in wisdom and understanding, until the day he began his public ministry. Here I would simply like to leave a particular thought with the young people here. The Second Vatican Council teaches that children have a special role to play in the growth of their parents in holiness (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48). I urge you to reflect on this, and to let the example of Jesus guide you, not only in showing respect for your parents, but also helping them to discover more fully the love which gives our lives their deepest meaning. In the Holy Family of Nazareth, it was Jesus who taught Mary and Joseph something of the greatness of the love of God his heavenly Father, the ultimate source of all love, the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name (cf. Eph 3:14-15).
-- Pope Benedict XVI, excerpts from # Holy Mass on the Mount of Precipice in Nazareth (May 14, 2009)

Day 7 - Pope Benedict in Nazareth; Mass at Mount Precipice; Meeting with Israeli PM; Vespers at Basilica of the Annunciation

On the Schedule Today (Thursday May 14, 2009)
This post will be updated with news and commentary on the day's events
  • 10.00 - Holy Mass on the Mount of Precipice in Nazareth
  • 12.30 - Luncheon with the Ordinaries of the Holy Land, the Franciscan community and the Papal Entourage in the Franciscan convent of Nazareth
  • 15.50 - Meeting with the Israeli prime minister in the Franciscan convent of Nazareth
  • 16.30 - Greetings to religious leaders of Galilee in the auditorium of the Shrine of the Annunciation in Nazareth
  • 17.00 - Visit to the Grotto of the Nativity in Nazareth
  • 17.30 - Celebration of Vespers with Bishops, priests, men and women religious, ecclesial and pastoral movements of Galilee in the upper Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth

Spoken Words of Pope Benedict XVI

Coverage and Commentary


Mass in Nazareth

Visit with Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pope Benedict in Israel & the Holy Land - General Roundup

Some fascinating commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to Israel that you may have missed:
  • Pope sees Holy Land’s great divide, by Julian Rake:
    Pope Benedict has crossed through the imposing concrete wall that separates the West Bank town of Bethlehem from Israel to visit the town of Jesus’ birth. The wall is part of the nearly 800 km security barrier that Israel is building in and around the West Bank in a series of walls, fences, berms and ditches. He was accompanied to the checkpoint on the Israeli side by Israeli security before driving through the barrier to meet up with his Palestinian security escort.

    Crossing back and forth through the checkpoints that dot what Israelis call the “separation barrier” – and which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the pope was “the apartheid wall” – is a routine part of life for many people here. Yet it can shock newcomers to see this physical manifestation of the conflict in a region that is just a pocket-handkerchief on the map of the world. It is a measure put in place for security (as per the Israelis) or annexation and grabbing of land (as per the Palestinians). One wonders what the Pope was thinking as he crossed through.

    Julian provides some video of the Pope's passage from Israel into Bethlehem.

  • Tom Heneghan notices that, during his visit to the Dome of the Rock on Tuesday, Pope Benedict urged Palestinian Muslim leaders to pursue interfaith cooperation by using an argument that other Muslims have been using to engage Christians — including himself — in dialogue:
    In his speech to Muslim leaders this morning, the pope said reason shows us the shared nature and common destiny of all people. He then said: “Undivided love for the One God and charity towards ones neighbour thus become the fulcrum around which all else turns.” Readers of this blog may recognise that message in a slightly different form — it echoes the “Common Word” appeal by Muslim scholars to a Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the two shared principles of love of God and love of neighbour. Since we’ve reported extensively about that initiative, readers may also remember that the Vatican was initially quite cautious about it. Up until the Catholic-Muslim forum in Rome last November, the line from the Vatican was that Christians and Muslims couldn’t really discuss theology because their views of God were so different. Vatican officials sounded different after three days of talks and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who is in charge of interfaith relations, said the Common Word group could even become a “privileged channel” for discussions in future. And now Benedict uses their argument to other Muslims.
    Also, FaithWorld provides video footage of the Pope's visit to the Dome of the Rock.

  • Parsippany developer, Holocaust survivor meets Pope Benedict XVI, by Rob Jennings. The Daily Record profiles Edward Mosberg, a New Jersey developer who, in the words of his lawyer, was "asked if he would be one of six persons representing six million":
    Starting approximately 20 years ago, Mosberg began collecting memorabilia associated with the Holocaust — ranging from shoes, wires, spoons and Torahs that survived the Nazi destruction. In 2006, he presented a nearly 20-year-old Torah that had been hidden in someone’s home to the Mount Freedom Jewish Center.

    Mosberg, a native of Krakow, Poland who now lives in Union, was the only member of his immediate and extended family to survive the Holocaust. His wife, Cecile, lost her mother, two older sister, younger brother and aunts and uncles.

    “He loses his whole family. He’s in any number of camps. He has to participate in any number of work camps. He has to go on marches. He’s kind of had the rainbow of all the horrific experiences you can imagine,” Till said.

  • Scarves speak volumes in pope's Holy Land visit, by John Thavis (Catholic News Service):
    Sometimes a scarf is worth a thousand words.

    Pope Benedict XVI spoke carefully during his Holy Land pilgrimage in May -- so carefully that it occasionally seemed his talks were written by Vatican diplomats.

    But the image and the message people will carry from his visit may have more to do with scarves than speeches. [More]

  • What kind of gift does a pope give when he visits the Holy Land? This morning, the Holy See Press Office distributed a few pictures of presents Pope Benedict has brought along. (Catholic News Service)

  • The Italian daily "Il Foglio" interviews George Weigel on Pope Benedict XVI's journey to the Holy Land. This is amusing:
    IF: Do you think that his words are often manipulated by those who desire to give the impression of great conflict between faiths?

    GW: I think it's more often the case that reporters simply don't have the intellectual equipment to understand, and explain, what the pope is actually saying. Regensburg is a perfect example. Of course, there is a lot that could be improved in Vatican communications.

"Selectively hearing the Pope's words"

As the blog Elder of Ziyon notes, "One of the interesting things that occur when the Pope speaks is not only that his words are examined exhanstively, but that the people who interpret his words show their own biases.":
This occurs on all sides - there are plenty of Israelis as well as Arabs who are quick to criticize the Pope's choice of words. To give one example, some Israelis were not happy with the Pope talking about Jews "killed" instead of "murdered" in reference to the Holocaust, although as Batya points out, Yad Vashem uses the even more indirect word "perished."

The news media, however, pretend to have no biases. So when they start interpreting the words of the pontiff, we can see exactly where they are coming from. ... [More]

Pope Benedict expresses personal interest in the release of Gilad Shalit

Gilad Shalit (Hebrew: גלעד שליט‎, born 28 August 1986) is an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped on 25 June, 2006 by Palestinian militants in a cross border raid from the Gaza Strip on the crossing Kerem Shalom (in Israel) and has been held hostage by Hamas since.

He became the first Israeli soldier captured[8] by militant Palestinian forces since Nachshon Wachsman in 1994.

This past Monday, the parents and grandparents of Gilad Shalit met with Pope Benedict XVI in the residence of President Shimon Peres, pleading that the pontiff use his influence in securing his release.

Pope Benedict XVI (3R) and Israeli President Shimon Peres (2R) meets the parents of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, Noam Shalit (2L) and Aviva Shalit (L), durinig a visit at the Presidential Residence May 11, 2009 in Jerusalem, Israel. Source: Getty Images

According to YNet News, During the brief meeting the pope expressed interest in the soldier's life story and said he would do his best to help:

Gilad's parents, Aviva and Noam, presented Benedict with an Italian translation of a children's book that was written by their son when he was only 11-years-old, entitled “When the Fish and the Shark First Met”.

"I ask that his holiness exert his influence in order to bring our son back to us," Noam Shalit told the pope. "No one has had any access to him (Gilad) for the past three years, and it's been a year since we received the last sign of life from him. We would appreciate it if you would, first and foremost, help us get a sign of life from him."

The Vatican has been aware of the plight of Gilad Shalit for some time -- In 2006, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Antonio Franco told The Jerusalem Post that the Vatican will do its best to ensure that abducted soldier Gilad Shalit is returned to Israel.


Pope Benedict XVI arrives to lead a mass outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in Manger Square in the West Bank town of Bethlehem May 13, 2009. Source: Reuters

Catholic priests attend a mass led by Pope Benedict XVI outside the Church of the Nativity. Source: Reuters

Pope Benedict XVI (C) blesses the holy communion with other priests during mass in Manger Square in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Source: Reuters

Pope Benedict XVI, centre, gestures to worshippers as he leaves a mass, in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity. Source: Associated Press

A general view shows the mass with Pope Benedict XVI at Manger Square in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Source: Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass on Manger's Square in Bethlehem

From the day of his birth, Jesus was “a sign of contradiction” (Lk 2:34), and he continues to be so, even today. The Lord of hosts, “whose origin is from old, from ancient days” (Mic 5:2), wished to inaugurate his Kingdom by being born in this little town, entering our world in the silence and humility of a cave, and lying, a helpless babe, in a manger. Here, in Bethlehem, amid every kind of contradiction, the stones continue to cry out this “good news”, the message of redemption which this city, above all others, is called to proclaim to the world. For here, in a way which surpassed every human hope and expectation, God proved faithful to his promises. In the birth of his Son, he revealed the coming of a Kingdom of love: a divine love which stoops down in order to bring healing and lift us up; a love which is revealed in the humiliation and weakness of the Cross, yet triumphs in a glorious resurrection to new life. Christ brought a Kingdom which is not of this world, yet a Kingdom which is capable of changing this world, for it has the power to change hearts, to enlighten minds and to strengthen wills. By taking on our flesh, with all its weaknesses, and transfiguring it by the power of his Spirit, Jesus has called us to be witnesses of his victory over sin and death. And this is what the message of Bethlehem calls us to be: witnesses of the triumph of God’s love over the hatred, selfishness, fear and resentment which cripple human relationships and create division where brothers should dwell in unity, destruction where men should be building, despair where hope should flourish!
-- Pope Benedict XVI. # Holy Mass on the Manger's Square in Bethlehem (May 13, 2009)

Pope Benedict XVI visits Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem

How much the people of this camp, these Territories, and this entire region long for peace! In these days, that longing takes on a particular poignancy as you recall the events of May 1948 and the years of conflict, as yet unresolved, that followed from those events. You are now living in precarious and difficult conditions, with limited opportunities for employment. It is understandable that you often feel frustrated. Your legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian State, remain unfulfilled. Instead you find yourselves trapped, as so many in this region and throughout the world are trapped, in a spiral of violence, of attack and counter-attack, retaliation, and continual destruction. The whole world is longing for this spiral to be broken, for peace to put an end to the constant fighting.
Towering over us, as we gather here this afternoon, is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached – the wall. In a world where more and more borders are being opened up – to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges – it is tragic to see walls still being erected. How we long to see the fruits of the much more difficult task of building peace! How earnestly we pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built!
On both sides of the wall, great courage is needed if fear and mistrust is to be overcome, if the urge to retaliate for loss or injury is to be resisted. It takes magnanimity to seek reconciliation after years of fighting. Yet history has shown that peace can only come when the parties to a conflict are willing to move beyond their grievances and work together towards common goals, each taking seriously the concerns and fears of the other, striving to build an atmosphere of trust. There has to be a willingness to take bold and imaginative initiatives towards reconciliation: if each insists on prior concessions from the other, the result can only be stalemate.
To all of you I renew my plea for a profound commitment to cultivate peace and non-violence, following the example of Saint Francis and other great peacemakers. Peace has to begin in the home, in the family, in the heart. I continue to pray that all parties to the conflict in these lands will have the courage and imagination to pursue the challenging but indispensable path of reconciliation. May peace flourish once more in these lands! May God bless his people with peace!
-- Pope Benedict XVI, Visit to the Refugee Camp Al Aida' in Bethlehem (May 13, 2009)

Pope Benedict XVI visits Caritas Baby Hospital, Bethlehem

Mary, Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners, Mother of the Redeemer: we join the many generations who have called you “Blessed”. Listen to your children as we call upon your name. You promised the three children of Fatima that “in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph”. May it be so! May love triumph over hatred, solidarity over division, and peace over every form of violence! May the love you bore your Son teach us to love God with all our heart, strength and soul. May the Almighty show us his mercy, strengthen us with his power, and fill us with every good thing (cf. Lk 1:46-56). We ask your Son Jesus to bless these children and all children who suffer throughout the world. May they receive health of body, strength of mind, and peace of soul. But most of all, may they know that they are loved with a love which knows no bounds or limits: the love of Christ which surpasses all understanding (cf. Eph 3:19). Amen.
Pope Benedict XVI, Visit to the Caritas Baby Hospital (May 13, 2009)

Pope Benedict XVI meets with Mahmoud Abbas - I earnestly beg the Almighty for peace, a just and lasting peace, in the Palestinian Territories"

My pilgrimage to the lands of the Bible would not be complete without a visit to Bethlehem, the City of David and the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Nor could I come to the Holy Land without accepting the kind invitation of President Abbas to visit these Territories and to greet the Palestinian people. I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades. My heart goes out to all the families who have been left homeless. This afternoon I will pay a visit to the Aida Refugee Camp, in order to express my solidarity with the people who have lost so much. To those among you who mourn the loss of family members and loved ones in the hostilities, particularly the recent conflict in Gaza, I offer an assurance of deep compassion and frequent remembrance in prayer. Indeed, I keep all of you in my daily prayers, and I earnestly beg the Almighty for peace, a just and lasting peace, in the Palestinian Territories and throughout the region.
Mr President, the Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders. Even if at present that goal seems far from being realized, I urge you and all your people to keep alive the flame of hope, hope that a way can be found of meeting the legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians for peace and stability. In the words of the late Pope John Paul II, there can be “no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness” (Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace). I plead with all the parties to this long-standing conflict to put aside whatever grievances and divisions still stand in the way of reconciliation, and to reach out with generosity and compassion to all alike, without discrimination. Just and peaceful coexistence among the peoples of the Middle East can only be achieved through a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, in which the rights and dignity of all are acknowledged and upheld.
I make this appeal to the many young people throughout the Palestinian Territories today: do not allow the loss of life and the destruction that you have witnessed to arouse bitterness or resentment in your hearts. Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism. Instead, let what you have experienced renew your determination to build peace. Let it fill you with a deep desire to make a lasting contribution to the future of Palestine, so that it can take its rightful place on the world stage. Let it inspire in you sentiments of compassion for all who suffer, zeal for reconciliation, and a firm belief in the possibility of a brighter future.
-- Excerpts from Welcoming ceremony in the square in front of the presidential palace, in Bethlehem (May 13, 2009)

"The Pope is forcing everyone to accept that he came as pilgrim of peace"

Bernard Sabella, a Catholic lawmaker for Fatah, says the Pope is forcing everyone to accept the fact that he came as pilgrim of peace (Asia News):
“Every stakeholder wants to read into the Pope’s words a sign that suffering is at an end,” Sabella said. “Each side has its own demands. For Palestinian Christians an end to suffering means no more occupation, wall, checkpoints, visas denied to priests, i.e. matters that Arab Christians wanted the Pope to understand by their presence.”

For the Fatah lawmaker, “the Pope repeatedly said that he was coming to venerate the holy sites, as a pilgrim praying for everyone. And in so doing he is actually forcing everyone to accept his intent.”

Sabella also noted an ‘unexpected feeling” that developed between Benedict XVI and Palestinian Christians.

“Coming as a man of faith and prayer the Pope said: ‘I bring you this faith and creed.’ For Christians this means that they should stay put, remain in their society, living side by side with Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, which is also what they want, namely peace and reconciliation. And [by his visit] the Pope comforted their view in this.”

Further discussion -- and defenses -- of the Pope's address at Yad Vashem

"Criticizing Pope Benedict's Yad Vashem speech misses the point", by Anna Ekstrom (Haaretz):
A critical mind is one of the most important assets for moral and physical survival - but there are times when one's verbal battles must be chosen with more than usual care. This is certainly true of the pope, whose words in the Holy Land are being scrutinized under a microscope, much like the one needed to read the nano-Bible presented to him by President Shimon Peres.

The pontiff's speech at Yad Vashem on Monday was philosophical. It is true that he did not make apologies for historic crimes in his speech. But he did something else, something urgent: He reminded the world that anti-Semitism is still rearing its ugly head, and he committed the Catholic Church to combating it worldwide - today and tomorrow.

The author goes on to contrast John Paul II's approach to the matter with Pope Benedict's, noting: "The young Joseph Ratzinger had quite another wartime youth experience, and he lacks his predecessor's direct link between heart and speech." However, she adds:
The Bishop of Rome does seem to have chosen the road of reason over that of the heart. But it would be hard to claim that he is not making a supreme effort to explore it for heart-felt causes: to promote peace within and between human beings, and to purify the meaning of vital words such as human, freedom and rights.
* * *

Michael Sean Winters believes "before the enormity of evil that was the Shoah, silence is an appropriate emotional response" (America May 13, 2009):

Silence is not, of course, an appropriate political response and the Pope made clear that we must speak out so that the world will never forget what happened. But, he is being criticized for not saying something "touching" as one columnist wrote. It is unfair. [...]

I do not know what Pope Benedict felt when he went to Yad Vashem. His words, "I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in horrific tragedy of the Shoah" seemed to me excruciatingly appropriate. This Pope – who never tires of telling us Christians that our faith is about God and therefore about us, not the other way round – seemed to be saying, "My visit here is not about me. It is about the victims and their God." That may not play well in an age when our culture encourages vicarious emotional responses. But, it struck me as profoundly true.

The Pope did what he does: He looked at us poor children of Eve and pointed us towards God. His emotional reticence keeps the spotlight pointed away from himself, not only because he is shy, but because the Pope believes his job is to shine the light on God in a world in danger of forgetting Him. At Yad Vashem, like Auschwitz-Birkenau, you can smell the evil, the radical absence of God. To point us to God in such a place is no small gift and no small ministry.

* * *

The Pope's Mideast's Minefields - The New York Times' "Room for Debate" blog:

Pope Benedict XVI’s tour of the Middle East this week was expected to cross several political minefields, and so it has. After his visit on Monday to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, some Israelis complained that the German-born pope spoke only in generalities about the Holocaust and did not mention Nazi Germany. Does that criticism have some validity, or is it unfair?
Responding to the question: Rabbi James Rudin (American Jewish Committee); Colleen Carroll Campbell (Ethics and Public Policy Center); Daniel Gordis (Shalem Center) and John L. Allen Jr. (The National Catholic Reporter).

Day 6 - Pope Benedict in Bethlehem - Mass in Manger Square; Grotto of the Nativity; Caritas Baby Hospital and Aida Refugee Camp

On the Schedule Today (Wednesday May 13, 2009)
This post will be updated with news and commentary on the day's events
  • 09.00 - Welcoming ceremony in the square in front of the presidential palace, in Bethlehem
  • 10.00 - Holy Mass in Manger Square, Bethlehem
  • 12.30 - Luncheon with the Ordinaries of the Holy Land, the Franciscan community and the Papal Entourage at the Casa Nova monastery in Bethlehem
  • 15.30 - Private visit to the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem
  • 16.10 - Visit to the Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem
  • 16.45 - Visit to the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem
  • 18.00 - Courtesy visit to the president of the Palestine National Authority in the presidential palace of Bethlehem
  • 18.40 - Farewell ceremony in the courtyard of the Presidential Palace

Spoken words of Pope Benedict

Coverage and Commentary

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spinning the pilgrimage -- Israelis and Palestinians set the political agenda for the Pope

Poor Benedict! -- beset on all sides, with all parties attempting to set the agenda for him or put words into his mouth:
Pope Benedict waves to the crowd as he arrives for a holy mass at the Kidron Valley on May 12, 2009 in Jerusalem, Israel. Source: Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI leads a mass at the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem May 12, 2009, where it is believed Jesus had his final prayer before he was betrayed and arrested. Source: Reuters

Nuns cheer the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI for mass in the Kidron valley between the Mount of Olives and the 400-year-old walls of Jerusalem's Old City, on May 12, 2009. Source: Getty Images

Citizens of Jerusalem welcome -- or in other cases, tolerate -- the papal pilgrimage

A Palestinian man stands near a welcome note to Pope Benedict XVI on a wall near a section of Israel's separation barrier near the Aida Refugee Camp on May 12, 2009. May 12, 2009. Source: Associated Press
  • Two Bethlehem University students were detained on their way to participate in an interfaith conference with Pope Benedict XVI Tuesday, university officials said (Maan News Agency):
    According to BU the two men were stopped and then denied entry to Jerusalem by Israeli authorities. The delegates were faculty members at the university, university alumni and Bethlehem-area natives. The reasons for their denial were not explained.

    “Unfortunately” the university commented, “this experience is common for our students, faculty and staff, many of whom navigate a maze of checkpoints, soldiers and other structures of military occupation simply to be present on campus.”

  • For and against: Jerusalemites and the papal visit, by Abe Selig (Jerusalem Post):
    Residents of the capital exhibited a range of emotions about the pope's visit on Tuesday, as closed roads and beefed-up security snarled traffic and people were forced to either alter their routine, or suffer the consequences.

    "It was quite bad getting in this morning," one commuter said, as she sat outside a cafe near the city center. "But I heard that by the afternoon already, things were getting better."

    But others reflected on lost business and a general difficulty in getting things done, as Benedict's motorcade and a huge apparatus of Jerusalem police, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) agents and assorted government officials clogged parts of downtown throughout the morning.

  • Haaretz reports that Pope Benedict XVI will be staying at the home of the Vatican's ambassador to Israel, located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem -- "standard protocol," according to Vatican officials.

  • From Salt Lake City's Desert News, a story on Brigham Young University's Jerusalem Center, which is hosting 5 members of the Pope's entourage:
    "We're cooperating with them so that they're close by to where he is staying, and they're available to him and can easily travel with him wherever he goes," said S. Kent Brown, assistant director of the BYU Jerusalem Center.

    Brown, who has previously served as the center's director, said leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have maintained a good relationship with Archbishop Antonio Franco, the Apostolic Nuncio to Israel — or the papal ambassador to Israel — whose official residence is next door to the center.

  • Depeche Mode, the pope and Lag Ba'omer (Jerusalem Post) -- while the arrival of the Pope and 80's rock band garner media attention, Yonatan Seredni reminds his Jewish readers of another celebration. (For more about Lag Ba'omer, click here).

Pope's meeting in the Upper Room brings Vatican-Israeli property and taxation dispute to the fore

For Israel And Vatican, A Taxing Issue The Jewish Week May 13, 2009. Michelle Chabin provides a helpful look at the issues involving taxation and jurisdictional matters related to church property that have plagued relations between the Vatican and Israel for years:
“There is a lot of misinformation and I’d like to explain the principles,” Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told The Jewish Week at the City Hall press center set up for the pope’s visit. According to Palmor, there are three issues in play.

“The first relates to a tax exemption for church institutions, such as churches, monasteries, schools, abbeys. The second, which is unrelated to the first, relates to immunity from expropriation. In other words, the church wants a guarantee that its property cannot be taken to build a road, for example.”

The third issue relates to the Room of the Last Supper, which Catholics call the Cenacle. “The Catholic Church has requested private ownership of the church,” a potentially inflammatory move considering that Muslims consider the site holy and many Jews believe King David is buried in a tomb beneath the Cenacle.

Unlike the first two matters, “the Cenacle is not under negotiation,” Palmor emphasized. “The Israeli government has not accepted the church’s request and it remains the property of the Israeli government.”

Whether or how much to tax property owned by the Catholic Church is the thornier of the two outstanding matters because it means a loss of tax revenues (millions of shekels) and second, because it could set a precedent for other denominations and religions, according to an official who requested anonymity. [More]

Investigating the topic, interviews Fr David-Maria A. Jaeger, a legal expert with the Franciscan order and authority on State-Church relations in the Holy Land:
The Holy Father's pilgrimage to the Cenacle on Mount Zion, the Shrine of the Last Supper, inevitably is also a reminder of the anomaly of the present situation of this Holy Place of the Institution of the Mass and the Coming down of the Holy Spirit, which could therefore be called the Birth-place of the Church.

It became the property of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land—indeed its mother-house—in the fourteenth century, a gift of the King and Queen of Naples, with the special blessing and approval of the Pope. Two centuries later though, the Ottoman rulers of Jerusalem at that time expelled the Franciscans by force, and now it is in the hands of the government of Israel.

The Franciscan Custody, however, has never relinquished its right of property in the Holy Place, and has all these centuries demanded its restitution, as it still does. It has done so in the name of the whole world-wide Catholic Church, which—by Papal mandate—the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land represents at this and other Holy Places. As an enduring sign of never acquiescing in the unjust results of the violent expulsion, the principal and original title of the Custos of the Holy Land remains forever that of ‘Guardian of the Holy Mount Zion’, as is evidenced by his seal. [More
Fr. Jaegar was also interviewed for the Jewish Week article cited above.

It's a complex dispute and honestly, I can comprehend and sympathize with both parties. For example, one implication that warrants further consideration is how transfer of ownership of the Cenacle and tax-exempt status -- such as we have in the United States -- to properties held by the Catholic Church in Israel will affect ecumenical relations with other churches and relations with Muslims and other religions.

On a related note: "Status Quo" Governs Holy Land Churches (Vatican Radio):

During his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Pope will visit several Holy Sites which are used by the Catholic, Orthodox, and other Christian Churches.

The complex relationship which exists in these Churches has not always been friendly, and in the 19th century the Ottoman Empire established what is known as the Status Quo – which has governed these Holy Sites under the rule of successive regimes.

To find out more, and to find out how this Status Quo affects the Pope’s visit, Vatican Radio spoke to Franciscan Father Athanasius Macora