Thursday, April 30, 2009

Meeting of the Israel-Vatican Bilateral Commission held in Jerusalem

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs updates us on the meeting of the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the State of Israel and the Holy See held at the MFA in Jerusalem:
The Israel-Vatican Working Commission convened today in Jerusalem (April 30), for the first time headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, with the aim of advancing the economic agreement between Israel and the Vatican. The meeting, with the participation of Monsignor Pietro Parolin, Undersecretary for Relations with States at the Secretariat of State at the Vatican, was held in a good atmosphere, and both sides agreed to continue to work together.

Significant progress was made in the talks, and it was decided that the two deputy ministers would meet again on December 10, 2009 at the Vatican. It was also agreed that the working groups would continue to advance the economic agreement.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon noted at the end of the meeting that "Progress in the economic sphere between Israel and the Vatican is very important, especially with the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI in May."

Photo: Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon with Monsignor Pietro Parolin, Undersecretary for Relations with States at the Secretariat of State at the Vatican in Jerusalem (Source: MFA)

Pope Benedict's Pilgrimage to Israel - Roundup

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A nun stands near a poster depicting Pope Benedict XVI in the northern city of Nazareth April 20, 2009. Source: Reuters

In this photo taken Friday, April 24, 2009, back-dropped by the Church of Annunciation, one of Christianity's holiest sites, Israeli Arabs walk past a banner with Koranic verses on it before Friday noon prayers in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth. The banner across the main square in Jesus' boyhood town condemns those who insult Islam's Prophet Muhammad a message by Muslim hard-liners for Pope Benedict XVI. Source: Associated Press

In Nazareth: mixed feelings about the papal visit; some smouldering with the fires of two year old resentment over Regensburg

Diaa Hadid (Associated Press) warns that "The pontiff may have to tread carefully with his visit to Nazareth" -- lest he risk adding fuel to the fires of Muslim rage. (As noted last week, bruised egos are still smoldering with resentment from the Pope's remarks at Regensburg two years ago):
A banner across the main square in Jesus' boyhood town condemns those who insult Islam's Prophet Muhammad — a message by Muslim hard-liners for Pope Benedict XVI during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land next month. ...

Even some Christians are nervous that Benedict could stir up trouble for them. They worry that if he says anything contentious about Islam again, Muslims might lash out.

"He must know that every word he will utter will have an impact on Christian Palestinians and religious relations," said Naim Ateek, an Anglican reverend and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical Palestinian Christian group that includes Catholics.

The banner was put up by followers of Nazem Abu Salim, a radical Muslim preacher, right next to the Church of the Annunciation, where tradition says the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus.

It is there for the pope, Abu Salim said. "He is not welcome here."

Noting that the residents of Nazareth are "split over the Pope's visit", the Jerusalem Post gives time to those with a more positive outlook:
"I accept all religions," said Tawfik Awad, a parking attendant who is Muslim. "All of us are born in nine months. God created us all... When a man of religion comes and brings peace, we welcome him with our hearts."

Yolanda Tabri, a Christian, said the Benedict's visit would help create a positive atmosphere and even "increase the holiness of Nazareth," where the pope will lead the largest of three masses on May 14.

And even the Mayor appears willing to put the past behind him:
Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy, a Christian who is serving his third term in the city, told the Post earlier this month that the pope had said "the wrong thing," but noted that he later explained that he didn't himself agree with what he quoted. The mistake should not be held against him forever, Jaraisy said. "He's a human being and in the end, mistakes can be corrected."

The pope aimed to create an atmosphere of coexistence between religions and his message here would be one of dialogue, Jaraisy said.

"He will be calling for a better life for human beings who were created in God's image," he said.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rabbi Jacob Neusner weighs in on Pope Benedict's pilgrimage to Israel

In an interview for a major European periodical next week, Rabbi Jacob Neusner commented on Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to Israel -- Tzvee's Talmudic Blog has the complete details. Here's just a snippet:
What is your main expectation?

Pope Benedict XVI has shown the capacity to speak bluntly to the world at large, as his address at Regensburg last year showed. He does not dissimulate or mince words. I expect that he will speak truth to all parties and preserve a balanced and just position for all concerned. That is his record, At the same time the Roman Catholic Church has its interests in the Middle East, which will be on the Pope's mind. The Moslem countries do not accord to Christianity the rights of free expression that they demand and get from the Christian countries. The Pope is likely to pursue that matter too.

In what sense would this trip be a failure?

If one party claims to have been vindicated and the other party claims to have been dismissed unfairly, the imbalance would mark a disaster, because that moral authority that is the Pope's strength will have been wasted,

In what sense would this trip be a success?

If both parties are helped to find steps toward the path to peace in response to the Pope's presence, that will mark success.

* * *

Above all this trip is a pilgrimage. How do you see it, as rabbi and Jewish intellectual?

When a century ago Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism, turned to the Pope for support for a Jewish state, he was told that until the Jewish people converted to Christianity, the Church would do nothing to establish a Jewish state. Papal visits to the state of Israel - this is not the first and will not be the last - repudiate that original decision and affirm the legitimacy of Israel as the Jewish state. It is always important to recognize the implicit statement represented by the Pope's pilgrimage.

What is the main stake from an inter-religious perspective?

The relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the aftermath of Vatican II has defined the task of reconciliation and this visit represents a step toward the realization of amity between the two religions.

Click here to read the rest of Rabbi Neusner's interview on the papal pilgrimage.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because Rabbi Neusner's biblical commentary featured prominently in Pope Benedict's bestselling Jesus of Nazareth (2007).

Also, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, he heralded Neusner's book A Rabbi Talks With Jesus (1994) as "by far the most important book for the Jewish-Christian dialogue in the last decade" -- probably one of the few Jewish books that could boast a blurb by Fr. Andrew Greeley AND the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith on its cover! (Jesus of Nazareth, in fact, could be read in part as a response to the arguments made by Professor Neusner in his own book).

More recently, in contrast to a largely negative outcry from Jewish critics, Rabbi Neusner distinguished himself by defending the Pope's editorial revisions to the Good Friday "Prayer for the Jews" in 2008.

More about Rabbi Jacob Neusner

Vatican-Israeli bilateral working commission report "meaningful progress" in talks over church property. Contested(?): Mount Zion and the Cenacle

I've been hearing various reports from Catholic News Agency to Zenit that there has been progress in negotiations between Israel and the Vatican over the matter of church property. Unfortunately, while both parties seem optimistic there hasn't been a whole lot of actual detail. An article from Catholic News Agency runs along the same ambiguous lines, yet provides some information on the actual points of discussion:
The Vatican and Israeli members of a bilateral working commission met April 23 in Jerusalem and reported in a joint communique that "meaningful progress was achieved after receiving a report from a working group."

The commission scheduled another meeting at the plenary level on April 30 and reaffirmed its "joint commitment to conclude the agreement as soon as possible."


Both sides have avoided any comment on the substance of the talks, which began in 1999. But knowledgeable church sources said that the issues discussed in the negotiations included:

  • Protection of church properties, especially holy places, from government appropriation.
  • Restitution of some properties that have been confiscated, including the site of the shrine church in Caesarea, which was expropriated and razed in the 1950s.
  • Consolidation and confirmation of historic tax exemptions that have existed for church institutions in the Holy Land. The sources emphasize that the church needs these exemptions in order to survive, and that they are comparable to tax breaks offered religious entities in the United States.
  • Access to the Israeli court system for church institutions whenever property disputes arise.
Israel National News -- an opinionated news site that definitely makes its own preferences known on the matter -- states that:
Among the most significant issue under negotiations is the Vatican’s demand for the Last Supper room, located on the second floor of the ancient Mt. Zion building that also houses the tombs of Kings David, Solomon, and Hezekiah.

In addition, the Vatican is claiming areas around Lake Kinneret, as well as in Caesaria and Jerusalem.

(Source: Israel’s Control of Mt. Zion in Danger, by Hillel Fendel. April 26, 2009).

According to INN, a Foreign Ministry official confirmed in 2005 that a “blueprint of a possible agreement with the Vatican has been received.”

According to the plan, Israel would hand over to the Holy See the use of the Cenacle (the room of the event known as the Last Supper, above King David's tomb), which would in turn be handed over to the Custody of the Holy Land, who will in turn use the room for the celebration of Holy Mass, with "official liturgical celebrations of non-Catholic Churches can take place only upon prior written permission by the Custody of the Holy Land."

If this report bodes true, one can understand how it would provoke consternation on the part of not only Jews but non-Catholic Christian communities as well.

However, a later report by Israel National News indicates that a Foreign Ministry official denies categorically that Israel plans to hand over any properties. The article by Hillel Fendal does provide an insight into the fierce politics and rivalries involving this heavily contested abode -- a snippet:

"We were forced to give over part of the compound to the Ministry of Religious Affairs," says Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, founder and Dean of the Yeshiva, "which then gave it over to the Ministry of the Interior. Ever since then, the Church has been making demands and claims on the area, and has been making inroads. Their goal, ultimately, is to conduct religious services here, with hundreds of thousands of Christian tourists coming through.

"This area is very contested, by many different churches," Rabbi Goldstein (pictured below at David's Tomb) told Israel National News. "Why should the Catholic Church claim be honored more than that of others? Given such a situation, it is clear that the best solution is the status quo: Everyone is permitted to enter, but no religious services are allowed."

Without a doubt, all parties anxiously await what the committee has to report on Thursday, April 30.
Nuns visit the Cenacle, the site where Christian tradition says the last supper was held, in Jerusalem's Old City April 7, 2009. Pope Benedict XVI is expected to the site during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories next month. Source: AP

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Gospel of Luke written by a Muslim calligrapher; a 300,000 word Torah the size of a grain of sand. Two gifts fit for a Pope.

Bethlehem's Christian mayor has commissioned Muslim calligrapher Yasser Abu Saymeh to write the Gospel of Luke in ornate Arabic script -- as a gift for the Pope (Washington Post April 27, 2009):
Abu Saymeh never read a New Testament text before he was picked for the prestigious assignment by Bethlehem's Christian mayor. He said he has since come to appreciate the shared strands of the two faiths.

"I found that many of the things emphasized in Christianity exist in our religion," said the 51-year-old Abu Saymeh.

The artist has nearly completed the Gospel's text, which will eventually cover 65 poster-sized pages. It will be accompanied by colored drawings depicting the life of Christ, from the Nativity to the crucifixion.

Mayor Victor Batarseh said he chose Luke among the four Gospels because he felt his writing contains the most detail about Jesus' time in the city. And he picked Abu Saymeh not just because of his talent, but to send a message of peaceful religious coexistence.

"It's a message to the world that Bethlehem is the city where Christianity was born," he said. "It's also the place of brotherly relations between Muslims and Christians."

Not to be outdone, the Israelis have come up with a rather amazing gift of their own (Photo: Associated Press):
During a May 11 reception at the residence of Israel's president, Shimon Peres, the pope will receive another rare gift of Scripture _ a 300,000-word Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible inscribed on a silicon particle the size of a grain of sand, using nanotechnology.

Israel National News ran a story on Israel's gift back in 2007 (And Out of Zion Will Come the World's First Nano-Torah, by Ezra HaLevi. December 26, 2007):

“We took a piece of silicon and evaporated a very small layer of gold over it, about twenty nanometers thick,” explained Ohad Zohar, a Ph.D. student at the Technion, on Israel National Radio’s Yishai Fleisher Show. A nanometer is about a billionth of a meter.

“We then used a focused ion beam to inscribe the Biblical text on it,” Zohar said. “What the focused ion beam does is shoot gallium ions, focusing the charged particles on the substrip [of gold]. It digs little holes and each hole is a pixel for whatever picture you would like. In our case this is the Tanach.

“What did you make this for?” asked Fleisher.

“It is not for ordinary use, of course,” Zohar said. “To read it you need very expensive equipment. You cannot read it with a magnifying glass or even the best optical microscope. You need an electron microscope to read it. It is not intended to replace any storage devices out there. We did this as part of a massive educational program aimed at mostly high school students to explain different methods of storing information and spark an interest in Nanotechnology.” The project was sponsored and conducted at the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at Haifa's Technion Institute of Technology.

(Thanks to the blog Elder of Ziyon for the tip).

Papal pundits anxiously await Pope's arrival in Holy Land

The NEW Israeli-approved Popemobile.

As previously noted, Israel's security service, Shin Bet, expressed concerns that the 'Pope Mobile' may not be secure enough to guard against an attack by Islamic radical groups in Nazareth.

Jeff Miller (Curt Jester) has an exclusive preview of the popemobile that Israel security has approved.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fouad Twal confirms Pope Benedict's intention to visit al-Aida refugee camp

According to YNet News, The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal has confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI will tour and preach at the al-Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, asserting that it symbolizes "the right of return and holds a message of peace, brotherhood, and justice".

The report provides further details on this past week's skirmish between Israel and Aida camp workers involved in preparations for the visit:

According to prior agreements the stage hosting the pope at al-Aida was intended to be built in a schoolyard, but Ynet has discovered that the Palestinians violated these agreements by constructing it near the separation fence. A demolition warrant was subsequently issued by the Civil Administration, and the stage must be relocated.

"The camp is a camp that symbolizes the refugees' suffering and their right of return," Twal said. "The fence will be seen from the location of the pope's seat, and in any case he will enter and exit the district of Bethlehem through the fence."

The Latin Patriarch added that he hoped to see cooperation on all sides in order for the tour to be successful.

Israel Ministry of Tourism: papal visit a "Bridge to Peace"

Benedict XVI's trip to the Holy Land next month is being formally billed by a website sponsored by the Israel's Ministry of Tourism as a "Bridge for Peace", reports Zenit News Service:
"Holy Land Pilgrimage: A Bridge for Peace" is the official slogan used on the ministry's official Web page of the Pope's May 11-15 visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a mission of peace and reconciliation," the site explains. "The Pontiff’s visit to Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority) in Jerusalem is another expression of his solidarity with the Jewish people and his acknowledgement of the horrors of the Holocaust."

For further information, see:

Michal Moreno -- who runs a very helpful website, Israel Travel Tips -- alerts us to the following video, produced by the Israeli Ministry for Tourism titled "An Intimate Journey to the Holy Land":

Is Israel prepared for the papal visit? -- Concerns expressed over construction, security.

Is Israel prepared for the papal visit? -- That's the question several articles posed this week, citing concerns about construction and more importantly, security.

According to YNet News, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov plans to announce Sunday during the weekly government meeting that the NIS 43 million ($10.1 million) budget set aside for Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel has not yet been put to use:

[Mesezhnikov warned] that construction of infrastructure and renovations have not been completed on the holy sites the pope plans on visiting.

Misezhnikov says the main reason for the delay is that the funds have not been transferred to the government ministries and organizations involved in preparing the holy tour. He claims the Finance Ministry's Budget Division is to blame.

He also says that a number of legal points of contention between Israel and the Vatican have not been smoothed over, an issue under the supervision of the Justice Ministry.

On a similar note, Israel's security service, Shin Bet, expressed concerns that the 'Pope Mobile' may not be secure enough to guard against an attack by Islamic radical groups in Nazareth:

The Holy See told the Israeli government that the pope wants to get as close as possible to his followers, so the Vatican hopes the pope will use the vehicle.

But the Shin Bet opposes this, citing pamphlets in Arab towns in the north calling for demonstrations during the visit. Other pamphlets by radical Islamists allegedly call for physical attacks on the pope.

The Vatican said it understood the security concerns and wanted to find a solution.

Haaretz also notes the timing of the visit as another source of concern. The papal visit falls on May 14 - Nakba Day, when Palestinians mourn the events of 1948 and the founding of Israel "The Shin Bet expects riots in the West Bank and over the Green Line."

Vatican and Arab League agree to promote ""peace, security and stability"

The Vatican and the Arab League have signed a joint agreement to work together to promote peace and justice in the world:
The meetings allowed for an exchange of view on the international situation, especially in the Middle East, and on the need to find a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the other conflicts which afflict the region, the Holy See said.
The apostolic nuncio in Egypt, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, today spoke with Vatican Radio about the memorandum and [Arab League secretary-general] Amre Moussa's visit with the Holy Father, indicating two chief areas of cooperation (Zenit News, April 24, 2009):
First, the archbishop said, it calls for cooperation in "the search for peace; this especially interests the Holy See, and also the Arab League, which did a lot to mediate, particularly during the war in Iraq."

Secondly, he continued, it calls for "cultural cooperation, the dialogue of cultures, the dialogue of civilization and also interreligious dialogue, which can be fulfilled with the Arab League since they have a department for culture."

Now that the memorandum has been signed, the archbishop said, "We have to try to see what we can do and what contribution we can make together."

Palestinian Authority: "Preparations for Pope Benedict to visit Aida Refugee Camp will move forward"

Updating a previous story, Ma'an News Agency reports that Preparations for Pope Benedict XVI to visit Aida Refugee Camp will move forward despite Israeli attempts to interfere in the planning:
The PA issued a statement late Friday night echoing concerns over an Israel attempting to shield the pope and the international community from seeing the oppressive and discriminatory practices meted out on the Palestinians.

Israeli troops stormed Aida camp Wednesday and raided a meeting of the preparatory committee for the Papal visit. Committee members were harassed and questioned then informed that because the camp is in Area C - i.e. under Israeli civil and military control - that organizers must get a special permit to hold celebrations for the pope.

Thus far the only coverage of "Israeli harrassment" has been from Palestinian sources; we'll keep you apprised if we hear anything in terms of reactions, either from Israeli sources and/or the Vatican.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Israelis, Palestinians, Italians conclude annual Pope John Paul II Pilgrimate Peace Marathon

50 Italian runners joined about 100 Israelis and Palestinians in Thursday's sixth annual Pope John Paul II Peace Marathon, which concluded in Jerusalem. As Ecumenical News National reported, "the structure of the run indicated the divided nature of the two main communities participating" ( April 24, 2009):
The marathon began at Manger Square in Bethlehem, with Palestinian and Italian runners leisurely running down the early morning streets.

Israel does not permit its citizens to enter Palestinian territories for security reasons.

Upon the arrival of the runners at the Bethlehem checkpoint near Rachel's Tomb half an hour after the marathon began, the Italian and Palestinian runners were met by Israeli runners. The three groups then continued to the final point of the marathon in downtown Jerusalem across from the Old City wall.

Israel does not allow West Bank Palestinians into Jerusalem -- including East Jerusalem which is also under Israeli control -- without a permit. As in past years, all the Palestinian runners had Israeli permits to cross through the checkpoint to complete the marathon with the rest of the runners.

According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the marathon was joined by several prominent athlets -- three-times Olympic foil fencing champion Giovanna Trillini and former professional football midfielder and AC Milan star Demetrio Albertini (serving today as Deputy President of the Italian Football Association), along with former Italian volleyball world champion Andrea Zorzi.

Lat year's Peace Marathon was particularly memorable with the participation of 62 year old Italian marathon runner Ulderico Lambertucci. The Italian runner, who entered the Guinness Book of Records with 46 marathons in one year, ran 6,000 km from St. Peter's Square in the Vatican to Bethlehem, carrying a message of peace and a torch that received the blessing of Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. Three weeks after this year's marathon, Pope Benedict XVI himself will deliver messages of peace in Holy Mass in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, as well as Nazareth.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cardinal Kasper: Benedict's visit to Holy Land will be "one of the most difficult"

Speaking to the German Catholic Press Agency last week, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and head of the Vatican commission for relations with Jews, said the Holy Land visit would be "quite different" from his other visits abroad and "one of the most difficult". The Tablet reports:
"Both the political and the church situation in the Middle East are anything but easy. A balance will have to found between the Pope's encounter with Israel and the Jews on the one hand, and with the Christians, who for the most part live in the Palestinian territories, on the other. A difficult task - but all the more necessary for that," he said.

Thorough preparation was a must, he insisted, and the groundwork was in full process. "We affirm the state of Israel and maintain diplomatic relations with it, and our relationship with the Jews has improved enormously. On the other hand we must do justice to the Palestinian Christians, who do not have an easy life. The Holy See is in favour of a two-state solution but that does not seem so important to the Israeli Government at the moment. The diplomatic high-wire act will therefore be not to accept any false compromises," Cardinal Kasper emphasised.

According to Kasper, the Pope's visit had several aims -- one was to stabilize relations with the Jewish and Muslim communities -- the former after the controversy involving the Levebrists and the changes to the Good Friday Prayer, the latter still smarting from his remark about Mohammed during his Regensburg lecture (yes, even two years later). Ecumenical relations were also a factor, "as the Pope would encounter practically all the separated Christian denominations in Jerusalem."

Click here to read the rest of Cardinal Kasper's interview in The Tablet). (Thanks to Benodette at our Pope Benedict Forum for the tip).

The Pope dons a Keffiyeh.

In his latest column, John Allen Jr. points to a curious incident we noted earlier this week:
... for Israelis suspicious of a pro-Palestinian bias in the Vatican, a photograph out of Benedict XVI's General Audience on Wednesday probably won't help. At the end of the audience, the pope stopped to chat briefly with a group of young Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem, representing a parish the pope plans to visit. One young woman put a keffiyeh, the classic Palestinian headdress, around the pope's shoulders. Fairly quickly, the pope's private secretary, Msgr. Georg Gänswein, removed it -- but the keffiyeh was on Benedict long enough for a photographer to get the shot. One imagines it will make the rounds.
The keffiyeh is a traditional headdress for Arab men, "made of a square of cloth (“scarf”), usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head" (Wikipedia); however, since at least the 1930's, it has become a trademark for Palestinian nationalism -- initially as a symbol of insurrection against the British and later popularized by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Since then it has been appropriated -- consciously in some cases, ignorantly in others -- by Westerners.

Chronicling its transition from political to fashion statement, see Kibum Kim's Where Some See Fashion, Others See Politics New York Times February 11, 2007.

Understandably, when donned by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church at the invitation of two Palestinian Christians, it was going to provoke a reaction.

Personally, I think this amounts to the public relations equivalent of John Paul II's infamous "kissing of the Koran" -- a case where the Pope accepts a gift and follows protocol suitable for the time, but in turn is taken entirely out of context.

In the case of John Paul II, upon receiving a delegation of Muslims he was presented with a gift of the Muslim Koran, which he kissed as a sign of respect (this is traditional practice in the Middle East). Images, however, can speak louder than words, and the photograph of John Paul II is quite compelling. As expected, his actions were imbued with greater meaning than they actually possess: many Catholic 'traditionalists' and anti-Catholic apologists found John Paul II's "bowing before the false god of Allah" good fodder for their screeds.

In like manner, Benedict's donning the kafiyeh, if even for a few seconds, may provoke a similar reaction -- not a few sympathizers to the Palestinian cause will relish the image as a sign of papal solidarity with their cause; conservative critics will beg to differ.

Some of the latter, I think, tend to go a bit overboard -- writing for Atlas Shrugs, Pamela Geller fulminates:

The keffiyeh was Yaser Arafat's swastika and became a powerful symbol of jihad. In the ensuing years, the keffiyeh as an icon of anti-Americanism, anti-semitism and anti-westernism took on a life of its own ...

Just because the Pope pretends not to recognize the uniform does not mean it is not a uniform. The keffiyeh was the signature of Yaser Arafat and is the signature of Hamas and Hezbollah and the homicide bomber. Pretending it's just a scarf is like pretending the klan's white robe is a toga. Symbols mean something. Attempting to mainstream it, in effect softening its barbaric message, is an affront to every victim of Islamic jihad and the war we are engaged in.

The bigoted anti-Catholic remarks issuing from Gellar's readers speak volumes ("Once a Nazi, always a Nazi"?!?) -- thanks to fellow Catholic Friend of Israel reader Carlos Echevarria for attempting to inject a little reason and sanity into the discussion.

John Allen Jr. on the politics of the papal visit

Another good column by John Allen Jr. on the papal visit, with interviews with Fr. Rif'at Bader, a Jordanian priest of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, on the "exodus" of Christians out of the Holy Land and Fr. David Jaeger of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, on the status of the Vatican's talks with the Israeli government on the legal and tax status of church property, and the fallout from Vatican attendance of the Durban II conference on racism.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Vatican withdraws invitation to controversial Arab mayor after protest

In an update to yesterday's events, we learn that Mayor Mazen Ghanaim of Sakhnin confirmed that the invitation for the April 29 audience with Pope Benedict XVI was withdrawn by the Vatican, after Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov expressed his opposition, describing Ghanaim as a "terror supporter and warmonger."

A report from Catholic News Service provides further detail as to why the invitation was rescinded:

During the war in January between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, Ghanaim created a stir when he praised Palestinian "martyrs" and declared, "Long live Palestine, whose capital is Jerusalem," at an anti-war demonstration.

In a brief statement to the press, Archbishop Antonio Franco, papal representative to Israel and the Palestinian territories, said it was a "pity to make such a controversy" over the issue of a general audience with the pope and he regretted that Pope Benedict was dragged into the polemics.

A local Christian source told Catholic News Service that the Vatican also was miffed at Ghanaim's claims that he had been invited to meet with the pope and discuss the status of Israeli Arabs prior to the papal visit.

"(Ghanaim) would have had the opportunity to shake the pope's hand and at best exchange a few words with him," said the source, adding that the papal audience had no connection to the pope's pilgrimage.

Prince Hassan of Jordan: Pope's visit "could be a major step in visualizing a struggle for a law of peace"

Jordan's Prince El Hassan bin Talal spoke with Catholic News Service, praising the papal visit as an opportunity to foster good relations between Muslims and Christians:
Speaking with Catholic News Service, the prince said the May 8-11 papal visit "should not be seen as a passing, calming serene visit that is transient or just another visit to the region, but should rather focus in our minds that we can revive the heritage of trust and good faith" that Catholics and Muslims share.


The prince expressed a desire that people would begin to move from a position of "war against ... something" such as intolerance, racial hatred, anti-Semitism or fear of Islam to "a struggle for something."

"In that sense, I have the greatest hope that the visit of the pope, His Holiness, could be a major step in visualizing a struggle for a law of peace," Prince Hassan said.

He said he also would like to see the visit focus on the religious impact of culture. The prince said culture is not sustainable without recognizing its religious roots and how it influences the defense of peace, social justice, human rights and global concerns.

"My fear is that culture and religion remain an afterthought to security and the economy," he said. "Security is not worth the name if it's not built on human beings. Because it is human beings who are the prime movers of security or insecurity.

"Whatever label we carry -- Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist -- at the end of the day we are human beings."

According to Catholic News Service, Prince Hassan has met Pope Benedict on a number of occasions -- in 1993 (when Hassan gave the prince an edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church); and in 1999, when they "were among the co-founders in 1999 of the Geneva-based Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue."

Read more about the Pope's account with Prince El Hassan bin Talal.

Clash between Israelis and Palestinians at Aida Refugee Camp

There has been a clash of sorts between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian workers involved in preparing the Aida Refugee Camp for Pope Benedict's visit. The Palestine News Network describes "an invasion of Israeli forces":
Some five military patrols stormed the area and sealed it. They stopped all work and began photographing and using video cameras. The Israelis demanded to see “who is responsible for the work.”

Camp director on the subject, Ibrahim Abu Sorour oversees any project, construction or renovation.

However, the Israelis today claimed northern Bethlehem’s Aida Refugee Camp, which is now blocked on one side by the Wall, as Area C, meaning in Oslo terms “under Israeli civil and military control.” Israeli forces said therefore, Palestinians in the refugee camp must obtain an Israeli license before doing any work. ...

According to the Maan News Agency conveys the account of press officer for the official Palestinian committee to welcome the Pope to the camp, Munjid Jado:
[F]ive soldiers entered the camp and stopped the committee from working, questioning them and videotaping them. ...

Camp official Ibrahim Abu Srur then arrived at the scene. He was told by the soldiers that Aida camp lies in Area C of the West Bank, under Israeli military jurisdiction, and that the committee would therefore need a special permit for its activities.

Following this, another Israeli official arrived and attempted to distribute a written order to stop work. The committee workers refused to accept the paper, at which time soldiers posted the order on the walls of buildings near the square where the pope is to be received.

The Palestine News Network cites Bethlehem Governer Salah Ta’mari as responding:

“The Israeli practices are clear evidence pointing to Israel's quest to create obstacles for the visit of His Holiness the Pope to Bethlehem and Aida Refugee Camp. [The Israelis] want to prevent exposure of their repressive practices against the Palestinian people.”

“To this day the Palestinian people face various kinds of repression and torture, which is reflected in Aida Refugee Camp. Murder and displacement are noticeable.”

“Israel is attempting to disrupt the completion of the site which will be the story of the Palestinian people to the world during the visit of His Holiness to Bethlehem, which will include much of the western media.”

John Allen, Jr: "This trip may be pope's last chance to see the land of the Bible"

"This trip may be pope's last chance to see the land of the Bible", says John Allen, Jr. in one of his characteristically all-encompassing and substantial analyses of the papal visit and its implications for Catholic-Jewish, Catholic-Muslim, and Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Further complicating Benedict’s peace-making effort is the Vatican’s reputation among many Israelis as less than a fair broker. Officially, the Holy See is even-handed: it supports the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to sovereignty and security, and calls for an “internationally guaranteed special status” for the holy places that does not prejudice the question of whether Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel, a Palestinian state, or both.

In reality, however, the Vatican has long been sort of a mirror image of American Evangelicals: A Christian force in the West that, for reasons both theological and political, takes a keen interest in the Middle East, only in this case tending to favor the Palestinians rather than the Israelis. (One small but telling symbol of where the Vatican’s heart lies is that an ivory set of the Stations of the Cross, which currently adorn the chapel of the Synod Hall, were a gift to John Paul II from Arafat.)

This pro-Palestinian tilt is informed by a variety of factors, but probably none so decisive as the simple fact that the Christians on the ground, from whom the Vatican often takes its cues, are mostly Palestinians. If Christianity is to have a future in the Holy Land, its center of gravity will inevitably be in a Palestinian state.

One of his journalistic strengths I find is in presenting in a fair manner the perspectives (and grievances) of all parties:
Perceptions of pro-Palestinian bias have long been a sore point in Vatican/Israeli relations, most recently when a senior Vatican official compared the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip to a “giant concentration camp.” That was hardly unprecedented: In the spring of 2002, Israel repeatedly protested L’Osservatore Romano’s insistence on referring to a standoff at the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem as an Israeli “siege,” even though it began when Palestinian gunmen stormed the church. In July 2005, when Israel complained that Benedict XVI had not included an Israeli town on a list of places hit by recent terror attacks, a Vatican spokesperson testily replied that the pope was reluctant to denounce such attacks for fear of legitimizing disproportionate military responses from Israel that violate international law.

Just in the last few days, Israelis objected that the Vatican has chosen to participate in the U.N.’s “World Conference Against Racism” in Geneva April 20-24, rather than joining the United States, Canada, Italy, and other nations in distancing themselves from the event (also known as the “Durban Review Conference”) on the grounds that it equates Zionism with racism, and singles out Israel for blame.

If the Catholic church wishes to serve as a catalyst for peace, its leadership obviously must convince both Israelis and Palestinians of their impartiality. Benedict thus has to walk a tightrope: Reassuring Israelis that he’s sympathetic to them, despite the history sketched above, while not creating alarm among Palestinians that the Vatican is abandoning their cause.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Palestinian earthmover clears the ground where a stage will be built Pope Benedict XVI's May 11-15 visit to the Holy Land on April 22, 2009 in front of a section of Israel's separation barrier in the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Israeli Tourism Minister and Mayor of Sakhnin butt heads over papal visit

  • Politics, politics, politics. Israel's tourism minister has requested that Pope Benedict XVI to cancel a meeting with the mayor of an Arab-Israeli town (YNet News, April 22, 2009)
    Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov asked the Vatican to cancel a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ghanaim scheduled to take place before the pope's visit to Israel next month, the minister's media advisor Amnon Lieberman reported.

    The advisor's statement read that "the planned meeting between the pope and Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ghanaim is in complete contradiction with the purpose of the pope's visit, that is a state-religious visit meant to promote peace and dialogue between the peoples and religions."

    The advisor said the request was sent to the relevant bodies by Israel's ambassador in the Vatican City.

    Misezhnikov was quoted in the statement as saying, "This is a terror supporter and warmonger that acts against the national interests of the state in which he serves as mayor, and I call on the Holy See to abstain from meeting with him."

    Dr. Ahmad Tibi, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and leader of the Arab Nationalist Party in Israel, condemned Misezhnikov's condemnation of Stas Misezhnikov:
    Tibi said this was "incitement from the Yisrael Beiteinu camp against a mayor that was elected democratically."

    Tibi added that "the Vatican and the international community should isolate the fascist Jewish party's representative".

    Of Mayor Mazen Ghanaim and the little town of Sakhnin, we came across this interesting tidbit ("To be an Arab, and an Israeli", by Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler (# Inter Press Service March 26, 2009):
    Sakhnin, a town of 26,000, is somewhat smaller than Um el-Fahm. But it has ample credit as a focus of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. In October 2000, three Sakhnin youths were shot and killed by Israeli police during demonstrations in support of the Palestinian Intifadah uprising. The town has also long been at the forefront of demands for equality and against the persistent appropriation of their land. The annual Land Day march that recalls lost land is always in Sakhnin.

    Sakhnin does not turn its back on these credentials. But, it also sees itself as a model for a new reality that can be created between Jews and Arabs within Israel. What it proffers is a different challenge to the Jewish majority, the challenge of acceptance, cast in the straightforward message of Ghazal abu- Raya: “We want to be part of the State of Israel, a fully integrated part of the nation with equal rights and equal duties, in the centre of the national pitch, not relegated beyond the sidelines, as we always have been.”

    The football imagery is no accident. The town entered Jewish Israeli consciousness most dramatically as a result of the success of its club, Bnei Sakhnin (literally “Sons of Sakhnin”). Five years ago, against all odds, the tiny club was crowned State Cup champions. Winning on the football field allowed Sakhnin to pose the challenge whether the cardinal issues of discrimination, equality, identity and co-existence could be squared into the one round ball. ...

    Mazen Ghanaim, who as chairman of the football club took his town to glory, was elected last November Sakhnin mayor.

  • In other news, a delegation from Jordan to the Vatican, led by Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Maha Khatib, conveyed their thanks to the Pope for his impending visit (Catholic News Agency April 22, 2009):
    At the conclusion of the Wednesday General Audience last week, Khatib said, “In the name of the kings, the government and all of the people, we want to assure you that Jordan is doing everything possible to offer you a dignified and warm welcome.”

    “In Jordan Muslims are awaiting the Pope’s visit in the same way as Christians,” said Khatib, who spoke briefly with the Holy Father after the audience.

  • Palestinian worshippers from a Bethlehem parish gifted the Holy Father with a kaffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian scarf (Haaretz):
    At the end of the service, two youths from the group were brought to the pope and draped the black-and-white checkered scarf on his shoulders. Benedict chatted briefly with them while wearing the scarf, which an aide later removed.

Preparing for Pope Benedict XVI's Pilgrimage to Israel

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pope Benedict's Regensburg Address - A Refresher Course

Since the topic is bound to come up (and has in fact already), a refresher course on Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg Address appears to be in order. The Boston College Center for Jewish-Christian Learning provides a helpful compilation of links and commentary on the Regensburg lecture, including the following summary:
On Sept. 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave an academic lecture in Regensburg, Germany that argued for both the reasonableness of faith and that faith divorced from reason can produce behaviors contrary to God's will. In this context, Benedict cited the opinion of a fourteenth-century Byzatine emperor that "not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature." The emperor had illustrated his claim about unreasonable religious behavior by discussing the use of violence to coerce conversion, ascribing such practices in polemical terms to Islam, and this language was quoted by Pope Benedict.

The lecture sparked international protests in many Islamic countries. The protestors had apparently concluded or were advised that Benedict himself believed Islam to be, in the quoted words from the fourteenth-century, "only evil and inhuman." Since the papal lecture did not include any examples of unreasonable Christian behavior or reiterate formal Catholic teaching from the Second Vatican Council that the Church regards Muslims with esteem, the likelihood of unintended negative interpretations of the speech was increased. On the other hand, some of the protests in the Muslim world themselves bordered on violence or used symbolic violence, thereby reinforcing the caricature of Islam as inherently violent that the Pope was being accused of purveying. On Octber 12, Islamica magazine published a response to the papal lecture from 38 Muslims scholars and leaders.

Those accustomed to reading about the address only in the context of the ensuing "Regensburg Rage" -- a rash of violent Muslim protests, culminating in the murder of a nun in Somalia and the kidnapping and beheading of an Assyrian priest in Iraq -- will be suprised to discover that only a small portion of it actually touched on Islamic-Christian relations (approximately 3 paragraphs).

Rather, Pope Benedict's focus was not so much on Islam but rather an even greater indictment of the program of dehellenization that played out in Western academia following the Reformation and the liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and which led to the "modern self-limitation of reason," -- confining itself to that which is scientifically (mathematically and emperically) verifiable, and dismissing as irrelevant "the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics."

For helpful analysis of the more substantial portion of Benedict's address, see:

Muslim Extremists: "only crooks who disguise themselves as Muslims" will welcome Benedict in Nazareth

Worshippers at the Shihab al-Din Mosque in Nazareth distributed a leaflet attacking Pope Benedict for a lecture he gave in Germany more than two years ago. David Bedein reports for the Philadelphia Bulletin (April 21, 2009):
“We announce from Nazareth that we are oppose to the Pope’s visit. A person who cursed the prophet, who stood at the head of the effort to convert Muslims in Darfur, Indonesia and the Muslim world, attacked Islam, praised America and drew near and fraternized with the butcher of Gaza-is unwanted here,” the pamphlet reads.

The supporters of the leaflet also voiced their opinions about those Muslims who intended to participate in any reception for the head of the Catholic Church.

“The mayor and his deputy will receive the Pope, but no sheikh or imam will dare do that — only crooks who disguise themselves as Muslims,” said one Islamic activist “When someone curses my father, I’m not willing to accept that, so I certainly won’t accept it when they curse the prophet.”

Bedein adds: "this group represents a small minority among the Muslim population of Nazareth. Most of the residents are pleased with the flourishing economy and the flood of tourists and look forward to the Pope’s arrival."

Israel halted construction of the mosque in 2002, its close proximity to the Basilica of the Annunciation being a source of contention between Muslims and Christians. Minister of Construction and Housing Natan Sharansky justified the move by stating that Muslim leaders had failed to honor prior agreements regarding the size of the proposed mosque, and that its presence was a source of intimidation to pilgrims and the wider Christian community.

"It is too bad that Sharon's government sacrificed the Muslims on the altar of the Vatican and Christianity," said Salman Abu Ahmed, head of the Islamic Movement in Nazareth and the city's deputy mayor. "We will continue to pray at the spot."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Interview with Fouad Twal on Benedict XVI's visit to the Holy Land

The website of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land features an interview with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, in which he responds to many questions that have been arisen concerning the Pope's impending journey.
  • Responding to the concerns of Palestinian Christians:
    The worries – I would even say, the anguish – are in part legitimate, but I want to underline that they were – and still are here and there – felt by the Arab Christians living in the Territories and in Jerusalem. The reality of the Christians who live in Israel, and all the more so that of the Christians of Jordan is an entirely different one; they see the pope’s visit in a different light. In a diocese that lives extremely differing realities, we must try to have a more global vision of this visit and to consider it in all its dimensions: political and social and human and religious.
  • On whether the Holy Father should have waited "for a better time", in light of the Israeli-Palestianian conflict in Gaza:
    So what should be done? Wait for better times? But this region is never at peace! Wait until the Palestinian question is resolved? I’m afraid that two or three sovereign pontiffs will pass before it is definitively settled.

    It’s the story of the glass that is half full or half empty… Some say: “The situation is difficult, so it would be better if he didn’t come.” Others on the contrary say: “The situation is difficult, so it would be better if he came.” And that is our position. During these difficult times, I want the Holy Father to come to help us to “superare”: to go beyond, to see further.

    The pope is coming to visit all the Churches, all the people who live in the Holy Land in order to encourage us to remain faithful to our mission, to our faith, and to our awareness of belonging to this Land.

  • On Israel's expected use of the visit for public-relations:
    Israel will do all it can to present its country in the best light. I understand that, it is its right.

    It is not our task to criticize or to denounce what the others do. Our job is to do our part to make the visit as pastoral as possible; it is our responsibility to do our part so that our Christians might have the possibility to see the Holy Father, to pray with him and to hear his message of peace and of justice for all. If one studies all the messages published by the Holy See concerning the Holy Land, Iraq and the Middle East, one can see that we have an unheard of capital of addresses, support, interventions that are rich in humanity, the Christian spirit and justice. There is no doubt that the Holy Father will continue in this sense during his visit to the Holy Land.

    It falls upon us, the local Church, to watch over the program’s equilibrium: the sites to visit, the persons to meet, the addresses to be made. It is our job “to give the Holy Father a helping hand”.

  • On relations between Israel and the Vatican:
    It is difficult to find a good balance and to maintain it. Having said that, the more the Vatican is a friend of Israel’s, the more it will be able to draw profit from that friendship for greater peace and justice. If the tension continues between the universal Catholic Church and Israel, we will all lose, we Christians and we Arabs. On the other hand, if Israel trusts the Holy See entirely, based on that friendship, the Holy See will be able to speak of truth, of justice and of peace. For with the language of friendship, it is possible to say things to one another that one would refuse to hear if it came from an enemy.

    Being friends and speaking as such is good for everyone: for the friend, for Israel, and for the others. I just hope that the Holy See’s friendship with Israel is reciprocal.

Read the rest of Fouad Atwi's interview with Marie-Armelle Beaulieu.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan objects to Papal visit, insists that Pope Benedict define his stance on Islam and Muhammad

Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan have objected to Pope Benedict's visit, insisting that he define his stance on Islam and Prophet Muhammad ahead of his arrival:
The spokesperson of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the visit meant little, if anything, to him.

“The pope hates Islam and Muslims. I do not expect anything from his visit,” said Raheil Gharayba, who is also the deputy secretary general of the IAF, the most influential political party in the [Jordanian] kingdom.


“His position on the Gaza War was shameful, after failing to condemn the genocide by Israel on innocent civilians," said Gharaybeh.


President of the Muslim Brotherhood Shurah council, ‘Abd A-Latif ‘Arabiat, said the pope was “welcome in the country of Islam, but he must send a clear message to the hard-line government of Israel,” referring to the right-wing cabinet of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ...

“The visit should not be seen as a vindication of Israel and the Zionist movement from their war crimes in Gaza,” said ‘Arabiat.

“The Pope is not welcome in the kingdom,” he added.

Earlier in the year, a human rights organization funded by the Jordanian government urged the Pope to cancel his visit to Israel, warning that "it will be as if he is blessing its actions in Gaza."
"We respectfully request Your Holiness to call-off your intended visit to Israel next May. Such a gesture by your high moral authority will certainly send a loud and an unambiguous message to set free the Palestinian people from their captivity which has been going on since the year 1967."
By all appearances, the Holy Father is not one to submit to intimidation; his visit to Israel is still on the agenda.

On a related note, the Jerusalem Post reports that Islamic Movement in Israel is split over pope's May visit:

The northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel has announced that it is "boycotting" Pope Benedict XVI's visit next month, while an official from the more moderate southern branch said it intend to participate in the event.

However, there was no indication that the northerners plan to protest his arrival or try to block the pontiff's path to al-Aqsa Mosque, which he is scheduled to visit.

Israel's students deficient in basic knowledge of Christianity?

Catholic News Service has a disturbing report on the state of education about Christianity in Jewish schools in Israel (April 16, 2009):
"The answer is very simply no. Israeli students do not learn about Christianity in school," said Rossing, director of the independent Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations.

"All indications are that there is a very widespread ignorance with regard to Catholicism in general and in particular in regard to the revolutionary changes which have taken place in the Catholic Church regarding Judaism and the Jewish people," said Rossing, who is an Orthodox Jew.

Rossing is considered an expert in education about Christianity. His center offers workshops and seminars about Christianity and interreligious studies for groups ranging from soldiers and teachers to the average Israeli who wants to learn more.

A study conducted by Rossing's Center found that "young Israeli Jews tend to be less tolerant of Christians than people over 30 are," due to their lack of exposure to Christians and Christianity:
"People in the 18- to 20-year-old category are solely the product of the educational system and don't have contact with Christianity, while (older people) have had other influences and opportunities for encounters," said Rossing. "If we were to do a similar survey (in regard to Jews) in Germany or France in the general population, I suspect the findings wouldn't be much different."

As far as education about Christianity goes, 68 percent of non-Orthodox Jewish respondents said that Christianity should be taught in schools and 52 percent said the New Testament should be studied. However, 73 percent of Orthodox Jewish respondents and 90 percent of ultra-Orthodox Jewish respondents opposed the teaching of Christianity in schools in any form.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Israel and Jordan launch new websites dedicated to Papal visit

The Israel Ministry of Tourism will launch a new website dedicated to Pope Benedict XVI’s first Papal visit to the Holy Land on April 15th.

The user-friendly website will be available in seven languages and feature background information, photographs and video footage related to Christian holy sites in Israel as well as detailed information on the Pope’s itinerary and trip highlights.

For more information on Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Israel visit

* * *

The Jordan Tourism Board has likewise devoted a section of their website in commemoration of the historic visit, available in six languages.

The site has information on Pope Benedict XVI, as well as Pope John Paul II, who paid a special visit and pilgrimage to Jordan in 2000, during which he officially recognized the Baptism Site at Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan on the eastern banks of the River Jordan.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Preparing for Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel and the Holy Land (Roundup II)

  • Catholic News Service says that Pope Benedict XVI will encounter a Holy Land that has changed greatly since Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 -- characterized by Israeli-Palestinian tensions; bickering Palestinian political factions; communities divided by a 2002 separation barrier to prevent terrorist attacks, and a recent war between Israel and Hamas:
    Pope Benedict will face a land torn asunder and scarred by the violence and physical barriers of the second intifada, which broke out just months after the 2000 papal visit. He will stand before people who have lost hope in the future and no longer trust their politicians, and he will see precarious economies still reeling from the effects of the intifada and feeling the sting of the current international economic downturn -- still waiting for the additional influx of pilgrims and tourists they dreamed of following the earlier papal visit. ...

    Though Pope Benedict has insisted, as did Pope John Paul, that his visit is a spiritual pilgrimage and not meant as a political statement, both Israelis and Palestinians say they have expectations ranging from bringing about a renewal of the stalled peace talks, bringing an economic boost to the area with an influx of pilgrims, helping refocus international attention on the political situation and initiating a spiritual strengthening of the local Catholic faithful.

  • Christian tourism to Israel has increased by 17 percent since Pope John Paul II visited nine years ago, the Israeli Tourism Ministry said on Thursday (Jerusalem Post):
    ... the number of Christian visitors who defined themselves as pilgrims shot up a whopping 43% over the last eight years, with more than one million in 2008 - more than half of the Christian visitors - calling themselves pilgrims.
    Suffice to say they're hoping for a similar response from Benedict's papal visit.

    However, in an update to this story, Haaretz reports that the department has modified (and somewhat reduced) its expectations of a high turnout - "About 10,000 Christian pilgrims are expected to come to Israel in May during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, significantly fewer than the "over 40,000" that Tourism Ministry officials spoke about less than a month ago."

  • According to the Franciscan Custodians of the Holy Land, preparation for Benedict XVI's Holy Land visit is advancing the relationship between the Holy See and Israel, though formal agreements are still pending:
    The article noted that although this Papal trip will not conclude the pending agreements between the Holy See and Israel, the friendly atmosphere the visit has generated is serving to advance towards that objective.

    The agreements currently being negotiated, within a bilateral commission of Israeli and Vatican negotiators, will govern the legal status of the Catholic Church in that country. This follows the Fundamental Agreement, signed in 1993, which established the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel.

    In recent months, the committee's meetings have made such progress that it was believed the negotiations might be concluded on the occasion of the Papal visit.

  • The Washington Times reports on Nazareth's competition with Jerusalem and Bethlehem for papal attention, and preparations for the visit:
    "We are building new roads, expanding our electrical grid to Mount Precipice and laying pipes to convey water to the stadium," said Suheil Diab, an aide to the mayor. "There will be seats for 7,500 people and space for the more than 35,000 on the surrounding grounds."

    A new extension of a modern highway will lead directly to the stadium atop Mount Precipice. A helicopter pad is being leveled next to the stadium and another near the Basilica of the Annunciation.

    An estimated $5 million promised to the municipality by Israel's government is expected to cover the cost of 25 infrastructure projects. "The work under way is nearing completion," Mr. Diab said.

    The article also mentions security concerns (a local Muslim extremist group known as "Ahbab Allah" -- "God's Beloved" -- is still smarting from having construction halted on their mosque over a decade ago); and that "at this stage, the papal schedule does not call for stops at most of the historic shrines associated with Jesus' youth in Nazareth." (The Pope will, apparently, enter the residence of the Holy Mother, located in a cave below the Basilica of the Annunciation).

  • Haaretz reports that The Jesus Trail, a Galilee path that supposedly traces the route of Jesus, will be completed in time for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI next month.

  • According to YNet News, during Benedict's visit to Jerusalem, he'll take time out to visit the city's Time Elevator site, and get to inaugurate its new attraction – the Aerial Odyssey:
    The Aerial Odyssey is an aerial adventure in which visitors get to fly over Israel and gain a unique new perspective as the past and present of this land are revealed.

    During the journey, visitors are exposed to a variety of natural and human treasures, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else. The ride shows the people, the places and the religions that make up the holy land.

Pope Benedict XVI's Urbi et Orbi - appeals for peace in the Middle East

If it is true that death no longer has power over man and over the world, there still remain very many, in fact too many signs of its former dominion. Even if through Easter, Christ has destroyed the root of evil, he still wants the assistance of men and women in every time and place who help him to affirm his victory using his own weapons: the weapons of justice and truth, mercy, forgiveness and love. This is the message which, during my recent Apostolic Visit to Cameroon and Angola, I wanted to convey to the entire African continent, where I was welcomed with such great enthusiasm and readiness to listen. Africa suffers disproportionately from the cruel and unending conflicts, often forgotten, that are causing so much bloodshed and destruction in several of her nations, and from the growing number of her sons and daughters who fall prey to hunger, poverty and disease. I shall repeat the same message emphatically in the Holy Land, to which I shall have the joy of traveling in a few weeks from now. Reconciliation – difficult, but indispensable – is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful coexistence, and it can only be achieved through renewed, persevering and sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My thoughts move outwards from the Holy Land to neighboring countries, to the Middle East, to the whole world. At a time of world food shortage, of financial turmoil, of old and new forms of poverty, of disturbing climate change, of violence and deprivation which force many to leave their homelands in search of a less precarious form of existence, of the ever-present threat of terrorism, of growing fears over the future, it is urgent to rediscover grounds for hope. Let no one draw back from this peaceful battle that has been launched by Christ’s Resurrection. For as I said earlier, Christ is looking for men and women who will help him to affirm his victory using his own weapons: the weapons of justice and truth, mercy, forgiveness and love.
-- Pope Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi ("To The City And The World") Easter 2009.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Financial Woes Plague Preparations for Papal Visit

The new Israeli government under Binyamin Netanyahu is into its first session and already squabbling with each other over the papal visit, when it was revealed that that the Public Security Ministry has not received most of the money it needs to provide security for the Pope (Israel National News):
The outgoing government under Ehud Olmert set aside NIS 43 million for security for the papal visit, including NIS 6 million for upgrading the infrastructures at tourist sites included in his itinerary.

However, according to Public Security Minister Yitzchak Aharonovich, the Finance Ministry has thus far only transferred NIS 5 million for this purpose. Most of this money was earmarked for improvement of roads and infrastructures, and not for security. ... Read More

On a related note, Haaretz reports that Nazareth has yet to receive a single shekel allocated by the government for infrastructure work ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's visit next month!:
The government's failure to hand over the funds - an estimated NIS 20 million to go toward structures including an amphitheater holding 7,500 stone seats and a new road - is delaying the publication of tenders for the infrastructure work, which is obstructing preparations for the mass the pope is slated to conduct in the northern Israeli Arab city.
Even under such extraneous circumstances and financial duress, Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy claims that "we have already completed 50 to 60 percent of the work" (Jerusalem Post).

Given the present situation in the United States we're not exactly in a position to complain about financial mismanagement; still -- let's hope the Netanyahu administration will come through on this one.

Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen on Israeli-Vatican Relations

Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen of Haifa is speaking out on the sensitive discussions between the Israeli rabbinate and the Vatican in anticipation of Pope Benedict XVI’s May visit to the Holy Land. David Bedein reports for the Philadelphia Bulletin:
Rabbi Cohen said the Pope went out of his way to make it clear the Vatican would never question Israel’s sovereignty, nor challenge its rights to rule over the Old City of Jerusalem. Between 1949 and 1967, the Old City remained under Jordan’s Islamic rule, and Jews were barred from entering it.

He said both himself and other Israeli rabbis are open to Pope Benedict’s idea of establishing an inter-religious council where all of the religions represented in the Holy City could be called together to discuss both the practical and spiritual aspects of Jerusalem’s present and future.

The rabbi also discussed the warm interpersonal relations that developed between the rabbis and the Vatican officials. ... read more.

In October 2008, Rabbi Cohen had the honor of becoming the first Jew to address a synod of Catholic bishops at the at the Second General Congregation of the Bishops’ synod on the Bible.

Regretfully, Rabbi Cohen also raised the provocative question of Pope Pius XII:

“We refer to him as ‘the Holocaust Pope,’” said Rabbi Cohen. “Although he may have helped individual Jews, he did not fulfill his role to protest the mass slaughter of Jews. Rabbi Cohen expressed the view that if the Vatican does claim that Pope Pius XII did extraordinary things to help the Jews during the war, then the Vatican should open its archives to provide documentation of such.”
With all due respect, we beg to differ with this assessment of Pius XII, and firmly maintain that an examination of the facts will vindicate his name.

For further details see our online archive: Pope Pius XII, the Jews and the Holocaust.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel and the Holy Land - Intinerary

Here is the detailed itinerary as released by the Vatican. All times are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses (courtesy of Catholic News Service).

Friday, May 8 (Rome, Amman)

  • 9:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.) Departure from Rome's Leonardo da Vinci International Airport.

  • 2:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m.) Arrival at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman. Welcoming ceremony. Speech by pope.

  • 3:30 p.m. (8:30 a.m.) Visit to the Regina Pacis center in Amman. Speech by pope.

  • 5:40 p.m. (10:40 a.m.) Courtesy visit to the king and queen of Jordan at the royal palace in Amman.
Saturday, May 9 (Amman, Mount Nebo, Madaba)

  • 7:15 a.m. (12:15 a.m.) Private Mass in chapel of apostolic nunciature in Amman.

  • 9:15 a.m. (2:15 a.m.) Visit to the Memorial Church of Moses at Mount Nebo. Speech by pope.

  • 10:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.) Pope blesses the cornerstone of the Latin Patriarchate's University of Madaba. Speech by pope.

  • 11:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.) Visit to the Hashemite Museum and the King Hussein Mosque in Amman.

  • 11:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.) Meeting with Muslim leaders, diplomats and rectors of the University of Jordan outside the mosque. Speech by pope.

  • 5:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.) Celebration of evening prayer in the Melkite Cathedral of St. George in Amman, attended by priests, men and women religious, seminarians and members of church movements. Speech by pope.
Sunday, May 10 (Amman, Bethany Beyond the Jordan)

  • 10 a.m. (3 a.m.) Mass at Amman's soccer stadium. Homily by pope. Recitation of Angelus. Talk by pope.

  • 12:45 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Lunch with patriarchs, bishops and the papal entourage in the Latin-rite vicariate of Amman.

  • 5:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.) Visit to Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the site where Jesus was baptized.

  • 6 p.m. (11 a.m.) Blessing of cornerstones for a Latin Catholic church and Melkite Catholic church at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Speech by pope.
Monday, May 11 (Amman, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem)

  • 7:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.) Private Mass in chapel of apostolic nunciature in Amman.

  • 10 a.m. (3 a.m.) Departure ceremony at Queen Alia International Airport. Speech by pope.

  • 10:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.) Departure for Israel.

  • 11 a.m. (4 a.m.) Welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. Speech by pope.

  • 4:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.) Courtesy visit to President Shimon Peres in presidential palace in Jerusalem. Speech by pope.

  • 5:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m.) Visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Speech by pope.

  • 6:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.) Meeting with organizations involved with interreligious dialogue at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center. Speech by pope.
Tuesday, May 12 (Jerusalem)

  • 9 a.m. (2 a.m.) Visit to the Dome of the Rock and courtesy visit to the grand mufti. Speech by pope.

  • 10 a.m. (3 a.m.) Visit to the Western Wall.

  • 10:45 a.m. (3:45 a.m.) Courtesy visit to two chief rabbis of Jerusalem at the Hechal Shlomo center. Speech by pope.

  • 11:50 a.m. (4:50 a.m.) Recitation of the "Regina Coeli" prayer at the chapel of the Cenacle together with the Catholic ordinaries of the Holy Land. Speech by pope.

  • 12:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m.) Brief visit to the Latin Patriarchate's co-cathedral.

  • 1 p.m. (6 a.m.) Lunch with the Catholic ordinaries of the Holy Land at the Latin Patriarchate.

  • 4:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.) Mass in the Josafat Valley. Homily by pope. Wednesday, May 13 (Jerusalem, Bethlehem)

  • 9 a.m. (2 a.m.) Welcome ceremony in the square in front of the presidential palace of Bethlehem. Speech by pope.

  • 10 a.m. (3 a.m.) Mass in Manger Square. Homily by pope.

  • 12:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m.) Lunch with the Catholic ordinaries and Franciscan community of the Holy Land and the papal entourage in the Casa Nova guesthouse.

  • 3:30 p.m. (8:30 a.m.) Private visit to the grotto in the Church of the Nativity.

  • 4:10 p.m. (9:10 a.m.) Visit to the Caritas Children's Hospital.

  • 4:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.) Visit to the Aida refugee camp. Speech by pope.

  • 6 p.m. (11 a.m.) Courtesy visit to the president of the Palestinian Authority in the presidential palace.

  • 6:40 p.m. (11:40 a.m.) Farewell ceremony in the courtyard of the presidential palace. Speech by pope.
Thursday, May 14 (Nazareth)

  • 10 a.m. (3 a.m.) Mass on Mount Precipice in Nazareth. Homily by pope.

  • 12:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m.) Lunch with the Catholic ordinaries and Franciscan community of the Holy Land and the papal entourage in the Franciscan convent.

  • 3:50 p.m. (8:50 a.m.) Meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Franciscan convent.

  • 4:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.) Pope greets religious leaders of Galilee in the auditorium of the Basilica of the Annunciation. Speech by pope.

  • 5 p.m. (10 a.m.) Visit to the Grotto of the Annunciation.

  • 5:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.) Celebration of evening prayer in the upper Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth attended by bishops, priests, men and women religious, seminarians, members of church movements and pastoral workers of Galilee. Speech by pope.
Friday, May 15 (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Rome)

  • 7:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.) Private Mass in chapel of the apostolic delegation in Jerusalem.

  • 9:15 a.m. (2:15 a.m.) Ecumenical meeting in the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Speech by pope.

  • 10:15 a.m. (3:15 a.m.) Visit to the Holy Sepulcher. Speech by pope.

  • 11:10 a.m. (4:10 a.m.) Visit to the Armenian Apostolic patriarchate's Church of St. Jacob.

  • 1:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Speech by pope.

  • 2 p.m. (7 a.m.) Departure from the Ben Gurion International Airport for Rome.

  • 4:50 p.m. (10:50 a.m.) Arrival at Rome's Ciampino airport.