After several days when the location of a speech sometimes clashed with the message he wanted to send, Pope Benedict must have been relieved to visit Nazareth today. The town where Jesus grew up lies in Israel proper, in the north of the country, and not in the political minefield of the West Bank that Benedict visited yesterday to see Bethlehem. In the town of the Holy Family, he was able to defend traditional Catholic family values without having to consider issues such as Palestinian statehood or apologies for the Holocaust. As he put it:
“All of us need… 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!”
Of course, this is just as political as the other questions he’s dealt with on this visit, as the growing acceptance of gay marriage at the state level in the United States shows, but it’s on a different level. The issue isn’t the same in Israel, because the the Chief Rabbinate oversees marriages here and rules out gay marriage. The same goes for civil unions. But colleagues in our Jerusalem bureau tell me that times are changing here as well. Israeli social services now often recognise a long-standing gay relationship as similar to common law marriage and extend benefits to same-sex partners.