FaithWorld

The pope’s whirlwind tour of the Holy Land

The Holy Land is scrambling in its preparations for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI, pouring millions of dollars into infrastructure and security. It comes just nine years after his predecessor, John Paul II, made his historical visit. He will be travelling from May 8-15.

More than 1 million Christian pilgrims passed through Israel last year, and the tourism ministry is preparing for a spike in that number around the time of the pope’s visit. The pontiff will travel with heavy security, sometimes on new roads built specifically for him.

You can scroll down and read about the key stops, in chronological order, on his whirlwind tour.

Mount NeboPope Benedict will begin his trip with a few days in Jordan. He is expected to give a speech at the ancient basilica on Mount Nebo that overlooks the Jordan River and Jerusalem. Mount Nebo is believed to be where the Prophet Moses died.

The pope will also hold a mass at the Amman International Stadium

Barack Obama, who at the time was a candidate for president of the United States, during a visit last year to the Hall of Rememberance at Yad Vashem.Yad Vashem — One of the pope’s first stops in Israel will be at the Jewish state’s memorial to victims of the Nazi Holocaust. It is particularly significant because of the controversy surrounding his decision to lift the excommunication of a bishop who denies the Holocaust. Pope Benedict later admitted the Vatican mishandled the affair. He will meet Jewish Holocaust survivors and attend a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, a common stop among visiting dignitaries. He will also plant a tree in a nearby forest.

Soldier says rabbis pushed “religious war” in Gaza

gazaOur Jerusalem bureau has sent a very interesting report about criticism within the Israeli army of the Gaza offensive in January. What caught my eye was that it brings up the issue of a religious war, a term usually used in relation to Muslims. (Photo: Israeli air strike near Gaza-Egypt border in southern Gaza Strip, 26 Feb 2009/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

The story starts off as follows:

Rabbis in the Israeli army told battlefield troops in January’s Gaza offensive that they were fighting a “religious war” against gentiles, according to one army commander’s account published on Friday.

The pope and the Holocaust: Regensburg redux?

The uproar over traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson and his denial of the Holocaust highlights an open secret here in Rome: Vatican departments don’t talk to each much, or at least as much as they should. The pope appears to have decided to lift the 1988 excommunication of four schismatic bishops of the SSPX (including Williamson) without the wide consultation that it may have merited. The Christian Unity department, which also oversees relations with Jews, was apparently kept out of the loop. The head of the office, Cardinal Walter Kasper, told The New York Times it was the pope’s decision. Kasper’s office and the Vatican press office, headed by Father Federico Lombardi, were clearly not prepared for the media onslaught that followed the discovery of Williamson’s views denying the Holocaust. (Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson, 28 Feb 2007/Jens Falk)

Pope Benedict’s lifting of the ban and Williamson’s comments about the Holocaust are unrelated as far as Church law is concerned. The excommunications lifted last Saturday were imposed because the four were ordained without Vatican permission. As Father Thomas Resse, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, told me: “The Holocaust is a matter of history, not faith. Being a Holocaust denier is stupid but not against the faith. Being anti-Semitic, however, is a sin.” This is an important distinction, but not one the Vatican seems to be able to get across.

It was all very reminiscent of the pope’s Regensburg speech in 2006. Few in the Vatican knew it was coming. The Vatican was overwhelmed by the Muslim reaction and the media interest. This time, it is also not clear how many people in the Vatican even knew about Williamson’s history. Surely, those negotiating with the traditionalists for the lifting of the excommunications should  have known. If they didn’t, why didn’t they? If they did, why did they not tell Kasper’s department? The Holocaust is such a sensitive issue for Jews that this response could have been seen from miles away.

U.S. Muslim leader on schedule to pray at Obama event

Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), is on schedule to say the Muslim prayer at an inaugural prayer service at Washington’s National Cathedral on Wednesday. There has been no change of plan. The Obama inauguration team has not withdrawn its invitation. (Photo: Ingrid Mattson, 16 Oct 2008/Sohail Nakhooda)

That might come as a surprise to readers who read several news items and blogs in recent days with headlines like “Obama prayer leader from group US linked to Hamas.” orQuestionable Connections for Speaker at High-Profile Inaugural Event?” The report started on a blog called American Thinker on Saturday and has been picked up repeatedly since then.

Charges of supporting Hamas, which the U.S. government has listed as a terrorist organisation, would seem like just the thing to get anyone disinvited from the prayer service pronto. But they would have to be proven. These articles only mentioned alleged “links” that seem flimsier the more they’re examined.

Cardinal Martino does it again

Cardinal Renato Martino, the papal aide who angered Israel and Jews by comparing Gaza to a “big concentration camp” is no novice at being outspoken or controversial. The southern Italian cardinal speaks his mind, loves to talk and sometimes has had to pay the price. Martino, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (effectively its justice minister), has a laundry list of people and governments with whom he has clashed. But that hasn’t stopped him. (Photo: Cardinal Martino at the Vatican, 12 April 2005/Tony Gentile)

Perhaps his most famous remark came in December, 2003 when, shortly after U.S. troops captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Martino told a news conference at the Vatican that U.S. military were wrong to show video footage of Saddam. “I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures,” he said at the time.

The “treated like a cow” remark was heard around the world and, needless to say, was not very appreciated in the White House. The Vatican had opposed the U.S.-invasion of Iraq in March of that year. In fact, a certain chill developed between Martino and then U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson, a Vietnam veteran who later went on to become Bush’s Secretary for Veteran Affairs.

Visiting Israeli settlers in what my GPS calls “unreachable areas”

(Editor’s note: Doug Hamilton, one of our most experienced correspondents and lively writers, recently took up a new post in Jerusalem. Here’s the back story to his latest feature “A Biblical view of peace high in the Holy Land.”)

(Photo:the West Bank Jewish settlement of Psagot, 17 November 2008/Eliana Aponte)

When I began my assignment to Israel & the Palestinian Territories two months ago, I was determined to get out and about and see as much as possible for myself. I wanted to find out up close what life was like for the people who live here — from the Palestinians lining up obediently to get through intimidating Israeli checkpoints, to the nightlife crowd a world away in chic Tel Aviv, to the Orthodox Jews in 16th century attire in their Jerusalem districts where you dare not drive on the Sabbath, to the Palestinian olive groves and to the settlers on the occupied land of the West Bank.

I bought a GPS navigator to help me get around and the first thing I discovered was that my desired West Bank and Gaza destinations were “in an unreachable area”, according to the device. The occupied territories show up as dark grey background on the GPS. But its warnings can be overridden and  it will then guide you  pretty accurately to the “unreachable destinations” you seek.

Religious rumble slide show

OK, it happened a few days ago, but I still can’t get over that “Christian” fist fight at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem between the Greek Orthodox and Armenians. Our photo desk has put together a slide show of Ammar Awad’s shots from the scene — click here to see it.

Priestly turf wars in the Holy Land

Loving thy neighbour is not always easy, especially, it seems, when it comes to the traditional site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

Worshipper at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 8 2007

Christian factions have squabbled for years over who controls which parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s divided Old City.

Sometimes they even come to blows.

Priests and worshippers at an Orthodox Palm Sunday celebration on April 20 ended up brawling after Armenian clerics apparently kicked a Greek Orthodox priest out of a shrine at the church — one of Christianity’s holiest.

To trust or not to trust — Vatican diplomat vents frustration at Israel

Italians have a wonderful phrase they use when things don’t work out as they had hoped: “It was better when it was worse.”

Archbishop Pietro SambiThat was the thrust of controversial comments about the Catholic Church’s relations with Israel by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, currently the Vatican’s nuncio (ambassador) to the United States and formerly the papal envoy to the Jewish state.

Sambi, who was nuncio in Israel from 1998-2005, could not have been clearer about his discontent: “If I must be frank, relations between the Catholic Church and the state of Israel were better when there were no diplomatic relations.” That was the opening salvo in a long interview in Italian with www. terrasanta.net, an on-line publication of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.