FaithWorld

A pope arrives bearing gifts

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. Take a look:

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Mosaic of the Birth of Christ

This mosaic is a copy of part of the 13th-century mosaics in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. It was produced by the Vatican Mosaic Studio in 2000. The pope was due to hand it over to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to Bethlehem on Wednesday.

pope-manuscript-1Copy of 14th-century Ashkenazi prayerbook page

This is a copy of a page for the holy day of Yom Kippur. The original book from 1375 once belonged to Queen Christiana of Sweden, whose library was bought in 1690 — one year after her death — by Pope Alexander VIII. The pope presented this to Israel’s two chief rabbis on Tuesday

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Koranic fragment in hejazi script

Parchment half-folio from a very early Koranic manuscript in hejazi script dating from shortly after the year 650. The only original among the gifts, it came from a collection of 85 Koranic manuscripts donated to the Vatican Library by an Italian bibliophile in 1946. The fragment shows part of Sura XI.

PAPA DIXIT: to Muslims, rabbis, bishops, faithful in Jerusalem

Four speeches today to four quite different audiences. Pope Benedict first addressed Muslim religious leaders (see our separate blog on that) and then Israel’s two grand rabbis. Both were about interfaith dialogue, but he was encouraging the Muslims to pursue it while he reassured the Jews the Catholic Church remained committed to it. He then addressed the Catholic bishops of the Holy Land and a Mass in the Valley of Josephat, just east of Jerusalem’s old city. At that Mass, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, delivered an interesting address comparing the Palestinians and Israelis to Jesus in his agony in the nearby Garden of Gethsemane and the international community to the three Apostles who slept during that crucial period in Christ’s passion (see our separate blog on that).

Here are excerpts from the day’s speeches:

TO MUSLIM RELIGIOUS LEADERS IN DOME OF THE ROCK:

dome-and-vatican-flagINTERFAITH DIALOGUE: “Since the teachings of religious traditions ultimately concern the reality of God, the meaning of life, and the common destiny of mankind – that is to say, all that is most sacred and dear to us – there may be a temptation to engage in such dialogue with reluctance or ambivalence about its possibilities for success. Yet we can begin with the belief that the One God is the infinite source of justice and mercy, since in him the two exist in perfect unity. Those who confess his name are entrusted with the task of striving tirelessly for righteousness while imitating his forgiveness…” (Photo: Dome of the Rock and Vatican flag, 12 May 2009//Yannis Behrakis)

“it is paramount that those who adore the One God should show themselves to be both grounded in and directed towards the unity of the entire human family. In other words, fidelity to the One God, the Creator, the Most High, leads to the recognition that human beings are fundamentally interrelated, since all owe their very existence to a single source and are po”inted towards a common goal. Imprinted with the indelible image of the divine, they are called to play an active role in mending divisions and promoting human solidarity.

Palestinians & Israelis like Jesus, int’l community like Apostles?

It’s not often you hear the Palestinians and Israelis compared to Jesus or the international community likened to Christ’s closest disciples. But the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, did just that in his address at Pope Benedict’s Mass in the Valley of Josephat today. This is the valley just east of the old city of Jerusalem, close to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed in agony before he was arrested by the Romans led by Judas. The Apostles Peter, James and John had accompanied him but they stayed a short distance away and fell asleep while Jesus prayed. Twal used this image to make a link between that Gospel episode and current day Middle East politics:

pope-gethsemane-2Just a few yards from here, Jesus said to his most favored disciples “Remain here, and watch with me” (Mt. 26:39). But these same disciples closed their eyes, not losing sleep over Jesus’ agony, only a short distance away in the Garden of Gethsemane.” (Photo: Pope arrives for Mass with the eastern wall of Jerusalem’s old city is visible in the background, 12 May 2009/Yannis Behrakis)

Holy Father, today, in many ways, the situation has not changed: around us, we have the agony of the Palestinian people, who dream of living in a free and independent Palestinian State, but have not found its realization; and the agony of the Israeli people, who dream of a normal life in peace and security and, despite all their military and mass media might, have not found its realization.

At Dome of Rock, Benedict uses Muslims’ argument to Muslims

pope-dome-outsideAt Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, part of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary complex including Islam’s third-holiest mosque Al-Aqsa, 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. The need for interfaith dialogue is emerging as one of the two most consistent themes of Benedict’s speeches during his current Middle East tour (the other being the link between faith and reason). Appeals like this risk being empty phrases, but he has given some new twists that make them stand out. (Photo: Pope at Dome of the Rock, 12 May 2009/Israeli govt. handout)

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.

Another new element — Benedict has begun using core Islamic terms to build bridges to his Muslim audience. Speaking at the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, he referred to God as “merciful and compassionate.” Today, he spoke of a shared belief “that the One God is the infinite source of justice and mercy.” He even expressed the hope that Muslim-Christian dialogue explores “how the Oneness of God is inextricably tied to the unity of the human family.” The Trinity is one of the biggest stumbling blocks between Christianity and Islam. Muslims see it as belief in three separate Gods, unlike the three persons in one God as Christians understand it. Centuries of Muslim anti-Christian rhetoric is built on the idea that Christianity is not really monotheistic like Islam (and Judaism, by the way). If the detailed theological discussions the Common Word group has launched lead to a better understanding of this issue, even if no agreement is possible, that would still be major progress.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Holy Slideshow

Here's a slideshow of the best pictures from the first days of Pope Benedict's visit to the Middle East. Click on the photo to enjoy.

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Mixed Israeli press reaction to Benedict’s Yad Vashem speech

pope-yad-smallPope Benedict was never going to please his critics in Israel, so it’s not surprising that today’s headlines were almost all negative about his speech at Yad Vashem yesterday. Reading the English-language press this morning, I was interested in seeing the nuances in the different reactions. Here are a few examples of what I found:

In Haaretz, the main headline read “Survivors angered by Benedict’s ‘lukewarm’ speech.’” That story focused on the reaction from Yad Vashem officials as we reported yesterday. You can see a PDF of its front page here. The two commentaries were more nuanced than the main story. (Photo: Pope Benedict at Yad Vashem, 11 May 2009/Yannis Behrakis)

Tom Segev’s front-page analysis “Someone in Rome chose ‘killed’” focused on the way Benedict described the Holocaust victims’ fate: “He inexplicably said Jews “were killed,” as if it had been an unfortunate accident. On the surface, this may seem unimportant: Israelis often use the same term, and they do not need the pope to tell them about the Holocaust, which today is a universal code for absolute evil. But the word the pope used is significant because someone in the Holy See decided to write “were killed” instead of “murdered” or “destroyed.” The impression is that the cardinals argued among themselves over whether Israelis “deserve” for the pope to say “were murdered” and decided they only deserve “were killed.” It sounded petty.

What should a German pope say at Yad Vashem?

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What should a German pope say at Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem?

The chairman of the Yad Vashem council, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, was underwhelmed by Pope Benedict’s effort at the memorial this afternoon. “There certainly was no apology expressed here,” he told Israeli television. “Something was missing. There was no mention of the Germans or the Nazis who participated in the butchery, nor a word of regret.” Nor was there an “expression of empathy with the sorrow.” Lau also criticised Benedict for not specifically saying six million Jews were killed — even though the pope did use this figure earlier in the day during another speech.

While I don’t agree completely with Rabbi Lau, I also thought the speech was not up to the occasion. It was vague and evasive. It approached the Holocaust in an abstract way. Click here to see the difference between his approach and the more direct and powerful style Pope John Paul chose when he made the first papal visit to Yad Vashem nine years ago.

It is a unique situation when, within living memory of the Holocaust, a German is head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is visiting Israel as the head of a universal church, sure, but nobody can forget that he comes from the country that carried out the Holocaust. This is not to imply that he bears any personal blame. But most German clergy, politicians and average citizens acknowledge their country’s responsibility to admit its failures and pledge to never fail that way again. To do so is simply honest and to their credit – unlike for example Japan, which still struggles with admitting its own history.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Speak softly and carry a big staff

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As a long-time visitor and resident of the Middle East, I often feel a twinge of sympathy for visitors who might not be as inured as I have become to the rough-and-tumble of a region where religious, political and cultural sensitivites permeate every aspect of daily life, where arguments can blow up from the seemingly trivial and where, confusingly, remarkable levels of co-habitation and co-existence still show up against this explosive backdrop.

Pope Benedict, with his army of advisers and counsellors, is better prepared than many visitors for what the region might hold in store during his week here. But he must be acutely aware of the delicate nature of his trip - and that any gesture, word or act could become a major international issue

After the gentle warm-up of his visit to Jordan the main event started today when he landed at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport.

Politics of a papal photo op in Bethlehem

Palestinian authorities in Bethlehem are playing poker with papal protocol, hoping that Pope Benedict will depart from the script during his visit to the town of Jesus’s birth on Wednesday to give them a better photo op. They are so determined to have the pope stand right in front of the towering wall that Israel has constructed through parts of the city that they have built a small amphitheatre next to it where they want to greet him. Israel says the the open-air theatre, about the size of a basketball court, is illegal and ordered a halt to its construction. The Vatican has said the pope will only visit a United Nations-run school across the street. But the Palestinians have continued work feverishly to have the stage and stands ready just in case.

beth-stageI got a look at the wannabe reception theatre this morning during a pre-papal visit tour of Bethlehem with Doug Hamilton, a correspondent in our Jerusalem bureau, and our Bethlehem stringer Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh. The perspective the Palestinians want is striking. The graffiti-filled wall, which Israel says is for security and the Palestinians denounce as oppressive, runs along one side of the theatre. Behind the stage where the pope would stand is a menacing watchtower. The atmosphere is grim.

(Photo: Palestinian works on Bethlehem stage, 4 May 2009 REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

PAPA DIXIT: Sermon at Amman Mass, at Jesus baptism site

Sunday was a lighter program, with Pope Benedict celebrating an open-air Mass at Amman’s International Stadium in the morning and then visiting the Bethany beyond the Jordan site where Jesus was said to have been baptised. Here are excerpts from his speeches.

SERMON AT MASS IN AMMAN:

pope-jordanians-mass (Photo: Jordanian Catholics at pope’s Mass in Amman, 10 May 2009/Jamal Saidi)

MEETING JORDANIAN CATHOLICS: “As the Successor of Saint Peter, …I have long awaited this opportunity to stand before you as a witness to the Risen Savior, and to encourage you to persevere in faith, hope and love, in fidelity to the ancient traditions and the distinguished history of Christian witness which you trace back to the age of the Apostles. The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East. May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage, or fail to sense the loving solidarity of all your brothers and sisters in the Church throughout the world!”

CHRISTIAN FAMILIES: “May every Christian family grow in fidelity to its lofty vocation to be a true school of prayer, where children learn a sincere love of God, where they mature in selfdiscipline and concern for the needs of others, and where, shaped by the wisdom born of faith, they contribute to the building of an ever more just and fraternal society. The strong Christian families of these lands are a great legacy handed down from earlier generations. May today’s families be faithful to that impressive heritage, and never lack the material and moral assistance they need to carry out their irreplaceable role in service to society.”