Potpourri of Popery, Benedict In the Holy Land Edition


It's the middle of the novena for Pentecost and I am starting to annoy myself by taking too long to get the Holy Land potpourri going. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. What began as contemporaneous highlighting is now a retrospective, alas.

For all the news, commentary and day-to-day reactions to the Pope's trip to the Holy Land , you won't do better than the posts at Benedict In Israel. Plus the same blogger posts an assessment of the trip here.

The usual suspects spun away. Some particular Jews & Arabs were obnoxious and manipulative; the real distorters, however, were journalists with their vaunted journalistic..."innocence" (see final anecdote here to see what I mean). As George Weigel put it in an Italian journal:
IF: Do you think that his words are often manipulated by those who desire to give the impression of great conflict between faiths?
GW: I think it's more often the case that reporters simply don't have the intellectual equipment to understand, and explain, what the pope is actually saying.
Bless the Jewish defenders, of whom there were many. Great pictures here and here. And the Pope didn't give anyone any ipods or DVDs, just for the record.

I'm now free to stick to the Pope's texts (which are collected here): couldn't agree more with Fr. Owen Kearns' observation:
Once the initial reactions of varied people with passionate and partisan agendas calm down, the Holy Father's words will, as they so often do, have their true effect. After the shouting, his words will bear fruit in peace and serenity. The rereading will begin, and their true worth will emerge. He doesn't speak for the moment, but for the long term.
From Wednesday's Audience, here's B16's own assessment of the trip.
His Q&A on the flight to Jordan is a good summary of his aims: intercession; conscience formation; defense of reason.
prayer is a real force: it opens the world to God. We are convinced that God listens and that he can act in history. I think that if millions of people – millions of believers – all pray, this is truly a force that influences and can contribute to moving forward the cause of peace. Second: we are seeking to assist in the formation of consciences. The conscience is the human capacity to perceive the truth, but this capacity is often impeded by particular interests. And to break free from these interests, to open up more to the truth, to true values, is a major undertaking: it is a task of the Church to help us to know true criteria, true values, and to free us from particular interests. And so – in third place – we also speak – no doubt about it – to reason: precisely because we are not a political force, we can perhaps more easily, and in the light of the faith, see the true criteria, we can assist in understanding what contributes to peace and we can appeal to reason, we can support positions that are truly reasonable.
At Regina Pacis center, a home for the disabled in Amman, the Pope told young people:
even hearts hardened by cynicism or injustice or unwillingness to forgive are never beyond the reach of God, can always be opened to a new way of being, a vision of peace.
At the mosque in Amman, speaking to Muslim religious leaders:

Places of worship, like this splendid Al-Hussein Bin Talal mosque named after the revered late King, stand out like jewels across the earth’s surface. From the ancient to the modern, the magnificent to the humble, they all point to the divine, to the Transcendent One, to the Almighty. And through the centuries these sanctuaries have drawn men and women into their sacred space to pause, to pray, to acknowledge the presence of the Almighty, and to recognize that we are all his creatures.

For this reason we cannot fail to be concerned that today, with increasing insistency, some maintain that religion fails in its claim to be, by nature, a builder of unity and harmony, an expression of communion between persons and with God. Indeed some assert that religion is necessarily a cause of division in our world; and so they argue that the less attention given to religion in the public sphere the better. Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied. However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society? In the face of this situation, where the opponents of religion seek not simply to silence its voice but to replace it with their own, the need for believers to be true to their principles and beliefs is felt all the more keenly. Muslims and Christians, precisely because of the burden of our common history so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive to be known and recognized as worshippers of God faithful to prayer, eager to uphold and live by the Almighty’s decrees, merciful and compassionate, consistent in bearing witness to all that is true and good, and ever mindful of the common origin and dignity of all human persons, who remain at the apex of God’s creative design for the world and for history.

He had high praise for Jordanian efforts in this regard. I was interested in his aside about the Common Word initiative:

Of great merit too are the numerous initiatives of inter-religious dialogue...[including] the more recent Common Word letter which echoed a theme consonant with my first encyclical: the unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor, and the fundamental contradiction of resorting to violence or exclusion in the name of God (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 16).

(King Hussein's welcome is both interesting and very nice, by the way. He rather fascinates me.)

The pontiff's address to priests & religious (and lay movements!) at the Melkite-rite Church of St. George is interesting because of what he highlights: resisting sleazy Western entertainments as part of finding common ground with Muslims (why do they hate us, Hollywood?) and not being afraid to participate openly in Jordan's public life.

The Church in the Middle East has been having a Year of the Family, so the Pope spoke about family during his Mass in Jordan. He highlighted the dignity of women, though, God bless him:

How much the Church in these lands owes to the patient, loving and faithful witness of countless Christian mothers, religious Sisters, teachers, doctors and nurses! How much your society owes to all those women who in different and at times courageous ways have devoted their lives to building peace and fostering love! From the very first pages of the Bible, we see how man and woman, created in the image of God, are meant to complement one another as stewards of God’s gifts and partners in communicating his gift of life, both physical and spiritual, to our world. Sadly, this God-given dignity and role of women has not always been sufficiently understood and esteemed. The Church, and society as a whole, has come to realize how urgently we need what the late Pope John Paul II called the “prophetic charism” of women (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 29) as bearers of love, teachers of mercy and artisans of peace, bringing warmth and humanity to a world that all too often judges the value of a person by the cold criteria of usefulness and profit. By its public witness of respect for women, and its defence of the innate dignity of every human person, the Church in the Holy Land can make an important contribution to the advancement of a culture of true humanity and the building of the civilization of love.
The pope also gave loads of children --including 40 Iraqi refugees!-- their first communion during this mass.
Nice little homily on the occasion of blessing the cornerstones for two new churches in Jordan. He doesn't waste occasions!

Then there was the farewell ceremony and off to Israel. I note B16's statement at the arrival ceremony only to point out this line:
It is right and fitting that, during my stay in Israel, I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah, and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude. Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable. Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found, and to promote respect and esteem for the members of every people, tribe, language and nation across the globe.
Remember the words in bold later.
Love this line at the Presidential Palace. It has the merit of being both profoundly true and extremely shrewd:
Religious leaders must therefore be mindful that any division or tension, any tendency to introversion or suspicion among believers or between our communities, can easily lead to a contradiction which obscures the Almighty’s oneness, betrays our unity, and contradicts the One who reveals himself as “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6; Ps 138:2; Ps 85:11).
Especially since both Jews & Muslims suspect Christians of being polytheists, it's really something to gently point out to them that all this fighting ain't really convincing anyone that God is One. Plus, that's the same thing Benedict always tells us Christians: that God himself is the author of our unity, and real ecumenism consists in discipleship, allowing God himself to draw us each up into himself.

Read what he says about security, too. It pretty well sums up Vatican attitudes: yes, Israel of course has the duty to defend its citizens; at the same time, security has to involve a little trust, too. The Israelis named a new strain of wheat --one with the potential to yield a double harvest-- after the Pope!

The Holy Father's lovely reflection on the meaning of a name while standing before the names of the victims of the Holocaust at Yad Vasham (which means "name memorial") was marred by criticism I can only understand as vicious. Apparently a certain vocal contingent of Jews in Israel (mostly pundits for the Israeli press) weren't receiving the Pope, but "A German" (Who's racist now?), and couldn't open their minds for two seconds to reflect that what he said was deeper and more meaningful than yet another scripted apology. John Paul II has already apologized sincerely and completely for any and all Catholic failings with respect to the Holocaust. He did that on behalf of the whole Church; there is no need to keep on apologizing. The Pope's words expressed unity with the slaughtered, he identified with them. Response? Oy!

He didn't say "murdered," he said "killed," they complained; he didn't say "6 million", he only said millions (which only means they weren't paying attention, see above). Sigh. My Jewish father was disgusted, and not by the Pope.

Then he visited the Dome of the Rock. For the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem: strong medicine, sweetly presented, as always:

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, for both are intrinsically oriented to the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of the human family.

For this reason, 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 pointed 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.

This places a grave responsibility upon us. Those who honor the One God believe that he will hold human beings accountable for their actions. Christians assert that the divine gifts of reason and freedom stand at the basis of this accountability. Reason opens the mind to grasp the shared nature and common destiny of the human family, while freedom moves the heart to accept the other and serve him in charity. Undivided love for the One God and charity towards ones neighbor thus become the fulcrum around which all else turns. This is why we work untiringly to safeguard human hearts from hatred, anger or vengeance.

Then there was Mass in the Josafat Valley (under the Mt. of Olives). He begged Christians to stay put if they possibly could.

I would like to speak directly to the tragic reality – which cannot fail to be a source of concern to all who love this City and this land – of the departure of so many members of the Christian community in recent years. While understandable reasons lead many, especially the young, to emigrate, this decision brings in its wake a great cultural and spiritual impoverishment to the City. Today I wish to repeat what I have said on other occasions: in the Holy Land there is room for everyone! As I urge the authorities to respect, to support and to value the Christian presence here, I also wish to assure you of the solidarity, love and support of the whole Church and of the Holy See.

Nice exhortation to Palestinians in Bethlehem:

I make this appeal to the many young people throughout the Palestinian Territories today: do not allow the loss of life and the destruction that you have witnessed to arouse bitterness or resentment in your hearts. Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism. Instead, let what you have experienced renew your determination to build peace. Let it fill you with a deep desire to make a lasting contribution to the future of Palestine, so that it can take its rightful place on the world stage. Let it inspire in you sentiments of compassion for all who suffer, zeal for reconciliation, and a firm belief in the possibility of a brighter future.

The Pope called for a Palestinan state, but called on Palestinian people to work for it by being worthy of peace.

AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano

Everywhere he went in Bethlehem, the Pope had these guys for an honor guard. They ain't Swiss! But I never ran across any id for them. I hope they are some cool fraternity from the days of the Crusades like the Knights Hospitaller of St. John or something. Here's the homily for the Mass in manger square.
In today’s second reading, Paul draws a lesson from the Incarnation which is particularly applicable to the travail which you, God’s chosen ones in Bethlehem, are experiencing: “God’s grace has appeared”, he tells us, “training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires, and to live, temperately, justly and devoutly in this age”, as we await the coming of our blessed hope, the Savior Jesus Christ (Tit 2:11-13).

Are these not the virtues required of men and women who live in hope? First, the constant conversion to Christ which is reflected not only in our actions but also in our reasoning: the courage to abandon fruitless and sterile ways of thinking, acting and reacting. Then, the cultivation of a mindset of peace based on justice, on respect for the rights and duties of all, and commitment to cooperation for the common good. And also perseverance, perseverance in good and in the rejection of evil. Here in Bethlehem, a special perseverance is asked of Christ’s disciples: perseverance in faithful witness to God’s glory revealed here, in the birth of his Son, to the good news of his peace which came down from heaven to dwell upon the earth.

Notice the common threads in what he says to each audience? Peace, having the courage to trust, working for justice for all, leaving aside prejudice, witnessing to the unity of God, all of that. But what really jumps out at me is that even as he acknowledges suffering and trial, the Pope never treats anyone or any group as a victim. Everything is about vocation: what is your mission, what are you called to do? Everyone else in the world goes to Bethlehem and tells Palestinian Christians how downtrodden they are; the Pope goes and tells them they have something to give...something they should be striving to live up to. Even to kids in a hospital the Pope said: study and prepare yourselves to be ready to lead in the future; and to refugees from Gaza: make the peace the politicians will respond to.

Next it was off to Nazareth, and here's the homily from the Mass he celebrated there.

AFP/Jonathan Nackstrand

Once again he preached on the importance of the family as the bedrock of freedom:
In the family each person, whether the smallest child or the oldest relative, is valued for himself or herself, and not seen simply as a means to some other end. Here we begin to glimpse something of the essential role of the family as the first building-block of a well-ordered and welcoming society. We also come to appreciate, within the wider community, the duty of the State to support families in their mission of education, to protect the institution of the family and its inherent rights, and to ensure that all families can live and flourish in conditions of dignity.
Here again, though --and keep in mind Nazareth is an Arab city-- he emphasized the role of women:
As we reflect on these realities here, in the town of the Annunciation, our thoughts naturally turn to Mary, “full of grace”, the mother of the Holy Family and our Mother. Nazareth reminds us of our need to acknowledge and respect the God-given dignity and proper role of women, as well as their particular charisms and talents. Whether as mothers in families, as a vital presence in the work force and the institutions of society, or in the particular vocation of following our Lord by the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, women have an indispensable role in creating that “human ecology” (cf. Centesimus Annus, 39) which our world, and this land, so urgently needs...
Not that he left the men out:
Here too, we think of Saint Joseph, the just man whom God wished to place over his household. From Joseph’s strong and fatherly example Jesus learned the virtues of a manly piety, fidelity to one’s word, integrity and hard work. In the carpenter of Nazareth he saw how authority placed at the service of love is infinitely more fruitful than the power which seeks to dominate. How much our world needs the example, guidance and quiet strength of men like Joseph!

At the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth: AP/Pier Paolo Cito

Visiting Golgotha: AP Photo/Yannis Behrakis, Pool

He concluded his private pilgrimage by praying at the Holy Sepulchre.
Here Christ, the new Adam, taught us that evil never has the last word, that love is stronger than death, that our future, and the future of all humanity, lies in the hands of a faithful and provident God.

The empty tomb speaks to us of hope, the hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the Spirit of life (cf. Rom 5:5). This is the message that I wish to leave with you today, at the conclusion of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. May hope rise up ever anew, by God’s grace, in the hearts of all the people dwelling in these lands! May it take root in your hearts, abide in your families and communities, and inspire in each of you an ever more faithful witness to the Prince of Peace! The Church in the Holy Land, which has so often experienced the dark mystery of Golgotha, must never cease to be an intrepid herald of the luminous message of hope which this empty tomb proclaims. The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome, and that a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise for every man and woman, for the whole human family, and in a special way for the people who dwell in this land so dear to the heart of the Saviour.

In other words: live differently. Be who you are called to be and you will change the world.

He himself summarizes his trip in the departure ceremony at the airport. To the reporters on the flight home he had only this to add:

there are enormous difficulties as we know, as we have seen and heard. But I also saw that there is a deep desire for peace on the part of all. The problems are more visible and we must not conceal them: they exist and need clarification. However, the common desire for peace, for brotherhood, is not so visible and it seems to me that we should also talk about this, and encourage in everyone the desire to find solutions to these problems that are certainly far from simple.
In other words: hope.

Praying at Mt. Nebo