Pope in Holy Land Among Mideast Tensions

(ANSAmed) – VATICAN CITY – A difficult trip, and risks of being exploited: ”everyone is ready to take the best part of the pie that this visit represents,” said the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal with resignation.

Benedict XVI will depart tomorrow for the Holy Land, which he already visited in ’64, ’92, and ’94. It will be his first visit there as Pope, following Paul VI in ’64 and John Paul II in 2000. Now, just like in the past, the Pope in the Holy Land is immersed in an intricate situation of political, historical, and inter-religious scenarios, and today the Middle East is in a decidedly delicate phase. Taking on a burden of this nature at the age of 82, despite being advised against doing so even by local Christians following Operation Cast Lead, the Pope has explained on more than one occasion recently that he has precise reasons for his visit: ”to confirm and encourage Christians in the Holy Land, who must face many difficulties on a daily basis” and allow ”them to feel the closeness and the support of the entire Church”; making himself ”a pilgrim of peace in the places where Christ was born, preached, and died”; contributing to the strengthening of ”ecumenical and inter-religious” relations, and relations between Jews and Muslims, which, he observed yesterday, have made ”great progress”.

In Jordan, a country that is strongly committed to the search for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Christians are an integrated minority, and inter-religious dialogue will attract attention there. The Pope will have his first important meeting on this mission in Amman with Muslim leaders. The Hashemite Dynasty has been credited by the Vatican for giving an impulse to direct Islam on a common path of peace, and Prince Ghazi, the King’s religious advisor, is among the promoters of the letter from 138 Ulemas to Christian leaders who, in the autumn of 2007, contributed to engaging in dialogue based on its contents and archived the crisis of Regensburg.

More risks for the papal mission may be presented by the Israeli political scenario, where there are many Palestinian Christians and where the solution to the conflict supported by the Holy See, the two-state solution, with both populations living in justice and safety, has not managed to take shape. The new government of Benyamin Netanyahu allied with the far-right has seemed to prevent the peace process, and is also looked upon with suspicion by moderate Al Fatah Palestinians, and seems far from the Obama administration’s ideas for the Middle East. The governments of the countries of the Holy Land are awaiting the Pope with open arms, and the Israeli government has put all Jewish controversy with the Vatican aside, including opinions on Pius XII and the Williamson case, in order to guarantee the success of this trip. Benedict XVI does not intend to be a political mediator: ”I will be a pilgrim of peace in the name of the one God who is the Father of all,” he explained publicly, ”and I will be evidence of the Catholic Church’s commitment in favour of those making efforts to engage in dialogue and reconciliation, to arrive at a stable and long-lasting peace and reciprocal respect.”

Judaism in the world could gain some satisfaction due to the Pope’s visit to the Western Wall, where Benedict XVI will pray, and meet with the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Christians in Gaza, where Hamas is the majority, are disappointed because the Pope is not stopping in their city due to security reasons, but about one hundred Gaza residents will attend the mass in Bethlehem on Wednesday the 13th. (ANSAmed).