John Allen on the Pope in Israel

My friend John L. Allen, Jr, the nearly ubiquitous fair-minded correspondent for the dissenting National Catholic Reporter has a report with reflections on the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land.

My emphases and comments.

Tel Aviv/Jerusalem, Israel

Especially in light of the recent uproar about Benedict XVI’s rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop, [We must never forget that all Pope Benedict did was give those SSPX bishops the ability to go to confession.] a key drama heading into his visit to Israel was whether the pontiff’s need to mend fences with Jews would blunt his message about a just resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, especially the "two-state solution."

Another way of putting that question is whether Benedict would emphasize the past or the future, the memory of the Holocaust or the present reality of the Middle East. Today the pope seemed to provide an answer, which was: He’ll do both. [An interesting way to frame the question… past and future.]

Shortly after his arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, Benedict honored the memory of the "six million Jewish victims of the Shoah" and insisted that "every effort must be made to fight anti-Semitism wherever it is found."

Later, Benedict paid tribute to the victims again within a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s main Holocaust memorial, insisting that their suffering "never be denied, belittled or forgotten" – the closest he came to a reference, however indirect, to the controversy surrounding traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson, who has claimed that the Nazis didn’t use gas chambers and that six million Jews didn’t die during the Holocaust.  [I wonder if this is reading too much?  Maybe… maybe not.]

"May the names of these victims never perish!" the pope said. "May all people of goodwill remain vigilant in rooting out from the heart of man anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!"  [The flip side of this is, "May the names of those who truly helped the Jews in WWII never perish!"]

Back at the airport, however, the pope also offered a fairly direct endorsement of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wading directly into the political crisis of the Middle East.  [Benedict XVI has not made strong geo-political statements, as did his predecessor.]

With Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking on, Benedict XVI prayed that "both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders."

That comment comes at a time when Netanyahu’s new government is sending mixed signals about its commitment to Palestinian statehood.

Echoing another long-standing article of the Vatican’s diplomatic position, Benedict said he hoped that "all pilgrims to the holy places will be able to access them freely and without restraint, to take part in religious ceremonies and to promote the worthy upkeep of places of worship on sacred sites."

The traditional Vatican formula for the holy sites has been the desire for an "internationally guaranteed special status."

Later in the day, in a meeting with Peres at the Presidential Palace in Tel Aviv, Benedict argued that security depends upon justice, invoking the Hebrew term batah, meaning not just the absence of threat but a sensation of "calmness and confidence."  [This is in perfect harmony with what the Pope wrote in his 1st Letter for the World Day for Peace, 1 Jan 2006.  The Pope spoke of the conditions for true peace as being more than the absence of war.]

"Security, integrity, justice and peace: In God’s design for the world, these are inseparable," the pope said. Benedict warned against the influence of "particular interests or piecemeal politics," urging the peoples of the region to recognize one another as "my equal, my brother, my sister."

The pope also said he wanted to address the ordinary families of Israel.

"What parents would ever want violence, insecurity, or disunity for their son or daughter?" he asked. "What humane end can ever be served through conflict and violence?"

"I hear the cry of those who live in this land for justice, for peace, for respect for their dignity, for lasting security, a daily life free from the fear of outside threats and senseless violence," the pope said.

All in all, it seemed Benedict XVI was determined today to hit the ground running – outlining what will be the main themes of his four-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, after wrapping up three days in Jordan.

The pope’s language on the Holocaust was forceful.

"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."

Similarly, the pope’s commitment to fight anti-Semitism, and all forms of intolerance, seemed unambiguous.

"The church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again," he said during his visit to Yad Vashem. In reflecting on the importance of remembering the victims by name, Benedict said they fell prey to a "horrific tragedy" based upon an "insidious web of lies."

To what extent Benedict’s comments on the Holocaust, and on anti-Semitism, will satisfy Jewish sensitivities, is not yet clear. On the eve of his arrival, Jewish reaction to Benedict’s visit appeared divided.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, from the U.S.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, said on the "Huffington Post" web site that Benedict’s pilgrimage "presents an opportunity for Jews to acknowledge that today, this church, once a main source of anti-Semitism, openly recognizes our people’s right to pursue its unique historic and spiritual destiny."  [In other words that there is no need for Jews to covert and that the Church should never make claims about its own unique role in the salvation of all people.]

Yet a Israel-based group called the "Task Force to Save the Nation and Land," headed by Rabbis Yaakov Yosef and Shalom Dov Wolpe, sent a telegram to Israel’s two Chief Rabbis protesting their plans to meet the pope.

"This involves a desecration of God’s NameThe very meeting and recognition of him is related to idol worship, if not outright idol worship, and involves a sin that one must die for and not violate," the protesting rabbis wrote.  [These folks would stone the Pope, all Christians, and any who deal with them?  Is that what this says?]

Later this evening, Benedict was scheduled to take part in an inter-faith meeting at Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Center, a pilgrimage and ecumenical center which was entrusted by the late Pope John Paul II to the Legionaries of Christ in 2004.

Tomorrow, Benedict XVI will visit both the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, holding meetings with the Grand Mufti and the two Grand Rabbis of Jerusalem, and celebrate a Mass near the Mount of Olives.


Mr. Allen is a pretty good analyst.

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  1. Very good post! Your blog is truly important!

  2. LCB says:

    This is a very good article.

    It is really refreshing to see authentic ecumenism in action– that is, different individuals of different faiths stating clearly and concretely what they believe about their faith in relationship to other faiths.

  3. frvidrine says:

    I don’t think the Pope was referring to Bishop Wiliamson as much as to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. He is the one who is dangerous for mankind and whose heart “all people of goodwill” need to “remain vigilant in rooting out…anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!” Interesting that Allen didn’t even mention him.

  4. Fr. Charles says:

    Excellent. Allen had a op-ed piece in the New York Times the other day that was also very good:

  5. Gina Nakagawa says:

    I really appreciated your comment on the flip side, Father. One of the many you could name is a predecessor of Pope Benedict XVI and a big hero of my youth who has been defamed by one play by a German nut. I am happy to see that documents being released by the Vatican are vindicating him, although he needs no vindication.

  6. PatrickJude says:

    Out of curiousity, what transpired at the Inter-religious dialouge at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre. One moment the Imam was going on and on in Arabic (where you can see that everyone was looking bemused and those who understood arabic was not extremely happy at what he was saying) and the next thing, the Imam was stopped and the dialogue ended just at that and the Holy Father left the Centre… anyone have a transcript of what the Imam’s speech and any idea what happened?

  7. Ben Douglass says:

    “These folks would stone the Pope, all Christians, and any who deal with them? Is that what this says?”

    Dear Father,

    I believe the sense is “one should rather die than commit idolatry” not “we should kill all idolaters.” Talmudic Judaism teaches that if someone coerces you to sin with deadly force, you should give in, save your life, and commit the sin, except if the sin is idolatry, murder, or incest. So, the rabbi’s point in highlighting that idolatry is a sin one must die for is that it is so serious one should consent to martyrdom rather than consent to it (yet the two Chief Rabbis are consenting to it freely!).

  8. Woody Jones says:

    I watched some of the live feed of the inter-religious gathering at the Notre Dame Institute and was really excited to see the rector, Fr. Juan Maria Solana, LC, up there on the platform with the Holy Father, Cardinal Bertone, and the other religious representatives. From our sty there in 2006, I would say that Fr. Solana is the unofficial “mayor” of Jerusalem, so perhaps the Holy Father had a chance for a good visit.

  9. Maureen says:

    There are various schools of thought in Judaism about what constitutes idolatry or the appearance of condoning it. Some Jews would have no problem
    having pagan art in their home, seeing as how everybody knows they’re not worshipping it. Others wouldn’t even go to a museum with a Greek statue in it, or read a book about mythology.

    So what the protesting rabbis is saying is that they think meeting with the Pope is giving the appearance of sanctioning worshipping a false god, and the other rabbis are saying you can meet with a pope without sanctioning Christianity.

    Presumably this argument is rehashing old hash, as Pope John Paul II went to Israel a gazillion times already and met with all sorts of folks.

  10. John Penta says:

    Maureen has it: Basically, so far as I can tell, it’s inside-baseball sorts of pecking.

    Idly, I think you may be taking Rabbi Cooper’s statement a bit far. Not that the Church should deny itself, I think he’s saying, but that it should choose not to proselytize in this case. (It’s a lot less paranoid-sounding if you look at the numbers in terms of Jewish population both globally and in the US; intermarriage is rampant, and is a huge threat, demographically, to maintaining a Jewish population outside of Israel.) The way I read Rabbi Cooper is basically that he sees conversion as “finishing the job”, and wants the Vatican to back up words with some degree of action; a desired action would be basically a statement declaring “Hands off the Jews”, proselytization-wise.

    It won’t happen, but it’s a request that makes every bit of sense, if viewed from his point of view. It is, essentially, defensive.

  11. Matt Q says:

    This is good. It ties in to the article below from the open letter to the Holy Father from the chief rabbi of Jerusalem hoping the Pope “minds his own business” while in in Israel. In other words, don’t mention anything about conversion. They’d like it to be avoided even during the Masses the Holy Father is going to be saying when he’s there. Even when mentioned to his own flock, they’d claim he was still referring to the Jews.

    Father Z said, “These folks would stone the Pope, all Christians, and any who deal with them? Is that what this says?” This can’t be too far-fetched, Father. This is them same mentality which was so ready to crucify God Himself 2000 years ago. Now, His Vicar on Earth has come today and they are hissing through their teeth at him too.

  12. Is it only me? All this fanfare and tension on a visit to a people who essentially never made the step to follow Christ? We have aborted more Americans than there are Jews in the world today!! We aborted EIGHT TIMES as many as the number of Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. Many Jews support abortion as do many Catholics. Why do we “surrender” the moral high ground to them as though no one else in history has ever suffered?

  13. ED says:

    Because nobody has a backbone Mr. phelan, the church has become a bunch of spineless jellyfishes, cant you see how excited some people are just having 70 Bishops condemn Notre Dame giving an award to Barack Obama. Of course there is still no action from Pope, Bishops or the Superior of the Holy Cross Fathers to remove Father Jenkins.

  14. Dave N. says:

    The word for security that Allen was looking for is “BEtach” not “batah” (which is kind of a small shrub). Let’s hope this was just Allen’s error and not the Pope’s.

  15. TerryC says:

    “These folks would stone the Pope, all Christians, and any who deal with them? Is that what this says?”

    I for one am happy to hear someone speaking from their beliefs. In this modern multi-cultural society it has become politically correct to ignore the unspoken fact that only one group can be right.
    If the Jews are right all Christians, especially the Catholic and Orthodox who believe in the True Presence, are guilty of idolatry.
    Likewise if we are right Jews must convert to win salvation, or at the very least can only come to salvation through Jesus Christ.
    We can’t both be right. Ecumenism has come to mean not talking about that fact, when the purpose of true ecumenism is to promote Christian unity such that all groups accept the Truths which are held by the Church founded by Christ under Peter, that is the Catholic Church.

  16. It is so very inappropriate for a man, the Pope, who was once in Hitler’s army to be over in Israel to begin with, much less telling them to be at peace with anyone. And considering the horrendously abusive history of the Roman Catholic Church, all the current day abuse included, he has some nerve going and trying to clean up Israel’s back yard. I stand against the Catholic Church leaders and all that Catholicism stands for. I stand with Israel. … Debra J.M. Smith of

  17. Ms Smith’s disposition quite typifies the Zionist victimhood mentality, and her comment bears uncomfortable witness to the Zionists’ rather nasty habit of imputing collective culpability in the Holocaust, or various other historical atrocities, to individuals who bear no personal blame, presumably in an endeavour to advance her political agenda. It resembles the sense of grievance industriously disseminated by the Nazi propagandists determined to keep Germans acutely conscious of the Treaty of Versailles’ unjust inflictions. She should of course know that the young Ratzinger was a deserter and came from an established anti-Nazi family, but I wouldn’t expect someone so evidently prejudiced against the man to let the facts come in the way of her bias. Moreover, I can’t understand the logic of her contention that it was “inapproriate” for the Pope to be in Israel; for even if we yield that argument, is it not immeasurably more ‘inapproriate’ for her, a non-Catholic, to be bashing the Pope on a Catholic blog?

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