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Pope's visit to the Holy Land fraught with potholes
by Graeme J. Davidson,
2 May, 2009

"If the Pope arrives in Palestine, he must visit Gaza or it’ll look as if he doesn’t give a damn about the human condition in the very land where Christianity was born."

....Pope Benedict XVI is about to visit the Holy Land, where he’ll do the religious sites, meet with political and religious leaders – as well as Catholics – and sermonise about reconciliation and peace.
....That seems innocuous, but not with this pope. Whether or not his shoes are Prada, he’s inclined to put his red leather-clad foot in it.
....Despite Italy boycotting the recent United Nations conference on racism, the Pope sent a delegation from the Vatican. He said it was an important initiative that could help "put an end to every form of racism, discrimination and intolerance".
.... Many Israelis and Jews believe the Pope blundered and strained Jewish-Catholic relations by not joining Israel, USA and the other countries that boycotted this UN event.
....One of those countries was New Zealand. The draft declaration wanted to make incitement to religious hatred an offence, which the nine countries that boycotted the conference feared could stifle religious criticism. They also feared the conference would become an anti-Israeli platform, which did happen when Israel’s nemesis, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, spoke. He claimed, "under the pretext of making up for damages resulting from racism in Europe, they [Jews] established the most aggressive, racist country in another territory, i.e. Palestine”. This caused a walkout by delegates from 30 countries. Even so, the conference, including Iran, adopted a resolution against racism emphasising "The Holocaust must never be forgotten".
.... Team Vatican made a robust stand by attending, and New Zealand got it wrong by staying away.
....Nevertheless, Benedict seems to be working against his predecessor’s efforts to repair the Church’s relationship with Jews. Pope John Paul II placed a prayer in Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall saying, “We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”
....But Benedict upset them, and Israel, with his desire to make a saint of the Second World War Pope Pius XII. If Pius did speak out against the Holocaust, as Vatican historians claim, it was in a faint whisper. Then, in January, Pope Benedict brought four excommunicated bishops with anti-Semitic views back into the fold. Among them was Richard Williamson, who claimed there were no gas chambers and only “two to three hundred thousand Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps”. This caused an international outrage and the Pope admitted he had unwittingly made a mistake.
....The Pope’s visit to the Holy Land is also stirring up Muslims, who insist he apologise for an anti Islamic remark. In 2006, he quoted a fourteenth century Byzantine Christian ruler: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. Jordanian Islamists want the Pope to postpone his trip to Jordan, the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel is boycotting the visit, while the southern branch wants to welcome the Pope and tell him its views.
....But the issue causing the greatest division is whether the Pope should visit Gaza to identify with the suffering there and encourage the region’s 2000 Catholics. If he does go to Gaza, he’s bound to upset Israelis and Jews by highlighting how Israel has added to Gaza’s plight.
The Vatican insists the Pope won’t go to Gaza. To many Christians who are angry with their top leaders for being too polite to criticise Israel’s security and human rights practices – or fight for Palestinian Christians who are being squeezed towards extinction in the Holy Land – this would be another papal blunder.
....Writing for Al Jazeera, Stuart Littlewood explains: “if the Pope arrives in Palestine, he must visit Gaza or it’ll look as if he doesn’t give a damn about the human condition in the very land where Christianity was born. He might as well hammer one more nail into Christendom’s coffin.”






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