An event as important as the Pope's Pilgrimage to the Holy Land with its multiple dimensions may have many different interpretations, including those already widely broadcast by the media – partial, biased or even distorted – in an intricate and explosive context like that of the Near and Middle East. The region that has been marked for decades by tension, injustice, violence and conflict.
The keys to its interpretation, however, must not be forgotten. Benedict XVI himself introduced them during his in-flight interview with the journalists travelling on the Papal plane and he repeated them on various occasions in Jordan and Israel.
Among the interpretations of the Papal Journey, the Pontiff's own description of his Pilgrimage “as a journey of faith”, in his Address to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, stands out. A journey – similar to that of myriads of the faithful of the three monotheistic religions which, in different ways, refer to the figure of Abraham – made now by the Bishop of Rome on behalf of the Catholic Church. His intention is to repeat once again that the oneness of God is inextricably connected to the unity of the human family and that all men and women of good will are therefore responsible for building a world of justice and peace.
This religious purpose thus has an obvious political dimension for it involves a desire for friendship with all, and in particular with the Jewish people and the Muslim faithful. Yet it must not be forgotten that the Church is a spiritual force and not a political power, as Benedict XVI made quite clear.
Moreover his religious intention also asks to be understood and respected as such in a region where contradictions abound – to echo the words of the Custos of the Holy Land who greeted the Pope in the Upper Room, a simple place steeped in sacred history.
It is therefore necessary to go beyond the contradictions and the related petty episodes that nevertheless attract so much attention in the media and are due to the short-sighted desire of various parties to draw short-lived political advantages from the Papal Journey. Benedict XVI, on the other hand, in the name of the Catholic Church intends to contribute to understanding, friendship and lasting peace, as he said repeatedly to the representatives of the organizations that are involved in interreligious dialogue in Jerusalem, to the Muslim religious leaders and at the meeting with the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Rabbis and their faithful.
The Pope's intention was particularly clear on two occasions: first of all, following in the footsteps of his Predecessors in honouring the victims of the Shoah at the Memorial of Yad Vashem, in a silence which sanctified the memory of the six million Jews – men, women and children – exterminated by the Nazi hatred; and then in prayer, so similar to the prayer of multitudes of pilgrims at the Western Wall of the Temple. Because the intention of the Bishop of Rome's Visit to Jerusalem, the “City of Peace”, is to help to bring peace to the Holy Land, to the Middle East and to the entire human family.
St. Peter’s Square
Nov. 15, 2019
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