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In search of friendship

A journey of friendship to contribute to achieving authentic peace in one of the world's most troubled regions. On  behalf of the Catholic Church and together with other Christians, Jews and Muslims, like millions of the faithful – including his Predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II – Benedict XVI has chosen to go as a pilgrim to the Holy Land, following a programme with a very evident religious and at the same time political significance: the search for the peace  desired by the one God.

The Holy Father has come to show the world that in spite of all the contradictions and difficulties, religions are not factors of violence but, on the contrary, play an indispensable role in inculcating a coexistence based on justice and security.

The intention of peace of the Pope's journey – a unique pilgrimage to the holy places of the three monotheistic religions, planned far in advance and ardently desired – was evident from the very moment of his arrival in Israel.

Benedict XVI was welcomed by the President and the Prime Minister who listened to the Pope's further unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism. The same intention appeared clearly during the days he spent in Jordan, a country which, largely thanks to the commitment of its sovereign, wishes to be an ideal model of religious freedom and peace in the context of the Middle East where the need for them is ever more pressing.

Among the conflicts that have persisted for decades and the  emerging forms of fundamentalism, this is an obviously difficult task to which Catholics, in these countries a minority, have made and wish to make an important contribution.

And the Bishop of Rome explicitly showed his support for the small Catholic communities and for the venerable variety of their rites: in taking his leave of Jordan he described himself as “a pilgrim and a pastor” ( Farewell Address, see p. 11). He was likewise touched by the welcome his faithful gave to him; in Amman they expressed it unanimously at the Vespers celebrated in the Greek- Melkite Cathedral; in the stadium at the Mass during which dozens of young Iraqis received their First Communion; during the blessing of the foundation stones of the churches being built by the River Jordan in the places sacred to the memory of the Prophets Elijah and John the Baptist and in the place where Christ was baptized.

In these truly holy regions, moreover, the witness of the Catholic Church – that only wants to help build a more brotherly and more just society in which the dignity of every human person may really be respected everywhere – is irreplaceable. And fundamental to this witness are the centrality of the family and of the role of women, with an emphasis on their dignity. This is not of course new in the Christian tradition but is acquiring a special importance in contemporary societies, whether they are Western or Muslim.

Precisely because of Benedict XVI's  truly constructive intention it is important that his words match those of the Jordanian Sovereign on the one hand and on the other, those of the Israeli President; in an unambiguous demonstration that the trilateral dialogue hoped for by the Pope is really possible, despite the numerous obstacles and forms of injustice, abuse and violence. This so that the blessed name of Jerusalem, “City of Peace”, may find fulfilment in a land which has been seeking the way to understanding and friendship for decades.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 15, 2019

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