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The friendship born from an empty tomb

A friend of the Israelis and a friend of the Palestinians: is how one could succinctly sum up the political meaning of the Pope's Journey to the Holy Land, by borrowing  the Holy Father's farewell words to the country Moses glimpsed from Mount Nebo just before dying, to the places of the prophets and of John the Baptist, to the roads Jesus travelled from Judea to Galilee and in the holy City of Jerusalem.

These are the Holy Places which Benedict XVI, as Successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome, visited on pilgrimage to repeat transparent and univocal words of peace in the name of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless – perhaps precisely because of their clarity they annoyed those who do not seek peaceful coexistence – some refused to understand his words. They even tried to provoke unfounded polemics that deserve to be ignored, especially when they intend to teach lessons that serve no purpose.

So the German Pope declared himself to be pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian [“I came to visit this country as a friend of the Israelis, just as I am a friend of the Palestinian people” (see page 21)], in a powerful synthesis that calls to mind the famous words of John F. Kennedy, the American President who, in divided Berlin almost half a century ago, called himself a Berliner.  In this manner Benedict XVI wished to emphasize his desire for friendship with all the peoples of the region, burdened for decades by the gloom of violence and division, war and distrust.

The Successor of the Fisherman has neither weapons nor power but trusts in the words of Christ, in the moral authority of religions and in human reason, and with this trust he met various political leaders to encourage those who – and they exist – truly work to overcome the logic of walls and to build bridges of understanding, aiming to achieve a peace founded on justice and security for all by rejecting terrorism and violence.

If this is the clearest political meaning of the Papal Journey, the renewed intention of friendship with the Islamic world and the confirmation of the desire for profound understanding with Judaism must not be forgotten. Important in this regard were the meetings in Amman, Bethany, Jerusalem, Nazareth, the homage he paid – following in the footsteps of his Predecessors – to the six million Jews exterminated in the Shoah and the repeated unequivocal condemnation of every brand of anti-Semitism.

In the Holy Land Benedict XVI strengthened the Church of Rome's irrevocable ecumenical option and renewed his support for the minuscule Catholic minority in the Holy Land, called in suffering and difficulty to be the leaven of reconciliation.  But it was all born from an empty tomb, the one in which they laid Jesus, to which John and Peter ran full speed, one spring morning almost 20 centuries ago. The youngest arrived first and paused on the threshold, but Peter was the first to enter it, as, once again was his Successor.

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