Pope Benedict XVI is in the epicenter this week, visiting the places where Jesus, the prophets and the apostles walked and taught, meeting with regional leaders, and calling for peace. He arrived in Israel this morning after visiting Jordan for the last several days, where he met with King Abdullah II and toured Mount Nebo where Moses viewed the Promised Land and went to heaven to be with the Lord forever. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres greeted the Pope during an elaborate ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.
The trip comes at a sensitive but important moment in Jewish-Catholic relations. The Vatican has made a number of missteps in recent years. Nevertheless, the Netanyahu government has literally rolled out the red carpet for the Pontiff. The Prime Minister and his team hope to steadily improve ties with the Catholic community, increase Catholic tourism to the Holy Land, educate Catholic leaders and lay people about the challenges facing the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and build both sympathy and support for the Jewish people among a billion Catholics worldwide.
In the last several decades, evangelical Christian relations with Israel and the Jewish community has improved much much more rapidly and deeply, but it is important that Catholic ties improve as well. Let’s pray that this trip is a significant step in the right direction.
EXCERPTS FROM PRESS COVERAGE:
- “Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Israel from Jordan on Monday morning, as part of his first papal visit to the Middle East and a self-proclaimed ‘pilgrimage of peace,’” reports Ynet News. “In the coming days he is also expected to visit the Palestinian Authority. The pope made his journey on a plane belonging to the Jordanian royal family. The flags of Israel and the Vatican were waved from the cockpit window. In his first speech at the airport, Benedict said he would honor the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust and fight anti-Semitism today around the world. ‘I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah,’ said the German pope, who faces criticism for policies toward Jews, including his recent reinstatement of a bishop who denied Nazis killed six million. ‘Anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable. Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found.’”
- The Jerusalem Post reported that “upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport, the pontiff was greeted by President Shimon Peres in a red-carpet reception. Peres warmly welcomed Benedict as ‘first among the faithful,’ and voiced hope that his presence would help foster peace in the region. ‘Your Holiness the Pope, Benedict XVI, in the name of the State of Israel I welcome you and offer you a blessing on your arrival: peace,’ Peres said in Hebrew. Then, switching to Latin, added, ‘Hail Benedictus, first among the faithful, who visits the Holy Land today….I see your visit here, to the Holy Land, as an important spiritual mission of the highest order: a mission of peace,’ the president continued. ‘A mission of planting seeds of tolerance and uprooting the weeds of fanaticism. I appreciate your stances and your actions to bring down the level of violence and hatred in the world.’….
- “The Pope’s trip comes amid lingering suspicions among Jews and Muslims over past actions and remarks by the Catholic spiritual leader. In his greetings, Peres alluded to that rift. ‘I am certain that this will be a continuation of the dialogue between Judaism and Christianity in the spirit of the Prophets,’ he said. ‘Israel safeguards the absolute freedom of religious practice and free access to holy places. We are always happy to receive pilgrims from throughout the world in the Holy Land….We have made peace with Egypt and Jordan, and we are in negotiations to make peace with the Palestinians, and even to arrive at a comprehensive regional peace,’ the president continued. ‘Your visit here brings a blessed understanding between religions and spreads peace near and far. Historic Israel and the renewed Israel together welcome your arrival as paving the great road to peace from city to city.’”
HEADLINES TO TRACK:
- London Times: Jordanian King predicts Mideast war in next 12-18 months
- London Times: Netanyahu meeting with Obama decides Mid-East’s future, says Abdullah
- Rasmussen Poll: If Israel Attacks Iran, 49% of Americans Say U.S. Should Help, only 37% say U.S. should do nothing
- Elliott Abrams in the Wall Street Journal: The Power of the First Impression; When President Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, behind the diplomatic niceties, their encounter will have profound implications for confronting the threat of a nuclear Iran.
- U.S. renews sanctions on Syria
- Netanyahu heads to Egypt to meet with Mubarak
- Netanyahu vows no Golan Heights retreat