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Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Pope's trip

There's a thoughtful post at Jeff's blog about the Pope's visit to the Holy Land that questioned the criticism Benedict has received from some for the way he interacted with the Israelis. I was one of the critics, but after reading Jeff's post I was feeling kind of guilty - maybe I was being too hard on B16? Today, though, I saw a post at Politics Daily by David Gibson that stated, in part, some of my own feelings, so I guess I'm not completely alone in them. Here's a little of what he wrote ....


How the Pope Fell Short as a Guest

[...] The Israeli leg of Benedict's pilgrimage also started out well. He was welcomed with red carpets and flag-waving children. President Shimon Peres gave him a 300,000-word Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible inscribed on a silicon particle with nanotechnology and showed him a new strain of wheat named after the pope. Benedict even bit into dates that Israeli children gave him as part of a traditional Jewish welcome, though Vatican protocol strictly prohibits the pontiff being seen eating in public.

That was the last bit of innovation from Benedict. The fact that this German pope, raised under the Nazi regime and an eyewitness to the Holocaust as a teenager, was visiting the Jewish state that was birthed from that genocide raised great expectations that Benedict--once Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger--would mine that experience during his meetings with Jewish leaders and rabbis, and in particular his visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. But it was not to be. Even before the visit, Vatican sources tried to tamp expectations. One Vatican office told Catholic News Service that Benedict "will not be going to Yad Vashem to apologize as a German, but to invoke a wider lesson on the dangers of racism and anti-Semitism."

And that's what he did, and quite movingly. But it was not what his hosts hoped to hear. "Something was missing," said Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and a Holocaust survivor. "There was no mention of the Germans or the Nazis who participated in the butchery, nor a word of regret. If not an apology, then an expression of remorse." Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev called the pope's "restraint" a "missed opportunity." And those were the gentler critiques.

Were they fair? The Vatican clearly didn't think so. The papal spokesman, a kindly but overworked Jesuit priest, Father Federico Lombardi, voiced his--and the pope's--frustration that they were not being given the benefit of the doubt: "Maybe sometimes he [Benedict] feels he was not well understood," Lombardi said. "I feel the same." But Lombardi--who has a rough job trying to spin some of the pontiff's less politic statements--overshot his defense by telling reporters that Benedict was "never, never, never" in the Hitler Youth even though the pope, in interviews and his own memoirs, spoke of being forced to join briefly. Lombardi then had to issue a clarification, and the story went for another spin through the news cycle.

That is not really what anyone hoped for from the Israeli leg of the visit, though as I wrote in my pre-trip scene-setter, Benedict's performance was not a total surprise considering the pope doesn't like to cite his personal biography to buttress his public statements.

And yet, pilgrimages are by definition internal journeys as well as trips across a physical landscape. It is a fair criticism to have hoped that this pontiff above all--a German Catholic who will certainly be the last eyewitness to the Holocaust to sit on St. Peter's Throne--would have opened his heart during his visit to the Jewish state .......



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the die hard defenders of B16 never give up. They play like their not 100% papists, but always come through for dear old papa. No doubt they're busy tonight thinking of excuses for the weirds that are protesting Obama at ND. Wait and see.

8:36 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I wonder how it will go at ND tomorrow.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I thought B16 did well. He went to promote peace, not stir up old hatreds, nor did he go as a German, but as a Pope.

Should he have apologized to the Palestinians for the Israeli use of white phosphorus in the Gaza Strip? I think that they are lucky he didn't lament it!

Mike L

7:43 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

I'm reading a novel that has to do with the problems between the Isaelis and Palestinians - boy what a tangled web of violence. It's not so easy to say (as far as I can tell) who is the bad guy, or I guess who isn't the bad guy.

I think a German Pope who was in the Hitler Youth going to Israel and skipping the Holocaust Museum sends a certain message, especially after having brought back the mass that says we should evangelize the Jews, and unexcommunicating the SSPX bishops.

11:21 AM  

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