05/11/2009, 00.00
VATICAN-ISRAEL

Pope speaks of Shoah, peace and two states for two peoples on arrival in Israel

Franco Pisano / inviato
Benedict XVI has immediately faced the hot issues of this visit. From anti-Semitism which “continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world” to the request for a “just solution” to the conflict, and that all pilgrims to the Holy Sites have free access without restrictions.
Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) – “The magnitude” of the “crime” of the Shoah, a “just and lasting” solution that allows “both peoples” to “live in peace in a homeland of their own”,  the possibility for all pilgrims to the Holy Sites to have “free access without restrictions”. On his arrival in Israel, well aware of the importance of his impact on public opinion in the region, Benedict XVI immediately touched on the hot issues of the reality of this nation and the Middle East.
 
Leaving Amman, where he had been welcomed with upmost respect and friendship – even the Jordan Air cabin crew that brought him to Israel wished him to bring peace – the Pope began the second and most delicate stage of his voyage, which between today and Friday, will bring him into contact with Israelis and Palestinians and the complex problems of their reality.
 
In his first address, on the first day, Benedict XVI faced the themes of greatest difficulty.  There to hear him, the President of the Republic Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who immediately leaves for Cairo, religious and civil authorities.  There was no crowd, but that was expected.  It is the first sign of a visit aimed at a small minority, the Christians, and that instead finds other minorities, both Israeli and Palestinian, more or less openly hostile.
 
Those groups linked to an ultra-orthodox vision of Judaism and the colonies continue to accuse him of being anti-Israeli and a holocaust denier, without taking into account that, during this visit, the Pope will visit the two Great Rabbis of Jerusalem.   An encounter that seeks to reiterate an end to the controversy caused by the Lefebvre bishop and holocaust denier, Richard Williamson. A misunderstanding that was in fact, overcome with the March visit to the Vatican of the Israeli Great Rabbinate and the Commission for relations with Jews.  For his part at the airport, Peres welcomed the Popes “mission of peace” and spoke of the freedom of religion that exists in the state.
 
The welcome is solemn: a long red carpet stretching towards the raised stage from where the discourses are pronounced, soldiers standing at attention with the flags of the military divisions.  The band however, after the national anthems strikes up military tattoos. But all around the Tel Aviv airport is a high cement wall: it isn’t the one that separates the Palestinian Territories; it is “only” for protection.
 
On his arrival, the Pope returns to stress a concept he has frequently affirmed: “Tragically, the Jewish people have experienced the terrible consequences of ideologies that deny the fundamental dignity of every human person.  It is right and fitting that, during my stay in Israel, I will have the opportunity to honour the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah, and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude.  Sadly, 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, and to promote respect and esteem for the members of every people, tribe, language and nation across the globe”.
 
This already addresses all of the Jewish extremists concerns, but it probably won’t be enough. It may seem absurd but the Muslim and Palestinian groups that are against the Pope, accuse him instead of being on Israel’s side, above all for his latest affirmation of the “inseparable bond that unites the Church and the Jewish people” made on Mount Nebo.  “The Pope has chosen Israel”, was the comment made by the extremists on this side.
 
But in this case too, Benedict XVI faced the issue on his very arrival.  “The eyes of the world” – he said – “are upon the peoples of this region as they struggle to achieve a just and lasting solution to conflicts that have caused so much suffering.  The hopes of countless men, women and children for a more secure and stable future depend on the outcome of negotiations for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  In union with people of good will everywhere, I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders”.  “In this regard, - he concludes “I hope and pray that a climate of greater trust can soon be created that will enable the parties to make real progress along the road to peace and stability”.
 
Finally, the Pope also referred to one of the themes which divides the Holy See and Israel.  “It is my earnest hope” – he said – “that all pilgrims to the holy places will be able to access them freely and without restraint, to take part in religious ceremonies and to promote the worthy upkeep of places of worship on sacred sites”.
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