Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall, only a dozen metres distant from one another, are a visible symbol of the closeness and division between Jews and Muslims. On the second day of in Israel, Benedict XVI physically overcame that distance by first visiting the Gran Mufti of Jerusalem and then the two Chief Rabbis of the City. With both he highlighted the unity of the human family and the common commitment “to build a world of justice and peace”. Between the two visits a moving visit to the Wailing Wall, where as John Paul II did before him, he observed the Jewish tradition of placing a piece of paper with a written prayer between the rocks of what remains of the Temple of Herod . A prayer in which he asks God for peace in the Holy Land, in the Middle East and for all humanity.
But as if to underline the distances, just as Benedict XVI was on Temple Mount, from the old city balloons were released into the sky bearing the colours of Palestine.
The quest for peace, as well as being a prayer, is also the duty of the Christians in this region, reaffirmed the Pope, as he met with the Ordinaries of the Holy Land this morning in the Upper Room: “The Christians of the Middle East” - defined “lighted candles illuminating the holy places” – “together with other people of good will, are contributing, as loyal and responsible citizens, in spite of difficulties and restrictions, to the promotion and consolidation of a climate of peace in diversity”.
This was also the theme, if somewhat diversely presented, of Benedict XVI’s addresses this morning to the Muslims and Jews. The Pope’s day began with a visit to Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, which also includes the place where Mohammad is believed to have prayed for the last time before he began his journey towards heaven and from where trumpets will sound Judgement Day.
Benedict XVI – who, on entering the mosque that dominates the panorama of the old city took off his shoes, that the Dome reminds us of Abraham and of what all believers of the three monotheistic faiths “share in common”. “In a world sadly torn by divisions, this sacred place serves as a stimulus, and also challenges men and women of goodwill to work to overcome misunderstandings and conflicts of the past and to set out on the path of a sincere dialogue aimed at building a world of justice and peace for coming generations.”.
But once again the differences were underlined when the Gran Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammad Hussein, asked the Pope to “work to end Israeli aggression” against the Palestinians. “We look forward for your holiness's effective role in putting an end to the ongoing aggression against our people, our land, and our holy sites in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank".
This echoes last night’s episode, when an Islamic exponent sheik Taisir Tamini, intervened in the interfaith meeting that took place in Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre, and speaking in Arabic launched a long invective against Israel. Fr. Federico Lombardi, Director of the Press Office of the Holy See clarified: "The intervention of Sheikh Tayssir Attamimi was not scheduled by the organizers of the meeting. In a meeting dedicated to dialogue this intervention was a direct negation of what a dialogue should be. We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the Pope aiming at promoting peace and also interreligious dialogue, as he has clearly affirmed in many occasions during this pilgrimage. We hope also that interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land will not be compromised by this incident".
This was reaffirmed once again by Benedict XVI today. Descending from Temple Mount to the Western Wall - both deserted tank to rigid Israeli security – after a Rabbi had recited a Psalm in Hebrew, he read the Psalm in Latin that invokes “God of all the ages/on my visit to Jerusalem/the “City of Peace”/spiritual home to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike/I bring before you the joys/ the hopes and the aspirations/the trials, the suffering and the pain of all your people throughout the world/God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/hear the cry of the afflicted, the fearful, the bereft/send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East/upon the entire human family/stir the hearts of all who call upon your name/to walk humbly in the path of justice and compassion/“The Lord is good to those who wait for him/to the soul that seeks him” (Lam 3:25)!”.
A climate of cordiality pervaded at the Gran Rabbinate of Israel, where Benedict XVI spoke privately with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, before the public part of the ceremony. There Metzeger underlined progress in dialogue, thanking the Pope come out against the Lefebvre holocaust denier Williamson. He did however ask the Pope to “clarify” the issue of Jewish children who were entrusted to the Church during the Nazi persecution, but who were not always raised “aware of their origins”.
For his part the Pope thanked God for progress in dialogue promoted by the bilateral Commission between the Gran Rabbinate and the Holy See which represents “only the initial phases of what we trust will be a steady, progressive journey towards an enhanced mutual understanding. An indication of the potential of this series of meetings – he continued - is readily seen in our shared concern in the face of moral relativism and the offences it spawns against the dignity of the human person. In approaching the most urgent ethical questions of our day, our two communities are challenged to engage people of good will at the level of reason, while simultaneously pointing to the religious foundations which best sustain lasting moral values. May the dialogue that has begun continue to generate ideas on how Christians and Jews can work together to heighten society’s appreciation of the distinctive contribution of our religious and ethical traditions. Here in Israel, given that Christians constitute only a small portion of the total population, they particularly value opportunities for dialogue with their Jewish neighbours.”
“Trust – he again noted - is undeniably an essential element of effective dialogue. Today I have the opportunity to repeat that the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council for a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews”.
Which, if reading today’s papers in Israel is anything to go by, is a journey yet to begin. The dailies have dedicated pages upon pages to the “historic” visit, underlining the words of the Pope yesterday in Yad Vashem. As a Christian and a German, claims Haaretz, he should have spoken of the Nazi fault and Christian anti-Semitism. The same paper states “In the best-case scenario, Benedict will leave behind indifference, not hostility”. In its reportage Yedioth Ahronoth, alongside similar commentaries, also has a declaration by the Chief of the Consortium of Holocaust Survivors' Organizations in Israel, Noah Frug, who describes these criticisms as “exaggerated”. The Pope “is not the president of a Zionist organisation”. “He came to draw the Church and Judaism closer together and we must consider this visit positive and important”.
On these and other controversial issues Fr Federico Lombardi, intervened today to correct claims being made by Ultranationalist Jews : “The Pope never was in the Hitler-Jugend”, the Hitler Youth, which was a voluntary corps of fanatics”. “Joseph Ratzinger, at the time was studying in the seminary and when he was 16 was forcibly enlisted in the auxiliary defence force for bombarded cities, as were all boys his age”.