01/05/2023, 10.21
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Benedict XVI pilgrim in the Holy Land: peace the shared responsibility of religions

by Dario Salvi

In May 2009, the pontiff made a historic visit to the region. Vaticanist Franco Pisano followed for AsiaNews readers the events and meetings between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Ratzinger a pope who "should not be looked at or listened to, but read." The "ease" with which he handled texts from St. Paul to St. Augustine. 

Rome (AsiaNews) - A "pilgrim of peace" in the region of the three great monotheistic religions, because "pilgrimage is an essential element" of faith: this is how on his return flight back to Italy, the then Pope Joseph Ratzinger described the apostolic journey he had just concluded to the Holy Land and which the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem summarized in a video.

The theme of pilgrimage was peace, seen as "an essential element of many religions," and, the pontiff continued, "the image of our existence, which is a walking forward, toward God and thus toward the communion of humanity".  In short "encouraging the unity of the peoples of this Holy Land helos us to become in turn messengers of peace."

Benedict XVI's apostolic journey, May 8-15, 2009, was also able to confront and overcome the distrust, if not hostility, of parts of the Jewish world that reproached the pope for rapprochement with the Lefevrians (holocaust deniers), and of an Islam still stuck at Regensburg in 2006 and the (alleged) offense to Mohammed. In fact, this very visit represented a milestone in interreligious dialogue.

Benedict XVI was the third pope in the modern era to make a trip to the cradle of Christianity after Paul VI (1964) and John Paul II (2000), touching on Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Among the highlights of a visit not without controversy were the site of Jesus' baptism, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, meeting with the grand mufti at the Dome of the Rock on the Esplanade of Mosques, the "Wailing Wall" and the grand rabbis.

Also, passing through Bethlehem at the Grotto of the Nativity and the Caritas Baby Hospital, Nazareth and the Eucharistic celebration on the Mount of Precipice. The last stop was the Holy Sepulcher, which was followed by the ecumenical meeting at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate under the banner of a journey of spiritual, political and interfaith value retraced in the following the general audience on his return to Rome.

AsiaNews readers experienced the days of the pope emeritus - whose solemn funeral is celebrated today - through the eyes of Vatican reporter Franco Pisano, for more than 30 years in the retinue of first John Paul II (after the brief interregnum of Pope Albino Luciani) and then Benedict XVI.

The trip to the Holy Land was also the last in the retinue of a pontiff for the dean of Vatican reporters, who remembers as a "key" moment the stop "in front of the empty tomb, at the Holy Sepulcher," which is also the most meaningful stop "for anyone who goes to the Holy Land." "It was a comprehensive visit," he stressed, "that also touched Jordan."

Delving into the speeches given, precisely "the farewell one, when he spoke to the [Israeli] President [Shimon Peres], was the most important" going over crucial themes such as the Shoah, with controversy at the time exploited by a wing that "accused him of being cold."

"In reality, his was a much deeper reflection," Pisano explains, "on the victims of evil in the different phases of history. This is an example, he adds, "of the problem around Benedict XVI: he was not to be watched or listened to, but read. He was not a passionate orator, but when you studied him, his thought emerged powerfully. This limitation prevented you from understanding how extraordinary he actually was."

Another significant passage of the visit to the Holy Land was the call for interreligious dialogue and "the co-responsibility of the three great monotheistic religions in matters of peace," as well as the call for "the culture of the world."

On several occasions he spoke about the three faiths, meeting with religious leaders and Christian, Jewish and Muslim personalities "strongly emphasizing this element. He is the pope of Dominus Iesus [promulgated in 2000 when he was still prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith], there is none other than Jesus who can give salvation," but this does not prevent, on the contrary it strengthens encounter and dialogue.

"All the popes," Pisano notes, "have spoken positively about the different faiths, but he has entrusted them with an extra task" starting from a "common duty and a unique bond" between Judaism, Christianity and Islam: "The New Testament is not conceivable without the Old Testament, Islam is not" without the two previous texts. At stake here is "the relationship with the one God," which is "also historical and cultural" and assigns "common responsibilities towards peace. Benedict XVI is the pope who has most strongly emphasized this element." 

Pisano concludes with a reflection on the years (from 2005 until the historic resignation in February 2013) spent by the German pope on the Chair of St. Peter: "Joseph Ratzinger's was a difficult pontificate, after the 27 years of John Paul II who had changed the world. It was a reign of balance, which now at his death could also falter" with rumors already beginning to circulate of "a conservative front ready to go on the attack" of Pope Francis' current pontificate.

"Certainly, as a Vaticanist following Benedict XVI was a challenge that required study, knowledge of theologians and the great personalities of the Church, from St. Paul to St. Augustine," Pisano concludes. "He handled texts with incredible ease, because it was all material he had possession of and familiarity with. To be able to narrate Pope Ratzinger, you had to study... perhaps that is precisely why he was under-appreciated or attacked," as in the case of the speech in Regensburg, where in the face of a 20-page reflection, headlines (and controversy) were built "on a two-line passage." 

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