The Catholic Thing
Pope Must Defy Expectations – Again Print E-mail
By Joseph Wood   
Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The pope is in the Middle East. Wars, oil wealth and corruption, tyranny, terrorism. What good can come out of that troubled part of the world? Especially when every move he makes and word he utters is being subjected to sharp and often less than well intentioned scrutiny? And by people seeking to use the visit to their own advantage?

Many Muslims and Jews, not to mention secular denizens of the region, are skeptical of this pope, as are even many Middle Eastern Christians. The New York Times reports that the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “The thing that worries me most is the speech that the pope will deliver here. One word for the Muslims and I’m in trouble; one word for the Jews and I’m in trouble. At the end of the visit the pope goes back to Rome and I stay here with the consequences.”

So the pope has his work cut out. What can he expect to achieve?

In direct practical terms, he will achieve very little. A two-state Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement is far off, given the security concerns of the new Israeli government and the disarray of the Palestinians themselves. Progress on such an agreement is not part of the Holy Father’s agenda in any event. Nor is forestalling Iran’s nuclear ambitions, minimizing violence in Iraq, or establishing pluralist governments.

Even in matters of direct relations between the Holy See and Israel, practical progress is unlikely. The two parties signed their Fundamental Agreement with mutual diplomatic recognition in 1993. Since then, procedures on taxation and property dispute resolution have been under discussion, but languish. Some in the Vatican thought that final agreement on those procedures should have been a condition for the pope’s visit to Israel. Although the pace of negotiations seemed to quicken in recent months, unless a diplomatic surprise is imminent, no solution is in view. In fact, some see in the details of this visit a step back from the latitude that Israel granted Pope John Paul II in 2000.

So, what good can come out of this trip to the Middle East? First, the pope has been continuing to emphasize the importance of the marriage of faith and reason, the real theme of his Regensburg lecture and the subject of a crucial debate both within Islam and in the West. He mentioned this as he arrived in Jordan and, in a later meeting with Muslim leaders, spelled it out further: “[The] challenge [is] to cultivate for the good, in the context of faith and truth, the vast potential of human reason. Christians in fact describe God, among other ways, as creative Reason, which orders and guides the world. . . .In fact, when human reason humbly allows itself to be purified by faith, it is far from weakened; rather, it is strengthened to resist presumption and to reach beyond its own limitations. In this way, human reason is emboldened to pursue its noble purpose of serving mankind, giving expression to our deepest common aspirations and extending, rather than manipulating or confining, public debate.”

The pope also remarked, “I come to Jordan as a pilgrim, to venerate holy places that have played such an important part in some of the key events of Biblical history.” He has repeated the notion of pilgrimage throughout his trip. In doing so, he reminds governments in the region and elsewhere of the importance of these holy sites and the responsibility to protect them. The world’s Christians have also seen that this region matters greatly to us in ways not usually reported in newspapers. Perhaps most importantly, Christians in the Middle East have been encouraged by the pope himself to remember that they live in the land from which salvation came, and that their continued presence there is essential.

That message is critical. In Jordan, the pope repeatedly affirmed the importance of religious liberty, a good thing in short supply in the region: “Religious freedom is, of course, a fundamental human right, and it is my fervent hope and prayer that respect for all the inalienable rights and the dignity of every man and woman will come to be increasingly affirmed and defended, not only throughout the Middle East, but in every part of the world.“

Christians in the area, of course, face enormous pressures. Around half of the pre-2003 Christian population in Iraq has fled in the wake of violence directed specifically against them; much of the remaining population is displaced within Iraq. The Christian population of the Palestinian territories, squeezed between extremist violence and Israeli security measures, is dwindling. Supporting Christians in the Middle East is the principal purpose of the pope’s pilgrimage, and he urgently called upon diplomats and the international community to help them.

Pope Benedict has proven over and over that his warm presence and rigorous intellect have a far-reaching and lasting impact wherever he travels. By reminding us of the Good that came out of this troubled region, he may succeed in once again turning skepticism into renewed hope. That’s well worth a journey.

Joseph Wood is a former White House official who worked on foreign policy, including Vatican affairs.

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Comments (8)Add Comment
Viva Il Papa
written by William Dennis, May 13, 2009
I believe this article frames well the purpose of the Pope's visit. His agenda is not a political one, but then the secular world of reason without faith would be clueless to the spirituality of his visit. It seems he made it clear that he was on pilgrimage to the land from which salvation came. Western governments have refused to accept the great influence of Christianity in their history and now they try to categorize this visit as political and expect him to apologize for the past. No way.
written by Megs, May 13, 2009
And the Holy Father just made a ringing endorsement of a Palestinian
state. I'm not denying the spiritual side of the visit but let's not kid ourselves. Sadly, anything in that region of the world is political.
Pope is doing God\\\\\\
written by Pio, May 13, 2009
We shouldn't be too bothered by the high expectations. They were set for Benedict, in part, set by JP-II (the former actor), who understood the power of language and symbolism. JP-II spoke to Jews about the Shoah in distinctly personal terms and he showed a basic level of human respect by kissing a Koran (this did not imply a change in Catholic doctrine), and hence was extremely popular among the masses and media in the region. God will also use Benedict's unique gifts to further peace.
written by Pio, May 13, 2009
The title of my last email somehow got distorted and might have some of you scratching your heads. It should have read "Pope is doing God's work."
Wood's Absurd Zionism
written by WJ, May 13, 2009
Everything you need to know about Joseph Wood's "analysis" of peace prospects between Israel and Palestine is contained in the following, ridiculously one-sided, statement: "A two-state Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement is far off, given the security concerns of the new Israeli government and the disarray of the Palestinians themselves." Not because of unjust Israeli wars, nor because of Israel's illegal construction of settlements, nor because of Israel's sinful blockade of Gaza.
written by William H. Phelan, May 13, 2009
Today the Pope called for a Palestinian State. Israel has placed 300,000 Israelis in the West Bank who live in wealth while the West Bank Palestinians live in abject poverty. Messrs Weismann and Rosen, formerly of AIPAC, who were to be tried next month on espionage were recently told they would not be tried by the Feds, while Lawrence Franklin, a Catholic who passed the intelligence, is serving 12 years for the same espionage acts! "...but deliver us from evil, Amen"
written by Achilles, May 13, 2009
WJ, "absurd zionist"???? To what can we attribute your point of view? multiculturalism? Egalitarianism? Have you been to Palestine lately?
These are complicted issues that probably can't be explained with an ad-hominem like "absurd zionist". I would like to understand your point of view better.
Faith & Reason
written by Tod W, May 15, 2009
Once again, the message that Pope Benedict gave at Regensburg is given in Israel. The Regensburg lecture was popularly twisted into a Christianity vs. Islam crisis when in fact it stated the very essence of our robust faith - the need to recognize the intellectual components of faith, the reasoning God abides by, and the need to avoid a "faith of coercion" in favor of "faith of persuasion". The apologetics & the mystery of faith are the Christian's strong suit - Benedicts articulates this well..

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