|03/12/2009 Middle East|
by Giorgio Bernardelli
|03/31/2010 Holy Land|
«Easter in Jerusalem, the power of hope»
|04/14/2009 The patriarch of Jerusalem|
«Why the Pope comes notwithstanding our suffering»
«Hunger is not structural, stop indifference»
by Benedetto XVI
From India the Pope's Way of the Cross
by Lorenzo Fazzini
Father Neuhaus, how the Israeli society is waiting for this Papal journey?
I heard your question and I smiled, because I'm not sure the Israeli society is so focused on the Catholic Church. I hope, but we are waiting. Two feelings, two sensations involved in that waiting: the first would be the sense of joy. I think that many Israeli Jews are very happy that the Holy Father is coming. For the State of Israel this is an important visit: Israeli Jews feel it as a kind of confirmation of the Israeli existence, a sort of recognition of the State of Israel.
Of course there are also many who are happy because the newspapers are already talking about how many programs this will bring. So there is a sense of benefit for tourism. And now Israel has this new government. A government that, from the point of view of the international community, has been described like rather problematic. The fact that the Holy Father come is perceived as a kind of legitimacy to the new government too. This is all in the line of the joy for this visit.
But I think that there is also a second sensation, which could be covered by the fact that many Israeli Jews remain convinced that Catholics don’t like Jews particularly. That Catholics will prefer the Jews becoming Christians. And the fact that this Pope is German and that he is unapologetic about his identity - he is perceived rather conservative and traditional - might give also a sensation of suspicion. I think it's a kind of mix sensation.
Which are the hopes of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic Vicariate for this event?
We are certainly full of joy. We are praying that the Pope could succeed in his own desire, which is to contribute to peace and unity, here in this country, in all the region and in the world. We are rejoicing. We hope that he will bring a message of hope for the Church. And, quite naturally, we too will be looking with especial attention to what the Pope might say at the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, because this will be very sensitive in the relation with Jewish people. And so we are hoping also that this visit will bring to an end the series of misunderstandings of last months. We are confident that it will, because we know that the Holy Father in the past has talked a lot about the relationship with Jewish people. We are confident that the visit will contribute much to the dialogue with Jewish people. And we hope very much that will contribute also to the unity of the Christians in the Holy Land, alas. It is very important for the survival of the Church: we, indeed, are one.
John Paul II's visit in 2000 was for many Israelis the "discover" of the Catholicism. How they remember today that event?
We, as Catholics, remember this visit very much, I don't know how many Israelis have a physic memory of this event. But I think that, when it is mentioned, it is remembered by everybody as a success. For the Catholic Church it was a phenomenal success. And that success was only realized post-facto: it was a surprise. One of the best sensation I personally felt during that visit was that the Pope really succeeded in breaking some of the very important stereotypical views of the Church and of Christianity. And that was very much contributed to by the fact that the Pope came in very weak physical state. It was absolutely clear that he came in a humble attitude. He needed to be led from place to place. And this smashed the stereotypes that many Jews - and I think also many Muslims - have of Christians (and Catholics in particular). He didn't come as a proud and self-sufficient crusader or a missionary; he came almost as a helpless brother who needed to be helped. And of course, in addition to that, his visit was so coreographic: he went among the different religious and national Holy Places of Jews, Christians and Muslims, of Israelis and Palestinians. I think that he left people breathless; he opened previously unimaginable possibilities. In John Paul II's speeches in the Holy Land there was very little new. But the images that he left contributed to a change that is still taking place in the Israeli society, which is beginning to realize that the Church is a friend and not an enemy. And when John Paul II passed away he was remembered really as a friend of the Jewish people.
Do you think that something similar could happen today too?
As I said, the success of the Pope's visit was realized post-facto. There was much anxiety before he came: that too was a visit in a very complicated political context. And because Benedict's visit was so carefully planned I say: yes, indeed; it could again be something like that.
The last year has been characterized by some problems in the relationship between the Holy See and the Jewish world: the Pius XII caption in Yad Vashem, the Holy Friday prayer, the bishop Williamson affaire... How this events are influencing this visit?
I think that this events influenced the fact that the visit is going to take place: it was important the Pope's insistence to come and - indeed - he comes. We hope that the events of the recent past will not overshadow the visit. It would be very sad if the only echoes during the visits should be the echoes of those misunderstanding. During the visit the Holy Father has the opportunity to show all some new steps. And we certainly hope to listen a message about Christian vocation in Israel and in Palestine, about the importance of Christian unity, about the spiritual values of the Holy Places, about the relationship that we as Catholics have towards Jews and Muslims, about the Church's commitment to reconciliation, dialogue, forgiveness, justice and peace. The opportunity to create a new atmosphere. Of course, the misunderstandings has to be solved; but the Jewish-Catholic relationship here must be integrated within a general vision of issues that touch on the conflict in the Middle East. Much of what happened in the last months has to do with the very traumatic history of the Jews in Europe. But here he comes into a completely different geographical zone. And the Jewish-Christian relationship has very different resonances from Jerusalem than that this relationship might have from Rome or from Germany.
In his visit to the Koln synagogue, in 2005, Pope Benedict spoke about the "theological dialogue" between Christians and Jews. Which path do you think this kind of dialogue should walk through?
You know that the theological dialogue in which the Holy Father is so involved is really only one small part of the dialogue with the Jewish people. There are very few people among the Jewish - and particularly very few here in Israel - who are interested in the theological dialogue. Of course the grandeur of the Pope's theological thinking is very important: he speaks about our roots in the Jewish tradition, our roots in the Old Testament and our relation with the Jewish people. But the Jewish who are part in this dialogue are very much more concerned with political and social issues that touch on anti-Semitism and the situation in the Middle East. I'm not sure how many people will be listening carefully theologically to what the Pope would say here. I think that there will be much greater attention paid to the issues of anti-Semitism and to the attitude towards the political reality of Middle East. And, of course, any step taken with regard to the Jews will be measured against the parallel visit that he will pay to the Muslims; and anything that he will say about the Israelis will be looked back from the point of view of what he will be saying to the Palestinians. I think that theology will not receive a very prominent place during the visit.
One of the hottest themes today is the debate about the "conversion" of the Jews. How - from your personal experience - have we to deal with it correctly?
Conversion is a very difficult issue in the dialogue with the Jewish people. I think that it's one of the core issues. For them - the Jewish who are in dialogue with us - conversion is the end of the Jewish people, not only the end of the Jewish religion. I - as a Catholic - understand the conversion like a fulfilling of the Jewish identity. But there is a deep lack of understanding or division between the two sides. I believe that we must give more emphasis to the idea that has been developed of the union of Christians and Jews in one faith community. «The Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and serve him shoulder to shoulder», says Nostra Aetate. We have to look at the conversion issue more in an eschatological dimension. We do not know when and how it has to happen. We can only affirm that we believe that God has one plan for humanity, and that one plan includes Jews and Christians. Of course this is very sensitive also because of the historical dimension: the Jews are very sensitive to anything that can smack of a prayer for conversion, a desire for conversion, because of the situation of the time in which the Jews were a very pressured and also persecuted minority within the Christian countries. So this issue needs to be addressed with enormous sensibility and, of course, with a great historical consciousness. I think that we need to go on purifying ourselves from all traces of the teaching of contempt and any other element that may be far to the mind of Christ, and focus a lot more on the radiant joy and peace of the Gospel. It's a community like this that will witness in the world who is Christ.
What Catholic Church has to understand really again from the Nostra Aetate declaration?
Nostra Aetate was published in 1965 and had an incredible fall out in the Magisterium of the Church. The ideas that were expressed in a very speedy form in Nostra Aetate have been developed in more than forty years in a teaching Magisterium that really focus on different themes that we need to pick in the forefront of our consciousness. The theme of repentance, of course, that makes us grow in humility. I don't think that this is only restricted to our relationship with the Jewish people. The second aspect is the opening to others and the collaboration with others in building a better world. This is something that Jews and Christians - and not only Jewish and Christians - need to do more and more. In the Jewish tradition we have an expression which is called tikun olam, «repairing the world». A beautiful expression, because it unites Jewish and Christians and all others who can be included in this project of building for future generations a better world in which the horror of the past will not be repeated. About the special relationship with the Jewish people, the emphasis is on the common heritage that we share and the Jewish identity of Jesus. And here the Nostra Aetate adopted the language of commonality: what we share. I think that in the teaching Magisterium - particularly as it was expressed in the document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission - we have spoken also about how to deal with the differences. We indeed have a common heritage, but we have appropriated this common heritage in a very different way. And I think that it is very important that the Church and the Jewish people come to an understanding of both: what we have in common and where we differ. And where we differ there is no menace. What the Jews focus on is witness to the incredible act of God in the history of Salvation, in our present of Salvation as we move towards the future of Salvation.
How do you see the German Pope visiting Yad Vashem?
Of course it will be a very sensitive moment: the Israeli Jewish public will be scrutinizing every word and every expression and every movement of the Holy Father at Yad Vasehm. Because he is the head of the Catholic Church and, very especially, because he is a German. It will be very important for us that there will be a continuity here: a focus on the asking for forgiveness about the past and the conviction that together we need to move forward a world where such horrors cannot take place. It was one of the poignant moment also during the visit of Pope John Paul II and there again the incredibly coreographical moving between the places of the tragedies of the Jewish people and also the tragedy of the Palestinian people: pope John Paul II visited the refugee camp, Benedict too will visit the refugee camp. This touching of the places of trauma of the two peoples here engaged in the conflict: two moments very important bringing out that the Pope comes really as a messenger of reconciliation.
And how to promote in today’s Holy Land this reconciliation?
One of the signs that came out during the Pontificate of John Paul II - and I think that Pope Benedict really has the attitude to develop it - is the focus on pardon. We need to focus on pardon. Not only the giving of pardon, but also the asking of pardon. Here we have a political difficult: those groups who are searching for reconciliation, focus very much on justice, peace, dialogue. But one of the elements that I think that we - as Christians proclaiming the message of the Crucifix, the resurrected Christ - can offer is something that is a little absent from the discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians: it is this message of pardon. Here of course there is much work to be done, because they are still very much in attitude of mutual accusations. Not much responsibility has been taken for our tragic situation: Israeli do not take enough responsibilities, Palestinians do not take enough responsibilities. So it is difficult: not only the other apologizes to me, but I also have a responsibility from my hand. Here came out strongly the different messages that John Paul II gave us about our national, political situation. And I think that Pope Benedict too could address this very well.