Popes visit to Holy Land: Sign of continued desire for peace and unity!

The Holy See announced today that the Pope is going to Jerusalem in May. That announcement is especially good news for the diplomatic relationship between the Vatican and Israel. In recent months there have been multiple points of contention between the Holy See and the Israeli government, specifically over the lifting of the excommunication of a schismatic bishop that denied the Holocaust and the ongoing disputes related to the papacy of Pius XII during World War II.
This trip as well might present difficulties. Just this morning the Rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmed Rabinovitch suggested the Pope should not wear the traditional pectoral cross while visiting the surviving wall of the Great Temple. The Rabbi indicated that the symbol of the cross was an insulting symbol to the many Jewish people that have suffered persecution at the hands of Catholics over the centuries.
There is more at stake here than the simple matter of a pectoral cross during Pope Benedict’s visit. It appears the Rabbi of the Western Wall is forgetting the theological heritage Catholics share with the People of the Old Testament. While the Pope traditionally wears a pectoral cross, the symbol in no way diminishes the real appreciation the Catholic Church continues to develop for our cousins in monotheism…the Jewish people. The protest raised by the rabbi undermines the purpose of the apostolic visit, which is to publically exhibit the close theological and political unity between the Catholic Church and the Government of Israel. Additionally, the intrinsically sacred nature of the entire Holy Land makes it a place of pilgrimage for Catholics, Jews and Islamic faiths equally. The important treasured nature of Israel’s sacred shrines should be a model not only for diplomatic balancing, but also religious tolerance between three great monotheistic religions that share heritages at the sites in Jerusalem.
Pope Benedict XVI during his pontificate continues to make remarkable progress in relationship to Israeli-Catholic dialogue. Repeatedly opponents to Pope Benedict’s continued desire to deepen Catholic relationships with the Jews make reference to already well discussed and deeply studied topics. Really, it is time to move forward in our theological appreciations of each others religions and stop debating the already exhausted previous debates. From a Catholic historical perspective, there are many aspects of our 2000 years relationship with the Jewish people that should have been handled differently. The important thing is that we are now understanding our symbiotic relationship of monotheistic faith between our two religions. Any dispute over papal attire and sartorial accessories just continues to feed sentiments of anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic inflammatory rhetoric.

Pope John-Paul II visited Israel in 2000. His trip was considered as a remarkable triumph of theological understanding as well as diplomatic craftsmanship. Pope Benedict XVI’s visit will result in the same accomplishments, only if both Jewish and Catholic observers set appropriate expectations. The issue of a papal pectoral cross was not part of the John-Paul journey to the holiest sites of Jewish and Christian antiquity. A pectoral cross should not make any difference on this journey either. The Pope wants to visit Israel as not only the Head of the Vatican State, the Bishop of Rome but as a faithful and devout Catholic to venerate a sacred place where salvation history unfolded for Catholics and Jews.
The overwhelming message of the Benedictine pontificate has been the continued desire for unity among all peoples of the world, despite our social, political and theological differences. Benedict’s quest for global harmony and unity is another positive action that the Church under his leadership hopes to continue well into the 21st century with all faithful denominations including our cousins in faith, the Jewish people.

Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that writes on uniquely Catholic topics and issues. He attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where he studied both philosophy and theology. He writes frequently at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com & http://nothing-left-unsaid.blogspot.com . Hugh writes about his Irish Catholic upbringing and educational experiences at http://graysferrygrapevine.blogspot.com . He has contributed works to Catholic News Agency, Catholic Online, The Irish Catholic, Dublin, the British Broadcasting Company, London and the Philadelphia Bulletin, Pewsitter.com, Blogger News Network & The Catholic Business Journal.

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