image of jerusalem 2013

Veni, Vidi, Vici? - HH Pope John Paul II Prays in the Holy Land
The unforgettable experience of praying and celebrating the sacred liturgy in places so intimately connected with the life, ministry, death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ will remain forever etched in my mind and heart, and will continue to be for me a source of spiritual strength and nourishment. It is my fervent hope that the meetings which took place with various religious leaders will increase the commitment to greater understanding and co-operation among the three religious traditions present in the Holy Land. + Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Vatican, 27 March 2000

March   |   2000   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

It finally happened, and now it is over! The Church leader of one billion Catholics worldwide concluded last Sunday evening his weeklong ‘spiritual pilgrimage’ to the Holy Land. Having returned to the Vatican, he duly sent a message of encouragement and hope to Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah and the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land. But what are the lessons that Palestinian Christians could possibly glean from this historic pontifical visit? Did he manage to communicate to the different audiences his four messages of peace, solidarity with the poor, church unity and inter-religious dialogue?

On his message for peace in the Holy Land, the pontiff was quite clear in re-affirming the long-held position of the Vatican about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the territorial status of Jerusalem. Not once did he lapse into issues of sovereignty over Jerusalem. Yet, he made it abundantly clear on a number of occasions that he exhorts both sides to seek a peace that is based on justice, dignity and security and which takes into consideration the political pain of the Palestinian people across the decades. This attitude found its resonance also with his second message of solidarity when he stood up for the rights of the Palestinian refugees - telling them quite explicitly that he understood their frustration and shared their pain of displacement let alone their need for a homeland.

But the two major thrusts of his pilgrimage dealt with the messages of unity of the churches in the Holy Land as well as of inter-religious dialogue. On ecumenism and church unity, he stressed time and again the need to work much harder toward a coming together of the churches that cherishes the diversities of their different traditions. And his clarion call was met with attentive ears! All the leaders of the Orthodox and mainline Protestant Churches attended his four pontifical masses at the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, at the Mount of Beatitudes, at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and again at the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. But perhaps more telling was the Ecumenical Gathering that took place at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem under the auspices of Patriarch Diodoros I. It spoke volumes about the long way the churches have come toward unity in the last decade - let alone since the major schisms that followed the different Church Councils across history. At one moment during this gathering, and having ostensibly been overcome by the words of the Pope, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch added an extemporaneous message in which he prayed that “the Lord will hear your prayers and our prayers and restore His peace to this land of peace.”

The inter-religious message, however, was more ambivalent and drew mixed reactions. During the major event at the Notre Dame Centre in Jerusalem, Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Sheikh Judge Taysir Tamimi shifted the direction of the gathering from a spiritual one into a political one - in their own different ways - when they spoke about political claims and grievances. But although this temporal exchange introduced a jarring and dissonant note into a spiritual gathering, its frankness nonetheless manifested to all and sundry the fragility or obsequiousness of inter-faith dialogue in this biblical land and put paid to the illusory belief that all is well amongst all the sons and daughters of Abraham. It is now self-evident that enormous work needs to be done if inter-religious dialogue were ever to become a fruitful labour of love rather than a nice platform for self-glory or, worse, for fund-raising purposes.

Veni, Vidi, Vici? I came, I saw, I conquered? This man of profound and abiding faith, of robust and contagious devoutness, who hobbled almost mystically whilst bearing his cross through a difficult spiritual week, is one of the very few religious leader who gets my unqualified vote!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2000   |   March


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