Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 18, 2009
Benedict discovers intrigue and politics in the Middle East
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
JERUSALEM – During his visit to Jerusalem, Pope Benedict received a double lesson in the politics of interreligious dialogue.
At the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial May 11, his graceful and at times poetic speech left some Jewish leaders dissatisfied because it failed to talk about the Nazi perpetrators and the Church’s own failings during the Second World War.
Addressing interfaith dialogue experts shortly afterward, the pope listened as a Muslim cleric took the microphone and denounced Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, prompting some Jewish participants to walk out and cutting the program short.
The pope’s “pilgrimage of peace” was clearly not immune from the real-world divisions among Christians, Muslims and Jews. At Yad Vashem, it didn’t take long for some Jewish leaders to fault the pope for what he did not say.
After describing the visit as “positive, important, a step forward,” Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate, said he was disappointed that “the pope did not mention the Nazi German perpetrators” of the Holocaust.
The chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, also expressed disappointment at the pope’s speech. “Something was missing. There was no mention of the Germans or the Nazis who participated in the butchery, nor a word of regret.”
The fact that the pope is a German who had direct experience of the Nazi regime made the omission puzzling to some of his listeners.
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said the pope simply chose to focus his talk on the meaning of the memorial.
The spokesman noted that the pope has spoken about the Nazi atrocities before and repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism. Vatican sources said before the trip that it was important for people to understand that the pope was not going to Yad Vashem as a German but as the head of the universal Church.
More generally, Pope Benedict rarely gets “personal” about his experiences and memories under Nazi Germany. School officials registered him in the Hitler Youth — although Lombardi insisted to reporters May 12 that the pope was never an active member.
The pope’s interreligious event at the Notre Dame centre in Jerusalem demonstrated how easily the political divisions between Israelis and Palestinians can surface in interfaith relations.
Sheik Taysir al-Tamimi, an Islamic court judge not on the program, took the floor and spoke forcefully against problems cause by the Israelis.
The pope himself left abruptly when the sheik finished, and the Vatican spokesman later said the sheik’s intervention was a “direct negation of what a dialogue should be. This was unplanned and undesired,” Lombardi said of the sheik’s words.
The Vatican was probably not blindsided by this. Al-Tamimi was the same person who, nine years earlier, helped mar an interfaith event presided over by Pope John Paul at the same Notre Dame centre.