Note: The following article is interspersed with a selection of quotes from Pope John Paul II's published texts of his pilgrimage.
Pope Takes Peace Train To Holy Land
The Pope now firmly has the attention of the nations of the world. And while officially Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is personal not political, it is rapidly becoming very political - but then that is far from surprising - peace is political.
In a world in which Russia is on the verge of electing a militarist President presently involved in a war against Islamic rebels - where Indonesian Christians and Muslims have been engaged in horrendous killing sprees in recent months - and where Indian Hindu nationalists and Pakistani Muslims are involved in a horrendously bitter ethnically driven conflict - the world needs an example.
Pope John Pail II appears to be on a mission to be that example. When it comes to discussing the critical issue of religious tolerance, he is now well ahead of the pack - and being who he is makes his words carry that much more weight.
The Pope's latest mission for peace began probably at Christmas with the beginning of the Jubilee 2000th Birthday of Jesus Christ.
More recently - since the first Sunday of Lent the Pope - when he apologised for the sins of the Catholic Church and of Christians over the last 2000 years - he has been grabbing the international headlines.
Importantly the Pope's apology on the "Day of Pardon" included penance for the Crusades.
Now in a massive move plea for reconciliation amongst the three strands of Judaism - the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths - the Pope has completed a pilgrimage retracing common elements in the faith(s).
"I greet the Muslim Community of Bethlehem and pray for a new era of understanding and cooperation among all the peoples of the Holy Land. Today we look back to one moment two thousand years ago, but in spirit we embrace all time. We gather in one place, but we encompass the whole earth. We celebrate one newborn Child, but we embrace all men and women everywhere. Today from Manger Square, we cry out to every time and place, and to every person, 'Peace be with you! Do not be afraid!'" - Pope John Paul II - Bethlehem Mass Homily.
Along the way he has demonstrated through his presence that the places he visits are sacred to all the peoples who follow God, Jehova and Allah. He has been demonstrating through action something that has always been part of the Islamic tradition, if not the Christian one, namely that all faiths believe in the same God, share the same origins, and seek the same ideal;: peace, justice and love.
This is only "not politics" at a very technical level.
It is a political idea - accompanied with the use of the apology in statecraft - of enormous political power.
After thanking Chairman Arafat… "Peace for the Palestinian people! Peace for all the peoples of the region! No one can ignore how much the Palestinian people have had to suffer in recent decades. Your torment is before the eyes of the world. And it has gone on too long…. In a particular way my prayers are with those Palestinians - Muslim and Christian - who are still without a home of their own, their proper place in society and the possibility of a normal working life." - Pope John Paul II - At Bethlehem Airport
At the climax of the Pope's journey yesterday in Israel - (that is the climax so far, Easter is still four weeks away, watch this space!) - he has been far more directly political than he had been earlier in his travels.
POPE TO THE PALESTINIANS
"The Holy See has always recognized that the Palestinian people have the natural right to a homeland, and the right to be able to live in peace and tranquillity with the other peoples of this area (cf. Apostolic Letter Redemptionis Anno, 20 April 1984). In the international forum, my predecessors and I have repeatedly proclaimed that there would be no end to the sad conflict in the Holy Land without stable guarantees for the rights of all the peoples involved, on the basis of international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions and declarations." - At Bethlehem Airport
"My hope is that my visit today to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp will serve to remind the international community that decisive action is needed to improve the situation of the Palestinian people. I was particularly pleased at the unanimous acceptance by the United Nations of the Resolution on Bethlehem 2000, which commits the international community to help in developing this area and in improving conditions of peace and reconciliation in one of the most cherished and significant places on earth." - At Bethlehem Airport
POPE TO THE ISRAELIS
"Mr President , you are known as a man of peace and a peacemaker. We all know how urgent is the need for peace and justice, not for Israel alone but for the entire region. Many things have changed in relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel since my predecessor Pope Paul VI came here in 1964. The establishment of diplomatic relations between us in 1994 set a seal on efforts to open an era of dialogue on questions of common interest concerning religious freedom, relations between Church and State and, more generally, relations between Christians and Jews. On another level, world opinion follows with close attention the peace process which finds all the peoples of the region involved in the difficult search for a lasting peace with justice for all. With new-found openness towards one another, Christians and Jews together must make courageous efforts to remove all forms of prejudice. We must strive always and everywhere to present the true face of the Jews and of Judaism, as likewise of Christians and of Christianity, and this at every level of attitude, teaching and communication." - On Arrival In Israel
"I pray that my visit will serve to encourage an increase of interreligious dialogue that will lead Jews, Christians and Muslims to seek in their respective beliefs, and in the universal brotherhood that unites all the members of the human family, the motivation and the perseverance to work for the peace and justice which the peoples of the Holy Land do not yet have, and for which they yearn so deeply. The Psalmist reminds us that peace is God's gift: "I will hear what the Lord God has to say, a voice that speaks of peace, peace for his people and his friends, and those who turn to him in their hearts" (Ps 85:8). May peace be God's gift to the Land he chose as his own!" ." - On Arrival In Israel
The Pope's pilgrimage was originally supposed to start in Iraq at the birthplace of Abraham the father of all three faiths - where God gave his Covenant to Abraham that his descendants would number of the stars.
All three Judaic faiths hold this as a central and very important pillar of faith.
Unfortunately however the politics of the UK/US attacks on Iraq kept the Pope away from his first destination. Following Bethlehem it seems possible however that maybe Saddam may change his mind.
The Pope then began is pilgrimage with a visit to Egypt and Mt Sinai where Moses received the 10 Commandments.
"All citizens have a duty to play an active part, in a spirit of solidarity, in the building of society, in consolidating peace between communities and in managing the common good in an honest way. In order to do this common work which should bring together all the members of the same nation, it is right that everyone, Christians and Muslims, while respecting different religious views, should place their skills at the service of the nation, at every level of society." - Cairo Mass Homily - 25th February 2000.
Stop two was Jordan and Mt Nebob where Moses first saw the Holy Land.
"In this year of the Great Jubilee the whole Church, and especially today the Christian community of Jordan, are spiritually united in a pilgrimage to the origins of our faith, a pilgrimage of conversion and penance, of reconciliation and peace…..I pray today, and I invite the whole Church to pray with me, that the Synod's work will bring a strengthening of the bonds of fellowship and cooperation between the local Catholic communities in all their rich variety, between all the Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and between Christians and the other great religions which flourish here." - Amman Mass Homily
This too is an event shared by all three faiths as being of central importance. (In Islam there are five principal prophets - Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.)
Yesterday was arguably the climax of the pilgrimage, a Mass was held in Bethlehem the birthplace of Christ.
The Pope in his Homily said it is "always Christmas" in Bethlehem and then went on to say in his typically inclusive manner that it is in fact always Christmas everywhere.
"I greet the Muslim Community of Bethlehem and pray for a new era of understanding and cooperation among all the peoples of the Holy Land. Today we look back to one moment two thousand years ago, but in spirit we embrace all time. We gather in one place, but we encompass the whole earth. We celebrate one newborn Child, but we embrace all men and women everywhere. Today from Manger Square, we cry out to every time and place, and to every person, 'Peace be with you! Do not be afraid!'" - Bethlehem Mass Homily.
It is very clear in its execution that this pilgrimage is no fluke, it has been prepared for thoroughly and has proceeded like a dream.
This Pope is on a mission, the mission of his life. It is also now very obvious that this is why John Paul II has hung on to the job in the face of advice from some that he should step aside. It may also explain why some elements in the church were so keen to see him step aside.
Every aspect of the tour is majestically scripted, and available to all in real-time on the Internet in five languages!
Each of the texts he delivers has clearly been very carefully crafted, a seamless blend of theology, ovation and instruction. (See… http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/travels/index.htm for an index of the Pope's travel speeches.)
The Pope has also been delivering his addresses in English to the television cameras and consequently has been receiving extensive coverage on the television networks of the West.
His message is of hope for peace and God knows we all need some.
"I pray that my visit will serve to encourage an increase of interreligious dialogue that will lead Jews, Christians and Muslims to seek in their respective beliefs, and in the universal brotherhood that unites all the members of the human family, the motivation and the perseverance to work for the peace and justice which the peoples of the Holy Land do not yet have, and for which they yearn so deeply. The Psalmist reminds us that peace is God's gift: "I will hear what the Lord God has to say, a voice that speaks of peace, peace for his people and his friends, and those who turn to him in their hearts" (Ps 85:8). May peace be God's gift to the Land he chose as his own!" - Pope John Paul II - On Arrival In Israel