Time for Harvest in the Holy Land

Church Leaders Say Papal Pilgrimage a Success

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JERUSALEM, MAY 21, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Two Church leaders in Jerusalem say they are convinced that Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to the Holy Land was a success, though the fruits might not be ready for harvesting right away.



During a press conference Wednesday at Jerusalem's Notre Dame Center, Archbishop Fouad Twal, patriarch of Jerusalem, and Archbishop Antonio Franco, apostolic nuncio, defined the trip as more than 90% successful. Less than 100%, Archbishop Twal quipped, because "perfection belongs only to God."

Marie-Armelle Beaulieu reported on the Web site of the Custody of the Holy Land that both Church leaders gave a positive overview of the Holy Father's weeklong pilgrimage, insisting that the faithful now need time to let his message take root and mature.

At the insistence of the journalists, Archbishop Twal did acknowledge that Israeli security acted "more papist than the Pope himself," which caused difficulties above all for those who wanted to participate at the May 12 Mass in the Kedron Valley.

But the archbishops' analysis of the trip was overwhelmingly positive.

Archbishop Twal highlighted the importance of the Pope coming to the Holy Land as a pilgrim. With this, "he has wanted to encourage Christians from around the world to follow his example and come on pilgrimage to the Holy Land to pray, to come into contact with the local communities, to pray with us and for us, to pray together for peace and for all the inhabitants of the region."

And as a pastor, he continued, the Pontiff addressed the local community: "He has stopped to listen to us and has given his message to us. Now it is our turn to mediate on his discourses and homilies, calmly, to be able to take them in and to be able to live them fully."

A leader

Archbishop Franco emphasized that also as the leader of a state, Benedict XVI gave an important message to the Middle East.

"The Holy Father has very clearly retraced Israel's right to live in security in their own country. That the right of Israel be recognized and that also there be recognition of the right of the Palestinians to have a homeland, a state, such that a stable peace comes to this part of the world," he said.

Archbishop Twal insisted: "We should take our time to re-read the discourses, to understand the message that the Pope wanted to leave us.

"The results will not be totally visible today, not even tomorrow. We need more time. To give time to time, to give time to Providence. But this message of dialogue, of peace, of reconciliation will bring its fruits."

The apostolic nuncio echoed the patriarch's idea. "The message should be received, studied, and should, certainly, lead to action," Archbishop Franco said. "Definitely this will depend on the good will of each one of us to listen to it authentically and critically compare our attitudes with the positive indications the Holy Father has left us."

Church's place

Asked about the role of the Church in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Archbishop Franco said that its mission is an indirect one.

"The role of the Church is not direct, though it falls to her to form, to educate for peace and respect," he said. "It falls to her to make people capable of mutually accepting each other, of forgiving, of creating new possibilities to create the conditions that make peace possible, supporting the positive efforts and trying to stamp out resignation and passivity."

Regarding interreligious dialogue, Archbishop Twal said this theme made the Pope happy during his pilgrimage.

It "made him happy to note that there exists a will to dialogue among all the religions," he affirmed. "It has made him content to see a good disposition. […] For the Pope, it's one thing to read reports and something different to see the reality in concrete things."

And regarding what was perhaps the most tense element of the trip -- Israeli reaction to the Holy Father's visit to Yad Vashem -- the apostolic nuncio suggested listening again to what the Pope actually said.

"I invite you to listen again to the words of the Pope taken together, and especially those given during his arrival at the airport, at Yad Vashem, and afterward in his final discourse. If we put these three moments together, we will truly enter into the thought of the Pope," Archbishop Franco contended.

He added, "His reflection on a name in the Yad Vashem is the most beautiful reflection he could have made to speak to us of the duty of memory."

Album of images

Patriarch Twal was asked what image from the trip would stay etched in his memory.

"I wouldn't want just one image to stay," he responded. "I would like a whole photo album of all these magnificent moments, as much in Jordan as in Israel and Palestine.

"We have received a grace and a gift from the Lord and we have seen the hand of God. This trip has been a success, despite the difficulties, because the Holy Father has been able to experience the concrete reality in which we live here, in the Holy Land."