Benedict XVI speaks on recent trip to the
Holy Land during General Audience, 20 May
On Wednesday, 20 May , at the General Audience in
St Peter's Square the Holy Father, commented on his recent
Apostolic Journey to the Holy Land. The
following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, which was given in
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I shall talk about the Apostolic Journey that I
made from 8 to 15 May to the Holy Land, for which I do not cease to
thank the Lord because it turned out to be a great gift for the
Successor of Peter and for the whole Church.
I would like once again to express a heartfelt "thank
you" to H.B. Patriarch Fouad Twal, to the Bishops of the various rites,
to the Priests and to the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land. I
thank the King and Queen of Jordan, the President of Israel and the
President of the National Palestinian Authority, together with their
respective Governments, all the Authorities and all those who in various
ways collaborated in the preparation and success of my Visit. It was
first and foremost a pilgrimage, indeed, a pilgrimage par excellence to
the sources of our faith; and at the same time a Pastoral Visit to the
Church which lives in the Holy Land: a community of unique importance
because it is a living presence in the place where it was born.
The first stage, from 8 to 11 May, was in Jordan, in
whose territory are located two of the most important holy places: Mount
Nebo, from which Moses contemplated the Promised Land and where he died
without entering it; then Bethany "on the other side of the Jordan",
where, according to the fourth Gospel, St John began to baptize. The
Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo is a site with a strong symbolic value:
it speaks of our condition as pilgrims between an "already" and a "not
yet", between a promise so important and beautiful as to hearten us on
the way, and fulfilment that surpasses us and also surpasses this world.
The Church lives this "eschatological" and "pilgrim
disposition" in herself: she is already united with Christ her
Bridegroom but for the time being the wedding feast is only anticipated,
in expectation of his glorious return at the end of time (cf. Second
Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium,
In Bethany I had the joy of blessing the foundation
stones of two churches that will be built on the site where St John
baptized the people. This event was a sign of the openness and respect
for religious freedom and for the Christian tradition which prevail in
the Hashemite Kingdom and deserves deep appreciation.
I was able to show this just recognition, united with
profound respect for the Muslim community, the Religious Leaders, the
Diplomatic Corps and the university Rectors who met at the Al-Hussein
Bin Talal Mosque, that King Abdallah II commissioned in memory of his
father, the famous King Hussein, who welcomed Pope Paul VI on his
historic pilgrimage in 1964.
How important it is that Christians and Muslims live
side by side peacefully and in mutual respect! Thanks be to God and to
the commitment of the government leaders this is happening in Jordan. I
prayed that it would be like this also elsewhere, thinking especially of
the Christians who instead experience difficult situations in
A large Christian community lives in Jordan, increased
by Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. It is a significant presence
appreciated in society, also because of its institutions for education
and social assistance, attentive to the human person independently of
his or her race or religion.
A beautiful example is the "Regina Pacis" Rehabilitation
Centre in Amman, which takes in numerous people afflicted by
disabilities. In visiting it, I was able to bring a word of hope, but in
turn I also received one, as a testimony strengthened by suffering and
by human sharing; as a sign of the Church's commitment in the field of
culture, I also blessed, the foundation stone of the Latin Patriarchate
of Jerusalem's University of Madaba.
I rejoiced in giving a start to this new scientific and
cultural institution so that it may tangibly express that the Church
encourages the quest for truth and for the common good and may offer a
space for higher learning open to all who want to commit themselves to
this search, an indispensable premise for a true and fruitful dialogue
Likewise in Amman two solemn liturgical celebrations
took place: Vespers in the Greek-Melkite Cathedral of St George and Holy
Mass in the International Stadium which enabled us to savour together
the beauty of meeting one another as God's pilgrim People, rich in their
different traditions and united in the one faith.
After leaving Jordan, in
the late morning of Monday, 11 May, I landed in Israel where, from my
arrival, I introduced myself as a pilgrim of faith in the Land where
Jesus was born, lived, died and rose, and at the same time, as a pilgrim
of peace to implore from God that in the place where he chose to make
himself man all men and women may live as his children, that is, as
brothers and sisters.
This second aspect of my
journey naturally emerged in my meetings with the civil authorities: in
my visit to the Israeli President and to the President of the
Palestinian Authority. In that Land blessed by God, it sometimes
seems impossible to extricate oneself from the spiral of violence.
But nothing is impossible
to God and to those who trust in him! For this reason faith in the one
just and merciful God, which is the most precious resource of those
peoples, must be able to release its full charge of respect,
reconciliation and collaboration. I desired to express this wish in
paying a visit both to the Grand Mufti and the leaders of the Islamic
community of Jerusalem and to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, as well as
at the meeting with the organizations involved in inter-religious
dialogue and then, at the encounter with the religious leaders of
Jerusalem is the
cross-roads of the three great monotheistic religions, and its very name
"City of Peace"
expresses God's plan for humanity: to make it one great family. This
design, announced to Abraham, was completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ,
whom St Paul calls "our peace", because through his Sacrifice he
forcefully broke down the dividing wall of hostility (cf. Eph 2:14).
Thus all believers must
leave behind them their prejudices and desire to dominate and must in
harmony obey the fundamental Commandment: in other words to love God
with all one's might and to love one's neighbour as oneself.
It is to this that Jews,
Christians and Muslims are called to bear witness, in order to honour
with acts that God to whom they pray with their lips. And it is exactly
this that I carried in my heart, in my prayers, as I visited in
Jerusalem the Western
or Wailing Wall
and the Dome of the Rock, symbolic places respectively of Judaism and of
Islam. The Visit to the Yad Vashem Memorial, built in Jerusalem in
honour of the victims of the Shoah, was also a moment of intense
recollection. In silence we paused there, praying and meditating on the
mystery of the "name": every human person is sacred, and his name is
written in the heart of the eternal God. The horrendous tragedy of the
Shoah must never be forgotten! On the contrary, we must always
remember that universal recommendation of sacred respect for human life,
which always possesses an infinite value.
As I have already
mentioned, the priority of my Journey was the Visit to the Catholic
Communities of the Holy Land and this also took place in various stages
at Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. In the Upper Room, my mind fixed
on Christ who washed the Apostles' feet and instituted the Eucharist, as
well as on the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church on the Day of
Pentecost, I was able to meet, among others, the Custos of the Holy Land
and to meditate with him on our vocation to be one, to form one body and
one mind, to transform the world with the gentle force of love.
Of course, this call
encounters particular difficulty in the Holy Land, therefore, with the
heart of Christ I repeated to my brother Bishops his very words: "Fear
not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the
kingdom" (Lk 12:32).
I then briefly greeted the
women and men religious of contemplative life, thanking them for the
service that with their prayers they offer to the Church and to the
cause of peace.
Above all the supreme
moments of communion with the Catholic faithful were the Eucharistic
celebrations. In Josaphat Valley, in Jerusalem, we meditated on the
Resurrection of Christ as a force of hope and peace for that City and
for the whole world.
In Bethlehem, in the
Palestinian Territories, Holy Mass was celebrated in front of the
Basilica of the Nativity with the participation of the faithful from
Gaza, whom I had the joy to comfort personally, assuring them of my
special closeness. Bethlehem, the place in which the celestial hymn of
peace for all men rang out, is a symbol of the distance that still
separates us from the fulfilment of that proclamation. Precariousness,
isolation, uncertainty, poverty: all this has led so many Christians to
leave for distant places.
Yet the Church continues on
her way, supported by the power of faith and witnessing to love with
concrete works of service to the brethren such as, for example, the
Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem, supported by the Dioceses of Germany
and Switzerland, and humanitarian action in the refugee camps.
In the camp that I visited
I wished to assure the families that are housed there of the closeness
and encouragement of the universal Church and I invited everyone to seek
peace with non violent methods, after the example of St Francis of
I celebrated the third and
last Mass with the people last Thursday, in Nazareth, the town of the
Holy Family. We prayed for all the families that they might rediscover
the beauty of marriage and family life, the value of domestic
spirituality and of education, attention to children who are entitled to
grow up in peace and serenity.
In addition, in the
Basilica of the Annunciation, together with all the Pastors, consecrated
people, ecclesial movements and lay people involved in Galilee, we sang
our faith in the creative and transforming power of God. There, where
the Word was made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, flows an
inexhaustible source of hope and joy that does not cease to bring life
to the heart of the Church, a pilgrim through history.
My pilgrimage ended last
Friday with the stop at the Holy Sepulchre and with two important
ecumenical meetings in Jerusalem: at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate,
where the representatives of all the Churches in the Holy Land had
gathered, and lastly, at the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchal Church.
I am pleased to sum up the
whole of the itinerary that I was granted to follow precisely in the
sign of Christ's Resurrection: despite the vicissitudes that have
scarred the Holy Places down the centuries, despite the wars,
destruction and unfortunately also conflicts between Christians, the
Church has continued her mission, impelled by the Spirit of the Risen
She is on her way towards
full unity, so that the world may believe in the love of God and
experience the joy of his peace.
On my knees on Calvary and
at the Holy Sepulchre I invoked the power of love that flows from the
Paschal Mystery, the only force that can renew men and women and direct
history and the cosmos to its destiny.
I also ask you to pray for
this intention, as we prepare for the Feast of the Ascension which we
shall be celebrating in the Vatican tomorrow. Thank you for your
To special groups
Lastly, my thoughts turn to
the young people, the sick and the newly weds. The
Solemnity of the Lord's Ascension
which we shall be celebrating tomorrow in the Vatican as in other
countries, while it will be celebrated in Italy next Sunday
invites us to look to Jesus who, before ascending into Heaven, entrusted
to the Apostles the mandate to take his Message of salvation to the very
ends of the earth. Dear young people, may you strive to put your
energies at the service of the Gospel. Dear sick people, may you
live your suffering united to the Lord, in the certainty that you are
making a precious contribution to the growth of his Kingdom in the
world. And you, dear newly weds, make sure that your families are
places in which one learns to be joyful witnesses to the Gospel of hope.