Seven years of faithful attention to the Holy Land
JERUSALEM – The week of anniversaries for our Pope Benedict XVI. Last Monday he celebrated his 85th birthday. Whereas on April 19, 2012, his Pontificate of seven years. Seven years already! Seven years in the service of the Church with the duty of the Petrine ministry. Seven years in the service of humanity as a mediator among people so that all may reach peace. In a special way in the Holy Land. Let us give a short retrospective view.
Seven years ago, April 19, 2005, since the chimney of the Sistine Chapel emitted the white smoke, Habemus Papam! (We have a Pope!) . Later Blessed John Paul II, and the cardinals, assisted by the Holy Spirit chose: “a humble and simple worker in the vineyard of the Lord”, Cardinal Ratzinger. With the patronage of St. Benedict, he had to continue the mission entrusted by the Lord to Peter: “feed my sheep” (John 21:16).
From the first year of his Pontificate, Benedict XVI did not forget the Holy Land and the conflict that sorrowfully afflicts it. In the Autumn of 2005, he received Israel’s President Moshe Katsav (November 17) in the Vatican, and fifteen days later the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas (December 3). Both, then, invited him to come to the Holy Land. A month later, January 9, 2006, on the occasion of greetings to the Diplomatic Corps, the Holy Gather declared: “the State of Israel must be able to exist peacefully, according to the norms of International law, in the same way the Palestinian People must be able to develop peacefully its own democratic institutions in order to have a free and prosperous future”. In the meantime, on the occasion of his Christmas homily he declared: “in this night (ed. of Christmas), in which we all look towards Bethlehem, we also want to pray in a special way for the place in which our Redeemer was born and for the persons who live there and suffer. We want to pray for Peace in the Holy Land: guard, o Lord, this region of the earth that, being your place of birth, is so dear to you! Grant that you light may shine on it! Grant that peace will come!“
Subsequently between 2006 and 2008 many events occurred in the Holy Land. On June 21, 2008, Canonical possession of the Latin Patriarchate was taken by Patriarch Fouad Twal. But also the changeover of Gaza (2007) to the control of Hamas occurred, the further development of settlements, of peace talks, the Israeli-Lebanese war in the summer of 2006, the war of Gaza (from December 2008 to January 2009). The Holy Father never omitted to remember these events, always calling them to prayer and to work for a stable peace. Let us fasten on to his words pronounced at the Angelus on January 4, 2009 when the battles in Gaza did not point towards diminishing: “the Patriarchs and the heads of the Christian Churches of Jerusalem invite the faithful, in all the Churches of the Holy Land, to pray for the end of conflict in the Gaza Strait and to plead for justice and peace for their land. I unite myself to them and I ask you to do as much. The dramatic news that reaches us from Gaza shows that the rejection of dialogue leads to situations that are an intolerable burden on the population, who are yet again victims of hatred and war”.
A few months later, Benedict XVI came to the Holy Land. From May 3-15, 2009. A unique moment and yet rooted in the hearts of the Holy Land faithful. From Mt. Nebo (Jordan) to the Holy Sepulchre, from the Aida (Bethlehem) refugee camp to the Western Wall, from meetings with political leaders to contact with the crowd, but also – the first time for a Pope – to the mosque called The Dome of the Rock, Benedict XVI never ceased to ask for peace for a rapid and abiding solution to the conflict.
Some hours after the announcement of the Papal election, Father Pizzaballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land told the agency Fides : “this is not a hope but a certainty: Pope Benedict will be a Pope constructing bridges. A prophet of peace for the Holy Land […] I am sure that Benedict XVI will pay attention, by the nearness of and concern of the Church and of the Holy See towards the Holy Land. I know that he will speak words of peace and build bridges of reconciliation.”
He was right to nurture this certainty. By the grace of God, Benedict XVI will still continue in place to be a witness of the love of God for humans and a prophet of peace of the Holy Land.
Louis-Marie de Linage