Vatican Update
[MAR. 21, 2000]
Catholic World News Service




TEL AVIV ( -- As he arrived in Tel Aviv to begin his historic
visit to Israel, Pope John Paul II said to his hosts: "We must struggle always
and everywhere to present the true face of Jews and Judaism, of Christians
and Christianity, at every level of understanding, teaching, and

The Holy Father arrived at the Tel Aviv airport in the afternoon on March
21, after a half-hour flight from Jordan. In an airport ceremony held in a
light rain, the Pontiff was welcomed by Israel's President Ezer Weizman and
Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

In his remarks, the Pope summarized the purposes of his visit to the Holy
Land. "My dear Israeli brothers," he said, "it is with profound emotion that I
touch the soil of the land were God chose to 'place his tent,' thus allowing
man to meet him in the most direct manner." Emphasizing his strong desire
to visit the Holy Land during the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ,
the Pope stressed that this visit was a "personal pilgrimage" that would take
"the Bishop of Rome to the origins of our faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob."

The Pontiff complemented the Israeli head of state, Weizman, as a "builder
of peace." And he added that the world "is following the peace process with
great interest," recognizing the "difficult search for a durable peace, with
justice for all."

The Pope also took note of the progress in relations between the Catholic
Church and the Jewish people. Since the last trip of a Roman Pontiff to the
Holy Land-- the visit by Pope Paul VI in 1968-- formal diplomatic relations
have been established between the Holy See and Israel, he observed. He
suggested that the two religious groups should now redouble their
"courageous efforts to suppress all forms of prejudice." In calling for mutual
respect, the Pope used the same words he had used in a visit to the
synagogue in Rome on April 13, 1986.

Finally the Pope said that his own "personal pilgrimage" could be seen as
"homage to the three religious traditions that coexist on this land." He prayed
that "my visit will contribute to the growth of inter-religious dialogue"
which in turn could help to furnish "the motivation and perseverance to
work for that peace and that justice that all the peoples of the Holy Land do
not yet have, but to which they all fervently aspire."

Along with the Israeli government officials who met his plane, the Holy
Father was welcomed to Israel by Catholic bishops of the Holy Land. Notable
among them was the Melkite Archbishop Boutros Mouallem of Akka-- a see
that includes Haifa, Nazareth, and all of Galilee. The appointment of
Archbishop Mouallem in 1998 prompted a negative reaction from then-
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was rebuffed by the
Vatican when he lobbied heavily in favor of another candidate. Archbishop
Mouallem was elected to his current post by the Synod of the Melkite
Catholic Church, which accounts for the largest number of the Catholics in



TEL AVIV ( -- Speaking in Hebrew, Israeli President Ezer
Weizman welcomed Pope John Paul II to his country on March 21, as
darkness gathered over Israel and a soft rain fell on the Tel Aviv airport.
The Israeli head of state observed that Israel is "the spiritual center of the
Jewish people," and said that in the Jewish state there is "peace and serenity"
among the believers of all faiths. He added: "It is important that the sons and
daughters of the Church understand the reality of modern Israel."

Weizman spoke of the "terrible Shoah" which had wiped out "one-third of
the Jewish people," and of the "religious persecutions and anti-Semitism"
which the Hebrew people had suffered in exile. He praised Pope John Paul
for "your contribution to the condemnation of anti-Semitism as a sin against
heaven and against humanity." And he added his praise for "your plea for
pardon for the past actions committed against the Jews by members of the
The Israeli president said that the peace process in the Middle East is
"encouraging and impressive," and said that "we hope for peace, we dream of
peace, we pray for peace."

However, Weizman gave a subtle indication that Israel would not accept one
Vatican suggestion regarding the peace process: the creation of an
international status for the city of Jerusalem. While acknowledging that
Jerusalem is "a sacred place for Christianity and Islam," Weizman insisted
that it would always be "the heart of the people of Israel" and "the capital of
the State of Israel."

After the airport greeting ceremony-- at which he met personally with
leaders of the Israeli government, the local Catholic hierarchy, the rabbis of
Jerusalem, and the Muslim leaders of the region-- Pope John Paul boarded a
helicopter for the trip to Jerusalem, where he would spend the night at the
apostolic delegation.



JERUSALEM ( -- As the Pope arrived in Jerusalem on the
evening of March 21, the Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah said that "John
Paul II has a prophetic voice, and political leaders should listen to him."

Patriarch Sabbah, who is an Arab himself, made a particularly forceful
statement on the status of Jerusalem-- a bone of contention between Israel
and the Holy See. He remarked that "religious freedom is not adequate" in the
city. The Patriarch argued that "everyone, Israeli or Palestinian, should have
the same rights; no one should have the impression that he is not welcome
in Jerusalem."

The Patriarch continued by observing that while Pope John Paul does not
speak in political terms, he carries "a message of turth and of justice" that
should guide politicians.



AMMAN, Jordan ( -- Pope John Paul II celebrated a Mass in
Amman, Jordan, on March 21, in a downtown athletic stadium.

During the celebration-- which honored St. John the Baptist, the patron saint
of Jordan-- the Pope presided at the First Communion of 2,000 children. In
total, about 35,000 people attended the Mass.

When the Pope first arrived in the stadium, riding in his Popemobile, there
was an enthusiastic welcome, and as he rode in a circuit around the facility,
dozens of young people ran after the car-- with security officials allowing
unusual freedom to the crowd.

As the liturgical celebration began, the Pontiff blessed water taken from the
Jordan River, and sprinkled the crowd with it, in a recollection of the
baptisms performed by St. John in the Jordan as he prepared the people for
the coming of Christ.

In his homily, delivered in English, the Holy Father spoke of the Biblical
importance of the land now known as Jordan. He pointed out that the city of
Amman, identified in the Old Testament as Rabba, was the spot where King
David lived when he took Bathsheba as his wife, and caused the death of her
husband Ur the Hittite. Then the Pontiff went on to point out that God had
mercy on King David despite his sin, and continued to recall how many
prophets had testified to the faithlessness of God's people-- up to and
including St. John the Baptist, "the voice crying out in the wilderness." The
Pope closed this line of thought with the observation that Jesus himself
preached in Jordan.
Next the Pope spoke of the conclusions reached by the synod of bishops for
the Holy Land, and reminded the Catholics of that region that "your future
lies in unity and solidarity." While recognizing the roles of the Catholic
patriarchs who were present for the ceremony-- each heading a major
Catholic body in the region-- John Paul stresses that the local Catholic groups
should work closely together, accentuating "the lines of friendship and
collaboration among the Catholic communities in all their rich variety."

At the conclusion of the Mass-- marked by the performance of the Alleluia
Chorus from Handel's Messiah, with the singers accompanied by a large
orchestra--  the Pope headed for the offices of the Latin-rite vicariate in
Amman. There he met with the patriarchs and bishops of the Catholic Church
in the Holy See. Most of those prelates would accompany him as he
continued his trip to Israel. But one, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Stephanos
II Ghattas, returned to his residence in Cairo immediately after the meeting,
explaining that "it would be delicate for me to go to Israel." The Coptic
prelate observed that in any case, there are very few Catholic Copts in Israel.



AMMAN, Jordan ( -- On March 21, Pope John Paul wrapped up
his visit to Jordan with an afternoon trip to Wadi al-Kharrar, the site on the
Jordan River where it is said that Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist.

In 1997, archeologists reached the conclusion that Wadi al-Kharrar-- which
is located well below sea level, not far from the Dead Sea-- could be the site
of Jesus' baptism. The archeologists, teaming with Franciscans from the
Studium Biblicum on Mount Nebo, discovered the remains of churches on the
site, including a 4th-century Byzantine monastery and some caves of the sort
that were occupied by hermits. An ambitious restoration project was quickly
undertaken to open the site for visitors in time for the Jubilee.

Although Pope John Paul only remained at Wadi al-Kharrar for about 30
minutes during his afternoon stop, the visit was seen as very important to
Jordanian planners, who has predicted that 50,000 people would be on hand
to greet him. (That figure may have been too optimistic, and the heavy
winds that swept off the Jordan made the place uncomfortable for some
visitors.) The Holy Father presided at a short ceremony which included the
reading from the Gospel about the baptism of Christ, and a special prayer
composed for the occasion.

The Pope's visit did not settle a dispute between proponents of two different
sites which lay claim to being the spot of Christ's baptism. On March 22 the
Pontiff will visit the other site, on the opposite side of the Jordan, which has
laid claim to that title since the 4th century. Pope John Paul showed no
interest in injecting himself into the archeological dispute. Instead, he
remarked that while "the two banks of the rivers are visited by groups of
pilgrims," nevertheless "they all give honor to the baptism of our Lord."



JERUSALEM ( -- A spokesman for Pope John Paul II voiced his
confidence that the papal trip to Israel will be successful, despite protests by
a Jewish extremist group.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican's press spokesman, downplayed the acts
of vandalism in which the Jewish nationalist group Kach had spray-painted
the landing pad where the Pope's helicopter will arrive in Jerusalem.
Navarro-Valls pointed out that Kach represents a small minority, adding: "All
the voices in Israel should be respect, but not all voices are equally

In fact, the Vatican spokesman continued, the papal banners flying along the
streets of Jerusalem bear testimony to the fact that most Israelis are eager to
welcome the Pontiff. He said that recent polls had shown 70 percent support
for the papal pilgrimage, and revealed that many Israeli groups had
responded to the news of the vandalism by sending faxed statements of

Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, for example, issued a public
statement urging "Christians and Europeans" not to be misled by "the
protests or criticisms against the Pope expressed by the ultra-orthodox
Jewish community."



JERUSALEM ( -- As they await a visit from Pope John Paul II
on Wednesday, March 22, the Palestinian residents of the Dheisheh refugee
camp are buzzing with anticipation.

"I can't even begin to describe the atmosphere in Dheisheh," one resident
told reporters. "It is so exciting to be here--so exciting." The camp's library
has been temporarily transformed into an "operations room," and is filled
with residents making up signs and pictures to help give the Pope-- and the
world-- an idea of the history behind the camp. The Dheisheh camp is now
home to the residents of 43 towns that were destroyed during the fighting
that led up to the creation of the State of Israel.
 Residents report that the UN officials who supervise the refugee camp are
cleaning up the area in preparation for the papal visit. "We wish we had an
important visitor every day," one resident said.



AMMAN, Jordan (FIDES/ -- Although he was unable to make
the pilgrimage he had hoped to make to Ur of the Chaldeans, Pope John Paul
II was finally able to touch the soil of that land, in modern-day Iraq, on
March 21.

During his stay in Amman, Jordan, the Holy Father met with two Chaldean
Catholic bishops from Iraq, who presented him with a handful of soil from
Ur, and a few brick fragments that were said to be taken from the home of

The Iraqi delegation, which traveled to Jordan especially for the
presentation, consisted of Bishops Djibrail Kassab of Bassora (the diocese in
which Ur is situated) and Emmanuel Karim Dally, an auxiliary to the
Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, Raphael I Bidawid.

The Patriarch-- who could not make the trip to Jordan, because he was in
Rome with a delegation of Chaldean Catholics celebrating their Jubilee there-
- asked the Iraqi bishops to assure the Holy Father of the affection of all
Iraqi Catholics. Patriarch Bidawid told Fides: "The bishops will offer the soil
and bricks to the Pope, reminding him that the Church in Iraq deeply desires
the Pope to visit Ur". Insisting that such a visit is still possible for some
in the future, the Patriarch recalled: "John Paul II has not renounced his
pilgrimage to Ur of the Chaldeans, and we will do our utmost to make it


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