Thursday, May 07, 2009

"As a Pilgrim of Peace"

At 9.30am Rome time (3.30am Eastern) tomorrow, the Pope embarks on what "may well be the single most important week of his entire papacy": a week of pilgrimage (schedule) in "the places made holy by the life of Jesus" -- Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, and Israel.

With Benedict XVI slated to speak in English throughout, full webstreams will be available from EWTN, the Vatican's own CTV and Canada's Salt + Light TV, while Boston's CatholicTV will be running daily wrap-ups nightly at 8pm ET (0000GMT). What's more, with the PopeTrip's liturgies scheduled to begin Friday afternoon, the Visit Missal containing all the journey's rites is already posted.

Fulltexts and all else as it happens. In the meantime, however, three takes from the especially wide orbit keeping an eye on the week's events -- well, not including the security force of some 80,000.

First, CNS' John Thavis has the birds-eye Vatican view....

...while the trip's host-hierarch -- the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Fouad Twal (a B16 appointee and former Vatican diplomat) -- highlighted his place as being "one of the most worried people in the Middle East":
"The thing that worries me most is the speech that the pope will deliver here. One word for the Muslims and I'm in trouble; one word for the Jews and I'm in trouble. At the end of the visit the pope goes back to Rome and I stay here with the consequences."

In advance of the visit, in advance of the speech that will be delivered here, the local patriarchate sent the Vatican a document enumerating the bleak situation from its perspective with warnings of possible complications. All that remains for Twal is to pray that the words are heeded.

Twal's frank admission embodies all the difficulty of the position he holds. Even at the best of times, it is complicated for the important but shrinking Roman Catholic Church to navigate in this quarrelsome region between Jews and Muslims; it is immeasurably more difficult to do this in advance of the visit by Pope Benedict, from which all sides expect to benefit, when the visit is taking place such a short time after the bloody war in Gaza.

"The tension that the this war has left behind is making the necessary organization and coordination between the Israelis and the Palestinians even more difficult," said Twal, "but it is also making things difficult for me personally. During the war, the faithful wondered what the patriarchate was doing for them, and there was nothing I could do to stop the death machine. I was helpless and I felt humiliated. This is a feeling that I experience here often. Even the Vatican could do very little. It, after all, has to be cautious and to maintain balance."

Indeed, not everyone in the Arab community agreed with Twal, who has the authority to approve the date of the pope's visit, and chose a time just four months after Operation Cast Lead. The patriarch deliberated the matter, but eventually decided that now, of all times, his flock needed spiritual guidance and encouragement, and Benedict should come and pray with them.

Church officials said that even so, critical voices were few and far between.

If not now, when?

In advance of the visit, Twal has a list of expectations and wishes that have to do with agreements between Israel and the Vatican that have not been concluded. Most of them have to do with tax breaks, the issuing of visas to clergy and greater freedom of movement for them, issues which has been under discussion since the upgrading of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican in 1993.

The implementation of these agreements, as well as the final formulation of the church's material assets here, could make the life of the Christian community in Israel easier. Twal expected that these things would have been resolved as a goodwill gesture in advance of the visit. Since this has not happened, he expects that this will perhaps be the outcome of the visit.

To put it differently, Twal is wondering if agreements aren't finalized in honor of the pope's visit, when exactly will the right time will roll around?

Nevertheless, it appears that at this stage the main thrust of Twal's prayer is that the visit goes peacefully.
Barely ten months in the patriarch's seat, Twal heads the 80,000-member local church encompassing Israel, Palestine and his native Jordan, where the Pope lands tomorrow afternoon.

And lastly, for all the religious, diplomatic and political tensions surrounding the coming days, the coordinator of one papal meal's agonizing over how it'll all pan out:
Said Sawalha said the Vatican chose a light meal of beef medallions, vegetables and pineapple cake, a menu designed to keep the 81-year-old Benedict XVI's energy up on his Holy Land tour starting later this week in Jordan.

"I have been having anxieties that anything could go wrong," said Sawalha, owner of the Regency Hotel in Amman. "I mapped out plan Bs to everything, from having the pineapple cake fall to a flat tire as we transport the food to the banquet hall."

Jordan's King Abdullah II was not invited to the May 10 lunch, in keeping with the pope's normal practice of not dining with political leaders. Last year, the White House threw a birthday lunch for the pope while he was in Washington during his U.S. pilgrimage. The pope did not attend, even though most U.S. cardinals did.

But Benedict accepted an invitation from Sawalha, who hosted the late Pope John Paul II during his pilgrimage to Jordan nine years ago.

The Vatican labeled the meal as a "private lunch" with 320 bishops and patriarchs to be held at the Latin Vicariate in Amman following a public mass during the pope's tour Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories starting May 8. Benedict XVI said he hopes his trip will promote peace and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians.

He said he has worked for the last five weeks, consulting with top chefs in Jordan and abroad, to set a menu for the Pope's lunch.

A pineapple cake decorated with yellow and white cream, resembling the Vatican emblem, will be served for desert.
PHOTOS: AP(1); Getty(2)