Monday, May 11, 2009

"His Mercies Are Not Spent"

The line from Lamentations was the Pope's inscription (above) in the Book of Remembrance at Yad Vashem...

...yet in an underscore of the tensions simmering under the Israeli leg of B16's Holy Land pilgrimage, some of the Holocaust survivors who met the pontiff earlier today spoke of mixed emotions going into the encounter.

...and despite judging it a "positive day" overall, the chairman of the Jerusalem memorial subsequently voiced "disappointment" with the pontiff's address there, terming aspects of it a "missed opportunity":
"A few points were missing in the pope's address," said [Rabbi Israel Meir] Lau. "There was no mention of the Germans, or Nazis, who carried out the massacre. There was not a word of sharing the grief or of compassion or pain for the six million victims."

"Instead of the word 'murdered,' as the previous pope John Paul II used," Lau continued, Benedict XVI used the word 'killed.' There is a very clear difference between the two verbs," the former chief rabbi stressed.

"He never said six million," Lau emphasized....

Alongside his disappointment, Lau noted some positive aspects to the address.

"The speech was important since in it the pope stressed the prohibition to deny the Holocaust, to diminish from it, or forget it. These three 'do nots' are very important, especially in an atmosphere of Holocaust denial," said Lau.

But while the previous pope in his Yad Vashem address nine years ago moved listeners with his personal expression of grief, Benedict XVI expressed not his, but the Catholic Church's "deep compassion" for the victims.

"I personally missed hearing a tone of sharing the grief. I missed hearing 'I'm sorry, I apologize,'" said Lau.
And on the flip-side, the subsequent meeting with interreligious leaders of all stripes took an unexpected turn when Palestine's chief Islamic judge crashed the microphone, arousing both applause and "discomfort" from the gathered with a heated attack on Israel:
Referring to Palestinian Muslims and Christians, Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi said: "We struggle together and suffer together from the oppression of the Israeli occupation.

"We look forward together to liberation and independence and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state."

The incident further marred the start of the German-born pope's five-day tour of Israel and the Palestinian territories....

In uncompromising language, [Taimmi] welcomed the pope to "Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Palestine" -- a direct riposte to Israeli claims to the same city -- and enumerated many of the complaints Palestinians have against Israel.

He said Israel had "desecrated" the Old City's holy sites since capturing it from Jordanian forces in the 1967 Middle East war and was defying international law by demolishing homes, seizing land, building Jewish settlements and erecting a series of walls and fences that had turned the city into "a prison".

Tamimi won a round of applause from some of the assembled clerics for comments referring to Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip in January in which 1,400 Palestinians died.

Addressing the pope at the end of a six-minute address, he said: "Your Holiness, I call on you in the name of the one God, to condemn these crimes and press the Israeli government to halt its aggression against the Palestinian people."

Tamimi shook the pope's hand as he left the podium and the meeting broke up as scheduled immediately afterwards.

The director general of Israel's Chief Rabbinate, Oded Wiener, said: "Sheikh Tamimi embarrassed the pope."

He said Tamimi, a familiar and fiery figure in Palestinian public life, had pressured the Catholic organisers to be allowed to speak and that the Jewish members would no longer take part in a long-standing, three-way interfaith dialogue until the sheikh was barred from attending.

"The Chief Rabbinate will not continue it as long as Tamimi is part of the Palestinian delegation," Wiener said.
According to the wires, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Fouad Twal was unsuccessful in his attempts to stop the Muslim cleric from speaking.

After Taimmi's outburst, the "Vatican spokesman" Fr Federico Lombardi slammed the "unforeseen" talk, saying that "in a meeting dedicated to dialogue," the sheik's intervention "was a direct negation of what a dialogue should be.

"We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the pope aiming at promoting peace and also interreligious dialogue," the Jesuit added.

PHOTOS: AP(1); Reuters(2)