Pope Benedict XVI ended his five-day visit to Israel on a positive note visiting Christian churches of other denominations and solidifying his stance on anti-Semitism after a rancorous week laden with comparisons to his predecessor and disappointment among Israelis.
In his farewell address, the pontiff emphasized the solemn occasion of visiting the Holocaust Memorial and hoped to shed some of the aspersion cast on his statements, which appeared to be rote and lacked enough remorse for the majority of the Israeli public. Local media were awash with criticism for the Pope’s statements since his first day in the country.
“I wish to put on record that I came to visit this country as a friend of the Israelis, just as I am a friend of the Palestinian people,” he said at the airport.
Addressing his speech on the Holocaust directly, Benedict said meeting Jewish survivors was a deeply moving encounter that brought back memories of those “brutally exterminated” he said, choosing the word “exterminated” rather than “killed,” a word many Jews felt wasn’t strong enough in his previous speech.
Compared with Pope John Paul II on virtually every leg of his journey, Benedict was accused of failing to follow the lead of his predecessor in expressing remorse for the Catholic Church’s historic persecution of Jews. He also omitted his own experience in the German army.
But Rabbi David Rosen, a spokesman for interfaith dialogue in Israel, has said all along that this Pope is an academic, not a diplomat.
“Benedict is shier than his predecessor and not comfortable in public relations, dealing with image,” he said. “There is a big difference in style the way they communicate and the nature of their communication.”
During this papal visit, Palestinians scored a major political boost from the Pope as he called for a Palestinian state in several speeches and sermons and expressed empathy with the suffering of the people. And as he left the country, he again noted the separation wall, something he called “one of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands.”
“Let it be universally recognized that the state of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders,” he said. “Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres absolved Benedict of his statements on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, saying they carried “substantive weight.”
In a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pope Benedict condemned anti-Semitism and hate against the State of Israel, the prime minister’s office said. Netanyahu asked the pontiff to sound his moral voice against Iran.
On his last day, Pope Benedict visited the Greek Patriarchate, the Holy Sepulchre Church, the tradition site of Jesus’ death and burial, and St. James Armenian Convent, where he praised progress in relations between Catholics and Orthodox faiths.
Archbishop Nourhan Manougian reminded the Pope that many nations have yet to recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915 in Turkey. The Pontiff did not address the sticky political situation in his speech, but the 200 Armenians gathered were nevertheless pleased for the recognition of their community as the last stop on the Pope’s tour in the Holy Land.
“The significance is that we are one of the Christian communities in the Old City and for us it is a great honor to be visited by the Pope,” said Michael Zakarian. “It is good for Armenians to be recognized especially being such a small minority”
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