Catholic World News
Feature
[MAR. 27, 2000]
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* ASSESSING IMPACT OF POPE'S VISIT IN HOLY LAND

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ASSESSING IMPACT OF POPE'S VISIT IN HOLY LAND

JERUSALEM (FIDES/CWNews.com) -- What are the fruits of John Paul II's
journey to the Holy Land? The FIDES news service asked Father Frederic
Manns, an official spokesman for the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land
and the director of the Franciscan Biblical Study Center in Jerusalem.

FIDES: What is the result of this journey regarding the Jewish world?

FATHER MANNS: We must make a distinction: among the people of Israel.
There are Orthodox Jews who refused to have anything to do with the Pope,
whereas the intellectuals and political leaders, mostly secular, are very
happy with the visit. The happiest of all would appear to be (Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud) Barak. For him it was a triumph and it re-launched relations
between the Vatican and Israel. In a way he inherited this from (former
Prime Minister) Rabin. Yitzhak Rabin was the first to open to the Vatican.
Behind the success of Barak lies the sacrifice of Rabin. This is also the
beginning of a new era in relations between Judaism and Christianity in
general.

Then there are the masses. Up to now, not much was known about
Christianity. We must hope that there will be a new era for them, too. Now
even Israel is saying that history books must be revised.

Hitherto the facts of the Church or connected with Christianity were
misinterpreted or eliminated. For example: regarding the discovery of
America by Colombus, in school books no mention is made of the cross
planted by the navigator from Genoa; it has been purposely left out in all
text books. Now a more objective presentation of Christianity must be given
to Jews.

The press and television gave unprecedented coverage to the visit itself,
with programs on the Catholic Church and the Vatican, sparking interest
even among the wider public.

FIDES: And the fruits for the Muslims and Palestinians?

MANNS: It was a triumph for (Palestinian President Yasser) Arafat. He was
able to be near the Holy Father for a whole day. He reinforced his position as
a national authority. The emphasis given to homeland is important because it
indicates that the Palestinians have a right to travel the same path as Israel.
Of course for the Palestinians there remains the problem of poverty and the
economy.

Among the Muslims there was also an attempt at political manipulation.
Muslims fear the drawing near of Jews and Christians. I am afraid that, after
the Pope's departure, this will create tensions. Some extremist Muslims in
Nazareth said that after the papal visit-- and not in 2001, as they had agreed
with the government-- they will start building the mosque under the pretext
that the Christians have betrayed the Palestinians. [The reference is to plans
by a group of Muslim activists to build a mosque in Nazareth, immediately
adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation.]

FIDES: And for the Christians?

MANNS: Christians here, thanks to the visit and also to the local synod which
just ended, are beginning to have a clearer picture of their identity,w hich
distinguishes them from Jews and Muslims. The Palestinian Church finds it
difficult here to accept Judaism. Rejection of the state of Israel for decades
led also to a side-stepping of the Christian faith's Jewish roots.

There is also an economic factor. There are many rich Christians in the
Palestinian zones, but they prefer to emigrate, to take another citizenship,
rather then to invest creatively in this area. The Pope, calling for a
rediscovery of our being children of God, also asked for commitment to
affirm human dignity. Christians must work to improve their conditions and
also to recognize this dignity to Jews and Muslims. They can truly be bridges
of reconciliation. For example: Christians here reject the Bible, or better the
Old Testament, because they say it is "Israel's Book." In this way they
interpret the Bible in a political manner and so doing, justify Israel's political
way of reading it. The Pope, with this pilgrimage, called for a new discovery
of the spiritual message of the Bible, the promises to Abraham and the
fulfillment of these promises in Jesus Christ. I hope that the Church in
Jerusalem in the future will produce great Biblical experts. It is much easier
for them to learn Hebrew and to penetrate the Jewish mentality than for any
Western scholar.

FIDES: The Pope came as a pilgrim to the Holy Land_

MANNS: The Pope, in the context of the Jubilee, called everyone to make a
pilgrimage, first of all spiritual. Jews make a pilgrimage three times a year:
at Easter (Passover), at Pentecost (Shabuoth) and at Succot. Three times a
year Jewish males must stand before God. We Christians must also
rediscover Christianity as a pilgrimage. Faith is a daily drama not the
acquisition of a set of rules once and for all. The Pope wants all of us to make
this journey and rediscover the roots of the Bible, not from a point of view of
study or exegesis, but from a spiritual point of view as he did in these six
days.