March 26, 2001
volume 12, no. 85

Keeping the Spirit of the Jubilee Alive

One Year Ago Today:

Two Key Events for Promotion of Inter-Religious Dialogue

    JERUSALEM, MAR 26 ( "Peace" was the first word John Paul II spoke when he arrived in Amman, Jordan, on March 20, and this was the clear message he gave on the last day of his stay in Jerusalem.

Meeting with Grand Mufti

    The Pope's public appointments began with a courtesy visit to the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Akram Sabri, in Mosque Square, a plaza where the worship of Christians, Jews and Muslims comes together, as it is linked to Abraham and Isaac, the Jerusalem Temple, and Christ's prophecy of its destruction. For Muslims, this is the third most sacred place, after Mecca and Medina. There are two imposing mosques in this area: Al-Aqsa and Omar, the old church of the Knights Templar, housing the rock from which, according to Islamic tradition, Mohammed went up to Heaven.

    The meeting was preceded by last week's controversial statements by the Grand Mufti, who did not attend the assembly of religious leaders with the Pope on Thursday, because he did not want to shake hands with Israel's Chief Rabbi. The Muslim leader also criticized the Holy Father for asking the Jewish people for forgiveness when he visited the Memorial to the Holocaust. According to the Mufti, by exaggerating the proportions of the Shoah, "the Jewish people has found a formidable way to muster the solidarity of the world."

    During the meeting with the Mufti, a Palestinian leader referred to the sufferings of his people. John Paul II confirmed Jerusalem's sacred character, common patrimony of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and of the whole of humanity. He referred to Psalm 122, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!"

At the "Wailing Wall"

    The second stage of the Pope's last day in Jerusalem was his visit to the "Wailing Wall," built by Herod to enclose the Temple's courtyard. It is the Jewish sacred place par excellence; here they pray and weep in memory of the ancient splendor of Jerusalem and the Temple, once the center of all Jewish life, definitively destroyed by the Romans. They place small votive messages in the crevices of the slabs of stone.

    John Paul II also came to place his bit of paper. It was the prayer he read in Rome on March 12 praying for forgiveness for the sufferings caused to Jews by the Church's children. This petition for forgiveness is also a commitment to genuine fraternity with the people of the Covenant. It was a very emotional moment: the Pontiff walked up to the Wall alone and prayed there for a few moments before placing the piece of paper in one of the crevices. He then placed his right hand on the Wall, before blessing himself.

    These were two symbolic moments of that peace that the Pope came to foster with his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and that this very day was passing through a decisive phase with the meeting between U.S. President Bill Clinton, and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.

    Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls disclosed that the Vatican has appealed to the Israeli authorities to re-examine the question of the Nazareth mosque. An Islamic fundamentalist group plans to construct a mosque in the Square of the Basilica of the Annunciation, one of the places most visited by Christian pilgrims. The Israeli government has supported this plan, in spite of the fact that the Islamic fundamentalists invaded the land by force and, on several occasions, attacked Christians after important Masses. According to the Vatican, the mosque does not respond to a felt need of the Islamic community, which has other mosques in the area, but, rather, is a provocation (local Catholics describe it as a threat) against Christian pilgrims. ZE00032606

Holy Father Moved When Celebrating Mass in Place of Jesus' Tomb

    JERUSALEM, MAR 26 ( John Paul II finished his pilgrimage to the Holy Land with his visit to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, built in the place where, according to tradition, Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead. For 2000 years this place has given witness to the event that gives the reason for being a Christian and which the Pontiff wished to venerate, first with a profound prayer by the Lord' empty tomb, and then with the celebration of the Eucharist.

    John Paul II entered the Basilica accompanied by the 3 Patriarchs and the leaders of other Christian Churches. The procession was led by macebearers who announced their entrance by loud thumping on the ground. The friars' singing and the pealing bells added to the solemnity of the occasion.

    In the atrium, at the foot of Golgotha where Jesus was crucified, the Pope knelt to kiss the Rock of the Anointing. Overwhelmed, he then knelt before the sarcophagus of the Holy Sepulcher, kissed the stone and stayed for a long moment in prayer, contemplating the central mystery of the Christian faith. "For almost 2000 years the empty tomb has borne witness to the victory of Life over death. The tomb is empty. It is a silent witness to the central event of human history," the Holy Father said.

    From this Church, which St. John Damascene called the Mother of all Churches, the Pontiff recalled that Jesus' resurrection is the definitive seal of all God's promises and the place of birth of a new and resurrected humanity. "At the dawn of the new millennium, Christians can and must look to the future with steadfast trust in the glorious power of the Risen One to make all things new. He is the One who frees all creation from its bondage to futility. By his Resurrection he opens the way to the great Sabbath rest, the Eighth day, when mankind 's pilgrimage will come to its end and God will be all in all."

    From the Holy Sepulcher, John Paul II repeated those words of Jesus that have become his motto, "Do not be afraid, I have overcome the world!" and he invited all Christians to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. "Jesus Christ is risen! he is truly risen!"

    At the end of the celebration, the hour of the Angelus, John Paul II joined Mary, Jesus' Mother, at the foot of the cross, to weep with her for the sorrow of Jerusalem and the sins of the world, thus renewing his prayer for forgiveness: "Realizing the terrible consequences of sin, we are moved to repentance for our own sins and for the sins of the Church's children in every age." ZE00032607

Proposal Made to Israel's Parliament

    TEL AVIV, MAR 26 ( Among the Jews who have closely followed John Paul II's visit to Israel is Eliahu Wajcer, an engineer from Beer Sheba in Negev, and a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, who in a letter written a few days ago (enclosing photocopies of an old magazine) requested Avraham Burg, president of the Israeli Parliament to proclaim Karol Wojtyla "Just Among the Nations," the highest recognition given by Israel to those who did everything possible to rescue Jews from extermination.

    In his letter, Wajcer wrote that "John Paul II has done more than anyone to reconcile the Church with the Jewish people." He adds, "To offer the recognition of 'Just' would enable the opening of a new page in the history between Jews and Christians."

    Up to this time, neither the president of the Parliament nor the Yad Va-Shem Memorial to the Holocaust have commented on the initiative. The proclamation of "Just" requires thorough historical research, direct testimony, and months of work, much like the Church's canonization process.

    Wajcer, who was a fellow-inmate with writer Elie Wiesel and of Israel Meir Lau, the current Grand Rabbi of the Ashkenazim of Israel, at Buchenwald concentration camp, continues to be interested in Polish culture. Therefore, he often goes to the library to page through magazines of contemporary history, among which is "Zank," a publication produced in Warsaw.

    "In the May-June, 1988, issue, writer Stanislav Krajewski described in detail a story about Karol Wojtyla," Wajcer explained. This is information that is not new, but that is not widely known in Israel.

    Wajcer takes up the case of a Krakow Jewish couple who in 1942, feeling endangered by the anti-Semitic persecutions, entrusted their 2-year old child to Catholic friends. At the end of the war, it was proved that the child's natural parents had died. Meanwhile, the Catholic friends had become very attached to the child and wished to baptize him. They asked the advice of Fr. Karol Wojtyla who counseled them, to their surprise, that if the natural parents wanted their son raised in the Jewish faith, that is what should happen.

    The couple made all kinds of difficult research to find other relatives of the child. Finally, they located relatives in the United States who agreed to receive him. "That child became an orthodox Jew," Wajcer said. According to the engineer, this gesture of Wojtyla's surprised Polish Rabbi Israel Spira, known as "the just of Lubishev." "God has mysterious ways to reveal his will," Rabbi Spira explained to his students in commenting on Wojtyla's example. "To save a soul in Israel is tantamount to saving the whole world. This priest is worthy of becoming a Pope."

    What the future Pope told the family who wanted to baptize the Jewish child was really nothing new. It is what the Catholic Church has taught throughout history, although it has not always been applied by the Church's children. At the Council of Toledo it was affirmed that until a Jewish child reached the use of reason, he could not be baptized against his parents' will, even if they had died. This teaching was set forth systematically by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae, Part III, Question 68, Article 10. ZE00032608

Statements by Israeli Prime Minister Barak and Palestinian Authority

    RAMALA, MAR 26 ( After the past week, negotiations for peace in the Middle East can count on a new point of consensus: the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority agree that the Pope's visit to the Holy Land was "historic" and it has given decisive impulse to the peace process.

Position of Israeli Government

    On Friday afternoon, John Paul II met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who stated that the Pope's visit to Israel has "immense historical importance." "It is the greatest step taken for the reconciliation between Jews and Muslims," he said.

    The meeting, which lasted just over a quarter of an hour, took place by the Sea of Galilee, near the Church of the Beatitudes. At the end, Barak said that during his meeting with John Paul II, they exchanged impressions on some humanitarian aspects of the ongoing peace process between Israel and Palestinians and Syrians.

    "The Pope brought a very uplifting message of peace, tolerance and compassion, not only among human beings, but also among nations," Barak said. The Israeli Prime Minister and the Pope had met the previous day during a very moving ceremony in Yad Vashem Memorial to the Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

    The speed of the meeting was due, in part, to the imminent beginning of Sabbath, the day of obligatory rest imposed by Jewish tradition, which begins at sunset on Friday. On this day, the Israeli government does not take part in any official ceremonies, Barak explained to the Holy Father.

Palestinian Position

    During a meeting on the night of March 24-25, the Board of Directors of the Palestinian Authority stated that John Paul II's pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Palestinian territories was an "historic visit."

    "We very much appreciate the Pope's historical visit and the positions he expressed in Bethlehem and in the Dheicheh [refugee] camp," the Palestine Board said, in a statement published after the meeting.

    This organization, which governs the autonomous Palestinian territories, pointed out that the Pope "supported the just cause and rights of the Palestinian people at the international level."

    In addition, it is grateful for his "support of the refugees and for stressing the need to implement international resolutions relating to the Palestinian people."

    On March 22, John Paul II visited Bethlehem, the city of Christ's birth, and the Dheicheh refugee camp near that city. In Bethlehem the Holy Father said that the Holy See has always "recognized the Palestinian people's natural right to a homeland." ZE00032601

March 26, 2001
volume 12, no. 85
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