In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI gave us "a mandate" to "go forth and be witnesses of God's mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world."
By David Came (May 19, 2009)
Pope Benedict XVI went to the Holy Land on May 8-15 as a pilgrim of mercy. There, he stressed the call to reconciliation, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy in pursuing the aims of inter-religious dialogue and peace in the troubled Middle East. His eight-day journey took him to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories as he walked in the footsteps of Moses, Jesus, and the Apostles.
The following is part 2 in a two-part series that highlights the Holy Father's pastoral visit through the lens of mercy (read part one):
May 14-15: Nazareth, Israel, and Jerusalem
Pope Benedict visited the Shrine of the Annunciation in Nazareth on May 14. In his address there, he marveled at the wonder of the Incarnation as a sign of God's love for us and His desire for union with us:
What happened here in Nazareth, far from the gaze of the world, was a singular act of God, a powerful intervention in history, through which a child was conceived who was to bring salvation to the whole world, The wonder of the Incarnation continues to challenge us to open our understanding to the limitless possibilities of God's transforming power, of His love for us, His desire to be united with us. Here the eternally begotten Son of God became man and so made it possible for us, His brothers and sisters, to share in His divine Sonship.
Later, in his address, Benedict again picked up the theme of unity, emphasizing how it helps build "genuine reconciliation between the different peoples who recognize Abraham as their father in faith." He also highlighted how "Mary joyfully proclaimed" God's promise of "mercy ... to Abraham and his children forever":
Your unity in faith, hope, and love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, enabling you to be effective instruments of His peace, helping to build genuine reconciliation between the different peoples who recognize Abraham as their father in faith. For, as Mary joyfully proclaimed in her Magnificat, God is ever "mindful of His mercy, the mercy promised to our forefathers, to Abraham and his children forever" (Lk 1:54-55).
At another gathering on May 14, in the auditorium of the Annunciation Shrine in Nazareth, the Pope addressed an inter-religious group that included Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Druze. He stressed the need to "promote a culture of peace" and "safeguard children from fanaticism and violence":
Galilee, a land known for its religious and ethnic diversity, is home to a people who know well the efforts required to live in harmonious coexistence. Our different religious traditions have a powerful potential to promote a culture of peace, especially through teaching and preaching the deeper spiritual values of our common humanity. By molding the hearts of the young, we mold the future of humanity itself. Christians readily join Jews, Muslims, Druze, and people of other religions in wishing to safeguard children from fanaticism and violence while preparing them to be builders of a better world.
A highlight for the Holy Father came on May 14 in Nazareth when he celebrated the largest Mass of his then weeklong pilgrimage to the Holy Land. An estimated 50,000 faithful came for Mass at the Mount of the Precipice, which tradition holds to be the site where the people of Jesus' hometown wanted to throw Him off the cliff (see Lk 4:29). Pope Benedict was there to conclude the Year of the Family launched by the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
During his homily, the Pope quoted St. Paul in speaking of the importance of "forbearance and forgiveness" in maintaining the bond of love in families:
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Colossians, speaks instinctively of the family when he wishes to illustrate the virtues which build up the "one body" which is the Church. As "God's chosen ones, holy and beloved," we are called to live in harmony and peace with one another, showing above all forbearance and forgiveness, with love as the highest bond of perfection (cf. Col 3:12-14).
The Holy Father then went on to highlight "the God-given dignity and proper role of women, as well as their particular charisms and talents." He pointed out how "mothers in families" are able to create "a milieu in which children learn to love and cherish others, to be honest and respectful of all, to practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness."
During the latter part of his homily, Pope Benedict turned to the significance of the Mount of the Precipice as a reminder of the importance of rejecting "the destructive power of hatred and prejudice":
This Mount of the Precipice reminds us, as it has generations of pilgrims, that our Lord's message was at times a source of contradiction and conflict with His hearers, Sadly, as the world knows, Nazareth has experienced tensions in recent years which have harmed relations between its Christian and Muslim communities. I urge people of good will in both communities to repair the damage that has been done, and in fidelity to our common belief in one God, the Father of the human family, to work to build bridges and find the way to peaceful coexistence. Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men's souls before it kills their bodies!
On the final and eighth day of his pilgrimage, May 15, the Holy Father visited the Armenian and Greek Orthodox patriarchal churches in Jerusalem. His goal was to build ecumenical bridges by fostering the "Gospel of our reconciliation in Christ."
At the Armenian patriarchal church of St. James, he said:
I pray that your community will constantly draw new life from its rich traditions, and be confirmed in its witness to Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection (cf. Phil 3:10) in this Holy City. ... Dear friends, I ask you in turn to pray with me that all the Christians of the Holy Land will work together with generosity and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel of our reconciliation in Christ, and the advent of His Kingdom of holiness, justice, and peace.
Significantly, he used similar words in addressing an ecumenical gathering at the Greek Orthodox patriarchate:
Extending His arms on the Cross, Jesus revealed the fullness of His desire to draw all people to Himself, uniting them together as one (cf. Jn 12:32). Breathing His Spirit upon us, He revealed His power to enable us to participate in his mission of reconciliation (cf. Jn 19:30; 30:22-23). In that breath, through the redemption that unites, stands our mission! Little wonder, then, that it is precisely in our burning desire to bring Christ to others, to make known His message of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor 5:19), that we experience the shame of our division.
A particularly poignant moment for Pope Benedict came on May 15 when he visited the Holy Sepulcher, the empty tomb of Christ, in Jerusalem. As he emphasized in his address at the tomb, he came following in the footsteps of the Apostle Peter:
Saint John's Gospel has left us an evocative account of the visit of Peter and the Beloved Disciple to the empty tomb on Easter morning. Today, at a distance of some twenty centuries, Peter's Successor, the Bishop of Rome, stands before that same empty tomb and contemplates the mystery of the Resurrection. Following in the footsteps of the Apostle, I wish to proclaim anew, to the men and women of our time, the Church's firm faith that Jesus Christ "was crucified, died, and was buried," and that "on the third day He rose from the dead." Exalted at the right hand of the Father, He has sent us His Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.
Later, in his address, as the Holy Father concluded his pilgrimage to the holy places of our redemption, he underscored the Risen Christ as "our peace," who reconciles us to God. Thus, only Jesus can bring lasting peace to the "strife-torn" Holy Land. We can entrust our future, the future of the Holy Land, into His hands:
As Christians, we know that the peace for which this strife-torn land yearns has a name: Jesus Christ. "He is our peace," who reconciled us to God in one body through the Cross, bringing an end to hostility (cf. Eph 2:14). Into His hands, then, let us entrust all our hope for the future, just as in the hour of darkness He entrusted His spirit into the Father's hands.
Finally, in his farewell address on May 15 at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, this Pope of mercy and reconciliation — Benedict XVI — gives us these emphatic words that sum up his hope for "genuine reconciliation and healing" in the Holy Land. He is addressing President Shimon Peres of Israel:
Mr. President, I thank you for the warmth of your hospitality, which is greatly appreciated, and 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. Friends enjoy spending time in one another's company, and they find it deeply distressing to see one another suffer. No friend of the Israelis and the Palestinians can fail to be saddened by the continuing tension between your two peoples. No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades. Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice. Let there be genuine reconciliation and healing. Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally recognized borders. Let is be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream. And let peace spread outwards from these lands. Let them serve as a "light to the nations" (Is 42:6), bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict.
Let's pray that both the Israelis and Palestinians heed our Holy Father's powerful words. If they do, the Holy Land could truly be transformed into a "light to the nations" — a shining example to the world of peace and reconciliation.
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. His new book is Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate.