He was never going to please everybody in his visit to the vortex of the world’s spiritual turbulence. Even so, the Pontiff’s visit to Palestine and Israel was a miraculous balance of grace and prophetic energy!
He went with a promise that his tour of the Holy Land would be of a strictly religious nature. Even so, Zionists had plenty to criticise him for:
- The Pope flew directly from Jordan to Bethlehem, thus by-passing Palestine’s Israeli gate-keepers.
- He refused to speak of Israel as a ‘state of the Jewish people‘ (despite promptings from Mr Netanyahu)
- He did refer to the ‘State of Palestine’, confirming the Vatican’s recognition of Palestinian as an independent state.
Even so, the Pope did not openly advocate the Palestinian cause but rather directed all his energies towards emphasising inclusiveness:
- He travelled everywhere with his Jewish and Muslim companions – Rabbi Abraham Skorka and and Sheikh Omar Abboud.
- he spoke of Jerusalem as the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).
- He stopped and prayed at a graffitied section of the so-called ‘Apartheid Wall’ that separates Israel and Palestine.
- He likewise stopped and prayed at the so-called ‘Wailing Wall’ in Jerusalem – inserting into the wall a prayer for peace between Christian, Muslims and Jews
The Pope’s coup de gras though came when he invited both the Palestinian and Israeli Presidents – Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres, respectively – to join him at his home in the Vatican to pray for peace between Israel and Palestine.
This was a political master-stroke as neither of the two men could respectfully decline such an offer. At the same time, who knows whether this might not give birth to a genuine peace-process, mediated over by a far more honest broker than the heavily compromised Americans!
With this bold initiative the Roman Pontiff managed to harness leaders of both countries and take them to neutral soil where they will have the opportunity to listen to the Almighty as well as each other!
Was this a piece of subtle political maneuvering or simply the prayerful offer of a pious man. In truth it was both, for prayer and politics cannot be easily separated. Both are concerned with the welfare of people, and so both are the business of the church!
It’s disappointing that Pope Francis has had to put on record that his visit to Palestine and Israel next week (in that order) is for religious purposes only – disappointing but totally understandable.
In point of fact religion and politics can never be easily separated. Politics is about people, and so you can no more separate religion and politics than you can religion and people, and there is no doubt that Francis’ visit has the potential to have an enormous impact on the political situation across the Levant.
Even so, Francis is not being dishonest. As he spells out, his primary goal is meet with his ‘brother’, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. What could be more religious than healing a one thousand year old schism in the church. Of course, renewed fellowship between the Catholic and Orthodox wings of the church will have ramifications that touch every level of society but that doesn’t make the meeting any less religious!
The same can be said of the priority Francis has given to Palestine over Israel in his itinerary (see here). Is the fact that he is going straight to Bethlehem from Jordan and not going via Jerusalem (let alone Tel Aviv) a de facto recognition of the State of Palestine on the part of the Vatican?
Certainly many will see it that way, and many Palestinians will gain new strength and hope from such recognition, but it is hard to accept that Francis is doing anything more than his religious duty in dispensing comfort and hope. 🙂
TEXT IN ENGLISH:
Rev. Stephen Sizer is a great guy.
Certainly he is a great thinker – a reflective evangelical theologian with a special expertise when it comes to refuting the errors of Christian Zionism – but he is also just a genuinely nice human being! 🙂
Our little group of peace pilgrims left Damascus early on April 15. We drove to Beirut and then flew to London via Frankfurt, arriving at around midnight with no idea of exactly where we were staying! Who took it upon himself to borrow the church mini-bus and scoot out to Heathrow in the middle of the night and then go scouring London for the location of the Catholic Worker’s house of hospitality? Stephen Sizer!
Sometimes actions speak far louder than words. In this case though we’ll let Stephen’s words do the talking. He was interviewed by George Galloway on ‘Sputnik’ on the same day John Shipton and I were (see our interview on Syria here). It was a great day. It was our first morning in London, which meant Stephen had had even less sleep than we had (having spent an hour in the car getting home after dropping us)! Even so, it was a memorable day and this was a great interview, particularly for any who might still think that unquestioning support for the State of Israel is somehow obligatory for all Christians.
Read more of Stephen’s insights on Christian Zionism on his website – www.stephensizer.com…
Post-apartheid South Africa has played a special role in the Palestinian struggle. Nelson Mandela was a personal friend of Yasser Arafat – a man who he saw as being on a parallel struggle for justice and freedom for his people. And as the church helped lead the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, so it comes as no surprise that South African church leaders have come in firmly behind the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) campaign against the Israeli government.
Defenders of Zionism are quick to ridicule any comparison between South African apartheid and the State of Israel’s policies that favour Jews over Arabs. As South African pastor, Rev. Dr. Moss Nthla, points out though, he is in a better position than most white people to judge whether the apartheid label is valid. He and other South African church leaders suggest, in fact, that the Israeli system of racial discrimination is actually worse than what they experienced under apartheid!
If you can’t view this video, click here.
It is extraordinary, as an Australian, to watch the speed at which our new government is undermining whatever respectability this country had left in the Arab world through expressions of unconditional love for the State of Israel. More extraordinary still is the fact that Mr Abbott has a competitor, determined to outdo him in his Zionism – namely, his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper.
Harper’s recent pledge to the Knesset – that his government’s support for Israel was of Biblical proportions – “through fire and water” – did not go unnoticed by the Canadian public, as seen in the telling piece of Satire published in the Canadian blog, The Beaverton, last week, entitled “Israeli Prime Minister Stephen Harper returns after long visit in Canada”.
Abbott’s Zionism seems to have attracted less attention in Oz. This may simply be because most Australians are still too transfixed by the new PM’s brutal treatment of refugees to notice any other acts of inhumanity.
The Israel-lovers club of Canada and Australia: White, Conservative and Christian
By Chemi Shalev
After hearing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s promise the Knesset this week that his government would support Israel “though fire and water,” one could excuse Israeli lawmakers for thinking that they had died and gone to hasbara heaven.
And after seeing Benjamin Netanyahu enthusiastically nodding at Harper’s assertion that singling out Israel for criticism was the same as anti-Semitism, one might easily imagine the prime minister imploring God to seriously consider “castling” the current residents of the White House in Washington and Langevin Block in Ottawa, at least for the remainder of President Barack Obama’s second term.
And coming straight on the heels of Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s even more extraordinary proclamation in Jerusalem last week on the legality of Jewish settlements in the territories, Harper’s visit to Israel took on the airs of what the Hassidim call “mashiachzeit”: this is the way the world will look after the Messiah arrives.
But even for Israelis less religiously inclined, these back-to-back expressions of uninhibited political support were welcome rays of sunshine amidst the gathering clouds and proliferating forecasts of impending torrents of condemnation, isolation and boycott. Things can’t be that bad, many Israelis told themselves, if fine, upstanding countries such as Canada and Australia were willing to unabashedly stand up against the otherwise shrill winds of Western public opinion.
Indeed, under their respective conservative governments, both Canada and Australia have gone above and beyond the traditional parameters of support for Israel, much to the dismay of its detractors among commentators and public opinion in both countries and in the Arab world at large. Harper has dramatically broken with the mildly supportive but largely detached Israeli policies of his predecessors, while Australia’s Tony Abbott has rapidly reinstated John Howard’s effusive pro-Israel policies after three years of realignment efforts carried out by the recently ousted Australian Labor Party.
Although the prim and proper Harper and the bold and brash Abbott have been described as polar opposites on a personal level, their shared love for Israel stems from nearly identical ideological roots. Both are deeply-religious social conservatives and proud nationalists who view themselves as serving on the front lines of a Western, Judeo-Christian civilization that is under threat: their support for Israel is not just a matter of political expediency, if that, but of firmly held convictions and belief.
read the rest of this article here