Pope Francis and Palestine

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Hopes are running high world-wide that the new Pope will bring sweeping changes both within the church and to the church’s relationship with other religious and political bodies. At such a critical juncture for the future of Palestine, the leaders of both Fatah and Hamas in Palestine will be keen to establish a positive relationship with the new Pontiff. 

Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, was somewhat of a failure when it came to Palestinian rights. While the Vatican was always supportive of Palestinian statehood, Pope Benedict made an unfortunate statement in 2006 about the history of Islamic violence that put a lot of Muslims offside. Moreover, being German and growing up in the Nazi era, Benedict was constantly on the back foot with regards to Israel.

Hopefully the new Pope will bring in a new era, but we must not count our chickens before they hatch. It is worth remembering that it is not the Pope but the Curia who control the church, and the Curia has not changed (not yet, at any rate).

Father Dave

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

source: www.al-monitor.com…

The New Pope and Palestine

By: Daoud Kuttab for Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse

What concerns people the most is the political direction that the leader of the world’s more than 1 billion Catholics will take on issues such as women’s rights, relations with other faiths and foreign policy.Electing the leader of the world’s Catholic faithful is always an unpredictable affair. The choice of Argentina’s cardinal, now Pope Francis, has lived up to the mystery.

Palestinians and peoples of the Middle East have been searching hard in the new pontiff’s history to try and figure out where he will stand on the issues that are of concern to them.

Two issues were prominently talked about in this regard. The Jesuit background of the new pope was quickly picked up as a sign that the new leader of the Catholic Church will pay attention to socio-economic issues and not just theological ones.

In the Middle East, Jesuits are known to have established schools of higher education and other projects supporting the poor. His coming from a non-European country (apparently the first time in a millennium) also ensures, many believe, a more internationalization of the Vatican.

The Palestinian leader who congratulated the new Pope was naturally quick to invite the Holy Father to visit the birthplace of Christianity. The congratulatory cable to the Vatican included an invitation to the pontiff to visit Bethlehem. Pope Benedict, as well as Pope John Paul, had visited the Holy Land, including an important visit to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

The Vatican has generally been supportive of Palestinian rights and the need to end the occupation of Palestine. But equally the leaders of the Catholic Church have placed tremendous efforts to improve relations with Israel and also with world Jewry.

A recent agreement between the Vatican and Israel was signed that resolved a number of issues regarding Catholic holy sites in Jerusalem and the status of priests in Jerusalem and the area. Some felt that Vatican gave too much to the Israelis, especially allowing them control over the Last Supper room.

The compromise in which the Vatican will retain a symbolic seat on the table was seen as too much of a compromise to an occupying power that took sovereignty by military control.

The Vatican’s auxiliary bishop in Jerusalem, William Shomali, a Palestinian, told the National — an English language newspaper based in Abu Dhabi — that  he hoped the new leader would continue with the church’s policy of addressing the difficulties facing Christians in the region, especially in countries such as Iraq, where many have been forced to flee because of sectarian fighting.

Bishop Shomali also expressed optimism that Pope Francis’ Argentine nationality could help breathe new life into the Israel-Palestinian peace process because, he said, Argentina “was a friend of the people of the holy land.”

But perhaps the most important issue of interest in the region is the possibility and potential of Catholic/Christian relations with Muslims. Pope Benedict caused a rift in relations with a statement in 2006 in which he quoted an anti-Muslim thinker’s statement on Islam.

The head of Islam’s leading higher educational institute, Al-Azhar, was quick to welcome the new Pope Francis and has called for change. “We are hoping for better relations with the Vatican after the election of the new pope,” said Mahmud Azab, an adviser to Ahmed al-Tayyeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar.

Arab Christians, while dwindling in numbers, are still an important influential group on Arab nationalism and intellectualism. Christians in areas such as Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine will be looking closely as to what the Catholic Church under Pope Francis will say and do in order to stem the migration epidemic and to encourage remaining Christians to stay in their countries.

Palestinian Christian leaders have been insisting that the emigration problem is turning holy sites and churches into dead rather than living stones. The need to encourage and empower this dwindling group is much bigger than their percentages in society.

Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor‘s Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. Active in media-freedom efforts in the Middle East, Kuttab is a columnist for The Jordan TimesThe Jerusalem Post and The Daily Star in Lebanon, and has co-produced a number of award-winning documentaries and children’s television programs. 

Read more: www.al-monitor.com…

 

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