Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land - 06/03/2000 info: email@example.com
Jerusalem is a symbolic city. She is the capital of three monotheistic religions. Christianity was born there when the church was founded at the Cenacle.
A great deal has been written describing the socio-political situation of the past and the present in order to open future perspectives. We shall not dwell on those aspects.
To the list of famous pilgrims of the city, the name of Pope John Paul II will be added. His visit is going to be a pastoral one and not a political one. The church distinguishes clearly between religion and politics what Islam and Judaism not always do.
Why is there a pastoral visit to Israel where Christians are a small minority? It is true that Christians of Arab and Jewish origin are indeed a small minority in Israel, but like other churches the Catholic community together with their pastors has just finished their synod. The Holy Father ordinarly visits the Churches after they conduct a synod which is a form of self-evaluation. The visit is a way of encouraging these Churches and of orientating their efforts of evangelization. Even more so because the Holy Land is attracting countless number of Christians all over the world in the Great Jubilee Year. A pastoral visit by the Holy Father is most appropriate.
Historians of religion will have to explain the following paradox. It is in the geographical area where Christianity was born that it disappeared almost completely. How is this phenomenon to be explained? The fact is that Islam, the second religion of the world has substituted it.
The influence of a religion in the world cannot be measured by the number of its followers. Judaism, out of which Christianity came, about represents about 14 million people in the world, but its influence spreads well beyond the limits of the State of Israel. The Pope likes to call the Jews older brothers. His encounter with the great Rabbis at the Rabbinate, will be a highlight of his visit to the holy city.
The spiritual quest of humanity is visible today more than in the past. It is common to repeat what Malraux said, "The 21st century will be either religious or will cease to be". Humanity is looking for meaning in life while the old world disappears. The great religions today are relatively open to an ecumenical project looking for an answer to the quest of meaning. Values of honesty, justice and solidarity which one may find in the ten "words" of Sinai are necessary for every society to survive. Corruption, injustice, scandalous inequalities, immorality and the lack of respect for life orient humanity towards a culture of death. Our societies need a return to religious values. Many social and political problems find their expression today on the basis of religious and ethical ways.
While different fundamentalist attitudes gain momentum (e.g., fundamentalists of Islamic, Hindu and ultra-orthodox Jewish origin) it is important to come back to real values. Fundamentalism is generally accompanied by political activism and ambition for power.
Economic globalization is experienced by many people as a real threat to human values. Instead of facing the reality of the situation some young people are becoming afraid and are being enslaved by drugs, alcohol and superstitious practices. Others turn to religious sects seeking fellowship, warmth and security as a substitute for family and community life. More than 20,000 sorcerers and astrologists are not sufficient in France alone to cater to the needs of four million regular clients. Esoterism is in full expansion. One half of the French population are consulting their horoscope regularly.
It is against this background of disarray and confusion that the visit of Pope John Paul II takes place. As part of his pilgrimage to the holy shrines he wants to indicate the Way to the disoriented. He invites them to make first an interior pilgrimage and then go on the pilgrimage from shrine to shrine, because all are pilgrims as well as strangers. The Pope invites all believers to return to the sources.
The new evangelization which he preached for the new millennium is not a return to the Middle Ages, as some wrongly interpret, because the wheel of history is moving forward very quickly. It is impossible to stop it or to make it turn backwards. While it is impossible to reduce Europe into a cohort of innumerable saints, we still need to remind those who forget that it is the force of Christian forgiveness that permitted the realization of one Europe. When Arab countries and Israel reconcile with one another it will be possible to think of the creation of a common market in the Middle East.
During his pilgrimage the Pope wants to invite all Christians to conversion. It is the significance of the Great Jubilee. One shall not be merely content with opening of the doors of the great Roman Basilicas. One must open the door of ones heart. Hearts of stone must be replaced by hearts of flesh. Without the help of spiritual values Western society will not be able to solve its problems.
The Pope comes to a Jerusalem where Christian confessions display their scandalous division. He wants to call every community of Christians to unity and fellowship based upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only a church that accepts the gift of unity given her by the Spirit, will be able to bring to the world a credible message. The Pope speaks very often about the two lungs of the church, East and West which, with their rich heritage and different cultures must collaborate in the proclamation of the Kingdom. Speaking about unity we cannot necessarily return to the situation of the early Christian community or that of the Middle Ages. Instead new methods have to be found. Christian orient has conserved the sense of mystery, a value lacking in the west. Nobody doubts that secularization has liberated creative forces in society; but they have ignored the problems of the common man. In a society dominated by the Internet, moral values are inevitable.
The Pope, advanced in years and physically challenged, presents himself without pretensions. He comes like the suffering servant to remind humanity of the necessity to pass from death to new life. Before starting his pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem he insisted upon visiting the earthly one, because he wanted to remind us that Jerusalem should be a holy city, different from others, where everybody can meet God if one respects ones neighbour.Frédéric Manns