Monday, May 11, 2009

The Pope's visit to Jordan and Israel

I was so pleased, but not at all surprised, at the generous hospitality of the King and Queen of Jordan, as they served as welcoming hosts to Pope Benedict XVI.

It is not at all surprising that much of the Common Word Initiative flows from Jordan, and I can only praise them and pray for even further harmonious results.

Today I was able to watch the TV coverage, thanks to EWTN, of the Pope's first day in Israel.

I have not been at all delighted with the attitudes of some (actually, of many), and the resultant media focus, in the days leading up to the Pope's visit. To call it anticipatory qvetching would be giving it a humorous tolerance that it does not merit. To say that many sought to be wet blankets, putting a damper of gloom over a visit that is potent in potential for progress and grace would also be an understatement. The griping and misplaced expectations about the Holy Father only underscores that it seems that very few people understand who or what a religious leader is anymore, whether Jew or Christian.

Um, here's a news flash. A religious leader, a proper one, as the Pope most certainly is, teaches people about God. God is his focus, not whether he uses the "correct" words to describe secular and historic events. A religious leader is a preacher, a minister, and an evangelist, wearing one or more of those hats as appropriate to the occasion.

The Pope is the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the Bishop of Rome, the Heir to Saint Peter. He points always to God, the one God that Jews, Christians and Muslims share. When a man becomes Pope his place of birth, his schooling, what his father did, etc means absolutely nothing. He now becomes entirely belonging to God.

Now, having said this, I was totally delighted at President Peres' warm hospitality, his thoughtful remarks, and most of all, how he obviously comprehends what I just wrote here about the Pope. I could see in Mr Peres' face how he appreciated the deeply scriptural statements by the Pope, as Pope Benedict continually placed the focus of his listeners upon God and God alone.

Ironically, it seems that one of the Rabbis, one I respect (don't get me wrong on this) was less appreciative of the scriptural focus of the Holy Father and instead looked for personal apologies, secular orientation and wanting the Holy Father to be more of the Vicar of Word Smithing.

Yes, let's be honest. Pope John Paul II was more of a politician on such occasions, and that, I think, while seeming to fill a hungry belly for the audience ultimately was one of the times that he was the least manifesting of his preaching and ministering responsibility. So I understand that many pine for the personal and secular words that JPII used. But in my opinion, and I loved JPII dearly, I believe that too often his temptation to be communications maven overtook his Vicar of Jesus Christ focus, and so he would use a personal tact, a political tact, to please the audience and to be loved in return. That's not the job of the Pope, my friends, and Pope Benedict will never make that mistake.

Instead, Pope Benedict consoles through God, the ultimate consoler, if only people actually listen to what he is saying. I was very moved at how I could see that Mr Peres, with some surprise, understood that the Pope was connecting the listeners to the Consoler in Chief, God, instead of trying to select personal or political verbiage to meet some criterion.

I hope that when the Prime Minister, who greeted the Pope at the airport, but who had other important tasks in Egypt, reads the text of what the Pope said, he recognizes this too.

To the critics of the Pope: My friends, how can you be disappointed by a speech by the Pope that is rooted in our shared scripture, focused on God? Think about what that is saying about your preferences. You would rather that the Pope echo words that you have selected, rather than provide thoughtful unity as we all look to God for our unity, our consolation, and our answers? That seems a poor choice, my friends. I would think that anyone expects genuine religious leaders to continually illuminate God upon human's problems, not echo scripts and verbiage expectations on a personal level. Too often religious leaders travel the world to act like chiefs of state, or the head of the "grievance department," rather than focus on their first role of faith formation with continual emphasis on God and God's scripture.