Whilst distressed by some aspects of Pope Francis’s recent visit to the region, I strongly disagree with those who accuse him of abandoning Israel.
He certainly provided the Palestinians with a propaganda boost by being photographed kissing and praying at the security fence daubed with obscene graffiti including Holocaust inversion (“Bethlehem looks like Warsaw”) and calls to “Free Palestine”. His Vatican aides should have informed him that the security fence was erected only in order to save Israelis from the murderous suicide bombings and terrorism that were taking a horrendous toll of innocent lives.
He also embraced the mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Muhammad Hussein who is a raving anti-Semite, considers Jews to be the enemies of Allah, justifies suicide bombings and repeatedly accuses Israel of planning to demolish the Al-Aksa mosque.
In Bethlehem, Pope Francis met Mahmoud Abbas, referring to him as “a man of peace” yet made no comment when the Latin Patriarch, Fuad Twal, likened the Israelis to King Herod.
It is unlikely that in the course of their private meeting, the Pope urged Abbas to cease his intensive anti-Semitic incitement or challenged him concerning his impending consummation of the union with the genocidal Hamas. It is also doubtful that he debated Abbas’ claims that Jesus was a Palestinian rather than a Jew or engaged in dialogue with him concerning Jewish links to the Holy Land.
These omissions are indeed outrageous. However, embracing the corrupt and duplicitous Abbas as a man of peace is hardly groundbreaking and is consistent with the behavior of almost every Western leader. In fact, until recently, even our Prime Minister felt obliged to incant this nonsensical mantra.
While Pope Francis would certainly not qualify as a candidate for the Zionist national camp, Vatican policies towards Israel must be viewed in the context of a deeply flawed grand strategy.
The Vatican refuses to accept the fact that Fundamentalist Islam represents a global threat to Western civilization – especially Christianity – and that appeasing the barbarians at their gates will be no less disastrous than the Church’s sickening efforts to appease the Nazis.
Ironically, Pope Benedict XVI had initially attempted to redress this by incorporating a quotation from a 14th-century Orthodox Byzantine emperor, alleging that the Prophet Muhammad promoted “things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. But following the backlash generated by his comments stressing that violence separates faith from reason and that jihad or religiously motivated violence are contrary to God’s will the Vatican quickly retreated and avoided any further public statement which could be perceived as critical of any manifestation of Islam.
Consequently the Vatican has failed to adequately speak out against the diabolical discrimination, persecution and murder of Christians taking place in virtually all Islamic countries. History will judge the Church harshly for not protesting more vigorously whilst its own people were being so cruelly persecuted. The Vatican continues accepting the argument presented to them by Catholic and other Arab Christian collaborators who maintain that it is preferable to turn a blind eye to the persecution of their brethren rather than protest which would lead to intensified persecution and a possible bloodbath.
The Vatican attitude to Israel must be viewed in this context. If the Pope is not going to speak out against the ongoing massacre of Christians in Islamic lands, it is not surprising that he appeases the Palestinians.
But we should retain a sense of perspective. For the main duration of our exile, it was the Catholic Church which spearheaded persecution against us, fanning anti-Semitism with accusations of deicide which led to endless cycles of pogroms, forced conversions and martyrdom.
But in October 1965, nearly 50 years ago, with the passage of Nostra Aetate, Pope Paul Vl brought about a sea change in the Catholic Church’s approach to the Jewish people. Amongst other matters, it repudiated the charge of deicide, highlighted the religious bond and spiritual legacy shared with Jews, explicitly rejected “replacement theology”, condemned anti-Semitism and ended missionary activity.
The most difficult theological challenge for the Church was to reconcile itself to the fact that the Jew who was “obliged to wander eternally until he accepted the true Messiah” had in fact regained sovereignty in the Holy Land.
However Pope John Paul ll overcame this by establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. He made a memorable pilgrimage to Israel in 2000 and visited the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, asking for repentance for the crimes committed against the Jewish people.
This dramatic change of attitude by the Vatican has had an immense impact in combating anti-Semitism. One need only compare Catholic attitudes to the Jews and Israel to the bitter hostility of the Presbyterian and most Protestant Christian groups (except the evangelicals) who accept “replacement theology”. The global situation for Jews today would be considerably worse if the leftist, Islamic and fascist anti-Semites were still being bolstered by Catholic anti-Semites.
So despite the disappointment with aspects of his visit, we must not describe Pope Francis as an enemy of Israel. To do so, not only does him an injustice but is also immensely counter-productive. We should view the situation in context, appreciating that Vatican policies in this region are actually more damaging to Christian interests than to ours.
It should also be noted that in addition to his visit to the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, Pope Francis paid tribute to the memorial for Israelis killed in terrorist attacks bowing his head in silent prayer.
But his most important symbolic act was the visit to the tomb of Theodor Herzl who, 114 years ago, was considered by many as a mad visionary as he sought to pave the political foundations for the emergence of today’s thriving Jewish state. Surprisingly, this was not highlighted by the Israeli or global media. But I considered it the highlight of his trip and have no doubt that many of Pope Francis’s predecessors would turn in their graves had they visualized the pontiff paying tribute to the founder of political Zionism – in particular Pope Pius X, who a century ago had brutally dismissed Herzl’s entreaties for Vatican support.
But the most bizarre aspect of the entire trip was the proposal purportedly initiated by President Peres to join the Pope and Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican and engage in a ceremonial “prayer for peace”. This would effectively be the last hurrah for President Peres prior to his retirement, enabling him to reaffirm his commitment to the “irreversible peace process” and the redundant Oslo Accords to which he mindlessly adheres. He will perhaps express regret at the absence of his former friend the late Yasser Arafat and once again hug our duplicitous “peace partner”, Mahmoud Abbas.
Why an avowed secularist, who declines to set foot in the synagogue annex to the President’s Residence, should represent us in an interdenominational prayer meeting is somewhat disconcerting. But what is certain is that this charade will make world headlines for Peres. But it will also enable the intransigent Abbas, at the very moment of his union with the genocidal Hamas, to continue projecting himself as a man of peace. To be aided in this by the President of Israel suggests we should be examining ourselves rather than becoming obsessed with a pontiff who, despite the constraints imposed upon him by his role, by all accounts is a decent man who in his first meeting with Jews at the Vatican, reiterated that “a true Christian cannot be an anti-Semite”.
We should pray that the Almighty guides Pope Francis towards the understanding that conflict with Islamic Fundamentalism is no less relevant to the Church than to us and encourages him to move further along the path of reconciliation and repentance for the crimes committed by the Church against the Jewish people prior to the acceptance of Nostra Aetate.
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