14 July , 2014
A Holy Mission In The Holy Land
Ashraf Dali

Pope Francis, center, walks with Israeli President Shimon Peres, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, during an official arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, May 25, 2014. (Photo : AP/NEWSis)
What does the Holy Land remind readers of? The answer depends on their culture, faith, and current political and social circumstances.
Muslims recall that the region’s first sufferings started with the Crusades invading their lands, and Pope Francis’ visit is just a peaceful touch of those long forgotten wars against them. They still celebrate their own hero: Saladin, who defeated the Crusades in the Battle of Hattin, and retained back their dignity and home. His Ayyubid Empire united Egypt, Arabia and Syria. He successfully reclaimed Jerusalem and earned a name for himself in the annals of both Muslim and Western history. In modern history, the Arab dictator Saddam Hussein had considered himself a new Saladin, who would set Palestine free from the occupation of Israel. He did not carry out such a plan though. The only strong similarity was the coincidence that both Saladin and Saddam were born in the city of Tikrit, Iraq!
Christians, on the other hand, consider Pope Francis’ visit to the birthplace of Christ as fulfilling a holy mission that everyone wishes to complete. For thousands of pilgrimages who visit these holy places annually, Pope Francis is giving the message that what Christians fought for centuries ago can be reached peacefully nowadays. The dwindling numbers of Palestinian Christians hope the Pope will deliver a message of support against what they face due to Israeli law. A few months ago, Palestinian Christians, according to the Israeli law, were considered a separate minority group in a move criticized by some religious leaders, who thought it was an attempt to divide Palestinians along religious lines. This was followed by an Israeli push to recruit them into the country’s army.
What about Jews? Hatred graffiti on Vatican-owned property in East Jerusalem read “Death to Arabs and Christians and all those who hate Israel.” It was written in Hebrew. And more than 200 Orthodox Jews protested against the Pope’s visit to the place where Jesus is believed to have had his last supper. Currently there is a trend of increasing attacks on Christians and Palestinians inside Israel and in the West Bank, perpetrated by the escalation of Jewish extremists.
So, Pope Francis’ trip to the Holy Land on May 24, 25 and 26, was considered a fading light in the dark of war that is showing its misery for more than 1001 days in the Middle East region.
Officially, the purpose of Pope Francis’ visit was to meet the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I on the 50th anniversary of the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration. It was during this 1964 historic visit to Jerusalem by their predecessors that an agreement was made to end the two churches’ schism. It is considered to be a renewal of unity for Christians all over the world.

Pope Francis greets Israeli children at the heliport of Hadassah hospital in Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, Sunday, May 25, 2014. (Photo : AP/NEWSis)
Fading light in troubled region
During the Pope’s half-a-day visit in Jordan, the Pope visited the site of Jesus’ baptism, and met with Syrian and Iraqi refugees, as well as people with disabilities. He then crossed the River Jordan aboard a helicopter and landed in Bethlehem, where he led a holy mass at Manger Square and had lunch with several Christian families from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel’s Galilee. The final leg of his Palestinian trip included a private tour of the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus is believed to have been born, and a meeting with Palestinian children at the Dheisheh refugee camp. From Bethlehem, the pontiff traveled to Jerusalem via Tel Aviv, a convoluted itinerary – considering Bethlehem is a ten-minute car ride away – that takes into account that a final status solution has not been reached between Israel and the Palestinians regarding the Holy City.
According to press resources, many Christians expressed frustration with the limited number of tickets being made available to their communities for the mass at Bethlehem’s Manger Square. Some are also unhappy that the pontiff’s trip excluded a visit to Nazareth, the town where Jesus is believed to have grown up in. Israeli authorities said that for security reasons, Christians were not able to greet their spiritual leader.
In Jerusalem, he visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, met with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem – the city’s top Muslim cleric – at the Noble Sanctuary, and left a prayer message at one of the Western Wall’s crevices. He also met with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, chief rabbis, the Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The pope also laid wreaths at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum, and Mount Herzl.
Following his first visit to the Middle East as pope, the pontiff criticized fundamentalism in Christianity, Islam and Judaism as a form of violence.
“A fundamentalist group, even if it kills no one, even it strikes no one, is violent. The mental structure of fundamentalism is violence in the name of God.”

Pope Francis prays as he holds an envelope before placing it in one of the cracks between the stones of the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel, Monday, May 26, 2014. (Photo : AP/NEWSis)
“Violence in God’s name is madness”
The Pope talked to the correspondent of Barcelona-based daily La Vanguardia regarding religious violence in the Middle East. “Violence in God’s name does not fit with our times. It is something old. With historical perspective, we have to say that we Christians, at times, have practiced it,” he was quoted as saying. “Today it is unimaginable. It’s madness.”
Following the Pope’s visit, madness got mightier, with more advances of violence in the land of Iraq. And, considering that Hamas (Harakat al-Muqāwamah al-’Islāmiyyah, “Islamic Resistance Movement”) is the Israeli Horse of Troy, the three kidnapped Israeli citizens, who were thought to be victims of Hamas, will be the suitable reason for Israel to interfere more with violence against Palestine’s people. Increased violence just a few weeks after the peaceful visit of Pope Francis shows that visits have no further positive effect beyond their corresponding days.
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