Pope Lays Wreath at Tomb of Zionism’s Founder
Pope Lays Wreath at Tomb of Zionism’s Founder
By JODI RUDORENMAY. New York Times. 26, 2014
JERUSALEM — A conflict largely defined by dueling narratives became a battle of competing imagery during Pope Francis’ sojourn through the Holy Land, with Palestinians and Israelis both seizing on the pontiff’s strong symbolic gestures to promote their perspectives. A day after a photograph of Francis touching his forehead to the graffiti-scarred concrete barrier separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem rocketed around the Internet, the pope acceded to Israel’s request that he add to his packed Monday morning another unscheduled stop, at the Mount Herzl memorial to victims of terrorist attacks. There, too, Francis bowed his head, while pressing a hand to one of 78 tablets listing the names of the fallen. Pope Francis made an unscheduled stop on Sunday at Israel’s contentious concrete barrier separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem.Pope, in Mideast, Invites Leaders to Meet on PeaceMAY 25, 2014 Mass on Mount Zion Stirs Ancient RivalriesMAY 26, 2014 “I explained to the pope that building the security fence prevented many more victims that Palestinian terror — which continues today — planned to harm,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said afterward. Later, he added, “I long for the day in which Pope Francis’ call to recognize the state of Israel, the right of Jews to a state of their own, to live in security and peace, will be accepted by our neighbors.” That was just one of the poignant photo opportunities of the pope at some of Judaism’s most sacred sites. He placed a note with the prayer “Our Father” handwritten in Spanish between the ancient stones of the Western Wall. He kissed the hands of six survivors — one saved as a baby by a Catholic family — at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. He became the first Vatican leader to lay a wreath of signature yellow and white flowers on the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. This montage was, according to the chief Vatican spokesman, intended to provide counterbalance to Sunday’s silent prayer at the barrier, which had incensed some Israelis, particularly because it was at a section where the spray-painted slogans included “apartheid wall” and “Bethlehem is like the Warsaw Ghetto.” But it may yet be upstaged: A Roman Catholic cardinal who was in Jerusalem during the visit told The Boston Globe that the Palestinian president had informed Francis he planned to make a postage stamp out of the image — as Israel did after John Paul II, in 2000, became the first pontiff to place a note in the Western Wall. Diana Buttu, a Palestinian analyst, pointed out that the Israeli sites visited by Francis on Monday were monuments to the past that heads of state routinely visit per protocol, while the barrier “is ongoing, something that Palestinians live with every day.” It remains unclear whether the Palestinians had planned the stop or even pressured the pope to make it, as one Catholic leader told an Israeli news outlet, but Ms. Buttu said the seeming spontaneity lent it strength. “There isn’t a single leader who comes to the country who doesn’t have to see Yad Vashem or Herzl or both — this was powerful because it wasn’t forced, you could see that he was genuinely shocked by it,” Ms. Buttu said. “I think he really displayed compassion in visiting the wall and really understanding what people are living under.” Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story Advertisement Still, Monday’s stop at Israel’s memorial to victims of terrorism — where Mr. Netanyahu pointed out the plaque commemorating the 85 people slain in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in the pope’s native Buenos Aires — was something of a salve. Daniel Gordis, an American-Israeli rabbi who wrote a Twitter post on Sunday saying he hoped the pope had prayed at the barrier “for end to Palestinian violence so it can come down one day,” said that Monday’s activities made “it clear that he understands the complexity of the narrative.” Photo The pontiff greeted the mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, left, near the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest shrines. Credit Oliver Weiken/European Pressphoto Agency “He made some gestures that feel a little bit uncomfortable for us, but he also went out of his way to make gestures to comfort us,” said Rabbi Gordis, senior vice president of Jerusalem’s Shalem College. “It depends on which set of lenses one wants to bring to this,” he added. “If one wants to do a kind of tit for tat, photo op for photo op, then there are going to be Israelis that feel we got the short end of the stick. If you zoom out, what it feels like is an attempt to inspire.” Even Francis’ return flight to Rome became newsworthy when, according to The Associated Press, he told reporters that he would meet with sex abuse victims at the Vatican sometime next month. And Reuters reported that the pontiff said he believed that priests should be celibate but that the rule was not an unchangeable dogma. Patriarch Fouad Twal, the Catholic leader of Jerusalem, told reporters more than a month before the pope’s arrival, “You need to look at the gestures, not just at the words.” But Francis was also strategic in his language. In Bethlehem, he singled out the plight of prisoners, a touchstone for Palestinians who consider even those who killed Israelis as heroic freedom fighters. In Israel, he was careful to say specifically that six million Jews had been killed and to use the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, Shoah — things that his predecessor, Benedict, had been criticized for not doing during his 2009 pilgrimage. (There was, however, some Israeli griping that Francis did not say those things at Yad Vashem — his spokesman said that was because he thought a “meditation” was more appropriate for the memorial — and did not use the word “Nazi.”) Photo The pope at the Stone of Unction, where Jesus’ body was said to have been prepared for burial, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Credit Pool photo by Andrew Medichini The pope also laid the groundwork during his visit for another enduring image intended to change perceptions of the conflict, inviting Presidents Shimon Peres of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to his apartment in the Vatican to pray together for peace. Both accepted: The meeting is expected within the next two weeks, though the pope’s spokesman said a date had not yet been set. Asked why Francis had chosen Mr. Peres — who leaves his largely ceremonial post in July — rather than Mr. Netanyahu, who is Mr. Abbas’s counterpart in peace negotiations, the spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope and the Israeli president shared a warm relationship of “great esteem.” “This is not an exclusion of the other,” Father Lombardi said Sunday. “The pope has with President Peres a good feeling. This is clear.” At Mr. Peres’s official residence, Francis wrote in the guest book, “It is always the grace of God to come in the house of a man who is wise and good.” Then the two leaders had what Father Lombardi described as a “very, very lengthy” one-on-one. “The president said many things about the peace process, the problem of building peace, the collaboration of the religious leaders and the pope in building peace,” he said. “It was said in a very sincere, very friendly and profound way.” From there Francis received Mr. Netanyahu at the Vatican-owned Notre Dame center. All Father Lombardi had to say about that was: “It was a friendly meeting also.” Correction: May 26, 2014 An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misidentified Pope Francis’s location. He was praying after laying a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, not the grave of Theodor Herzl.