The Holy Land is home to religious sites important to Christians, Jews and Muslims. It also gives rise to competing--sometimes violently competing--opinions about religion and politics. Here are some, spoken on the occasion of the historic visit to the Holy Land by Pope John Paul II:


Stacey Brooks, 37, editor, Moshav Matta near Jerusalem, Jewish:

The pope's visit seems to me a very personal journey of a man frail and close to death. There is something intimate in the reckoning process he is making--although a public, mass event, it's something very private. While it could be seen cynically as merely political, I believe in the sincerity of the emotional content. I prefer to think that at this point in his life, the personal element of his pilgrimage eclipses all the political and public-relations elements. In the end, I have felt very moved by the pope's visit.

Alon Goshen-Gottstein, director, Elijah School for the Study of Wisdom in World Religions, Jerusalem:

On the whole, the pope's visit was immensely successful. The man touched the nation's heart and provided a model of a spiritual presence, a depth of being. People were deeply touched by him.

As the organizer of Thursday's three-way interfaith meeting, its outcome (in which the Muslim shaykh vehemently criticized Israel and then walked out) saddened me greatly. But in retrospect, it was one of the highlights of a visit that was otherwise heavily scripted. In this instance, life and reality came through. That reality is that one side is full of good will, while the other is full of obstacles.

Mustafa Abu Sway, professor of philosophy and Islamic studies, Al Quds University, Bethlehem:

At Thursday's interfaith meeting, Shaykh Tatzir Tamimi (head of the Palestinian Authority religious courts) was not a Muslim representative. He was representing the Palestinian Authority. However, I think that (in his speech and by walking out) the shaykh was acting on his own. But the possibility of pure interfaith dialogue does not exist on that level, because of the political situation.

Timna Katz, 40, Jewish West Bank activist, Gush Etzion:

The pope's visit represents a revised "Doctrine of Contempt." By the uncritical and enthusiastic embrace of the Palestinian Authority, which uses the word peace in order to pursue hatred and hostility, the pope is contributing to the present-day persecution and villification of the Jewish people...Statements of regret for past Christian persecution of Jews seem all the more hollow in light of present efforts to weaken and dismember the Jewish state...Even the PA's persecution of its Christian minority is purposely ignored by the church and the media.

Eliakim Haetzni, Jewish West Bank activist, Kiryat Arba:

The Jews are proving that they never came out of the ghetto. Even here they are dancing (for the gentiles)...The visit of the pope was turned into a celebration of Palestinian independence for which the government of Israel, in its blindness, provided the stage set and the props.


Rashid Khalidi, director, Center for International Studies, University of Chicago, Palestinian Muslim:

The pope's visit to Palestine had several important effects: It reinforced the standing of the Vatican as a party to the resolution of the issue of Jerusalem, and thereby strengthened the Palestinian position that there should be an international dimension to this resolution. It highlighted the plight of the Palestinian refugees, and confirmed the moral necessity of a just resolution for their problems after 52 years of exile. It helped to strengthen the position of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, helping them to resist the pressures resulting from occupation and economic stagnation which have led their numbers to dwindle in recent decades.

It helped in the normalization of Vatican-Israeli relations, and will hopefully lead to a decrease both in Israeli paranoia about the whole world being against them, and a diminution in the completely inappropriate stress on the responsibility of the Catholic Church for the holocaust.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of Reform Judaism's Union of American Hebrew Congregations:

When my friend apologizes to me for a sin that he has committed, the appropriate response is for me to thank him, to welcome his repentance and to express my desire to continue our discussion. It is surely inappropriate to greet a heartfelt act of contrition with a pointed reminder of every act of wrongdoing that I think may have been left off the list.

The Holocaust cannot be the sole item on the Catholic-Jewish agenda As important as it is, it cannot become an obsession that crowds out all those other subjects that so urgently require our collective attention.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.:

As an evangelical, I believe that the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel. And indeed, I believe that the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.

(The pope) has actually embraced all monotheists, both Jews and the followers of Islam, as long as they're sincere within the penumbra of the Gospel, within the canopy of the Gospel. And that is just unbiblical, and by the way, not very pleasing to either Jews or to Muslims either.


Rabbi David Rosen, Director, Anti-Defamation League-Israel, key Catholic-Jewish dialogue participant:

I think the pope is having a great personal pilgrimage, and I think he's surprised that it hasn't been more political, aside from one or two hijackings like the behavior of the Muslim sheikh at (Thursday's) three-way interfaith meeting.

What happened (Thursday) was the result of terrible planning. If you have rabbis and Muslim leaders together, you have to make sure they are not allowed to speak freely--just a prayer or a brief greeting. These were politically chosen figures, concerned to behave politically. But it was silly of the sheikh to walk out, and he did a disservice to Islam.

Overall, the trip has been remarkably successful, with an amazing impact on Israeli society at large. Jews here are seeing that this isn't the same old Catholic Church--they see that this guy seems to love us, to identify with our tragedy, and to respect the State of Israel. You could see at Yad Vashem how moved he was--tears on his face. He feels it in the very depths of his soul.

Allan Rabinowitz, 48, tour guide, Jerusalem, Jewish:

The only tour group I was scheduled to lead (during the papal visit) was a group of Baptists, who canceled because they didn't want to compete for space at the holy sites. I've heard about other non-Catholic Christian groups who also canceled, figuring they could go to the Galilee or up to Jerusalem when they didn't have to fight the crowds. So far as the pope's visit is concerned, I'm just reading about it in the papers.


Rabbi Ron Kronish, director, Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel:

There was nothing new in the words of the pope's speech at Yad Vashem, but the emotion in it and the symbolism surrounding it made it special. It was almost a poem, one that created a religious moment. His speaking of anti-Jewish Christian feelings and anti-Christian Jewish feelings was not a great symmetry--it was an unfortunate phrase. But his message is to look at the past in order to build a better future. We have to look at the big picture, and the pope being at Yad Vashem is part of a religious reconciliation.

Racelle Weiman, lecturer in Holocaust Studies, Haifa University; Israel coordinator, Global Dialogue Institute:

Under Pope Pius XII, the church retreated from doing anything to resist Nazism. Pius XII said nothing on behalf of the Jews until the last year of the war, when Germany had already clearly lost. He didn't use his moral authority even to help Jewish refugees during the war, and he didn't speak out after the war. There's a lot of pain and responsibility that the church needs to deal with. The Holocaust is still not properly thought through in church theology. But the process has begun. The current pope has been able to give a conscience back to the church.

Ephraim Hasid, 27, Orthodox Jewish yeshiva student, Jerusalem:

This is a good pope, the best one ever, because he speaks about building relations between Jews and Christians and he recognized the State of Israel. He has apologized enough--we should know that he isn't able to criticize Pius XII. I think his visit will be a big encouragement for tourism, and that's good.

Ziad Hashaimeh, 48, storekeeper, Old City, Jerusalem, Muslim:

The pope knows that the Palestinians are under occupation. As much as the world feels sympathy for the Jews because of the Nazis, the whole world feels that the Palestinians are also scattered and deserve land, their dignity, and peace. Jews and the Palestinians are both in the land forever. We will live beside them, whether they like it or not, and they will live beside us, whether we like it or not. We know that with war and weapons we get nothing. Now we have to struggle through peace--it's the only way to live in the land together.

Viktor (last name withheld), 34, Christian visitor from Sweden:

The Bible says that the Jewish people will come back to the hills of Judea and Samaria. What the pope said in Bethlehem about a Palestinian homeland means he is still wanting to divide the land in two. That's against the Bible and an injury to the Jewish people. I don't think the church has changed at all.


Jerusalem Latin (Catholic) Patriarch Michel Sabbah:

You ask if the church should do more to acknowledge its sins, especially the Holocaust? The church has, thank God, been engaged on a way of searching its conscience--and where we have sinned to ask God and each other for forgiveness. Not the Catholic Church alone, but all of us must go to our history to see where we have done good and to see where we have done bad.

As for Christian emigration from the Holy Land, perhaps the Holy Father will address the issue, which is largely due to political instability. When we have peace, we hope the problem will become less.

Alon Goshen-Gottstein, director, The Elijah School for the Study of Wisdom in World Religions, Jerusalem:

The response of some Jewish leaders to the pope's apology was regrettable. We keep trying to milk them for concessions rather than see how we can reciprocate. The changes they have made in their liturgy are light years ahead of what we might have expected. Instead of acknowledging what they've done, we're bickering with them.

Sheila Escalona, 32, Jerusalem, Filipina care-giver, Evangelical Protestant:

The pope's visit is not important to me. I don't feel any connection to him or the Catholic Church. He's here--so what? He's strengthening the Catholic faith, which doesn't affect me at all. Some Jews are welcoming him, but I'm quite nervous because he's in favor of a Palestinian state. I'm pro-peace, but I'm also pro-Israel. By saying that they should have a state, he reaffirms the Palestinians and makes them more aggressive, which will affect the peace process.

Jeremy Kimchi, 35, Jerusalem, furniture maker, Jewish:

I haven't followed the pope coming, but to me the whole big deal that's been made about the millennium celebration and the year 2000 shows how Israel has lost its way. I'm against the concept of the "global village." Instead, I favor different people living in peace with each other and each holding on to their own heritage. The millennium celebration is simply not part of our heritage as Jews.

Dr. Amil Jajjouri, Palestinian ministerial official coordinating papal visit to the Palestinian Autonomy, Bethlehem:

We want Jerusalem to be two capitals for two countries. We also want the message of the pope's visit to the Dehaishe refugee camp to be the refugees' right of return to their homes, as the way to solve the refugee issue. And we hope that will be the pope's message, too.

Ada Zohar, a psychology profesor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Jewish:

The man is an icon--and a confusing one at that, frail but immensely powerful. He has people jumping in deference to his power, which makes how he's being treated seem somewhat absurd.

His visit has almost nothing to do with religion. The church has an immense amount of property and interests here to protect, and relations between Israel and the church are important. The Vatican is powerful politically, and we want the pope to say nice things about us to strengthen us in negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians. I just hope that nothing happens to him while he's here and he returns safely to Rome.

John Ringo, 56, biology professor at the University of Maine, visitor to Israel, non-Jewish and "passionately anti-religious":

Personally, I am appalled that any religious leader should be received officially by any government on this planet. Religion should have no standing in regard to nation-states. The Vatican is not a real state, it's a bit of territory occupied by the administration of a large religion.

he visit itself will probably have a positive effect. Christians, especially Catholics, will react favorably to the care and respect shown to the pope. Attitudes to Israel worldwide will be improved. So Israel made the wise political choice in greeting him this way.


Shmuel Hadas, Israel's first ambassador to the Vatican, 1994-97

This pope is constructing, brick by brick, a new Catholic-Jewish theological building that is replacing the structure developed by centuries of very different attitudes toward the Jews. Now we have to see the grass roots change. It's a slow process. In the Holy Land, the old attitude is still there--on both sides--because of the political conflict..

The effect of the visit? Prophecy is a thing of the past, but perhaps the visit will help to create a new atmosphere and, by showing a good example to religious leaders, promote a dialogue among Christians, Jews and Muslims. Such a dialogue in the Middle East is still small and undeveloped.

The agreement that the pope signed with the PLO was a necessary one, and the inclusion of Jerusalem is in some ways similar to the agreement between Israel and the Holy See, which deals with the role of the church in relation to the holy places. However, the preamble introduces a political dimension which is out of context. Coming a few days before the visit, I think it was not a positive step.

Father Franz Bouwen, Roman Catholic priest and ecumenical worker, Jerusalem

In last week's "apology" in Rome, the pope did not address the Jews. It was not an apologetic address at all; it was a prayer service in which the pope prayed for forgiveness. It was prayer, not an apology directed to anybody outside the church. The pope and church leaders have apologized for past anti-Semitism, including during the Holocaust. I have difficulty understanding many Jewish leaders' insistence on further apology.

The pope's message of openness to everyone is the attitude we need for peace. I don't believe there will be any concrete step forward during his visit--only the creation of an atmosphere conducive to peace.

I hope that people will not search the pope's smallest gesture and interpret

it in a wrong way. Every word and gesture can be wrongly interpreted, but I hope people will be intelligent enough not to do that.

A 34-year-old Jewish high-tech worker from Efrat, a West Bank Israeli settlement

It's a bushah, a disgrace. Israel is supposed to be a place where Jews and Jewish values are cultivated and protected. The pope represents an organization that has been hostile to Jews for centuries. Today is also the day the government is giving away land to the Arabs. It's Purim for real, everything upside down. I think this country is going crazy.

Ilana, a 31-year-old Israeli Jew from Tel Aviv

I think it's great that he's coming. Maybe it will bring some peace between the sides--Jews and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians. Maybe it will get them to start really talking to each other.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad