Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Pope in the Middle East

Pope Benedict will be in the Garden of Gethsemane today, the olive grove in Jerusalem with trees which may date back two thousand years to the time when Jesus prayed there late into the night, agonizing over his impending death. The pope is in the Middle East, meeting with religious and political leaders. Observers concede that any public statements by the pontiff require great diplomacy, something he has not demonstrated at other times.

Yesterday he called for a two state solution for Palestinians, not a popular stance with a conservative Israeli government. I think this is a courageous choice by Benedict, even though it may not be popular.

He has also made conciliatory statements to Muslims and Jews. He has pointed out the essential relationship between Judaism and Christianity and the importance of mutual respect. On Saturday, while visiting a mosque in Jordan he offered this:

The challenge is to cultivate for the good, in the context of faith and truth, the vast potential of human reason. Christians in fact describe God, among other ways, as creative Reason, which orders and guides the world. And God endows us with the capacity to participate in his reason and thus to act in accordance with what is good. Muslims worship God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who has spoken to humanity. And as believers in the one God we know that human reason is itself God’s gift and that it soars to its highest plane when suffused with the light of God’s truth.

Pope Benedict has been criticized for his inflammatory statements about other religions in the past (I have been among the critics), but he is obviously committed to making amends and providing positive leadership. Check out these articles for more information and perspective on the pope's visit http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/

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