When the Dalai Lama comes knocking

The Dalai Lama bows to the crowd as he makes his way to the podium during an interfaith service in Buffalo, N.Y., last year. He was joined at the service by several local religious dignitaries representing Catholics and other Christians as well as Muslims, Jews and Hindus. (CNS/Patrick McPartland, Western New York Catholic)Should Pope Benedict meet the Dalai Lama every time he comes knocking on the Vatican’s door?

The question arose after the Vatican said the pope would not be holding an audience with the Tibetan spiritual leader this month. “I would have liked to have seen him. The pope may not have time or he may have other commitments,” the Dalai Lama told reporters after arriving for a 10-day visit in Italy.

Italian news agencies had earlier reported the papal audience was on, citing an unidentified Vatican source. That prompted a negative reaction from China, which views the Dalai Lama as a political agitator for Tibetan separatism. So when the Vatican announced there would be no meeting, some had the impression that the pope was marching to China’s orders.

Vatican sources I spoke with this week said it was silly to think the Vatican is calibrating its activities to please Beijing. At the same time, they said, there’s no doubt that such a meeting would have a political aspect. Although he is Buddhism’s most famous monk, the Dalai Lama is also the leader of the exiled Tibetan government, which was formed after the Chinese communist government took over Tibet in the 1950s.

“The Vatican has to be attentive to the whole picture,” one source said.

Almost lost in the discussion is the fact that Pope Benedict met with the Dalai Lama last year. On that occasion, the Vatican took pains to underline that the encounter was a strictly private discussion on religious topics — so private, in fact, that the meeting was not even listed in the daily log of papal activities.

Sources said this time around, the Vatican had instead suggested that the Dalai Lama might want to meet with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who heads the Vatican’s council for interreligious dialogue. As of today, it is uncertain whether such a meeting would take place.

PHOTO: The Dalai Lama bows to the crowd as he makes his way to the podium during an interfaith service in Buffalo, N.Y., last year. He was joined at the service by several local religious dignitaries representing Catholics and other Christians as well as Muslims, Jews and Hindus. (CNS/Patrick McPartland, Western New York Catholic)

Israeli ambassador says goodbye

Oded Ben-Hur, Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, is pictured in a 2005 file photo. (CNS/Paul Haring)Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican, Oded Ben-Hur, said goodbye to a group of friends at a reception at his residence Monday night. He’s returning soon to Jerusalem after more than four years in Rome, and among those gathered to bid farewell were the Vatican’s coordinator of Catholic-Jewish dialogue, Cardinal Walter Kasper, and Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni.

Ben-Hur’s tenure has been troubled by the failure of Israeli and Vatican negotiators to nail down agreements on the juridical and financial status of the Catholic Church in Israel. Last month, the former nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, raised more than a few eyebrows when he said relations between the Vatican and Israel were better before full diplomatic ties were established in 1994.

On the diplomatic Richter scale, Archbishop Sambi’s comments registered between 7 and 8 — the “can cause serious damage” category.

Making a toast on Tuesday, Ben-Hur offered his own perspective. Those who feel disappointed about the slow pace of negotiations, he said, should remember that the 13 years of diplomatic relations are practically nothing, “an iota,” compared to the 2,000-year history of Catholic-Jewish relations. Real dialogue like this takes time to mature, he said.

“So please don’t give up hope — we’re serious about this,” he said. He even promised to keep working in favor of the agreements after he returns to Israel.

For the moment, Ben-Hur is still on the job, and he’ll be shuttling between Rome and Jerusalem until his replacement is named. He and his Vatican counterparts were flying to Jerusalem this week for yet another round of talks on the legal and financial questions. On Wednesday, the group was to meet in a high-level plenary session, which has raised hopes somewhat higher than usual, according to one Vatican official.

Was an accord finally on the horizon?

“Miracles have happened before in the Holy Land,” the official said.

PHOTO: Oded Ben-Hur, Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, is pictured in a 2005 file photo. (CNS/Paul Haring)

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