By Judith Sudilovsky
JERUSALEM — As Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land approaches, the trip is being marked with special events, government sessions, online videos and a photography exhibition both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The activities look at the history of the relationship between the Vatican and the Holy Land and serve to urge Pope Francis to look at the current political situation in the region during his brief stay.
The Palestinian Authority Government Media Center has produced a series of videos showing the daily reality of the Palestinian people called “The Living Stones: Messages from Palestine.” Meanwhile, Israel’s Knesset honored St. John XXIII for his role as pope in opening ties between the Vatican, Israel and the Jews.
The Franciscan Custody in Holy Land in the meantime has put together a photographic exhibit, “1964-2014 Pope Paul VI in the Holy Land” which commemorates the historic journey of Pope Paul, the first modern day pontiff to visit the Holy Land. It includes images and testimonies from that time.
The exhibition in Jerusalem is divided into two parts, with 15 panels shown at the St. Savior Monastery at the Old City’s New Gate. Five additional panels are being shown at the nearby Christian Information Center at the Jaffa Gate and include liturgical material, stamps, coins, postcards and souvenirs from the visit.
Panels of photos also can be seen at other sites visited by Pope Paul including St. Lazarus Church in Bethany, Good Shepherd Church in Jericho, St. Catherine Church, Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Mount Tabor, Tabgha, Capernaum and Mount of Beatitudes.
A special session of the Knesset, the legislative branch of the Israeli government, convened May 13 to honor St. John XXIII.
“Until now, Israel and the Jewish nation have not found a way to express appreciation for the unique character that was John XXIII. The pope is commendable both as regards to his relationship to the Jewish nation and to the Israeli nation. I think that he is the most humanitarian and enlightened pope ever regarding his attitude toward Jews. Pope John XXIII was the one who gathered the College of Cardinals in order to remove the collective guilt for the murder of Jesus,” said Knesset member Yair Tzaban.
The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, among the initiators of the session, noted in an earlier statement that in the 1940s, while serving as apostolic delegate to Turkey, then-Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli helped save the lives of thousands of European Jews persecuted by the Nazis. Later, during his tenure as Pope John XXIII, the statement said, he was the “great promoter of a new climate of dialogue, respect and reconciliation,” through the document “Nostra Aetate” and led the way to the Second Vatican Council.
St. John XXIII’s biographer, Alberto Melloni, attended the session and spoke about the moderate Catholic background from which the pope came and his special relationship with Judaism.
Yair Auron, an Israeli historian, bemoaned the reality in “which Israeli children know almost nothing about John XXIII.”
“We have a mindset that the world is against us and we must fight against this notion, which has become a part of our identity,” he said. “We must also remember the righteous of the world who risked themselves for our sakes and we must view them as exemplary models. The racism in Israeli society continues to develop in an amazingly terrible way.”
Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo of Jerusalem attended the session and noted that many people who worked in order to save Jews in the Holocaust did so because of their deep faith.
“Monks, priests, bishops and other men of religion did so not just from their personal initiative, but also because of a strong faith a part of which, among other things, is the Old Testament,” he said.