The last pilgrimage: Pope Benedict in the Holy Land

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI made his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Franciscan Media Center published a beautiful video in hindsight, placing the papal voyage within the context of the wider context of the Pope’s relationship with the region, the religions and the issues at stake. The video was created at the time of the Pope’s resignation.

View the video here

The Pope and the Middle East. Three trips, a synod, ecumenical meetings with interfaith and Orthodox representatives with the world of Islam and Judaism. And also the positions he took on the more pressing issues in this region, such as the opinion he expressed several times in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state … and especially the great focus on the “little flock” of local Christians, called to rediscover their vocation in the land of Christian origins, precisely because of their minority status and hardships.

In the nearly eight years of his pontificate, the relationship of the Holy Father with this land has seen a rapid succession of concrete attention.

On May 8, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI landed in Jordan, for a pilgrimage made him the third pope in history to walk in the places of Jesus between Jordan, Israel and Palestine. Thirteen months later, with his visit to the island of Cyprus in June 2010, the Pontiff ideally started – with the delivery of the instrumentum laboris during the mass held in Nicosia – the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, scheduled for October of the same year and ended with the signing and delivery of the Apostolic Exhortation on his journey to Lebanon in September 2012. A journey in which the Holy Father addressed the youth of the land of the cedars in a special way, inviting them to be an example of coexistence throughout the Middle East, a concrete sign of the possibility of building a common future – for Muslims and Christians – on this earth.

We spoke with Monsignor William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of , about the relationship between Benedict XVI and these places.

Question: In your opinion, what did Benedict XVI give great importance to in regards to the Middle East?

Shomali: “The Pope was interested in the principles of peace. And this is the most important thing. But he did not make a statement every time there was an incident here or there. When there was the war in Gaza, he spoke out loudly and asked for the violence in Gaza to stop, and thanks to this, the violence lasted for only eight days, but I can say that in difficult times the Pope was with us, as was the case with Syria, Iraq and Egypt, and with all countries.”

Question: What are three reasons the Holy Land should be grateful to Benedict XVI?

Shomali: “His 2009 visit, his delivery of the post-synodal exhortation and his recognition of the Palestinian state: having discussed it first (the only solution is to have two states) and also having supported the decision of the United Nations.”

Question: What is the best memory you have of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land?

Shomali:  “I think his humility, wherever he would go. He truly is a man of God, a humble man, with an angelic face. And when he prayed to the Lord and was filled with the Lord with this model of a spiritual man impresses me. He came here more as a pilgrim than as head of state, and I think that even impressed those who heard him speak. I remember seeing him in the Aida camp with the Palestinians. He was very calm. Many said, ‘it is dangerous to go there,’ but he instead of being there for an hour, he stayed for an hour and a half.”

Shomali: Could he have done more for the Middle East?

Shomali: “He preferred to emphasize the relationship of local Christians with Islam and Judaism because he does not want them to live in a ghetto. He understood that the Arab Spring is another spring, an Islamic revival. He understood this and wanted to be close to the Christians in the Middle East. A man who does not create noise around him, a gentle man, who speaks with a very tranquil voice, with confidence. He was a great Pope.”