Pope's Visit to Israel
March 22, 2000
Dear Dr. Friedland,
Thank you for your e-mail. This is a wonderful time for both Catholics and
Jews! I was overjoyed when the Holy Father arrived in Israel and the
surrounding ceremonies. Israeli and Papal flags flying together above a sign
of welcome in Hebrew and English. I was very moved by the presentation of a
copy of the Hebrew Bible to the Holy Father, a symbolic reenactment of
something the Jewish people have already done for us---giving us the gift of
Scripture. The excerpts of the Holy Father's first remarks in Israel
reminded me of similar remarks made in the United Nations in May of 1948. At
times I watch the series "Israel : A Nation is Born" hosted by Abba Eban in
which the tension of the British withdrawal, the beginning of the War for
Independence and worry about American recognition is remembered. I take so
much pride as an American whenever I hear the words spoken by Ambassador
"This government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed
in Palestine and recognition has been requested by the provisional government
Thereof. The UNITED STATES recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new STATE OF ISRAEL."
When I hear these words I cannot help but lose tears. It was one of the
proudest moments in the history of the United States. The greatest political
power on earth in 70 AD, the Roman Empire, had destroyed the last semblance
of a Jewish state. Now, after so many centuries of suffering, the greatest
power on earth sent a rebuke to the Emperor that crossed so many years and
sounded out louder than the destruction of Jerusalem so many ages before.
Now having seen the Vicar of Christ come to Israel, I am moved by similar
emotions. In his first remarks the Holy Father included four words which
were a culmination of his efforts of reconciliation with our elder brothers.
He spoke four words which will echo throughout the sad history of
Catholic-Jewish relations as a cry of hope. He went out of his way, as head
of the Church, in four words, to say to the Jewish people that your
two-thousand year struggle for a homeland is not only just, but valid and
proper. Standing on the soil of Eretz Israel he spoke four words....
".....THE STATE OF ISRAEL..."
I cannot help but feel that the symbolic burden which was lightened with the
establishment of Israeli-Vatican diplomatic relations has now been completely
lifted. We Catholics have a unique relationship with the Jewish people. We
both have a faith and a state. Now that we completely recognize each other's
role in the world, we can more fruitfully pursue greater reconciliation. Not
only can we do this, but we can combine our efforts to extend goodwill and
justice to all the people of the earth....all of God's people. We can now
more fully unite our voices along with Muslims and other Christians to tell
the world the truth we have all echoed throughout the ages, the one article
which we all unite to proclaim, the eternal truth that there is one God.
I feel as if we are now on more of an even plane. We have been brought
closer together by the efforts of mortals but first and foremost by the power
of the Almighty. I cannot help but feel this unity with the Jewish people
when I attend Mass. I hear the reading from the Old Testament, God speaking
to me through the Patriarchs and the Prophets. And then I cannot help but
feel joy at the Church's recognition of its Jewish heritage during the
"Blessed are you Lord God of all creation..."
I am so happy to see what is unfolding. In so many places the Pope has
visited, changes for the better have followed. Let us hope that this is the
case in the Holy Land. I believe it will be.
EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), the Global Catholic Network, is
having almost complete coverage of the event. I am so happy to see clergy
from our Catholic brethren in the Armenian, Coptic, Maronite and other Rites
standing in line with Latin Rite clergy all coming up to our beloved Pope and
bowing down to kiss his ring. A very "Catholic" moment. Unfortunately so
many of us in the US have no concept of the Rites of the Church. We think
"Catholic" and "Roman Catholic" are one and the same. But they are not. And
to ignore the other rites is to ignore so much of our rich history of faith.
The Catholics of the Eastern Rites have strong roots in the Holy Land and
throughout the Middle East. They are unique but united to us. How wonderful
that I could fulfill all my obligations of faith within the other rites!
I heard a news report that most Israelis don't know very much about
Christianity. Do you think this is true? You would know better than I. If
so, it is sad because I hope that they could look to us as a legacy of
Judaism. A testimony to the earth-shattering effects of Abraham's call.
We must remember the importance of our efforts on a smaller scale to promote
reconciliation and respect. The relationships between individual Catholics
and Jews can have a tremendous impact. John Paul II is an example of this.
He would not be reaching out to Jews as he does if he didn't have the
background he has. This young Polish boy had no problems playing on the
Jewish side of the ball field when there were not enough Jews and too many
Catholics playing. It made no difference to him. I am so happy that God saw
fit to choose this man, with such a profound respect for His Chosen People,
to lead the Church. I overlook the vandalism and criticism of the Holy
Father's visit coming from Jewish extremists. I also forgive them and will
pray for them. I bring this up to prove the importance of face-to-face
dialogue. Knowing you, and other Jews, in Dayton allows me to realize that
such extreme opinions are held by few within Judaism. I would not be able to
state this with any validity if I did not know any Jews at all. In human
relations we give our relatives the benefit of the doubt in all matters. We
reach out to those most closest to us. And we recognize the special bonds
between siblings. In this context Christians and Jews are placed. Are not
the Jews our "elder brothers"?
PAX / SHALOM
William Belanich, Jr.
Former University of Dayton student, now a doctoral candidate in
political science, who is of Irish and Croatian lineage and a