Friday, April 08, 2005

Pope inspired Palestinian peace and rights 4-08-05

Palestinians fondly recall Pope John Paul II
April 8, 2005
By Ray Hanania

The Palestinian cause has received support from many courageous and inspiring world leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and many years before them, Mahatma Gandhi.

One of the most inspiring was the support of Pope John Paul II, who died this past week. And he spoke from a powerful moral platform that helped to add backbone to Europe's longstanding support of Palestinian rights and criticism of the excesses of Israel's occupation.

Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian to hold the title in 455 years, elected on Oct 16, 1978. His defense of Palestinian rights held strong resonance especially because his priesthood was driven during the height of the Nazi occupation of Poland where he lost all his family members.

In March of 2000, Pope John Paul II visited Palestine conducting services at the Church of the Nativity. He met many times with the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, and urged a peaceful compromise that recognized the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. During a visit with Arafat, the Pope kissed a bowl of Palestinians oil brought to him by Palestinian children, a powerful symbolic gesture in the eyes of many Arabs who revere the cause of Palestine.

While conducting a two hour mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Pope declared, “No one can ignore how much the Palestinian people have had to suffer in recent decades. Your torment is before the eyes of the world. And it has gone on too long,” the Pope declared. “The Holy See has always recognized that the Palestinian people have the natural right to a homeland, and the right to be able to live in peace and tranquility with the other people of this area.”

He reiterated, “I have repeatedly proclaimed that there would be no end to the sad conflict in the Holy Land without stable guarantees for the rights of all the peoples involved, on the basis of international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions and declarations. Only with a just and lasting peace, not imposed but secured through negotiation, will legitimate Palestinian aspirations be fulfilled.”

Later, he visited the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem to remind the world of the palestinian’s suffering and their Diaspora.

The following year, he became the first Pope to ever enter a Mosque during his visit of peace to Syria. His motivation may have been as much a pilgrimage to an historic Christian religious site in May 2001 when he entered the Umayyed Mosque in Damascus, said to be the site of the grave of Saint John the Baptist.

That was not out of character for Pope John Paul II. He also was the first Pope to visit a synagogue and also the first to visit a Holocaust concentration camp memorial at Auschwitz.

Clearly Pope John Paul’s support of Palestinian rights reflected his personal struggle for the soul of humanity, always on the side of justice and fairness.

Much attention in the Western press has been given to extremist Muslim leaders of al-Qaeda and more mainstream fundamentalists as activist and editor Gamal Sultan of the al-Manar Journal in Egypt, which shares the name of the satellite broadcasts of the Hizbollah terrorist organization.

But despite these few expected voices of extremism, Pope John Paul II’s death has captured the hearts of mainstream Arabs. His funeral has been given unprecedented coverage in more mainstream Arab Media including on Arab satellite stations such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiyya.

Troubling to me is the absence of a champion who will succeed the Pope and who has the Pope’s stature. Will the next Pope take up the Palestinian cause which more and more is identified as a Muslim cause and as the numbers of Palestinian Christians continue to dwindle?

If the new Pope is from the Third World, the answer maybe yes. If more Western – although pundits have ruled out a successor who is American – the political weight of the Vatican might shift significantly.


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