In his four-year pontificate, Benedict XVI has managed several major and costly missteps, particularly in his relationships with Muslims and Jews. Fortunately, he has proved personally adept at making necessary and well-received amends, however belatedly. His visit to Turkey in 2006 was a religious and political success. His outreach to Jews earlier this year after lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop met with a graciousness that the pope suggested was more generous than the response he got from some members of his own household of faith.

Still, Jewish-Vatican relations remain delicate in the aftermath of the Bishop Williamson scandal. As the pope headed to the Holy Land earlier this month for an eight-day visit, he had his work cut out for him.

Benedict began his pilgrimage in Jordan, where he was greeted by the king and local Muslim and Christian leaders. He then flew to Tel Aviv and met with the president and the prime minister of Israel, and later with Palestinian leaders in Bethlehem. His itinerary included visits to a Palestinian refugee camp, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, and Jerusalem’s Noble Sanctuary and sacred Western Wall. He spoke with the Holy City’s Muslim and Jewish leaders. At Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Catholic Center—where he did not receive an honorary degree or bestow a Laetare Medal—he experienced the difficulties of achieving the peace of Jerusalem when one guest commandeered the microphone. He also said Mass in the famed Valley of Josaphat, east of Jerusalem’s walled Old City, the site where some believe the Final Days will be inaugurated. As we go to press he was to travel to Galilee and to Nazareth for another Mass, this at the Mount of Precipice, where Jesus was nearly thrown off the cliff by outraged neighbors.

While perhaps not managing all these interactions with the same degree of skill and public presence exhibited by his predecessor John Paul II in 2000, Benedict did convey a message of reconciliation and hope to some battle-weary and crushed spirits in the Promised Land, particularly among the local Christian communities. His personal example may prove useful. Past stumbles and potential dead ends do not preclude reaching out to others with friendship and resolve.

Published in the 2009-05-22 issue: 
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