Pope Francis' ""pilgrimage" to the Holy Land last week proved to be an unbalanced impossible
mission. The pontiff failed to strike a balance of neutrality between
contradictory and irreconcilable binaries like divinity and earth, religion and
politics, justice and injustice and military occupation and peace.
Such neutrality is viewed by the laity of Christian believers, let alone Muslim ones, in the Holy Land as religiously, morally and politically unacceptable.
The 77-year old head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics "is stepping into a religious and political minefield," Naim Ateek, the Anglican priest who founded the Palestinian liberation theology movement and runs the Sabeel Ecumenical Center in Jerusalem and Nazareth, was quoted as saying by "Time" on last May 24, the first day of the pope's "pilgrimage."
Ironically, the symbolic moral and spiritual power of the Holy See was down to earth in Pope Francis' subservient adaptation to the current realpolitik of the Holy Land in what the Catholic Online on May 26 described as "faith diplomacy."
(image by michael_swan)
The pontiff's message to the Palestinian people during his three-day "pilgrimage" to the Holy Land boils down to an endorsement of the Israeli and U.S. message to them, i.e.: "The only route to peace" is to negotiate with the Israeli occupying power, refrain from unilateral actions and "violent" resistance and recognize Israel as a fait accompli.
The UK-based Jordanian-Palestinian journalist Lamis Andoni, a Christian herself, wrote on May 27: "We don't need the Vatican blessing of negotiations " Whoever sees occupation and remains neutral has no justice in his vision."
The Vatican and the pope himself had insisted that his visit to the birthplace of the three monotheistic "Abrahamic faiths" of Islam, Christianity and Judaism was "purely spiritual," "strictly religious," a "pilgrimage for prayer" and "absolutely not political."
But the Vatican expert John Allen, writing in the Boston Globe a week ahead of the pope's visit, had expected it to be a "political high-wire act," and that what it truly was, because "religion and politics cannot be separated in the Holy Land," according to Yolande Knell on BBC online on May 25.
Pope Francis would have performed much better had he adhered "strictly," "purely" and "absolutely" to making his trip a "pilgrimage for prayer" and one that is committed to Christian unity and to helping indigenous Christians survive the highly volatile and violent regional environment.
Instead he had drowned his spiritual role in a minefield of symbolic political semantics and semiotics.
The pope finished his "pilgrimage," which was announced as a religious one but turned instead into a political pilgrimage, with a call for peace.
However, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Hussein, while welcoming the pontiff inside Islam's third holiest site of Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 26, said: "Peace in this land will not happen until the end of the [Israeli military] occupation."
Palestinian-American Daoud Kuttab on May 25 wrote in a controversial column that the pope "exceeded expectations for Palestinians."
He flew directly from Jordan to Bethlehem in Palestine without passing through any Israeli entry procedures, implicitly and symbolically recognizing Palestinian sovereignty.
He addressed the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the head of the "State of Palestine," announced that there must be "recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement" and met with Palestinian children whose parents were refugees whom Israelis displaced from their homes in 1948.