Last month, we celebrated Israel’s independence only a day after memorializing the soldiers and civilians that have lost their lives in the struggle for Israel. The St. Paul community marked these occasions with a fiery Israeli jazz concert by the Omer Klein Trio and the "Hatikva – The Hope" photo exhibit at the St. Paul JCC, showcasing photos taken in Israel by local St. Paul teens.*
And while we remembered and celebrated here, I wonder if some of our thoughts were on another significant event taking place – Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel. It's not every day that the leader of the Catholic world crosses an ocean to visit a foreign country, let alone Israel. However, it seems that this visit was marked more by what the Pope didn't have to say than by what he did say.
The Pope was criticized for his speech while visiting "Yad Vashem" in Jerusalem. The critics attacked his use of the word "killed" instead of “murdered,” and the fact that he failed to mention the number six million or verbally state remorse for what "his" people (the Germans) had done to the Jews. The criticism continued with his visit to the security fence, which he referred to as "a symbol of stalemate" for the Israelis and Palestinians. Again, he was criticized for not mentioning the Palestinian terrorism which led to the building of the fence. His statements to the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, during his visit to the West Bank didn't sit well with the Israeli crowd either. They were regarded as one-sided or, at best, ignoring the real problems and prolonging the conflict.
The Vatican released a statement showing disappointment for the attacks on the Pope, claiming that his message was overlooked. Israeli President Shimon Peres thanked the Pope at the end of his visit for his words of peace and understanding, as if to reiterate and remind people what it was that the Pope actually said.
What strikes me though, is that this man – a great man, if by position only - was criticized for all that he left unsaid rather than what he did say. And while it may be true that words omitted are sometimes stronger than those said, we must turn our attention to what was said. The Pope bore a message of peace and unity, an end to war, and encouragement of love among all nations and religions.
I can’t know the true intentions of his heart. All I can do is take his message of peace, extend it to others and hope that it is understood.
*The Hatikva – The Hope” photo exhibit runs through June 21, 2009 at the St. Paul JCC.