Tight security soured papal visit, Latin patriarch complains

"Many pilgrims who wanted to take part in the mass in Jerusalem were turned back by police even though they had invitations," says Fouad Twal.

pope peres flag 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
pope peres flag 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Excessive security arrangements were the main problem during Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to Israel, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal told a press conference on Wednesday. "Many pilgrims who wanted to take part in the mass in Jerusalem were turned back by police even though they had invitations," Twal said. "That is too bad." The service in the Garden of Gethsemane was the smallest mass conducted by the pope during his visit to the Holy Land, with only 3,000 participants. Part of the reason was the extremely tight security, which prevented thousands from reaching the site. Commenting on the reasons for the large emigration of indigenous Christians from Israel, Twal pointed to the tense political situation. "After over 60 years of conflict it is time to try something else," he said. "It is time to change the method, the system. When there is peace, people will come back." Asked what the Catholic Church's role should be in fostering peace, Twal said that although technically Benedict's visit was a pilgrimage, it was impossible to ignore the political aspects of the region. "Politics is like oxygen in this part of the country," he said. "Even the price of tomatoes is politics." Twal added that the Church's role was to respect the ethical demands of both sides in the conflict. "The pope made it clear that he recognized the right of Israel to live in secure, internationally recognized boundaries. But he called to recognize [the] Palestinians' right to a state," he said. Patriarch Vicar of the Armenian Catholic Church Raphael Minassian said after the press conference that tight Israeli security measures severely impaired Christians' ability to move around on a regular basis. "There are about 250 Armenian Catholic families living in Israel, but there are about 1,000 living in Southern California, many of whom are emigrants from Israel," he said. "Many simply don't want to put up with a situation in which one is constantly being made to feel alien, as if this were not our home." Meanwhile, Papal Nuncio to Israel Antonio Franco commented on the negative Israeli reaction to Benedict's speech at Yad Vashem. "The Israeli reaction was too emotional," he said. "It reflected expectations of something else. "But in reality the pope's meditation on the Shoah was deep and thoughtful. The emphasis was on remembering so that such a tragedy will never happen again." Franco pointed out that the pope spoke about the Holocaust three times: immediately upon arriving, at Yad Vashem, and at the airport before leaving.