Vatican representative: Visit to focus on cooperation

"The aim of the Holy Father coming is to pray; to pray for peace, to pray for unity," says Monsignor Antonio Franco, the apostolic nuncio to Israel.

Antonio Franco 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Antonio Franco 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Pope Benedict XVI will try to avoid controversial issues and focus on interfaith cooperation in his upcoming visit, according to Monsignor Antonio Franco, the apostolic nuncio to Israel. "The aim of the Holy Father coming is to pray; to pray for peace, to pray for unity," said Franco, who discussed the plans for the visit at a briefing held Monday by the Mishkenot Sha'ananim Israel Newsmaker Forum and the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. Franco said the pope's "pilgrimage" to Israel, which starts May 11, will not deal with contentions such as the reinstatement of the prayer to convert the Jews, the role of the church in World War II, or the church's ties with Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson. "All those issues… it's buried and it's solved," Franco said. "The pope does not come here to discuss issues or talk or quarrel." Instead, the pope will focus on interfaith relations, holding a first-of-its-kind meeting with interreligious dialogue groups and activists. "This is work that must be always encouraged, supported and favored in every kind of way, because it's really of paramount importance," Franco said. As in previous visits, the pope will also meet with religious leaders, as well as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In addition, the pope will hold three masses: a large open-air mass in Jerusalem, and masses in Bethlehem and Nazareth. "He comes as a pilgrim, so this reminds us of the whole specific and unique meaning and importance and significance of the Holy Land," Franco said. Though this is "a pastoral visit and not a political visit," according to Franco, he added that the pope cared about and was trying to help resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and improve the condition of Catholics living in Israel and the territories. Though the main message of the pope's speech is still unknown, Franco said he guessed it would "deal with our reality of the Holy Land, with our difficulties, our hopes, our frustrations, perhaps, and will try to bring a message of hope."