Israel to Pope: Welcome — Now Go Home

  • Share
  • Read Later
The pope may be wondering just how welcome a guest he will be in Israel. Just two months after overriding Catholic objections to allow Muslims to build a mosque adjacent to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Israeli government angered the Vatican Sunday by breaching diplomatic protocol in announcing that Pope John Paul II will visit the Holy Land in March (the Vatican considers that it should make announcements about the pope's schedule). "The Israeli government regards the papal visit as a coup, because they believe that his visit to Jerusalem as a guest of Israel lends legitimacy to Israel's claim of sovereignty over the city," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "But diplomatic relations between them, which have existed only since 1994, remain tense." Like most of the international community, the Vatican has never recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and it considers itself something of a stakeholder in the city by virtue of its religious sites.

But the pontiff's welcome from ordinary Israelis is likely to be tepid, at best. "The history of anti-Semitism in the Catholic Church makes Israelis deeply resentful of the pope," says Beyer. "Despite his efforts to rectify some of the wrongs, many Jews believe official Catholic attitudes contributed directly to the Holocaust, and that the church hasn't made an adequate apology." Even the Palestinian Christian population may have mixed feelings — most Palestinian Christians belong to Orthodox sects, whose relationship to the Vatican is traditionally hostile, particularly in relation to conflicts over control of Jerusalem's Christian shrines. The Israel trip may be the most politically difficult of John Paul II's papacy. After all, as Beyer notes, "he has more than his fair share of detractors here."