RELIGION: Pope John Paul II knew the pain of Palestinians and Jews
Genevieve Cora Fraser

April 5, 2005

As Pope John Paul II is laid to rest he will be remembered as the Pope who spoke out against acts of hatred and persecution directed against Jews by Christians, and as the first Pope to visit a synagogue and the first to visit the memorial at Auschwitz to victims of the Holocaust. He is also the first pope to visit a mosque.

As part of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000, Pope John Paul II visited the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, which is said to be the site of the grave of Saint John the Baptist, and is one of the most celebrated shrines in Islam. He also met with the president of Israel, visited the Wailing Wall and blessed Israel.

`As bishop of Rome and successor of the Apostle Peter, I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love, and by no political considerations, is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place,` Pope John Paul II said.

As a young man who lived under Nazis domination in his native Poland and whose faith went underground as the Communists set up shop, the Pope experienced first hand the effects of religious persecution as well as the full power and might of one nation bent on crushing another - Nazi Germany`s occupation of Poland.

Such memories seemed to spill forth during that millennium visit to Palestine as he met with president Yasser Arafat and kissed a bowl of Palestinian soil offered by a Palestinian girl and boy. On that occasion the Pope held a two-hour Mass in Manger Square in front of the Basilica of the Nativity, revered as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, where he delivered a speech to the thousands of faithful gathered for the historic moment.

`Peace for the Palestinian people! Peace for all the peoples of the region! No one can ignore how much the Palestinian people have had to suffer in recent decades. Your torment is before the eyes of the world. And it has gone on too long,` the Pope began.

`The Holy See has always recognized that the Palestinian people have the natural right to a homeland, and the right to be able to live in peace and tranquility with the other people of this area.

`I have repeatedly proclaimed that there would be no end to the sad conflict in the Holy Land without stable guarantees for the rights of all the peoples involved, on the basis of international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions and declarations,` he said.

`Only with a just and lasting peace, not imposed but secured through negotiation, will legitimate Palestinian aspirations be fulfilled.`

The Pope later visited the Dheisheh Refugee Camp where he hoped that his visit would `serve to remind the international community that decisive action is needed to improve the situation of the Palestinian people`.

`In a particular way my prayers are with those Palestinians - Muslim and Christian - who are still without a home of their own, their proper place in society and the possibility of a normal working life,` Pope John Paul II stated.

His passing marks not only the loss of a religious leader respected throughout the world, but a man who understood like few others the evil of anti-Semitism but also the legitimate rights of the Palestinians to live in peace and dignity as masters of their own fate on their own land.

Genevieve Cora Fraser is an environmental and human rights activist. Acknowledgement to Arab Media Internet Network