Eschewing emotionalism for pragmatism, Benedict’s less empathetic remarks met mixed reviews. Some Jews, looking for a personal balm, complained that they’d “missed the tone of shared grief.” Others said empathy-seeking “missed the point,” that the pope was redirecting attention away from past horrors, in order to focus on present dangers in the rising of a “new” global anti-Semitism.
A reading of all of Benedict’s remarks throughout this pilgrimage suggests that he is doing more; he is pushing aside entangled, energy-sapping emotionalism to propose a reinvestment in our shared humanity. This last great man of the 20th century lived through Nazism and statism and he understands the societal weaknesses that spawned them. His speeches in the Holy Land are of a piece, meant to paint the “big picture.” Yes, Israel has enemies who would push all Jews into the sea, and yes, Palestinians must have a homeland if they are to have any hope, and yes, both of these truths are tragically complex. But any solutions, suggests Benedict, will have to be built upon the foundation of “our common belief in one God, the Father of the human family.”
This seems a simplistic response to ancient wounds and rivalries, where grudges are long and trust has been shattered, but Benedict knows that a strengthened family can be a bulwark against encroaching evil and the abode of healing and grace. A healthy family knows no “stalemate of fear.”
In Nazareth, he said:
In the family each person, whether the smallest child or the oldest relative, is valued for himself or herself, and not seen simply as a means to some other end. Here we begin to glimpse … the essential role of the family as the first building block of a well-ordered and welcoming society. … Let us reaffirm here our commitment to be a leaven of respect and love in the world around us. … Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men’s souls before it kills their bodies!
Emotions have their place, but at Nazareth, something good comes as Benedict speaks the truth: nothing will change until the squabbling children of Abraham can remember that they are family, first. Not anonymous “others,” but children of one Almighty Parent who loved them equally into being and who knows them “by name.”
And if their name is Israel, this Parent has promised, they will not struggle alone.