Pope Brings His Gentle Touch to the Holy Land

Israel's unending struggle is written into her very name, Isra-El: "struggles with God." Since its formation in 1948, the world has watched the tumult of the modern state of Israel and one thing remains unclear: is the "struggle" between Israel herself and God, or between Israel and the world, with God beside her?

Either way, that Israel will always struggle should by now be understood, whether viewed through the lenses of history or scripture.

Pope Benedict XVI has been traveling about the Holy Land as a "pilgrim of peace" and each step -- whether in Jerusalem or Bethlehem or Nazareth -- has been a necessarily careful one, as though the built-up sludge of incessant struggle may hide a stumbling block. The squabbling children of Abraham who populate this land cry out for just resolutions to their conflicts, then wearily reject them all. Like nesting birds nicking shiny things, they grab at anything that offers a gleam of support for their staked claim and reject what does not shine their way.

Thus, at an "inter-religious dialogue" the pontiff's call for mutual understanding inspired a Jew-hating diatribe by Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi and the pope's encouragement at Yad Vashem was taken, by some, for coldness.

Pope John Paul II was a dramatic pipe organ of a man; with a chord he could shake a crowd and bring it to its knees. When he spoke at Yad Vashem in 2000 his remarks were emotional and Israel's wail, ever-present its heaving bosom of struggle, found some release in them. By comparison, Pope Benedict XVI is a cerebral piano; he builds a thoughtful piece, note by note, and trusts that the listener will follow along:

I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah. They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names: these are indelibly etched. ... Their names are forever fixed in the memory of Almighty God.