Pope Challenged Mideast Believers, Expert Says

JERUSALEM, MAY 8, 2001 (ZENIT.orgFIDES).- John Paul II´s visit to Syria has helped to overcome the manipulation of religion by some politicians in the Mideast morass, says an expert on Israel-Vatican relations.

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Israeli Franciscan Father David Jaeger, of the Custody of the Holy Land, told the Vatican agency Fides: “At the spiritual level, the Pope presents a view that challenges believers of all religions in the Middle East. In this region, religious identification is often manipulated by exasperated nationalism, or [regarded] as an ideology that justifies oppression. However, the Pope´s words challenge all this.”

John Paul II “has invited Christians, Jews and Muslims to go beyond this level of religious identification and think of their religious belief in a profound sense,” Father Jaeger said.

The address delivered by President Bashar Assad in Damascus is an example of religious manipulation in the Middle East, the priest said.

“It is legitimate that the Syrian president is not in agreement with Israeli policy,” the Franciscan noted. “However, what caused criticism and perplexity was the reference to Jews and Judaism as such, whom he accused of betrayal of Jesus and Mohammed. This has nothing to do with politics.”

The media in Israel appreciated the Pope´s words of peace, but some say that, by his very presence, he was an accomplice of Assad´s accusations.

However, Father Jaeger explained: “Beyond some discordant voices, the Israeli world has understood that the Pope has been a victim of what was said in his presence.”

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