ROME, MAY 9, 2001 (ZENIT.org–AVVENIRE).- The current bloodletting in the Middle East, and John Paul II´s visit to Syria and his calls for peace, have brought the world´s attention back to that troubled region.
Igor Man, editor of the Italian newspaper La Stampa and an expert on Mideast peoples and cultures, has followed closely the Pope´s pilgrimage. In this interview, Man discusses the Pontiff´s “strategy.”
–Q: Why are the Pope´s appeals for peace not heard?
–Man: The Middle East is not just like other places. It is a place of enormous suffering, of lost and won wars, of burnt-out hopes. A very different war is seen there, intermittent but terrible. Hawk Ariel Sharon, who should guarantee the security hoped for by his citizens, is in Israel. Yet, I wonder, does someone who orders massacres and bombs cities, work for security?
–Q: A question that remains unanswered. Will the harshness of repression against Palestinians end by reawakening in Israelis that feeling of terror that Yitzhak Rabin had succeeded in dispelling?
–Man: Yes, violence only breeds violence. Hatred is a venomous pollen that has been whirling around for too long in Palestine.
–Q: No one can say that he is faultless. Syria, which accuses Israel of massacring innocents, forgets what its army did in 1982, when it massacred many innocent Israelis. This helps to understand why John Paul II´s appeals find no response.
–Man: The Pope appeals to consciences and, therefore, it would be important to know who in the Middle East today is prepared to hear reflections that especially affect ethical aspects. Sharon is a soldier, a great soldier and, as a result, he places his bets on war. I think, however, that in Arafat´s heart, the heart of a believer, there is greater sensitivity to the Pope´s appeals.
–Q: Yet in Israel there are politicians who are able to accept profoundly the words of peace formulated by the Pope.
–Man: Last year, when John Paul II visited the Holocaust Memorial in the Holy Land, he was so spontaneous in expressing his “pietàs” that, on that occasion, Prime Minister Ehud Barak approached him, weeping, and said: “May you be blessed in Israel.” However, all that passes. Little by little, divisions emerge, old resentments reappear.
–Q: The Pope´s visit to the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus was yet another typical example of the divisions that exist in the Middle East.
–Man: It touched many hearts among the Arab population. They had never seen a “man of God” in a mosque, who was not a Muslim, so profoundly absorbed in prayer.
–Q: However, some Muslim sectors, where religion and politics are combined, were disappointed by the fact that the Pope did not condemn Israeli violence.
–Man: At the same time, some in Israel could not understand why the Pontiff did not reply to the invectives against Israel leveled by the president of Syria, in the Pontiff´s presence. The Pope listens. His task is not to engage in debates. He says what he thinks is right. He does not follow the classic rules of diplomacy. He knows he has a mission he must fulfill and goes forward on his path. This is this man´s great strength.
–Q: This mission is directly related to the principal objective of the trip, to follow in St. Paul´s footsteps.
–Man: Now, at the end of his pilgrimage, the Pope can really identify with the Apostle to the Gentiles. I think that, in a certain sense, the image of this pilgrim Pope is found in those words.