ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, MAY 8, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the unofficial transcript of the press conference Benedict XVI gave today aboard the papal plane en route to Amman, Jordan, on the first leg of his Holy Land trip.
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Father Lombardi: Your Holiness, we thank you for granting us an encounter with you at the beginning of a trip that is so important and difficult. Among other things, you have given us as well the opportunity to wish you a good trip and to tell you that we will collaborate in disseminating the message that you wish to give. As is habitual, the questions we now ask are the result of a collection of questions posed by all the colleagues here present. I ask them for logistical reasons, but they are in reality the fruit of team work.
Your Holiness, this trip takes place at very delicate moment for the Middle East: There are strong tensions — during the Gaza crisis it was speculated that you would not make this trip. At the same time, a few days after your trip, the political leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will meet with [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama. Do you think that you could contribute to the peace process that now seems to be running aground?
Benedict XVI: Good morning! Before all else, I would like to thank you all for the work you have done, and I wish you all a good trip, a good pilgrimage, and a good return.
Regarding the question, certainly I intend to contribute to peace, but not as an individual, but in the name of the Catholic Church, of the Holy See. We are not a political power, but rather a spiritual force, and this spiritual force is a reality that can contribute to the progress of the peace process.
I see [a contribution to be made on] three levels: As believers, we are convinced that prayer is a true force. It opens the world to God: We are convinced that God listens and that he can act in history. I think that if millions of people — believers — would pray, it could really be a force that could influence and contribute to the advancement of peace.
Second point: We try to help in the formation of consciences. The conscience is the capacity of mankind to perceive the truth, but particular interests often block this capacity. And it is a big job to liberate from these interests, to open more to the truth, to the true values: It is a duty of the Church to help one to know the true criteria, the true values, and to liberate ourselves from particular interests.
And thus, the third point, let us draw reason in as well — precisely this is it: precisely because we are not a political party, perhaps too we can more easily, with the light of faith, see the true criteria, help bring an understanding of what contributes to peace and speak to reason, to support the truly reasonable positions. And this we have already done, and we want to do so now and in the future.
Father Lombardi: Thank you, Your Holiness.
Second question: As a theologian, you have reflected in particular on the common roots that unite Christians and Jews. How is it possible that, despite the efforts of dialogue, misunderstandings often occur? How do you see the future of dialogue between the two communities?
Benedict XVI: The important thing is that in reality we have the same roots, the same Books of the Old Testament that are — as much for the Jews as for us — the Book of Revelation. But naturally, after 2,000 years of living a distinct history, even a separate one, the fact that misunderstandings arise shouldn’t be a surprise. Traditions of interpretation, language, and thinking have been formed that are very distinct, we could say a “semantic cosmos” that is very distinct, in such a way that the same word for both traditions signifies different things. And with the use of these words that, in the course of history have taken on different meanings, obviously misunderstandings are born.
We should do everything to learn the language of the other, and it seems to me that we have made great progress. Today we have the possibility of the youth, of the future professors of theology, who can study in Jerusalem, in the Hebrew university, and the Jews have academic contact with us: In this way an encounter of the distinct “semantic cosmos” is made possible.
We learn mutually and we advance on the path of true dialogue, we learn from one another and I am sure and convinced that we are making progress. And this would also help peace, and what is more, reciprocal love.
Father Lombardi: Your Holiness, in this journey you have two essential dimensions of interreligious dialogue, with Islam and with Jews. Is there a common message that has to do with the three religions that make reference to Abraham?
Benedict XVI: Certainly there exists a common message, and there will be an occasion to present it and, despite the difference of origins, we have common roots, because, as I have said, Christianity is born of the Old Testament, and the writings of the New Testament wouldn’t exist without the Old, because it refers permanently to Scripture, that is to say, to the Old Testament.
Islam was also born in an environment where Judaism and various branches of Christianity, Judeo-Christianity, Antiochian-Byzantine-Christianity were present, and all these circumstances are reflected in the tradition of the Quran. In this way we have much in common from our origins, in the faith in the one God. For that, it is important on one hand to maintain dialogue with the two parts — with the Jews and with Islam — and as well a trilateral dialogue.
I myself have cofounded a foundation for the dialogue between the three religions where figures such as Metropolitain Damaskinos and the chief rabbi of France, René-Samuel Sirat, etc. gathered. This foundation also published an edition of the books of the three religions: the Quran, the New Testament and the Old Testament. For this reason the trilateral dialogue should go forward, it is very important for peace, and as well for living one’s own religion well.
Father Lombardi: A last question. Your Holiness, you have often mentioned the problem of the decline of the Christians in the Middle East, and also in particular in the Holy Land. It is a phenomenon with various reasons of a political, economic and social character. What can be done to help the Christians in the region? What contribution do you hope to give with your trip? Is there hope for these Christians in the future? Do you have a particular message as well for the Christians of Gaza that will come to see you in Bethlehem?
Benedict XVI: Certainly there is hope, because now is a moment, as you have said, that is difficult, but also a moment of hope, of a new start, of a new impulse in the path toward peace, and we want to encourage the Christians in the Holy Land, and in all of the Middle East, to stay, to give their contribution to the countries of their origins: They are important components of life in these regions.
Specifically the Church, beyond words of encouragement, has schools and hospitals. In this sense we have a very concrete presence. Our schools form a generation that will have the possibility to be present in public life. We are creating the Catholic University in Jordan, it seems to me this is a great place where the youth — both Muslims and Christians — meet, learn together, where a Christian elite is formed that is prepared specifically to work for peace.
But generally, our schools are very important opportunities to open up a future for Christians, and the hospitals show our presence. Furthermore, there are many Christian associations that help Christians in various ways, and with specific help they encourage them to stay. In this way I hope that Christians are able to find the value, the humility, the patience to stay in these countries, to offer their contribution to their nation’s future.
Father Lombardi: Thank you, Your Holiness, with these answers you have helped to set the tone for our trip from a spiritual point of
view, and from a cultural point of view. I repeat the wishes, also on behalf of all the colleagues here present, and on behalf of those flying now to the Holy Land to help with the media end of this trip, for the success of this difficult mission. Have a good trip and, good work as well to all our colleagues.