Father Atuire Reflects on 1st Stop of Papal Holy Land Pilgrimage

Popes share the same mission that Moses had: to lead people toward God, reflected a Vatican aide today as he commented on Benedict XVI’s first full day in the Holy Land.


Father Caesar Atuire, the delegate administrator of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, spoke with ZENIT about the Pope’s trip, under way in Jordan. The Holy Father made his first stop at a biblical site this morning, visiting the Basilica of the Moses Memorial on Mount Nebo. Tradition holds that at this spot, God showed Moses the Promised Land.

Father Atuire, who is accompanying the Pontiff during his weeklong pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, reflected on why Benedict XVI chose to start his pilgrimage on this mountain, which rises some 800 meters (2,625 feet) above sea level and offers a view of the Jordan Valley, Jericho, and on days clearer than today, Jerusalem.

“Each pope is like a Moses who goes leading the people toward the encounter with God,” he said, recalling that the ultimate goal of every pilgrimage is to meet God. In the case of the Bishop of Rome, he added, the entire Christian people journeys beside him, as do the members of the press following him from stop to stop.

The place where Moses died is the privileged gate to the Holy Land, Father Atuire contended. “Every pilgrim that sets off toward Jerusalem, following the footsteps of the people of Israel who walked in the desert for 40 years, in beginning with Mount Nebo, completes the same itinerary in search of the city of God and the land that God has promised.”

Mosque visit

In the light of the visit to Mount Nebo, Father Atuire reflected on another of Benedict XVI’s stops today: the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque. This is the second mosque the Pope has visited in his four plus years as Pontiff. The first was during his 2006 trip to Turkey.

With this gesture, the priest suggested, the Pope “highlights a reality that is common to every religion. We as believers in some way have a challenge facing each one of us: We live in a world that is ever more secularized.”

The Holy Father’s visit to the mosque, Father Atuire added, also manifests again his openness to followers of other religions.

“The Pope,” he said, “is a man who is open to an encounter with others, without fears, without prejudices, so that together we can do something to improve this world.”