The world was ready to pounce on him, over the most explosive questions: anti-Semitism, the war. But Benedict XVI did it his own way. He took two words from the Bible. With the first, he explained the conditions for peace. With the second, he illuminated the mystery of the Holocaust
ROME, May 12, 2009 – As soon as he landed in Israel on Monday, Benedict XVI immediately took up the most controversial questions: first peace and security, then the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.
On both fronts, the ambush was set. He was subjected to constant pressure, not all of it above-board. For many of his critics, the script was already written, and they were simply waiting to judge whether and how the pope would stick to it.
Instead, Benedict XVI acted with surprising originality, in both cases.
He asserted the unbreakable bond between the arrival of peace and that “seeking God” which had been the dominant theme of his memorable speech to cultural figures in Paris: one of the capital discourses of his pontificate. He developed the theme of security – which is crucial for Israel – on the basis of the biblical word “betah,” which means security, but also trust: and the one cannot stand without the other.
On his visit to Yad Vashem – the memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, where their names are inscribed by the millions – the pope illustrated the meaning of another biblical word: the “name.” The names of all “are indelibly inscribed in the memory of Almighty God.” And therefore “one can never take away the name of another human being,” not even when one intends to take away everything he has. The cry of the slain rises from the ground as in the time of Abel, against any spilling of innocent blood, and God hears all of their cries, because “his mercies are not spent.” The pope wrote these last words, taken from the book of Lamentations, in the guest book that he signed.
Benedict XVI’s speech at Yad Vashem, and before this the one he gave on peace and security during his visit to president Shimon Peres, are reproduced below. Both are from Monday, May 11, 2009, the first day of his visit to Israel.
“Seek God, and peace will be given to you”
by Benedict XVI
Mr President, […] this afternoon I wish to assure you […] and all the people of the State of Israel that my pilgrimage to the holy places is one of prayer for the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and for all humanity. Indeed, I pray daily for peace born of justice to return to the Holy Land and the entire region, bringing security and renewed hope for all.
Peace is above all a divine gift. For peace is the Almighty’s promise to humanity, and harbors unity. In the book of the prophet Jeremiah we read: “I know the plans I have in mind for you – it is the Lord who speaks – plans for peace not disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11-12). The prophet reminds us of the Almighty’s promise that he can “be found”, that he “will listen”, that he “will gather us together as one”. But there is a proviso: we must “seek him”, and “seek him with all our heart” (cf. ibid., 12-14).
To the religious leaders present this afternoon, I wish to say that the particular contribution of religions to the quest for peace lies primarily in the wholehearted, united search for God. Ours is the task of proclaiming and witnessing that the Almighty is present and knowable even when he seems hidden from our sight, that he acts in our world for our good, and that a society’s future is marked with hope when it resonates in harmony with his divine order. It is God’s dynamic presence that draws hearts together and ensures unity. In fact, the ultimate foundation of unity among persons lies in the perfect oneness and universality of God, who created man and woman in his image and likeness in order to draw us into his own divine life so that all may be one.
Religious leaders must therefore be mindful that any division or tension, any tendency to introversion or suspicion among believers or between our communities, can easily lead to a contradiction which obscures the Almighty’s oneness, betrays our unity, and contradicts the One who reveals himself as “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6; Ps 138:2; Ps 85:11). My friends: Jerusalem, which has long been a crossroads for peoples of many different origins, is a city which affords Jews, Christians and Muslims both the duty and the privilege to bear witness together to the peaceful coexistence long desired by worshippers of the one God; to lay bare the Almighty’s plan for the unity of the human family announced to Abraham; and to proclaim the true nature of man as a seeker of God. Let us resolve to ensure that through the teaching and guidance of our respective communities we shall assist them to be true to who they are as believers, ever aware of the infinite goodness of God, the inviolable dignity of every human being, and the unity of the entire human family.
Sacred Scripture also presents us with an understanding of security. According to the Hebrew usage, security – “batah” – arises from trust and refers not just to the absence of threat but also to the sentiment of calmness and confidence. In the book of the prophet Isaiah we read of a time of divine blessing: “Once more the Spirit is poured upon us… and justice will dwell in the wilderness and integrity in the fertile land; integrity will bring peace, and justice everlasting security” (Is 32:15-17). Security, integrity, justice and peace. In God’s design for the world, these are inseparable. Far from being simply products of human endeavor, they are values which stem from God’s fundamental relationship with man, and dwell as a common patrimony in the heart of every individual.
There is only one way to protect and promote these values: exercise them! Live them! No individual, family, community or nation is exempt from the duty to live in justice and to work for peace. And naturally, civic and political leaders are expected to ensure just and proper security for the people whom they have been elected to serve. That objective forms a part of the rightful promotion of values common to humanity and thus cannot conflict with the unity of the human family. The authentic values and goals of a society, which always safeguard human dignity, are indivisible, universal and interdependent (cf. Address to the United Nations, 18 April 2008). Thus they cannot be satisfied when they fall prey to particular interests or piecemeal politics. A nation’s true interest is always served by the pursuit of justice for all.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, lasting security is a matter of trust, nurtured in justice and integrity, and sealed through the conversion of hearts which stirs us to look the other in the eye, and to recognize the “Thou”, as my equal, my brother, my sister. In this way does not society itself become the “fruitful field” (Is 32:15) marked, not by blocks or obstructions, but by cohesion and vibrancy? Can it not become a community with noble aspirations where all are willingly afforded access to education, family housing and the opportunity for employment, a society ready to build upon the lasting foundations of hope?
To conclude, I would like to turn to the ordinary families of this city, of this country. What parents would ever want violence, insecurity, or disunity for their son or daughter? What humane political end can ever be served through conflict and violence? I hear the cry of those who live in this land for justice, for peace, for respect for their dignity, for lasting security, a daily life free from the fear of outside threats and senseless violence. And I know that considerable numbers of men and women and young people are working for peace and solidarity through cultural programs and through initiatives of compassionate and practical outreach; humble enough to forgive, they have the courage to grasp the dream that is their right.
Mr President, I thank you for the courtesy you have shown to me and I assure you again of my prayers for the Government and all the citizens of this State. May a genuine conversion of the hearts of all lead to an ever strengthening commitment to peace and security through justice for everyone. Shalom!
“Their names are indelibly inscribed in the memory of God”
by Benedict XVI
“I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name… I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off” (Is 56:5).
This passage from the Book of the prophet Isaiah furnishes the two simple words which solemnly express the profound significance of this revered place: “yad”, memorial; “shem”, name. 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 in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again. Most of all, their names are forever fixed in the memory of Almighty God.
One can rob a neighbor of possessions, opportunity or freedom. One can weave an insidious web of lies to convince others that certain groups are undeserving of respect. Yet, try as one might, one can never take away the name of a fellow human being.
Sacred Scripture teaches us the importance of names in conferring upon someone a unique mission or a special gift. God called Abram “Abraham” because he was to become the “father of many nations” (Gen 17:5). Jacob was called “Israel” because he had “contended with God and man and prevailed” (Gen 32:29). The names enshrined in this hallowed monument will forever hold a sacred place among the countless descendants of Abraham.
Like his, their faith was tested. Like Jacob, they were immersed in the struggle to discern the designs of the Almighty. May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten! And may all people of goodwill remain vigilant in rooting out from the heart of man anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!
The Catholic Church, committed to the teachings of Jesus and intent on imitating his love for all people, feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here. Similarly, she draws close to all those who today are subjected to persecution on account of race, color, condition of life or religion – their sufferings are hers, and hers is their hope for justice. As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I reaffirm – like my predecessors – that the Church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of peace (cf. Ps 85:9).
The Scriptures teach that it is our task to remind the world that this God lives, even though we sometimes find it difficult to grasp his mysterious and inscrutable ways. He has revealed himself and continues to work in human history. He alone governs the world with righteousness and judges all peoples with fairness (cf. Ps 9:9).
Gazing upon the faces reflected in the pool that lies in stillness within this memorial, one cannot help but recall how each of them bears a name. I can only imagine the joyful expectation of their parents as they anxiously awaited the birth of their children. What name shall we give this child? What is to become of him or her? Who could have imagined that they would be condemned to such a deplorable fate!
As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood. It is the cry of Abel rising from the earth to the Almighty. Professing our steadfast trust in God, we give voice to that cry using words from the Book of Lamentations which are full of significance for both Jews and Christians:
“The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent; They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness. My portion is the Lord, says my soul; therefore will I hope in him. Good is the Lord to the one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him; It is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord” (Lam 3:22-26).
My dear friends, I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope.