JERUSALEM – Like everywhere in the world, astonishment also reigned in Jerusalem after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Monday, February 11.  At 85, he no longer feels to have the strength for the papal office and its responsibilities.  Such a resignation has not occurred in the Church since the fifteenth century. His Beatitude Fouad Twal. Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, expressed his reactions of profound respect and affection for Pope Benedict XVI.

1. How did you feel at the announcement of the Pope’s departure?

Like everyone, I was shocked by the news of the Pope’s resignation announced on Monday, February 11, the anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes and the World Day of the Sick.

At first, I felt pain and sadness of a friend who loves the Holy Land and its little flock.

Behind this resignation, I also feel a deep sense of awe, of admiration and wisdom: we need to see in this decision a “shock of vitality” that the Pope offers for the life of the Church committed to the Year of Faith.

Yesterday in Amman, I attended two conferences on the human dimension of the city of Jerusalem. The meeting was organized by Prince Hassan. Before his speech, Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi (founder of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), a Muslim, praised the courage of the Pope, “this great man who chose to step down and  leave the more humanly and spiritually prestigious position.”  Dr. Mahdi pointed out that with such a gesture, the Pope has done nothing but win their hearts and prompted them to love him more.“In a time when many leaders and heads of state cling to their power, ” he said, “we hope that they, too, have the same courage, the same humility for their own good and for the good of their countries.”

2. What do you remember concretely and specifically of his pontificate in relation to the the Holy Land?

Surely, I remember his pilgrimage here in 2009. Pope Benedict’s visit to the Holy Places and being in our midst greatly affected us and we could  closely feel his tender love for the Mother Church. He was already a great Pope in our hearts and by his actions towards our Church, he showed us an even greater Pope. I must admit the Pope has a noble heart as the Holy Land is noble.

Pope Benedict XVI has always been very aware of the complexity of the political situation  from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was conscious the hyper-sensitivity of the two peoples. But note well that in the 33 speeches made during his 2009 pilgrimage, he spoke of every one, whether Palestinian or Israeli.  However, the Pope largely transcended partisan factions. He came first as a pilgrim, in a spirit of humility and prayer to reflect on the holy places. He came as pastor to comfort us, strengthen us and call us to conversion. It is certain that Benedict XVI also came as a peacemaker. He wanted to be on the side of all, of peace and justice.

3. What do you expect from his successor on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the life of Mother Church?

I stay away from all speculations or concerns on this issue. Everything is the work of the Holy Spirit. As we wait we will keep Pope Benedict XVI in our prayers and our Cardinals during the conclave until the new Pope is elected.

Whoever is elected, the Church will keep the same line taken by the Holy See regarding the political life in Israel and Palestine. The institution does not die. The Holy See continues with its world and humanitarian mission.

Our Holy Land, as well as our Middle East, live in a turbulent period in history. We need a Pope who is close to us. Our strength will come from our collaboration, particularly in interfaith dialogue and the desire for a just and lasting peace for all.

4. What is your best memory  with him?

The best moment of my contact with the Pope was during the three days spent in Jordan in May 2009.  We were together in the ‘popemobile.’  They were three days when our conversations were simple, relaxing and full of friendship. There was no protocol, no masters of ceremony, neither journalists nor the public. The Pope become a true friend. We spoke in Italian and the Pope smiled when Msgr. Georg Gänswein, his personal secretary, reminded him of speaking in German that “the Patriarch speaks and understands German” (laughter).

Interview by Christophe Lafontaine