The Pilgrim Pope

Pope Benedict's visit to the Holy Land is a bold step towards healing past wounds and pushing inter-

Israeli protocol has it that all visiting dignitaries to the Jewish state should take some time to visit Yad Vashem, the famous Holocaust Museum.

It’s a profoundly moving experience, and offers a valuable insight into the predominant Israeli (and Jewish) mindset: "We will never again allow the Jewish people to be at the mercy of others, without a homeland and without a refuge."

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has now also visited Yad Vashem, but with one slight difference.

He was subtly manoeuvred past the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ - a display at the Yad Vashem museum that comments on the apparent inaction of Pope Pius XII during World War Two - with an awkward smile and a clearing of the throat.

Many have criticised the wartime Pope for not publicly speaking out against Nazi Germany when many believe his intervention could have saved lives.

The Vatican disputes this narrative and argues that Pius remained silent so as not to jeopardise the safety of Catholics, and to quietly protect Jewish communities where he could, including in Rome. The Vatican claims to have evidence of this, but the matter is far from clear cut, and remains contentious.

So it caused waves throughout the Jewish world when the Vatican announced that they were considering the beatification of Pope Pius XII.

This disquiet was compounded by the reinstatement of Holocaust-denier Richard Williamson into the Catholic fold. Bishop Williamson apologised for embarrassing the Pope with his comments, after much arm-twisting, but still refuses to recant.

However, in amongst all of the controversy and clumsy diplomatic manoeuvring, the Pope’s current visit to the State of Israel remains a strong statement by a pontiff who is undoubtedly genuinely committed to the causes of peace, fighting injustice and remembrance of the Holocaust.

As a German, Pope Benedict XVI has taken it upon himself to continue the invaluable work done by John Paul II before him, both with regard to the Holocaust and to Catholic-Jewish relations. He was of course, as Cardinal Ratzinger, a key advisor to his predecessor.

Upon arriving at Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, the Pope warned that antisemitism remains a serious global problem and at Yad Vashem he spoke out against all those who have "denied, belittled or forgotten" the Holocaust.

True, there have been errors of judgement; the Pope has heard the critics and is making difficult decisions based on what he believes is right. The media has been waiting with baited breath for him to speak on issues such as the Holocaust and the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Should he speak at Yad Vashem? Should he speak in front of the security barrier? Which Holy site is it appropriate for him to visit? What statements, if any, should he make on the peace process? The visit was always going to be a diplomatic minefield, but the Pope has navigated it well in order to bring a message of peace and reconciliation to Israel and to the Jewish people, as well as to the Palestinians and the Muslim world.

Pope John Paul II’s legacy may be difficult to follow, but there is no question that the Jewish community will now look to build on positive relations with the Catholic Church both in the UK and abroad, thanks, in no small part, to Pope Benedict XVI.

Mark Frazer is Public Affairs Officer for the Defence & Group Relations Division of the Board of Deputies of British Jews

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Manchester united: "A minority of absolute idiots are trying to break us apart"

At the vigil, one man's T-shirt read: "The only thing that's allowed to be separated by colour is the laundry."

A day after one of the worst atrocities in the history of the city, Manchester's people were keen to show the world the resilience of the Mancunian spirit.

Dom's, an Italian restaurant, is in walking distance from Manchester Arena, where 22 people lost their lives to a suicide bomber the night before. On Tuesday, the staff were giving out free coffee, tea and pizza to anyone who needed it. On a table outside, there was a condolences book, and teary passersby left RIP messages to those who perished. Under a bright blue sky, the community seemed more united than ever, the goodwill pouring out of everyone I met. But the general mood was sombre. 

"We need to make space for healing and for building up our community again, and just getting people to feel comfortable in their own city," the Dean of Manchester, Rogers Govendor, told me.

The terrorist has been named as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old Mancunian of Libyan descent. But with a population of 600,000, Manchester is a cosmopolitan hub, and proud of it. Throughout the day I encountered people of all skin shades and religions. On one of the roads off Albert Square, a couple of Orthodox Jewish boys set up a little stand, where people could grab a bottle of water and, if they so desired, hold hands and pray.

On the night of the tragedy, Muslim and Sikh cab drivers turned off the meter and made their way to Manchester Arena to offer free rides to anyone - many of them injured - who trying to escape the mayhem and reach safety. "It's what we do around here," my taxi driver said with a thick Arabic accent.

The dissonance between the increasingly frantic debate on social media and what was discussed on the streets was stark. I spoke, on and off the record, with about two dozen residents, eavesdropped on a number of conversations, and not once did I hear anyone speaking out against the cultural melting pot that Manchester is today. If anything, people were more eager than ever to highlight it. 

"Manchester has always been hugely multicultural, and people always pull together at times of trouble and need," said Andrew Hicklin. "They are not going to change our society and who we are as people. We live free lives."

It was also a day where political divisions were put aside. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn agreed to suspend their campaigns. For the next few days there will be no Labour vs Tory, no Brexiteer vs Remainer, at least not in this part of the country. This city has closed ranks and nothing will be allowed to come between that cohesion.

"I don't demonise anyone," said Dennis Bolster, who stopped by to sign the condolences book outside Dom's. "I just know a small minority of absolute idiots, driven by whatever they think they are driven by, are the people who are trying to break us apart."

Later in the day, as people were getting off work, thousands flocked to Albert Square to show their respects to the victims. Members of the Sikh community entered the square carrying "I love MCR" signs. The crowd promptly applauded. A middle-aged man wore a T-shirt which said: "The only thing that's allowed to be separated by colour is the laundry." A moment of silent was observed. It was eerie, at times overwhelmingly sad. But it was also moving and inspiring.

Local poet Tony Walsh brought brief respite from the pain when he recited "This is the Place", his ode to the city and its people. The first verse went:

This is the place In the north-west of England. It’s ace, it’s the best

And the songs that we sing from the stands, from our bands

Set the whole planet shaking.

Our inventions are legends. There’s nowt we can’t make, and so we make brilliant music

We make brilliant bands

We make goals that make souls leap from seats in the stands

On stage, everyday political foes became temporary allies. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, home secretary Amber Rudd, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and house speaker John Bercow all brushed shoulders. Their message was clear: "we are Manchester too."

The vigil lasted a little over half an hour. On other occasions, a crowd this size in the centre of Manchester would give authorities reason for concern. But not this time. Everyone was in their best behaviour. Only a few were drinking. 

As Mancunians made their way home, I went over to a family that had been standing not far from me during the vigil. The two children, a boy and a girl, both not older than 10, were clutching their parents' hands the whole time. I asked dad if he will give them a few extra hugs and kisses as he tucks them in tonight. "Oh, absolutely," he said. "Some parents whose children went to the concert last night won't ever get to do that again. It's heartbreaking."

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

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