Can the Pope count?

Pope Benedictus XVI arrives in Israel today, Monday. What’s the fuss?

Last night, Tel Aviv traffic came to a halt for several hours, as 50,000 people turned up to watch Depeche Mode in concert. And as I write, crowds as surging towards Mt Meron near Safed to commemorate “Lag Ba’omer” the cessation of a plague that killed thousands of rabbinical student nearly 2,000 years ago. The expected attendance is estimated at 500,000.

As for the Pope, how many can he count on? Officially, there are around 150,000 Christians in Israel, the one country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. Most of these are from the Eastern Orthodox groups. Catholics are few in number.

The Pope’s visit is important for a number of reasons. It is not just that he is expected to make some definitive statements denouncing anti-semitism. His delegation will push to seek control of Vatican owned property in sensitive areas, like the Old City of Jerusalem. How all this will help to further the continually awkward Vatican- Jerusalem diplomatic loop is difficult to assess at this early stage.

One thing is clear. At best, the Pope will draw with him around 15,000 pilgrims – and no doubt others will follow later where he has lead. But these numbers are still insignificant compared to other mass events in Israel. (Pun not noticed, until after it was written – MH).

The Pope will learn that Christans are free to pray in Israel, something he will struggle to find elsewhere in the region. However, he has much more work to complete if he wants to secure a greater role in the Middle East for the Vatican.

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One Comment on “Can the Pope count?”

  1. David Says:

    The Catholic claim over some of the “Christian holy sites” seems a bit odd. Why is their claim better than the claim of other Chistian groups? Jewish groups that also find the same places holy? Is this some sort of “land for pretending to be nice to you” deal that they learnt from out neighbours?


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