The Pontiff Pontificates About Jerusalem, Ignores Reality
This might anger some people. A Jewish guy taking a shot at Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The Bishop of Rome, sovereign of the Vatican City state. But he currently took a shot of his own at another sovereign city-state when he joined in on an appeal with Morrocan King Mohammed VI. In that appeal, the two leaders called for the protection of Jerusalem’s multi-religious charter. That is perfectly fine. In fact, saying that Jerusalem must remain open to all faiths is exactly what any sane and tolerant person should believe. It is also exactly what is occurring right now in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Pope Francis though believes otherwise. Pope Francis’ latest remark is yet another reminder that the first Jesuit pope’s perception of religious practices in Jerusalem is not couched in reality. He contends Jerusalem is somehow walled off for Muslims and their ability to practice their faith is hindered by the government of Israel. The truth is the inverse; Israel’s method of governing its capital city is the only thing guaranteeing freedom of worship to all three Abrahamic religions.
Jerusalem is a wonderful and terrifying place. Wonderful because you can go and see the foundations of three major religions all within the span of a few blocks: where Jews have prayed since before the time of Christ, where Christ carried his cross and gave birth to a new religion, and also where the Prophet Muhammed ascended to heaven on his winged horse Burak. It is also a terrifying place in the most literal of senses; it has its own Wikipedia page for terrorist incidents. Despite that Wikipedia entry, Jerusalem is a hub of activity and a sacred place where more than 4-billion adherents to the three religions can go and practice their beliefs.
It is this belief in their faiths that made Israel a destination for more than 4-million tourists this past year. While Tel Aviv has some of the greatest beaches and nightlife in the west, and you can get in touch with your mystical side up north in Safed or in the Negev Desert more to the South, it is the religious pull of Jerusalem in the east that brings people to the State of Israel. Not just diaspora Jews, or fundamentalist American Christians, but people of all faiths open up their schedules (and wallets) to take a trip to Israel, and specifically, Jerusalem.
For Christians, there are few places more powerful than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is routine to see people crying at the foot of Christ’s tomb. They come and feel a part of something much larger and grander than themselves. They see the lines of Christians from every part of the world, and they feel the connection to not just the adherents of Christianity today, but to the Christians that came before them; to the Christians that were thrown to the lions in the Colosseum, and they understand the sacrifices made by those earliest of Christians and to Jesus Christ himself. They do this right in Jerusalem proper. Governed by Israel. Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike can all enter the Church and revel in its power.
Just a short walk from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the Kotel or the Western/Wailing Wall. It is the only remnant of the Second Temple. Jewish edict proclaims that the Messiah will come alongside the restoration of the Temple. It is the second most sacred place in all of Judaism. It is also open to all faiths: Jews, Christians, even Muslims (et al) can visit and pray at the Kotel. When Pope Francis says that Jerusalem’s multi-religious heritage must be open to all faiths, this is a perfect microcosm for what can occur when one of the holiest sites of one religion is open to all.
However, the Kotel is only the second-most holy site to Jews. The actual holiest site is the Foundation Stone or Holiest of Holies. According to Jewish teachings (like the Kabbalistic The Zohar), it is the spot where the world and the first person (Adam) was created. Yet, Jews cannot pray there. Neither can Christians. That is because the stone is also extremely sacred to Islam. According to Islamic teachings, it is the spot where Muhammed, alongside the Angel Gabriel, took flight on the winged horse Burak and ascended to heaven. The Holiest of Holies/Foundation Stone is actually located in the Dome of the Rock (Foundation Stone–>Dome of the Rock). This sacred location for Islam is rightfully open to all Muslims, but Christians and Jews are not permitted from showing any sign of “religious display.”
Jerusalem will always be a contentious issue. The three Abrahamic religions all claim the capital of Israel to contain one of, if not the, holiest locations in their religions. Some of these most sacred places are literally right on top of one another (or in some cases are the actual same spot). Any location that holds so much power to so many people is obviously going to create conflict. However, what the world does not need is a Pope coyly chastising one government about the restrictions of these sacred spots. Especially when that government in question is doing everything within its power to keep the area as religiously open (and safe) as possible. By joining this appeal with the Morrocon king, the Pope is slyly contending that it is Israel who suppresses the openness of religious belief. But as any Jew, Christian, or Muslim who has ever visited Jerusalem can attest; Israel’s method for governing Jerusalem is the only thing guaranteeing freedom of worship within the country’s capital. If Pope Francis thinks otherwise, he can go and see for himself–Israel is not stopping him… or anybody else.