Pope Benedict XVI plans to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority in May following a written invitation by President Shimon Peres. The visit would be the third trip by a pope to Israel, and Pope Benedict’s first journey to Israel.
Relations between Israel and the Vatican turned chilly several weeks ago when Jewish leaders objected to Pope Benedict's plans to canonize Pope Pius. They charged that Pius did not act to save Jews during the Holocaust and did not try to campaign against the extermination of Jews, nor did he condemn Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) of Nov. 1938, in which 92 Jews were murdered and over 200 synagogues were destroyed in Nazi Germany. In 1940, when the Land of Israel's Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog asked for Papal intervention against the deportation of Spanish and Lithuanian Jews to Germany, there was no response.
Adding to the tension was a statement by Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel that the pope would not visit Israel until the Yad Vashem Memorial Holocaust Museum removes captions under two pictures of Pope Pius that states he was silent during the Holocaust.
A Vatican spokesman stated that the captions would not prevent the pope from visiting Israel. It is unclear whether the pope will go to Yad Vashem, a traditional stop for every visiting foreign dignitary to Israel. It is also possible that the pope may only visit the monuments at Yad Vashem, and refrain from visiting the actual museum.
The papal visit to the Palestinian Authority is expected to renew the Vatican’s relationship with the Muslim world, which has soured in light of Benedict’s citation of an anti-Muslim text.
Dozens of sheiks and other Muslims marched in Hevron last Wednesday to protest recent remarks that were made by Pope Benedict XVI that some have interpreted as insulting to Islam.
Benedict had quoted a Medieval text which called the teachings of Muhammad "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith." Although the Pope later explained that the quote does not reflect his personal views, Muslims worldwide staged protests and attacked Christian churches.