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Latin Patriarch: Pope’s resignation a “shock of vitality”

(Vatican Radio) Patriarch Fouad Twal, the head of the Latin Church in the Holy Land, says he was shocked by the Pope’s announcement earlier this week that he has decided to retire. In an interview published in the Patriarchate’s news bulletin, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem points out that the February 11th announcement came on the anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes, France, and on the World Day of the Sick.

Patriarch Twal said “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.”

This week, Patriarch Twal attended two conferences in Amman, Jordan on the “human dimension of the city of Jerusalem” organized by Jordan’s Prince Hassan.

Dr Mahdi Abdul Hadi, founder of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) was one of the first to take the podium and offer words of solidarity with Pope Benedict.

“A Muslim,” Patriarch Twal said, Dr. Abdul Hadi praised the courage of the Pope, saying ‘this great man who chose to step down and leave (a) more humanly and spiritually prestigious position.’”

The Latin Patriarch continued: “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.’”

Patriarch Twal remembered with fondness and appreciation Pope Benedict’s 2009 pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

“Pope Benedict’s visit to the Holy Places and being in our midst greatly affected us,” he said, “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 (just) 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,” the Patriarch observed. “He was conscious (of) the hyper-sensitivity of the two peoples. But note well that in the 33 speeches made during his 2009 pilgrimage, he spoke of everyone, whether Palestinian or Israeli.”

The Patriarch noted that Pope Benedict maintained a balanced approach to all sides during his visit with Palestinians and Israelis.

“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.”

Asked what he hopes to see from Benedict’s successor at the helm of the papacy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Mother Church in the Holy Land, the Patriarch responded:

“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.”

The Holy Land and indeed the wider Middle East, Patriarch Twal noted, are going through “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.”

Asked what are his fondest recollections of Pope Benedict’s time as pontiff, Patriarch Twal said with a chuckle:

“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 became 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.”