Vatican and the Middle East; papal trip expenses

| Father Kenneth Doyle | August 27, 2015 | 0 Comments

Q. I am a faithfully practicing Catholic and read the Bible daily. As a supporter of Israel, I see their task in protecting the Holy Land as difficult but necessary. I find it hard to accept the Vatican’s proposal of a two-state agreement as a solution to the woes of the Middle East. I base my opinion on the history of the Palestinians’ actions and on their too-close affiliation with the terrorist organization Hamas. I feel guilty disagreeing with the Vatican, but I see this personally as the moment to side with Israel. Because of my Catholic faith, am I wrong to think this way?

A. The Vatican has long believed that the way to peace in the Middle East is best served by the creation of two separate independent nations living side by side. In a May 2014 visit to Tel Aviv, for example, Pope Francis called for the “universal recognition” of “the right of the state of Israel to exist and flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders.”

At the same time, Pope Francis said “there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement.” The position of the Vatican is that both parties should respect the legitimacy of the other with no recourse to violence. As Pope Benedict XVI told the president of Israel in 2009, “A nation’s true interest is always served by the pursuit of justice for all.”

To your question, the Catholic Church acknowledges that all issues of public policy do not carry the same moral weight and that there is a hierarchy of values. Stances regarding intrinsic evil — on racism, for example, or on the unborn child’s right to life — have special claim to a Catholic’s conscience.

There are other issues, though — such as health care, immigration and foreign policy — where moral teaching, prudential judgment and political strategies are intermingled. On these, the positions taken by the Church, while deserving of thoughtful examination, do not carry the same binding authority. The two-state solution in the Middle East is one of these, and you are free to disagree.

Q. The pope will soon be visiting the United States and will speak about the treatment of the poor. Before his visit, many millions of dollars will probably be spent to pretty up the churches in three cities, as well as the surrounding areas.

Some time ago, the same thing happened in San Antonio. Whole neighborhoods were cleaned up just for the pope to drive through them. Could not this money be better spent for direct help to the poor and the homeless?

A. No doubt there are considerable expenditures associated with papal trips — both for the preparation of sites and for security. Those costs are shared by Catholic communities in the host areas and by municipal governments (as with welcoming any public figure or celebrity).

The hope is that direct contact with the pope will produce notable benefits — increased Mass attendance, growth in religious vocations, etc. — and such results have regularly been documented with papal travel in the past (notably, during the pontificate of St. John Paul II).

Now comes a new metric under the heading of “papal effect.” A poll by Zogby Analytics has shown that one year into the papacy of Pope Francis, a fourth of American Catholics have increased their charitable donations during that 12-month period. Seventy-seven percent of those donors attribute their increased giving to the message and example of Pope Francis himself.

Concern for the poor has been a consistent highlight of the message of Pope Francis. (He said in “The Joy of the Gospel,” for example, “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them.”)

Consistent with that emphasis, the pope has focused on poverty in scheduling his upcoming trip to the U.S.

In Washington he will meet with homeless people at a downtown church; in New York, he will speak with immigrant families at a school in East Harlem; in Philadelphia he will visit a prison.

The expectation of the Vatican — and the hope of the Catholic world — is that such visibility will be leveraged into increased concern for the poor and attention to their needs.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, New York, he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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