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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 17:27 GMT
Analysis: Pope's message scrutinised

Recognition for Palestinian refugees' "intolerable" lives
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

Pope John Paul's visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, was watched closely for what he might say about the Roman Catholic Church's record during the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews.

The attention was heightened by the fact that on Wednesday the Pope made some outspoken remarks in the West Bank about the suffering of the Palestinian people and the urgent need to end it.



Barak admits Pope's reconciling role at Yad Vashem
The Palestinians heard much more explicit language from the Pope than they might have expected.

His support for a Palestinian homeland was not new, but he spoke eloquently in English of their suffering and the degrading and intolerable conditions in which refugees had to live.

Different issues

The Palestinians have in the past complained of double standards, that the outside world ignored their suffering at the hands of Israel while continuing to see the Jews as victims.

But they were not demanding that the Pope use the same language about their plight as about the Holocaust.

In the event, his speech at Yad Vashem was more personal, drawing on his own experiences as a young man in Poland and his friendships with Jews.



Many Israelis feel the Pope should go further
Politically, the Holocaust is a much more difficult issue for the Vatican.

The Pope did not do what many Jews around the world would have liked: Apologise directly for the failure of the Roman Catholic Church to speak out during the Holocaust and condemn explicity the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

That, however, would have meant criticising the Pope of the time, Pius XII, something almost inconceivable.

In fact, Pope John Paul has begun moves to beatify the former pope, the first step on the way to sainthood.

'Anti-Semtic' pope

Pius XII remains a deeply controversial figure. Some allege he was anti-Semitic.

The Vatican has argued that the diplomatic silence of Pius XII during WWII actually helped save Jewish lives.

What is not in dispute is that Pope John Paul has for more than 20 years pursued a consistent policy of moving the Church towards a historic reconciliation with the Jewish people.

That was recognised by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in his response to the Pope's expression of grief at the Holocaust.

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See also:

23 Mar 00 | Middle East
Pope's address at Yad Vashem
23 Mar 00 | Middle East
Arab press celebrate Pope's support
20 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Pope on a tightrope
12 Mar 00 | Europe
Pope apologises for church sins
19 Mar 00 | Middle East
Swastika protest heralds papal visit
22 Mar 00 | Middle East
In pictures: the Pope visits Bethlehem
22 Mar 00 | Middle East
Pope's plea for Palestinian refugees
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