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Economist: A Chapter of Accidents

May 14, 2009

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The pope's visit to the Holy Land adds another public relations disaster to an already numerable string that already exists. Why is this?

To understand the personal baggage that Pope Benedict XVI brought to the Holy Land this week, it is worth looking at his most accessible book, "Jesus of Nazareth", published two years ago. With a mixture of intense piety and arcane scholarship, he reflects on the Jewish origins of Christianity's dogmas and rites in a way that shows deep interest in the religion of ancient Israel-yet total conviction that the older faith's true meaning is to be found only in Christ. Both in its rigour and in its devotion, the pope's writing reflects the enclosed places in which he has spent most of his 82 years. First, the formal atmosphere of German academia, where charisma is a dirty word; and then the upper echelons of the Vatican, a world whose ethos, reasoning and vocabulary are utterly remote from the lives of most lay Catholics, let alone everyone else.

No surprise, then, that he lacked the street sense to send the right signals on a trip to the front line: the Middle Eastern confrontation zone of the three monotheistic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, a region that tests the skills of the savviest statesman. In the event, he deeply upset his Israeli hosts, and to a much milder extent his Palestinian ones too, both mainly through sins of omission.

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