Some newsworthy stories today from and about the Vatican but the first is really the big news – the Holy See recognizing the State of Palestine.

It made me think of what happened last year during Pope Francis’ three day trip to the Holy Land to re-create a trip taken by Pope Paul VI 50 years earlier, reproducing the exact same itinerary. Pope Francis plane landed in Amman, Jordan on Saturday, May 24 where he also spent the night.

The next morning, Sunday the 25th, a helicopter took the Pope from Amman to Bethlehem (45 miles) in (as the official program noted) the State of Palestine – and later Sunday, he arrived in Jerusalem – 5 miles from Bethlehem! – by a very convoluted itinerary.

As the official itinerary said: “Pope Francis bid farewell from the State of Palestine at the helicopter port of Bethlehem: 16:00 Departure by helicopter from the helicopter port of Bethlehem for Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. 16:30 arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Discourse of the Holy Father. 17:15 Transfer by helicopter to Jerusalem (31 miles).

Israel had wanted the Pope to arrive in Tel Aviv directly from Amman, Jordan. Israel does not recognize the State of Palestine, thus, the papal helicopter should have flown from the Kingdom of Jordan to the State of Israel, not through land that they do not recognize as a State. They would have wanted the Pope to go to Bethlehem as the final stop. However, that is not what Paul VI did 50 years earlier.

I remember Israelis asking me last year why the Pope did not spend more time in Israel after going to Amman and Bethlehem. I told them his three-day trip was the exact re-creation of a trip made 50 years earlier by Pope Paul VI to greet the then Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, emphasziing that it was not a state visit. The Israelis I spoke to told me that aspect had not been in the news reports in their country.


The Vatican today released the following statement, and the big news is in the very first sentence where it mentions the State of Palestine:

On 13 May 2015, the Bilateral Commission of the Holy See and the State of Palestine which is working on a Comprehensive Agreement following on the Basic Agreement, signed on 15 February 2000, held a Plenary Session in the Vatican to acknowledge the work done at an informal level by the joint technical group following the last official meeting held in Ramallah at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine on 6 February 2014.

The talks were chaired by Magr. Antoine Camilleri, Under-Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, and by Ambassador Rawan Sulaiman, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Multilateral Affairs of the State of Palestine.

The discussions took place in a cordial and constructive atmosphere. Taking up the issues already examined at an informal level, the Commission noted with great satisfaction the progress achieved in formulating the text of the Agreement, which deals with essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine.

Both Parties agreed that the work of the Commission on the text of the Agreement has been concluded, and that the agreement will be submitted to the respective authorities for approval ahead of setting a date in the near future for the signing.

(The statement then listed the names of the delegations for each side).

And here is an AP report on today’s statement:

The Vatican officially recognized the state of Palestine in a new treaty finalized Wednesday, immediately sparking Israeli ire and accusations that the move hurt peace prospects.

The treaty, which concerns the activities of the Catholic Church in Palestinian territory, makes clear that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic recognition from the Palestine Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine.

The Vatican had welcomed the decision by the U.N. General Assembly in 2012 to recognize a Palestinian state. But the treaty is the first legal document negotiated between the Holy See and the Palestinian state and constitutes official diplomatic recognition.

“Yes, it’s a recognition that the state exists,” said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

The Israeli foreign ministry said it was “disappointed” by the development.

“This move does not promote the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations,” the ministry said in a text message. “Israel will study the agreement and will consider its steps accordingly.”

The treaty was finalized days before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits Pope Francis at the Vatican. Abbas is heading to Rome to attend Francis’ canonization Sunday of two new saints from the Holy Land.

The Vatican has been referring unofficially to the state of Palestine for at least a year.

During Pope Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land, the Vatican’s official program referred to Abbas as the president of the “state of Palestine.” In the Vatican’s latest yearbook, the Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See is listed as representing “Palestine (state of).”

The Vatican’s foreign minister, Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, acknowledged the change in status, given that the treaty was initially inked with the PLO and is now being finalized with the “state of Palestine.” But he said the shift was simply in line with the Holy See’s position.

This isn’t the first time that the Vatican under Francis has taken diplomatic moves knowing that it would ruffle feathers: Just last month, Francis referred to the slaughter of Armenians by Turkish Ottomans a century ago as a “genocide,” prompting Turkey to recall its ambassador. (AP writer Ian Deitch contributed from Jerusalem)


Today’s general audience took place in St. Peter’s Square and the tens of thousands of pilgrims suffered not only a wait to get into the square but also suffered he heat under the beating sun, with little or no breeze. Pilgrims had a longer than usual wait today to enter the square as you will se by the story at the end of the Pope’s catechesis.

At today’s audience, Pope Francis focused on what he called in Italian “three little words,” actually three little expressions that he has used before when speaking of relationships such as engaged couples and married couples. Following is the English language summary of his Italian catechesis:

“Today,” he began the catechesis, “I would like to continue our catechesis on the family by reflecting on three phrases: ‘May I?’, ‘Thank you’, and ‘Pardon me.’ These simple phrases are not so easy to say or to put into practice. But when they are ignored, their absence can cause cracks in the foundation of the family, which can lead to its collapse. If these words are part of our daily lives, not just as a formal expression of good manners, but as a sign of deep love for one another, they strengthen a happy family life.

“’May I?’ – even if we think we have the right to something, when we speak to our spouse or family member with kindness we create space for a true spirit of marital and familial common life. We renew trust and respect, revealing our love for others, and we allow them to open the door of their hearts to us.

“’Thank you’ – our society has great need for gratitude, which makes us more sensitive to the dignity of the human person and the demands of social justice. Thankfulness is also the language of God, to whom above all we must express our gratitude.

“’Pardon me” – Without these words, hurt can develop in our relationships, and weaken our life as a family. But when we ask forgiveness, we show our desire to restore what was lost – respect, honesty, love – and healing between family members is made possible. ‘May I?’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Pardon me’ – Let us ask the Lord to keep these three phrases in our hearts, our homes and our communities.”

Following is one news report that indicates why driving and getting into the papal audience was so tough today. Who knows the grade people would give the Rome police after this morning’s “test.”  I was going to an appointment and I can attest to the fact that the traffic was horrendous!

VATICAN CITY — Police have been out in force and streets around the Vatican were closed as authorities test out a new, beefed-up security plan to protect Pope Francis. Police said they decided to use Francis’ Wednesday general audience as a dry run for the new plan, given that huge crowds are expected starting in December when Francis opens a special Jubilee year.

The main boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square was closed to traffic, as were side streets leading to it. Police were everywhere and traffic on both sides of the nearby Tiber River was at a standstill. Pilgrims who managed to get to the square had to have their bags searched. The Vatican has said it is taking prudent precautions to guard the pope but that there were no specific threats.