Image 1 of 11: Pope won't be dragged into Lion's Den: May 2001 saw Pope John Paul II congregating with Bashar al Assad - that very fellow of the murderous dynasty. While the crafty host tried to seduce the Catholic Pontiff into taking an anti-Israel stance, the Pope wasn't playing ball, staying clear of 'Anti-Semitic' remarks dredging up bad Holy Land memories.
Image 1 of 11: Pope Bennedict XVI does Beirut: His 2012 visit, neatly following on the heels of Angelina Jolie--not a Biblical prophet, although dressed like one--boosted the morale of Lebanon's Maronite Christians. Anti-Christian feeling was rife in the wake of an anti-Islamic film. The Pontiff held his peace but did remark on the tragedy in neighbouring Syria.
Image 1 of 11: Pope John Paul II visited Tunisia on April 14 1996. This flyover stop of one day in Carthage saw the late Pope make short shrift of a tough audience, as he set out to strengthen Christian-Muslim ties in one visit. He praised all Arab heritage - be it Muslim or Christian - and hailed great thinkers from either camp.
Image 1 of 11: John Paul II toured Lebanon in May 1997, driving around in his armoured Pope Mobile. Lebanon was still recovering from its Civil War but the Pontiff came with a message of hope. Lebanon, he said, was "more than a country", it was "a message". The whole visit felt as if he'd taken a leaf out of Julius Caesar’s book: he came, he saw, he conquered.
Image 1 of 11: During his trip to historic Palestine plus Jordan in 2000, Pope John Paul II did nothing short of a miracle. He didn't turn water into wine, but he did demand the right of the Palestinians to their own state. Arriving in Bethlehem, he was presented with a bowl of earth, which he kissed: religion, politics & geography converged.
Image 1 of 11: Taking a slight detour during his visit to Bethlehem, Pope John Paul II looked in on the 'needy' of nearby Dheisheh Refugee Camp, also accompanied by Yasser Arafat. He took the opportunity to call for an end to the suffering of homeless Palestinians, appealing to world leaders to step in.
Image 1 of 11: John Paul II Egypt: In 2000, the then Pope John Paul was the first modern pope to visit Egypt. His Eminence greeted his patriarchal counterpart Pope Shenouda (Ba-Ba Shenouda for the Arab flock) of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt in Alexandria. St Peter's Successor also met with Egypt's modern-day--and so far last--Pharaoh, Hosni Mubarak.
Image 1 of 11: The Pope's almost-visit in '99 to Saddam's Iraq would have meant a violation of the Western-imposed no-fly-zone on the country. While this visit to Mesopotamia didn’t happen, the Holy Father did receive then Iraqi Deputy PM Tarek Aziz--also a devout Catholic--in '03. All part of the plan to ensure that Hussein cooperated with weapons inspectors.
Image 1 of 11: Doing as the Romans do is all very well for mere mortals, but the Pope in 1985 en route to Rome, went short of donning a Fez while in Casablanca for a day. Pope John Paul II accepted an invite from Morocco's King Hassan II, to add another ME feather to his papal cap (or zucchetto if you will). It was an era of increased Muslim/Catholic dialogue.
Image 1 of 11: Pope Bennedict XVI in Jerusalem, May 2009: He might have called for co-operation between Palestinians and Israelis but clearly the message was lost on one Muslim leader who took the Papal mic to vent against Israel. But after all, this was only months after the Gaza assault.
Image 1 of 11: Kingdoms collide: Heaven descends on Earth: Pope Bennedict XVI stopped over in the Jordan valley en route to Palestine and Israel in his Holy tour of 2009. His 'Grace' met with His Highness, King Abdullah and Queen Rania.
It's not hard to 'See' the Pope fitting in quite nicely to the Holy Land scene, East of the Baptism site of the River Jordan.
Papal Middle Eastern tours across the ages: How have the reigning Pope and the late Pope John Paul II fared in the Holy Land? In light of the recent Lebanon trip that captivated the Middle East's flock, wherein Pope Benedict XVI hailed the mountainous Mediterranean country as a beacon of inter-confessional coexistence, we take a look at papal Middle East tours past and present.
The Pope pontificates from Lebanon to Morocco
Like editors of Vogue magazine, the man sitting at the top seat in the Holy See - no stranger to dictators - has the ability, it seems, to meet murderers and not be stained with blood. That may very well be, however, because of the fact constantly pointed out to the world by the Vatican's minders: that the Pope's messages are above day-to-day politics, and constantly bring a message of hope and love to those who speaks to. Indeed, the Pope - commonly 'Ba-Ba' or Father to the Arab world - did bend over backwards to make it clear to people living in Arab countries that they needed to "love thy neighbour"--thy Christian neighbour, thy Muslim neighbour, thy Bahai neighbour. It was an important message to keep in mind, and one that may have had some influence on the flow of events in countries outraged by a recent C-movie, but also had a more persistent message for Lebanon and the multi-confessional Lebanese.
Much has changed since the last time a Pope--John Paul II at the time--visited Lebanon, in 1997. At the time, Samir Geagea, now a Lebanese MP and leader of the Lebanese Forces political party, had been in prison, with the country firmly under Syrian tutelage. Today, Lebanon's political scene is as riotous as ever, while the Syrian regime is facing its own domestic problems. This got a brief show-in during the Pontiff's Mass on the Seafront (is Lebanon the only country in the world where the faithful come to worship on the beach?), but one little incident which involved Lebanon, Samir Geagea and happened in mid September did not get a mention by the Holy Father: the Sabra and Shatila massacres.
What do you think of the Pope's role in keeping the 'peace' in the Middle East today? Should the Pope have more of a political role to play?