Pope Paul VI During His 1964 Visit to the Holy Land
A Different Time & A Different Agenda
Rewind 51 years to January, 1964, and the first ever papal visit to Israel. That visit, by Pope Paul VI, took place in very different circumstances.
During his short trip to Israel – it lasted only 11 hours – Pope Paul VI never once called Israel by name, and went out of his way to avoid using the word Jews.
In those days, the Vatican saw Israel as a non-country, and its people as a non-nation.
Pope Paul VI even used the occasion to praise his mentor, Pope Pius XII, defending the latter’s silence during the Holocaust.
The newspapers of 51 years ago hailed the announcement of Pope Paul VI’s visit as “astonishing”, saying he clearly wished “to go beyond every historical precedent”.
In the land of his redemption the Pope was a stranger, the half-understood guest of rulers of other faiths:
The Pope, they said, was careful to stress that his pilgrimage was “a purely religious act, absolutely extraneous to any kind of political or temporal considerations.”
He dedicated it to “Christian unity,” especially unity between Catholics and the Greek Orthodox church, rather than to the reconciliation of different religions.
After the trip, the Sunday Telegraph in London compared the Pope in Israel to “his Master,” Jesus Christ, who was also only “half-understood” and “a stranger” in “that same country.”
Pope Paul VI’s itinerary included many of the same holy sites as those on Pope John Paul II’s agenda, which took place under very different circumstances, in March 2000.
Highlights of Paul VI’s Visit:
-Meets President Shazar in Megiddo
-Nazareth – Church of the Annunciation
-Tour of sites on shores of Sea of Galilee
-Jerusalem: Ceremonies on Mount Zion
-Celebrates Mass in Bethlehem
But he avoided all sites of Jewish significance, including Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum and memorial.
And although he met President Shazar of Israel, he refused to meet Israel’s Chief Rabbi.
Two years had elapsed since the Second Vatican Council convened by Pope John XXIII in 1962, which set out to dismantle the charge that Jews were responsible for killing Jesus. Nevertheless, Israel’s statehood was still unrecognized by the Vatican.
The trip also took place before the 1967 war – in which Israel seized Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and east Jerusalem, the scene of the crucifixion.
The Vatican only recognized the Jewish state 46 years after its creation and, like the rest of the international community, it does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over east Jerusalem – which during the visit of Pope Paul VI was under Jordanian rule.
The map of Israel has changed several times since then – making the visits of succeeding pontiffs almost as complex as his was.
About Pope St. Paul VI, the Pilgrim Pope:
Pope Paul VI exchanged the boat of Peter for an airplane. He visited 19 countries throughout the five continents in 9 Apostolic visits. The Pontiff visited New York, Iran, the Philippines, Colombia, and Portugal. Upon his return from the Holy Land, he went out on the streets of Rome to receive them with open arms.
Papal Artifacts honors the Pilgrim Pope and is grateful for the gift of his life to our Church.
Pope Francis beatified Pope Paul VI on October 19, 2014. And on October 14, 2018, Pope Francis canonized Paul VI.
Pope St. Paul VI, pray for us!
And from the Vatican: Memories of This Historic Visit:
On January 4th 1964 history was made when Pope Paul the 6th began the first ever papal visit to the Holy Land. Lasting less than two days, the visit took the pope to the main holy sites in Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem and included several important ecumenical meetings. His visit also marked the first time that a Roman Pontiff had ever traveled in a plane and it was the first time a reigning pope had left Italy in more than a century.
The newspapers of that date hailed the announcement of Pope Paul’s visit to the Holy Land as “astonishing” saying he clearly wished to go beyond every historical precedent. On arriving in Jordan at this start of his visit, the Pope stressed that his visit was purely pastoral and described it as a humble pilgrimage to the Holy Sites.