TEL AVIV, ISRAEL – In a first, Israel’s Ministry of Education has prepared a packet of teaching materials for schools in the run-up to the upcoming Papal visit, set to begin on May 25.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the Church of the nativity in Bethlehem, and Amman, Jordan in the two-day Holy Land sojourn.
The new instructional material is intended to spotlight positive connections between the Church and Israel since WWII, a ministry official told Israel’s Ma’ariv news site.
“For years, children learned about Jewish communities in Christendom and Europe,” Dr. Orna Katz told the newspaper.
“Our emphasis is integration and rejection – not just rejection,” Katz said, adding that “the theme of the Righteous Gentile, is, in my opinion, the most important issue … we are preparing the subject well before the papal visit.”
The Knesset Education Committee held discussions on the pedagogical content of the teaching material last week.
“The image of Christianity and the Pope in some children is a negative image that focuses primarily on persecution,” Katz noted.
However, “For years the Jews lived together among Christians and Muslims,” Katz noted, emphasizing that, “We are not denying anti-Semitism, but there are lights and shadows, and we should emphasize the lights, not just the shadows.”
That shadow and light, along with a recent string of political graffiti vandalism attacks against Church institutions, as well as Christian and Arab Muslims in several locations throughout the country, have left Vatican officials wary of tensions during the trip.
Police are stepping up security planning for the visit and are set to flood greater Jerusalem with some 8,000 cops to ensure quiet. Additionally, the Pope has indicated that he plans to travel in an unarmored vehicle, forcing a much wider security cordon.
“You cannot exaggerate the importance of this visit on both a national and an international level,” National Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino told reporters on Sunday.
“All sorts of extreme elements… are trying to create pressure and the impression of pressure,” Danino said, according to the AFP. “We are rejecting this pressure and we won’t let them succeed.”
“We will do everything to ensure they won’t harm Christian holy places… and to ensure the trip goes successfully,” Danino said.
The visit comes on the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s historic trip to Israel. Pope Benedict XVI visited Israel in 2009, and Pope John Paul II visited the Jewish State in 2000.
Chief historian at Yad Vashem, Dr. Dina Porat, is responsible for preparing the material, along with Bar-Ilan University’s head of the Institute for Holocaust Research, Prof. Dan Michman (who also serves as head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem), and Prof. Dalia Ofer, former chair of the ministry’s history studies committee.