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placeholder Pope takes message of peace to land of conflict

Catholics in Holy Land include Hebrew-speaking communities

Knights of Holy Sepulcher help cover costs of Holy Land trip

CCEB Program links parishes with immigrants needing help

Jesuit School of Theology to be part of Santa Clara University

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OBITUARIES
• Sister Maria de la Cruz Aymes, SH
• Father Frank J. Houdek, SJ

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  Installation special features  
placeholder May 11, 2009   •   VOL. 47, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA

The gold-covered Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount complex is seen in this overview of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Pope Benedict XVI is visiting the Dome of the Rock during his May 8-15 pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Islamic shrine holds significance to Muslims, Jews and Christians.
CNS PHOTO/DEBBIE HILL

Pope takes message of peace to land of conflict

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI’s scheduled visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, May 8-15, is likely to the most challenging of the pope’s foreign visits to date, one that will test his skills of communication and bridge-building in a region of conflict and mistrust.

After recent communications missteps at the Vatican, the pope can expect to find his every word and gesture under scrutiny by the world’s media — especially when it comes to relations among Christians, Muslims and Jews and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Although the world may measure the success of the visit in terms of international or interfaith diplomacy, Pope Benedict is going to the Holy Land first and foremost as a religious pilgrim.

“The priority is to witness to the truth of the Incarnation by visiting, as head of the church, the places where the events of our redemption took place. That’s the point,” said Franciscan Father David Jaeger, an Israeli priest.

The pilgrimage has a special focus on peace. The pope, in announcing the visit, said he would be going to the Holy Land to pray for “the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and all humanity.”

Father Jaeger said that’s extremely important at a time when hopes for peace among the population are the lowest in many years.

“The worst thing that can happen is the loss of hope for peace. So for him to speak openly of the possibility and the necessity of peace and reconciliation should thrust those values into the fore,” Father Jaeger said.

“It’s not a political negotiation, of course; he’s not going to produce a peace treaty or try to. But the fact that he keeps the value of peace in front of the people of the region, that will be a tremendous contribution by the Church,” he said.

The first leg of the pope’s trip will take him to Jordan for a series of carefully chosen liturgies and encounters, including a visit to a mosque in Amman. That event, and the fact that Pope Benedict is spending several days in Jordan, reflects his aim to reach a wide Muslim audience.

For Jordan’s Catholic faithful, who number about 75,000 in a population of 6.2 million, the big event will be the papal Mass in an Amman soccer stadium May 10.

The pope also will lay the cornerstone of the University of Madaba, which is being built by the Latin patriarchate; blessing cornerstones is a common activity in papal visits, but establishing a Catholic-run university in a predominantly Muslim country makes this one special.

The pope travels to Jerusalem May 11and later that day visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, in what Vatican aides view as a central event of the trip.

Pope Benedict has spoken eloquently about the Holocaust and, as a German, has recalled growing up as a witness to the brutality of the regime that targeted Jews for extermination. Vatican sources said, however, that the pope will not be going to Yad Vashem to apologize as a German, but to invoke a wider lesson on the dangers of racism and anti-Semitism.

On May 12, his first full day in Jerusalem, the pope visits sites sacred to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. He begins at the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest shrines, and proceeds to the Western Wall, sacred to Jews. The two sites lie adjacent to each other and in the past have been the scene of bitter skirmishes between Palestinians and Israelis. The same day the pope will meet separately with the city’s two chief rabbis and the grand mufti.

The pope will make a daylong visit May 13 to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus and today a key administrative city of the Palestinian Authority, whose officials will welcome the pontiff at the presidential palace. The main religious event of the day is a Mass in Manger Square.

That afternoon, the pope will visit the Aida Refugee Camp, where some 5,000 Palestinians live. The visit is already politically charged. Israel has objected that the platform being built to host the Aida event is too close to the Israeli separation wall, which Israel has designed as a 400-mile-long security barrier through the West Bank and which Palestinians see as an instrument of repression.

The pope will celebrate Mass May 14 in Nazareth, the city where Jesus grew up, and later visit the Grotto of the Annunciation and hold a prayer service with Catholic leaders of Galilee. These liturgies are central to the pope’s pilgrimage, offering moral support to the dwindling Christian population in the land where the Church was born.

 
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