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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 25, 2009
VOL. 47, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA
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Photographs of the papal journey
Pope’s visit to the Holy Land
yields call for reconciliation
 
Pope Benedict XVI takes in the panoramic view from Mount Nebo, the place where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land. The spot in modern-day Jordan is marked by a sculpture of the prophet’s serpentine staff. Pope Benedict visited there May 9.
CNS PHOTO/ALI JAREKJI/REUTERS

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Amid billowing Israeli and Vatican flags, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed his friendship with both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, acknowledging the Palestinians’ right to an independent state as well as Israel’s right to exist in “peace and security,” in the concluding remarks of his eight-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

“Let there be lasting peace based on justice, let there be genuine reconciliation and healing,” the pope said May 15 before boarding his chartered plane in Tel Aviv to return to Rome. “Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream.

“Let peace spread outward from these lands; let them serve as a ‘light to the nations,’ bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict,” he said.

“No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades. Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war!” he said.

Following an eight-day pilgrimage that received a lukewarm reaction in the Israeli media and praise in the Palestinian press, Pope Benedict attempted to assure the Israelis of his friendship.

Israeli President Shimon Peres told the pope his visit was a “profound demonstration of the enduring dialogue” between Jews and Christians around the world. He said the pope’s statements during his visit “carried a substantive weight.”

The visit, Peres added, contributed significantly to new relations between the Vatican and Israel.
“I believe that your great spiritual leadership can influence a spirit of godliness in man. (It) can help people recognize that God is not in the hearts of terrorists. This is a historic mission which resides in your great ability to inspire others,” he said.

“We believe that aside from your pilgrimage, your prayers and the silent sacred moments which were the focal points of your visit, you personally enhanced your visit with an additional spiritual dimension by inspiring peace and elevating hope and understanding — in particular your declaration that the Holocaust, the Shoah, must not be forgotten (or) denied,” the Israeli president said.

The pope, who had been criticized in the Israeli press and by some Jewish leaders following his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial May 11 for the language he used to describe Nazi atrocities, recalled his visit to the site as “one of the most solemn” moments in Israel. He called his time with Holocaust survivors “deeply moving encounters” that reminded him of his visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland three years ago.

“So many Jews — mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends — were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred,” Pope Benedict said.

The German-born pope told his Israeli hosts that the saddest sight during his visit was the Israeli-built separation wall at the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, West Bank.

“As I passed alongside it I prayed for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation, but rather in respecting and trusting one another and renouncing all forms of violence and aggression,” he said.

Peace not an easy goal

Peace will not be an easy goal to achieve, the pope told Peres, but he offered his prayers and the prayers of Catholics around the world for all efforts to “build a just and lasting peace in this region.”


Pope Benedict XVI, accompanied by Msgr. Guido Marini, papal master of ceremonies, places a prayer for peace (below) in a crevice of the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 12.
CNS PHOTO/AHIKAM SERI/REUTERS

CNS photo/Avi Ohayon, Israeli Government Press Office/Reuters
Earlier in the day at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, he prayed at what Christians believe is the place of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. In a talk, he returned to a key theme of his eight-day visit to the region: that the Church can bring healing to a land torn by conflict and mistrust.

At an ecumenical encounter in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate headquarters the same morning, the pope called on Christians of the Holy Land to educate a new generation of “well-formed and committed Christians” who can help shape the life of society.

The pope’s pilgrimage began May 8 in Jordan, where he visited the place of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, and later took him to Jerusalem, Bethlehem in the West Bank, and the northern Israeli city of Nazareth.

“Deep respect’ for Muslim community

In Jordan, where he walked a pilgrim’s path, energizing its minority Christian population, he expressed his “deep respect” for the Muslim community and paid tribute to interfaith dialogues launched by Jordanian leaders, saying they have advanced an “alliance of civilizations between the West and the Muslim world, confounding the predictions of those who consider violence and conflict inevitable.” It was Pope Benedict’s first trip to an Arab country.

The following day, the pope visited the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, pausing briefly in what the Vatican called “respectful meditation” in a Muslim place of prayer.

In a speech afterward to Muslim academics and religious leaders, the pope warned of the “ideological manipulation of religion” that can act as a catalyst for tensions and violence in contemporary societies.

The pope also traveled that day to Mount Nebo, the place where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land before dying, and blessed the foundation of Jordan’s first Catholic university in the biblical city of Madaba.

Celebrating Mass May 10 in an Amman soccer stadium for some 25,000 people, the pope said Christians in the Holy Land have a special vocation to engage in dialogue and build new bridges to other religions and cultures, and to “counter ways of thinking which justify taking innocent lives.”

Later in the day the pope made his way to the Jordan River, where archaeologists believe they have identified the site of Jesus’ baptism by St. John the Baptist. He blessed the foundation stones of two Catholic churches to be built at the location.

Arriving in Israel May 11, he condemned anti-Semitism and honored the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, praying that “humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude.”

That evening, the pope told a group of interreligious dialogue experts that religions must give common witness to God’s rightful place in the world. The event was marred by a Muslim sheik’s denunciation of Israeli policies, which prompted some Jewish representatives to walk out.

On May 12, the pope celebrated an open-air Mass in Jerusalem, prayed at the Western Wall and visited one of Islam’s most sacred shrines. The events underscored his message that Jerusalem, a meeting ground for Christianity, Judaism and Islam, must again become a city of peace.

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