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 CNS Story:

POPE-HOLYLAND Dec-16-2008 (400 words) xxxi

Vatican mum on newspaper report of pope's visit to Holy Land May 8-15

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican has not confirmed the dates for a papal trip to the Holy Land, but an Italian newspaper reported Pope Benedict XVI will fly to Jordan May 8, on to Israel May 11 and arrive back in Italy before sundown May 15.

Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told Catholic News Service Dec. 16, "The Vatican will announce its program when it feels the moment is right and it has all the elements necessary to do so."

For now, he said he would confirm only that planning is underway and meetings are being held with the necessary government and church officials.

The office of Israeli President Shimon Peres issued a statement Dec. 10 saying a "Vatican delegation responsible for preparing Pope Benedict XVI's official visits around the world" had met that day in Jerusalem with presidential advisers to discuss plans for the possible papal visit.

The Italian newspaper, Il Foglio, reported Dec. 16 that Pope Benedict's trip would follow an itinerary similar to that used by Pope John Paul II in 2000: visiting the Memorial of Moses Monastery on Mount Nebo at Madaba, Jordan, meeting Jordanian government officials and celebrating Mass for Jordanian Catholics before flying to Tel Aviv, Israel.

In Israel, it said, the pope will celebrate Mass in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem, as well as meet with officials from the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

Il Foglio also said Archbishop Antonio Franco, the Vatican nuncio to Israel and the Palestinian territories, was to meet with Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, to discuss a possible papal visit to the memorial, which is a normal part of state visits to Israel.

The Vatican has urged officials at the memorial to remove from a permanent display a photo caption stating that Pope Pius XII did nothing to condemn the Nazis and their slaughter of the Jews.

Church officials have called the caption offensive and have defended Pope Pius for working quietly during World War II to help save thousands of people, including many Jews. In October, Father Lombardi reiterated the Vatican's objections to the Yad Vashem display, but said it was not a decisive obstacle to a papal visit.

Il Foglio said the pope would leave the Holy Land May 15 aboard the Israeli airline El Al, landing in Italy before sundown when the Jewish Sabbath begins.

END


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