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 CNS Story:

POPE-TRIP May-4-2009 (500 words) xxxi

Pope asks for prayers for Holy Land trip, peace for region's people

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Preparing to visit the Holy Land, Pope Benedict XVI asked for prayers for his trip, for peace in the region and for the suffering Palestinian people.

Reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer May 3 with thousands of visitors in St. Peter's Square, the pope said he would make the May 8-15 trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories as a "pilgrim of peace, in the name of the one God who is father of all."

Pope Benedict said he wanted to show the region's people how committed the Catholic Church is to supporting everyone engaged in dialogue and reconciliation and working "to reach a stable and lasting peace with justice and mutual respect."

Addressing English-speaking visitors, the pope asked for prayers for "the afflicted people" of the Holy Land.

"In a special way, I ask that you remember the Palestinian people who have endured great hardship and suffering," he said.

Pope Benedict prayed that God would bless the Palestinians and all the region's people "with the gifts of unity and peace."

In his main talk, the pope said that in addition to going to encourage peacemaking he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI, who visited the region in 1964, and Pope John Paul II, who made his pilgrimage in 2000.

Pope Benedict said he would visit the "principal holy sites of our faith" and, as the successor of the apostle Peter, he would "confirm and encourage the Holy Land's Christians, who face difficulties every day."

The pope also spoke about his trip May 2 when he met donors from the U.S.-based Papal Foundation.

Today's world, he told foundation members, is in need of God's peace, "especially as it faces the tragedies of war, division, poverty and despair."

Telling foundation members that he wanted to be "a pilgrim of peace" in the Holy Land, the pope explained that "for more than 60 years this region -- the land of Our Lord's birth, death and resurrection; a sacred place for the world's three great monotheistic religions -- has been plagued by violence and injustice."

"This has led to a general atmosphere of mistrust, uncertainty and fear -- often pitting neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother," he said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters May 4 that for several reasons the trip is taking place in "a context not easy in terms of peace and serenity."

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Gaza Strip occurred just five months ago, Israel has a new government, members of the Palestinians' Fatah and Hamas factions have been negotiating for months without success to form a new unity government, and the new U.S. foreign policy of Barack Obama has just begun to take shape, Father Lombardi said.

It such a complex situation, he said, "the pope's trip presents itself as an act of hope and of trust that he can make a contribution to peace and reconciliation. It seems to me to be a decidedly courageous act."

END


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