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 CNS Story:

POPE-PLANE May-8-2009 (540 words) With photos. xxxi

On plane, pope says pilgrimage can help cause of peace

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO JORDAN (CNS) -- En route to Jordan, Pope Benedict XVI said he hoped his Holy Land pilgrimage would aid the Middle East peace process by highlighting the value of prayer and convincing people to leave behind factional interests.

"We are not a political power but a spiritual force, and this spiritual force is something that can contribute to progress in the search for peace," the pope told reporters aboard his Alitalia charter jet May 8.

As believers, he said, Christians are convinced of the power of prayer.

"It opens the world to God, and we are convinced that God listens and can work in history. And I think that if millions of believers pray this is truly a force that can have an influence and advance the cause of peace," he said.

The pope, standing next to aides in the reporters' section of the plane, took four questions submitted by journalists and read aloud by the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.

The pontiff said that in addition to prayer the church contributes to peace by forming consciences and convincing people to liberate themselves from personal or particular interests in favor of the common good.

He emphasized that the church's teachings on peace and tolerance are founded on "truly reasonable positions" that are not in conflict with faith -- a point the pope has made consistently throughout his pontificate, most strongly in a speech in Regensburg, Germany, in 2006.

The pope said it was a difficult time for the beleaguered Christian population in the Holy Land, but also a time of hope, of a "new beginning and new effort on the way of peace."

Christian communities are an important component of the life of Middle Eastern countries, and the church wants to encourage them to have the "courage, the humility and the patience to remain in these countries," he said.

For their part, he said, the Christian communities contribute to society especially through their networks of schools and hospitals. Schools in particular -- including the university the pope will lay the foundation stone for in Jordan -- help bring Christians and Muslims together, he said.

"They meet here and speak to each other. It's also a place where a Christian elite is formed that is prepared precisely to work for peace," he said.

Asked about Catholic-Jewish relations, the pope said it was important that both faiths shared books of the Old Testament and thus have "common roots."

"Naturally, after 2,000 years of distinct, in fact separate, histories, it's not surprising that there are misunderstandings, because different traditions of interpretation, language and thought have formed," he said.

Today, he said, it was important for Christians and Jews to make great progress in learning each other's language again. In part, this is being done through university exchange programs, he said.

"We are learning from each other, and I am certain and convinced that we are making progress. This will also help the cause of peace, and in fact of mutual love," he said.

The pope said "trilateral" dialogue among Christians, Muslims and Jews was also important, and is helped by the fact that all three faiths have a common belief in one God and a common descent from Abraham.


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