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HOLYLAND-ROUNDUP (FOURTH UPDATE) May-15-2009 (1,170 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope closes Holy Land trip with appeal for peace, message of hope

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI closed his Holy Land pilgrimage by delivering a plea for peace and a message of Christian hope.

In Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher May 15, the pope 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.

Christ's empty tomb "speaks to us of hope," he said.

"The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome, and that a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise for every man and woman," he said.

At an ecumenical encounter in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate headquarters the same morning, the pope pointed to the future, calling 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 82-year-old pontiff left Israel for Rome later in the day. At a Tel Aviv departure ceremony he declared himself a friend of both Israelis and Palestinians and urged them to "break the vicious circle of violence."

"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.

The pope repeated his call for an independent Palestinian state and security for Israel, adding that the "two-state solution" should become a reality and not just remain a dream.

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, West Bank; and the northern Israeli city of Nazareth.

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."

In a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Pope Benedict met with six Holocaust survivors and prayed silently before the eternal flame in the Hall of Remembrance. He said the suffering of Jews under the Nazi extermination campaign must "never be denied, belittled or forgotten."

That evening, the pope told a group of interreligious dialogue experts that, in a world that has in some ways become "deaf to the divine," 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.

At the Dome of the Rock, sacred to Muslims as the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven, he told Islamic leaders that Christians, Muslims and Jews have a "grave responsibility" to expand dialogue and mend divisions.

He then went to the Western Wall, a site sacred to Jews as the remains of the Second Temple, and placed a written prayer in a crevice between the massive stones. It asked God to "hear the cry of the afflicted" and "send your peace upon this Holy Land."

In the evening, the pope celebrated Mass for several thousand people in the Josafat Valley beneath the Mount of Olives and called for Jerusalem to regain its vocation as a "promise of that universal reconciliation and peace" against the "despair, frustration and cynicism" that afflict the city today.

Visiting the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 13, Pope Benedict reiterated support for Palestinian statehood and urged young people to reject acts of violence and terrorism.

He celebrated Mass in the city of Christ's birth and encouraged Christians to be a "bridge of dialogue" and help build "a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration."

To reach Bethlehem, the pope crossed the border from Israel through a gate in the most striking feature on the landscape: Israel's 26-foot-tall concrete security wall. Speaking at the Aida Refugee Camp later in the day, he said it was "tragic" to see new walls being erected, and he later called the wall one of the "saddest sights" on his pilgrimage.

In Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, the pope celebrated Mass for 40,000 people and appealed for the strengthening of family bonds in the region and the world.

Later, he met with Christian and non-Christian religious leaders of Galilee and emphasized the need to ease tensions over places of worship. Then he held hands in prayer with other participants as a specially composed psalm of peace was sung in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

Before leaving Nazareth, the pope led a prayer service for Catholics in the Basilica of the Annunciation. He said that, with the appearance of the angel to Mary announcing that she would bear Jesus, God entered into human history and changed the world.

The pope began his eight-day trip May 8 in Jordan, where he walked a pilgrim's path, energizing its minority Christian population and building bridges to the moderate Muslim world. Arriving at Amman's airport, he expressed his "deep respect" for the Muslim community. It was Pope Benedict's first trip to an Arab country.

The pope 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."

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.

END


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