Pope Benedict on Monday begins the most delicate part of his first trip to the Middle East, visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories. During an address upon his arrival in Tel Aviv, he called antisemitism "unacceptable."
Pope Benedict XVI flew from Jordan to Israel on Monday morning, to visit Jewish and Muslim holy sites in Israel and the occupied West Bank. Immediately upon his arrival he delivered an address, vowing "to honour the memory of the six
million Jewish victims of the Shoah," and calling anti-Semitism "repugnant" and "unacceptable."
He also said the Holy Land should be open to all faiths, saying, "It is my earnest hope that all pilgrims to the holy places will be able to access them freely and without restraint."
It is an event as fraught with hope as with tension, given not only some of his recent controversial stances, but also high political tensions in the region.
He has emphasised repeatedly that his visit is strictly a spiritual one, and that he does not intend to address Israeli-Arab relations. At a speech he delivered in Jordan on Friday, he said that he was visiting the region "as a pilgrim, to venerate holy places," and that the Church "is not a political force but a spiritual force which can contribute to the progress of the peace process" in the Middle East.
A welcoming ceremony is planned for him upon his arrival in Tel Aviv, where he will be greeted by Israeli President Simon Perez. His destination will be the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, where he will lay a wreath in memory of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis.
On Monday afternoon the pope plans to give an open-air mass at the Mount of Olives, where Jesus is said to have given his Sermon on the Mount.
He will meet senior Israeli and Palestinian leaders, top Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious officials, and Palestinian refugees living in the shadow of Israel's controversial separation barrier near the spot where Jesus is believed to have been born in Bethlehem.
Despite the fanfare and the pope’s stated intentions, however, the pope may not be able to sustain his political neutrality, having aroused ire in both the Jewish and Muslim communities since his ordination in 2005. In September 2006, speaking at the University of Regensburg in Germany, he cited a passage from a 14th century theologian describing Islam as a violent religion. In October 2008, he made a case for the beatification of Pope Pius XII, notorious for having not made a stance during the Holocaust. The most recent controversy surrounded his decision in January 2009 to overturn the excommunications of four bishops and bring them back into the fold, including Bishop Richard Williamson, a vocal Holocaust revisionist.
The pope has made peaceable gestures on this trip, telling King Abdullah II in Jordan that he has "deep respect" for Islam.
Date created : 2009-05-11