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Middle east

Pope meets religious leaders at holy sites

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-05-12

Pope Benedict continues his visit of the Holy Land on Tuesday, where he is meeting top Muslim and Jewish clerics while visiting some of the holiest sites to Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

Benedict XVI became the first pope to visit the Dome of the Rock on Tuesday morning, an edifice historically important for Muslims. The Dome was built on a site where, according to the Muslim faith, Mohammad ascended to heaven.

 

The pope called upon his audience to overcome past conflicts. Echoing his sentiments, the mufti of Jerusalem, the Palestinians' senior Muslim cleric, called for Benedict XVI to work to end Israeli 'aggression'.

 

If Monday marked the political component of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the Holy Land, then Tuesday represents the religious part of his trip. He was expected to meet leaders of the three faiths that have historically struggled to carve out their identities in the area - Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

 

The pope is conducting Tuesday's meetings with a focus on faith, at sites that are significant and symbolic for each faith.

 

After meeting the Grand Mufti, at the Dome, he went to meet Israel's two chief rabbis and pray at the Wailing Wall, a remnant of a Roman-era temple.

 

He later visited the Upper Room on Mount Zion, where the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples supposedly took place. Meeting with an assembly of Catholic bishops, he said that the Christian presence in the Holy Land is "of vital importance for the good of society as a whole."
  

Faith not politics

 

The second day of the pope's visit is expected to be a more tranquil one than his first. Monday's events were fraught with controversy. At an interfaith meeting at Notre Dame, a Catholic church near the Old City, the atmophere turned into a "debacle," according to FRANCE 24 Jerusalem correspondent Annette Young. She explained, "During the meeting, an Islamic cleric accused Israel of taking innocent lives and called upon the pope to address the Palestinian situation." Upon hearing this, says Young, the pope left early, cutting short the meeting.

 

His speeches on Monday led to criticism both for what he said and for what he did not say. He made diplomatic gestures to the Islamic community, whom he offended in 2006 by citing a source implying Islam was a violent religion.

 

He also pledged to honour the six million Jewish Holocaust victims.

 

Some Jewish leaders, however, were disappointed by his remarks on the Holocaust. Former Israeli chief rabbi Meir Lau told Reuters that the pope should have been more explicit in his outreach. "There was certainly no apology expressed here," said the rabbi. "Something was missing."

Date created : 2009-05-12

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