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Middle east

Pope holds mass in Nazareth, meets Netanyahu

Video by Oliver FARRY

Latest update : 2009-05-15

Pope Benedict XVI said mass in Nazareth on his fourth day in the region, before meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One topic Netanyahu raised with the pontiff was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli statements.

AFP - Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday urged faiths in the Holy Land to reject hatred and live in peace, underscoring the point by holding hands and singing with Muslims and Jews in Jesus's hometown.
   
In a poignant moment, the rarely spontaneous pope rose to his feet and held hands with religious leaders inside Nazareth's Basilica of the Annunciation as a rabbi sang a peace song that he composed for the pontiff the night before.
   
"Lord grant us peace," a smiling Benedict mouthed in English, as Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein soulfully sang "Shalom, Salam, Lord grant us peace" at the end of an inter-faith meeting of Christians, Jews and Muslims of the Galilee.
   
The pontiff called earlier for all religious faiths sharing the land revered by the world's three main monotheistic faiths to put aside the decades of conflicts and live in peace.
   
"Sadly ... Nazareth has experienced tensions in recent years which have harmed relations between its Christian and Muslim communities," he told tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered for a morning mass at an open-air amphitheatre just outside Nazareth.
   
"I urge people of goodwill in both communities to repair the damage that has been done, and ... to work to build bridges and find the way to a peaceful coexistence," he said.
   
"Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice," Benedict said on Mount of Precipice, where Christians believe Jesus vanished as a crowd angered by his teachings tried to shove him off a cliff.
   
In an address to the religious leaders, the pope said all faiths were united in their desire to protect their youth from violence.
   
"Christians readily join Jews, Muslims, Druze and people of other religions in wishing to safeguard children from fanaticism and violence while preparing them to be builders of a better world," he said.
   
The 82-year-old pontiff celebrated mass in front of around 40,000 faithful, the largest service of his eight-day Holy Land pilgrimage which ends on Friday.
   
The pope later met Israel's hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Franciscan convent adjacent to the basilica.
   
Ahead of the encounter, an Israeli official said the state had refused a Vatican request to issue multi-entry visas to 500 priests from Arab countries, in what Holy See spokesman Federico Lombardi tersely said was "clearly one of the points of long discussions" in an Israeli-Vatican bilateral commission.
   
Netanyahu reminded the pontiff of statements by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel to be "wiped off the map," with the pontiff saying he condemned such sentiment as forcefully as he did anti-Semitism, Israeli radio reported.
   
The German-born pope sparked criticism in the Jewish state shortly after arriving on Monday, with many saying that during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem he did not show enough empathy and had failed to apologise for the Nazi genocide.
   
On Wednesday, he called for a sovereign Palestinian homeland and lamented Israel's "tragic" wall as he visited the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank where he held talks with president Mahmud Abbas.
   
At a mass in Nazareth's basilica, he paid homage to Christianity's Jewish beginnings, welcoming "the Hebrew-speaking Catholics, a reminder to us of the Jewish roots of our faith."
   
And the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics called on Christians to remain in the Holy Land, where they have become a tiny minority.
   
"Perhaps at times you feel that your voice counts for little," he said in a mass at the basilica. "Have the confidence to be faithful to Christ and to remain here in the land that he sanctified with his own presence."
   
Christians today make up two percent of the 7.4 million population of Israel and one percent of the 3.8 million residents of the Palestinian territories.
   
The pope's visit has received a mixed welcome from the Muslim community in Nazareth.
   
A small but vocal group, still simmering after the pope in 2006 quoted a medieval Christian emperor who criticised some teachings of the Prophet Mohammed as "evil and inhuman," has protested his visit to the city.

Date created : 2009-05-14

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