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Middle east

Pope wraps up Holy Land pilgrimage

©

Video by Oliver FARRY

Latest update : 2009-05-15

Pope Benedict XVI will complete a Middle East pilgrimage on Friday with prayers at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, a day after holding mass for tens of thousands in the Galilee town of Nazareth.

AFP - Pope Benedict XVI prayed at Christianity's holiest site on Friday as he wrapped up a Holy Land tour in which he pleaded for Palestinians and stirred criticism he lacked remorse over the Holocaust.
   
In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the pontiff knelt in silent prayer in a tiny cavelike room revered as the tomb of Jesus and later at the spot where most Christians believe their Prince of Peace was crucified.
   
The 82-year-old pope repeated his call for peace to come to the land revered by the world's three monotheistic faiths that has been wracked by decades of violence.
   
"The bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome and ...  a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise," he said.
   
His visit to the 11th century church in the Old City of Jerusalem came on the same day that Palestinians marked the 61st anniversary of what they call the Naqba, the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation in 1948.
   
During his pilgrimage, the pope prayed at some of Christianity's most sacred destinations, visited Muslim and Jewish holy sites at the heart of the Middle East conflict, stood in silence at Israel's Holocaust memorial and saw the conditions in which Palestinians refugees live.
   
The leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics took his message of peace and reconciliation to religious leaders of various denominations, to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
   
In Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity, the pope visited Palestinian refugees living in the shadow of the eight-metre- (25-foot-)high wall that forms part of the West Bank separation barrier Israel says is crucial to its security but which to Palestinians symbolises the Jewish state's "apartheid" regime.
   
"Towering over us... is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached -- the wall," Benedict said at a refugee camp just outside the occupied West Bank city.
   
"In a world where more and more borders are being opened up... it is tragic to see walls still being erected," he said.
   
He expressed his solidarity with refugees and said his heart went out to relatives of detainees and families divided by Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement for Palestinians.
   
The pope also called for the lifting of the crippling blockade Israel has imposed against Gaza since the Islamic Hamas movement seized power there in June 2007 and expressed sorrow for the victims of the deadly 22-day military offensive Israel launched against the Palestinian enclave in December 2008.
   
He told Palestinians he understood the frustration they felt as their "legitimate aspirations" for an independent state remain unfulfilled, but also urged young people to resist the temptation of "terrorism."
   
On arrival in Israel from Jordan on Monday, the pope lashed out at anti-Semitism and, at the Yad Vashem memorial for the victims of the Nazi genocide, he said the Holocaust should never be forgotten.
   
But the German pope drew Israeli criticism for lack of emotion and for failing to express regret over the genocide.
   
Benedict prayed at Jerusalem's Western Wall, a top pilgrimage destination for Jews, and visited the compound overlooking it, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims and has been a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
   
He became the first pope to enter the Dome of the Rock on Al-Haram Al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), also known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is Islam's third holiest spot. The site, which the Jews call Temple Mount, is the holiest in Judaism.
   
The pontiff celebrated open-air masses in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem during his visit to Israel and the West Bank and at a football stadium in Amman while in Jordan.
   
In a poignant moment on Thursday, the rarely spontaneous pope rose to his feet and held hands with leaders of other religions in Nazareth as a rabbi sang a peace song that he composed for the pontiff the night before.
   
But despite his numerous calls for inter-faith reconciliation, the pope disappointed some Muslim clerics who wanted him to apologise anew for remarks he made in 2006 when he quoted a medieval Christian emperor who called some of the Prophet Mohammed's teachings "evil and inhuman."

Date created : 2009-05-15

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