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Pope Benedict leaves for Holy Land today

 Pope Benedict begins his visit to the Middle East today. The Vatican said the trip will follow the route Pope John Paul II took on his historic pilgrimage in 2000 to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, including stops associated with Biblical events and the life of Christ,

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the fact the trip is happening is in itself "a sign of hope" that the Pope can contribute to reconciliation in the Middle East.

"There were those after the Gaza conflict who wondered whether the trip would take place," Fr Lombardi told reporters.

During his three day stay in Jordan, Benedict is scheduled to meet with Muslim religious leaders at Amman's largest mosque, his second visit to a Muslim place of worship since becoming Pope in 2005. He prayed in Istanbul's famed Blue Mosque, a gesture that helped calm the outcry over his remarks.

Pope Benedict, who visited Israel three times before becoming Pope, faces a different set of issues in the Jewish state.

His forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism and acknowledgment of Vatican mistakes have softened Jewish anger over the recent episode with Pius X bishop who denied the Holocaust.

Fr Lombardi said rabbis who recently visited the Vatican "were very happy and said that maybe some misunderstanding is a good occasion to have a better understanding." and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (15 May). Both Israel and Jordan have set up special websites to document to visit. See: PopeinIsrael.org.il and: www.visitjordan.com/pope.

Source: VIS/ICN