Pope Benedict arrives in Israel

 At 11am local time today, Benedict XVI arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, where he was greeted by Shimon Peres, president of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister, the country's civil and political authorities, and the ordinaries of the Holy Land.

In his address, the Pope expressed his thanks for the welcome to the State of Israel, "a land", he said, "which is held holy by millions of believers around the world, ... a land that is hallowed by the footsteps of patriarchs and prophets, a land that Christians hold in particular veneration as the setting for the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. ... I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace - peace here in the Holy Land, and peace throughout the world".

He also noted how the Holy See and the State of Israel "have many shared values, above all a commitment to give religion its rightful place in the life of society. The just ordering of social relationships presupposes and requires a respect for the freedom and dignity of every human being, whom Christians, Muslims and Jews alike believe to be created by a loving God and destined for eternal life. When the religious dimension of the human person is denied or marginalized, the very foundation for a proper understanding of inalienable human rights is placed in jeopardy.

"Tragically, the Jewish people have experienced the terrible consequences of ideologies that deny the fundamental dignity of every human person", he added. "It is right and fitting that, during my stay in Israel, I will have the opportunity to honour the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah, and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude. Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable. Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found, and to promote respect and esteem for the members of every people, tribe, language and nation across the globe.

"During my stay in Jerusalem, I will have the pleasure of meeting many of this country's distinguished religious leaders. One thing that the three great monotheistic religions have in common is a special veneration for that holy city. It is my earnest hope that all pilgrims to the holy places will be able to access them freely and without restraint, to take part in religious ceremonies and to promote the worthy upkeep of places of worship on sacred sites".

The Holy Father continued: "Even though the name Jerusalem means 'city of peace', it is all too evident that, for decades, peace has tragically eluded the inhabitants of this holy land. The eyes of the world are upon the peoples of this region as they struggle to achieve a just and lasting solution to conflicts that have caused so much suffering. The hopes of countless men, women and children for a more secure and stable future depend on the outcome of negotiations for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"In union with people of good will everywhere, I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognised borders. In this regard, I hope and pray that a climate of greater trust can soon be created that will enable the parties to make real progress along the road to peace and stability".

The Holy Father completed his remarks by addressing Catholics, recalling how he will be joining them in Nazareth for the concluding celebrations of the Year of the Family. "The family", he said, "is the 'first and indispensable teacher of peace', and hence it has a vital role to play in healing divisions in human society at every level.

"To the Christian communities in the Holy Land, I say: by your faithful witness to Him Who preached forgiveness and reconciliation, by your commitment to uphold the sacredness of every human life, you can make a particular contribution to ending the hostilities that for so long have afflicted this land. I pray that your continuing presence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories will bear much fruit in promoting peace and mutual respect among all the peoples who live in the lands of the Bible".

At the end of the ceremony the Pope travelled by helicopter to the heliport of Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, where he was greeted by Nir Barkat, mayor of the city. From there he was taken by car to the apostolic delegation in Jerusalem where he had lunch.

This afternoon the Holy Father is due to pay a courtesy visit to President Shimon Peres, to visit the Yad Vashem Memorial and to meet with members of organisations dedicated to inter-religious dialogue in the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre.

Source: VIS

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