Benedict XVI visit to the Holy Land   May 2009

 

On the Pope's Trip to the Holy Land

"I Presented Myself as a Pilgrim of Faith"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 20, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

I pause today to speak about the apostolic journey that I made May 8-15 to the Holy Land, for which I do not cease to give thanks to the Lord, because it has shown itself to be a great gift for the Successor of Peter and for the whole Church. I wish to again express my heartfelt gratitude to His Beatitude, Patriarch Fouad Twal, to the bishops of the various rites, the priests and the Franciscans of the Holy Land Custody. I thank the king and queen of Jordan, the president of Israel and the president of the Palestinian National Authority, with their respective governments, all the authorities, and those who have collaborated in various ways in the preparation and success of the visit. It was, above all, a pilgrimage, even more, a pilgrimage par excellence to the fount of the faith. At the same time, it was a pastoral visit to the Church that lives in the Holy Land: a community of singular importance, since it represents a living presence there, where [the Church] finds its origin.

The first stage, from May 8 to 11, was Jordan, in whose territory there are two principal holy sites: Mount Nebo, from where Moses contemplated the Promised Land and died without being able to enter, and then Bethany "beyond the Jordan," where, according to the Fourth Gospel, St. John baptized at the beginning. The memorial to Moses on Mount Nebo is a place of strong symbolic significance: It speaks of our condition as pilgrims between the "already" and the "not yet," between a promise so great and beautiful that it supports us along the way and a fulfillment that goes beyond us and beyond this world. The Church lives in herself this "eschatological character" and state as "pilgrim": She is already united to Christ, her spouse, but has only begun to savor the wedding party, in expectation of his glorious return at the end of time (cf. "Lumen Gentium," 48-50).

In Bethany, I had the joy of blessing cornerstones for two churches that will be built in the place where St. John baptized. This fact is a sign of the openness and the respect of the Hashemite Kingdom for religious liberty and the Christian tradition, and this merits great appreciation. I have been able to manifest this just recognition, united to a profound respect for the Muslim community, to the religious leaders, the diplomatic corps and the rectors of universities, gathered in the Al-Hussein bin-Talal mosque, built by King Abdullah II in memory of his father, the famous King Hussein, who welcomed Pope Paul VI in his historic pilgrimage of 1964. How important it is that Christians and Muslims coexist peacefully with mutual respect! Thanks be to God and the commitment of the government, this happens in Jordan. I have prayed a lot so that it could be this way as well in other places, thinking above all of the Christians who live a difficult situation in Iraq.

An important Christian community lives in Jordan, one that has grown with Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. Theirs is a significant and valued presence in society because of their educational and social works, attentive to the person, regardless of their ethnic or religious belonging. A beautiful example is the Regina Pacis rehabilitation center in Amman, which welcomes numerous people marked by disabilities. In visiting them, I have been able to take them a word of hope, but I have also received the same, in a testimony strengthened by the human person's suffering and the capacity to share.

As a sign of the Church's commitment in the realm of culture, I also blessed the cornerstone of the University of Madaba, of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. I experienced a great joy with the beginning of this new scientific and cultural institution, because it manifests in a tangible way that the Church promotes the search for truth and the common good and offers a high-quality, open space to those who want to dedicate themselves to this search, the indispensable premise for a true and fruitful dialogue between civilizations.

Also in Amman, two solemn liturgical celebrations were celebrated: Vespers in the Greek-Melkite Cathedral of St. George and holy Mass in the International Stadium, which permitted us to savor together the beauty of coming together as the pilgrim People of God, enriched by its different traditions and united in the one faith.

After leaving Jordan, at the end of the morning on Monday the 11th, I arrived in Israel, where from the beginning I presented myself as a pilgrim of faith, in the Land in which Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again, and at the same time, as a pilgrim of peace to implore from God that in the place where he became man, all men would live as his children, that is, as brothers.

This second aspect of my trip came out clearly in the meetings with civil authorities: in the visit to the Israeli president and the president of the Palestinian Authority. In this Land blessed by God, sometimes it seems impossible to get out of the spiral of violence. But, nothing is impossible for God and for those who trust in him! Because of this, faith in the one God, just and merciful, which is the most precious resource of these peoples, should pour forth its treasure of respect, reconciliation and collaboration. I wanted to express this wish in visiting the grand mufti and the leaders of the Islamic community in Jerusalem, as well as the grand rabbinate of Israel, and in the meeting with the organizations committed to interreligious dialogue and moreover, in the meeting with the religious leaders of Galilee.

Jerusalem is the crossroads for the three great monotheistic religions, and its very name -- "city of peace" -- expresses the design of God for humanity: to make of it a great family. This design, announced to Abraham, was entirely fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who St. Paul calls "our peace," since he broke down the wall of enmity with the strength of his Sacrifice (cf. Ephesians 2:14). All believers, therefore, should leave behind prejudices and a will to dominate and practice in harmony the fundamental commandment: to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

It is to this that Jews, Christians and Muslims are called to give witness, to honor with deeds the God to whom they pray with their lips. And this is exactly what I carried in my heart, in my prayer, in visiting Jerusalem, the Western Wall -- or Wailing Wall -- and the Dome of the Rock, symbolic places for Judaism and Islam, respectively. A moment of intense recollection was, as well, the visit to the Yad Vashem Memorial, constructed in Jerusalem in honor of the victims of the Shoah. There we paused in silence, praying and meditating on the mystery of a "name": Every person is sacred and his name is etched in the heart of the Eternal God. The tremendous tragedy of the Shoah must never be forgotten! It is necessary for it to always be in our memory as a universal admonition to the sacred respect for human life that always has an infinite value.

As I already mentioned, my trip had the priority objective of visiting the Catholic communities of the Holy Land, and this took place in various moments in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem and in Nazareth. In the Cenacle, with our thoughts on Christ who washed the apostles' feet and instituted the Eucharist, as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church on the day of Pentecost, I could meet with, among others, the custodians of the Holy Land, and meditate on our vocation to be one unit, to form one body and one spirit, to transform the world with the meek power of love. It is true that this call is experiencing particular difficulties in the Holy Land, and therefore, with the heart of Christ, I repeated to my brother bishops his very words: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). Later I briefly greeted the men and women religious of the contemplative life, thanking them for the service that, with their prayer, they offer to the Church and the cause of peace.

Above all, the Eucharistic celebrations were culminating moments of communion with the Catholic faithful. In the Valley of Josaphat, in Jerusalem, we meditated on the resurrection of Christ as a force of hope and peace for this city and for the entire world. In Bethlehem, in the Palestinian Territories, Mass was celebrated before the Basilica of the Nativity, with the participation of faithful from Gaza, who I had the joy of personally consoling, assuring them of my particular closeness. Bethlehem, the place where the heavenly hymn of peace for man resounded, is the symbol of the distance that continues separating us from the fulfillment of that proclamation: insecurity, isolation, uncertainty, poverty. All of that has led so many Christians to leave there.

But the Church carries on, sustained by the force of the faith and giving witness to her love with concrete works at the service of the brothers, such as the Caritas Baby Hospital of Bethlehem, supported by dioceses of Germany and Switzerland, and the humanitarian activity in the refugee camps. In the one I visited, I was able to assure the families that dwell there of the closeness and encouragement of the universal Church, inviting all to seek peace with nonviolent means, following the example of St. Francis of Assisi.

The third and final Mass with the people, I celebrated last Thursday in Nazareth, the city of the Holy Family. We prayed for all families so that they rediscover the beauty of matrimony and family life, the value of domestic spirituality and education, and attention to children, who have the right to grow in peace and serenity. As well, we sang our faith in the creative and transforming power of God. Where the Word incarnated himself in the womb of the Virgin Mary, arises an undying spring of hope and joy, that does not cease to encourage the heart of the Church, pilgrim in history.

My pilgrimage came to a close last Friday with the visit to the Holy Sepulcher and with two important ecumenical encounters in Jerusalem: with the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate, where all the ecclesial representations of the Holy Land gathered together, and finally in the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchal Church.

It is a pleasure to go over the whole itinerary that I was able to fulfill precisely with the sign of the resurrection of Christ: Despite the vicissitudes that through the centuries have marked the holy sites, despite the wars, the destruction and unfortunately, the conflicts among Christians, the Church has continued her mission, moved by the Spirit of the Risen Lord.

She is on the path toward full unity so that the world believes in the love of God and experiences the joy of his peace. On my knees, on Calvary and at the Holy Sepulcher, I invoked the strength of love that arises from the Paschal mystery, the only force capable of renewing man and orienting history and the cosmos toward its end. I ask you also to pray for this objective, as we prepare to live the Feast of the Ascension, which in the Vatican we will celebrate tomorrow. Thank you for your attention.

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[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

My recent Apostolic Journey to the Holy Land was a pilgrimage to the sources of our faith and a pastoral visit to the Christian communities in the lands of our Lord’s birth, death and resurrection. I am grateful to the civil authorities, the Latin Patriarch and the Bishops of the local Churches, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land and all those who contributed to the Journey. Throughout my visit I wished to be a pilgrim of peace, reminding Jews, Christians and Muslims alike of our commitment, as believers in the one God, to promote respect, reconciliation and cooperation in the service of peace. In Jerusalem, "the city of peace" sacred to the followers of the three great monotheistic traditions, this was the message I brought to the holy places, and particularly to the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. One of the most solemn moments was the commemoration of the victims of the Shoah at Yad Vashem. My visit to the local Churches culminated in the Masses celebrated in Amman, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. My pilgrimage ended in prayer on Calvary and before the Holy Sepulchre, the empty tomb, which continues to radiate a message of hope for individuals and for the whole human family. With gratitude for the many blessings of this pilgrimage, I ask you to join me in praying for the needs of the Church in the Near East and the gift of peace for the entire region.

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present today, including the College groups from America. May your visit to Rome be a time of deep spiritual renewal. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of joy and peace.

[At the end of the audience, the Pontiff made another announcement in English:]

This coming Sunday, the Church celebrates World Communications Day. In my message this year, I am inviting all those who make use of the new technologies of communication, especially the young, to utilize them in a positive way and to realize the great potential of these means to build up bonds of friendship and solidarity that can contribute to a better world.

The new technologies have brought about fundamental shifts in the ways in which news and information are disseminated and in how people communicate and relate to each other. I wish to encourage all those who access cyberspace to be careful to maintain and promote a culture of respect, dialogue and authentic friendship where the values of truth, harmony and understanding can flourish.

Young people in particular, I appeal to you: bear witness to your faith through the digital world! Employ these new technologies to make the Gospel known, so that the Good News of God’s infinite love for all people, will resound in new ways across our increasingly technological world!

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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PROGRAMME

VATICAN CITY, 26 MAR 2009 (VIS) - The programme of Benedict XVI's apostolic trip to the Holy Land, due to take place from 8 to 15 May, was made public today.

The Pope will depart from Rome 's Fiumicino airport at 9.30 a .m. on 8 May, landing at Queen Alia airport in the Jordanian capital, Amman , at 2.30 p.m. At 3.30 p.m. he is due to visit the city's "Regina Pacis" Centre, then make a courtesy visit to the Jordanian monarchs at the al-Husseinye royal palace.

On the morning of Saturday 9 May he will visit the Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo , and bless the cornerstone of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's Madaba University .

Having visited the Hashemite Museum and the Mosque of al-Hussein bin Talal in Amman , he will meet with Muslim religious leaders, the diplomatic corps and rectors of Jordanian universities. Later that day he will preside at the celebration of Vespers with priests, religious, seminarians and ecclesial movements in the Greek-Melkite cathedral of St. George in Amman .

On the morning of Sunday 10 May the Holy Father will celebrate Mass and pray the Regina Coeli at the international stadium in Amman . That afternoon he is scheduled to visit Bethany Beyond the Jordan , site of the Lord's Baptism, where he will bless the cornerstones of the Latin and Greek-Melkite churches.

On Monday 11 May, having celebrated Mass in private at the apostolic nunciature in Amman, he will travel by plane to Tel Aviv, Israel, where the welcome ceremony is due to take place at 11 a .m. in the city's Ben Gurion airport. That afternoon he will make a courtesy visit to the president of Israel at the presidential palace in Jerusalem . Subsequently he will visit the Yad Vashem Memorial and hold a meeting with organisations for inter-religious dialogue.

On Tuesday 12 May he will visit the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount in Jerusalem and meet the Grand Mufti. He will also visit the Western Wall and meet with the two Chief Rabbis of Israel at the Hechal Shlomo Centre. At midday he is due to pray the Regina Coeli with ordinaries of the Holy Land in the Cenacle of Jerusalem and to make a brief visit to the co-cathedral of the Latins. That afternoon he will celebrate Mass in the Valley of Josaphat .

At 9 a .m. on Wednesday 13 May the Holy Father will deliver an address on the square in front of the presidential palace in Bethlehem then celebrate Mass in Manger Square at 10 a .m. At 12.30 p.m. he will lunch with the ordinaries of the Holy Land, the Franciscan community and the papal entourage at the Casa Nova monastery in Bethlehem

That afternoon, following a private visit at 3.30 p.m. to the Grotto of the Nativity, Benedict XVI will travel to the Caritas Baby Hospital and, shortly thereafter, to the Aida Refugee Camp, where he will deliver an address. At 6 p.m. he will make a courtesy visit to the president of the Palestine National Authority in the presidential palace of Bethlehem , after which the departure ceremony will take place on the square in front of the palace.

At 10 a .m. on Thursday 14 May the Pope will celebrate Mass on the Mount of Precipice in Nazareth . At 3.50 p.m. he will meet the Israeli prime minister in the city's Franciscan convent, and at 4.30 p.m. greet religious leaders of Galilee in the auditorium of the Basilica of the Annunciation, where he will pronounce an address. Later he will travel to the Grotto of the Annunciation where at 5.30 p.m. he will preside at Vespers with bishops, priests, religious, ecclesial movements and pastoral workers.

On Friday 15 May the Pope will celebrate an early private Mass in the chapel of the apostolic delegation to Jerusalem , then attend an ecumenical meeting at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. After this he will visit the Holy Sepulchre and the Armenian patriarchal church of St. James in Jerusalem .

Following the departure ceremony at Ben Gurion international airport in Tel Aviv, the papal plane is due to take off at 2 p.m. bound for Rome where it is expected to land at Ciampino airport at 4.50 p.m. Roman time.

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On Mary's Example of Womanly Virtue
"Bearers of Love, Teachers of Mercy and Artisans of Peace"

AMMAN, Jordan, MAY 10, 2009 - Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today before praying the midday Regina Caeli, after having celebrated an open-air Mass at Amman International Stadium.

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Dear Friends,

During the Mass I spoke about the prophetic charism of women as bearers of love, teachers of mercy and artisans of peace. The supreme example of womanly virtue is the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Mother of Mercy and Queen of Peace. As we turn to her now, let us seek her maternal intercession for all the families of these lands, that they may truly be schools of prayer and schools of love. Let us ask the Mother of the Church to look down in mercy upon all the Christians of these lands, and with the help of her prayers, may they be truly one in the faith they profess and the witness they bear. Let us ask her who responded so generously to the angel's call, and accepted her vocation to become the Mother of God, to give courage and strength to all young people today who are discerning their vocations, so that they too may generously dedicate themselves to carrying out the Lord's will.

In this season of Eastertide, it is with the title Regina Coeli that we call upon the Blessed Virgin. As a fruit of the Redemption won by her Son's death and resurrection, she too was raised to everlasting glory and crowned Queen of Heaven. With great confidence in the power of her intercession, with joy in our hearts and with love for our glorious ever-Virgin Mother, we turn to her now and ask for her prayers.


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Papal Homily at Amman Stadium Mass
"Fidelity ... Demands of Each of You a Particular Kind of Courage"

AMMAN, Jordan, MAY 10, 2009 - Here is the text of the homily Benedict XVI gave today during an open-air Mass at Amman International Stadium.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I rejoice that we are able to celebrate this Eucharist together at the beginning of my Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Yesterday, from the heights of Mount Nebo, I stood and looked out upon this great land, the land of Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist, the land where God's ancient promises were fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, Jesus our Lord. This land witnessed his preaching and miracles, his death and resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church, the sacrament of a reconciled and renewed humanity. As I pondered the mystery of God's fidelity, I prayed that the Church in these lands would be confirmed in hope and strengthened in her witness to the Risen Christ, the Savior of mankind. Truly, as Saint Peter tells us in today's first reading, "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we are to be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Today's joyful celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice expresses the rich diversity of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. I greet all of you with affection in the Lord. I thank His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, for his kind words of welcome. With respect and gratitude I likewise greet His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad, who represents the King of Jordan, and I thank him for his presence in our midst. My greeting goes also to the many young people from Catholic schools who today bring their enthusiasm to this Eucharistic celebration.

In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus proclaims: "I am the good shepherd... who lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10:11). As the Successor of Saint Peter, to whom the Lord entrusted the care of his flock (cf. Jn 21:15-17), I have long awaited this opportunity to stand before you as a witness to the Risen Savior, and to encourage you to persevere in faith, hope and love, in fidelity to the ancient traditions and the distinguished history of Christian witness which you trace back to the age of the Apostles. The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East. May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage, or fail to sense the loving solidarity of all your brothers and sisters in the Church throughout the world!

"I am the good shepherd", the Lord tells us, "I know my own, and my own know me" (Jn 10:14). Today in Jordan we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. As we reflect on the Gospel of the Good Shepherd, let us ask the Lord to open our hearts and minds ever more fully to hear his call. Truly, Jesus "knows us", even more deeply than we know ourselves, and he has a plan for each one of us. We know, too, that wherever he calls us, we will find happiness and fulfilment; indeed, we will find our very selves (cf. Mt 10:39). Today I invite the many young people here present to consider how the Lord is calling you to follow him and to build up his Church. Whether it be in the priestly ministry, in consecrated life or in the sacrament of marriage, Jesus needs you to make his voice heard and to work for the growth of his Kingdom.

In today's second reading, Saint John invites us to "think of the love that the Father has lavished on us" by making us his adopted children in Christ. Hearing these words should make us grateful for the experience of the Father's love which we have had in our families, from the love of our fathers and mothers, our grandparents, our brothers and sisters. During the celebration of the present Year of the Family, the Church throughout the Holy Land has reflected on the family as a mystery of life-giving love, endowed in God's plan with its own proper calling and mission: to radiate the divine Love which is the source and the ultimate fulfilment of all the other loves of our lives. May every Christian family grow in fidelity to its lofty vocation to be a true school of prayer, where children learn a sincere love of God, where they mature in self-discipline and concern for the needs of others, and where, shaped by the wisdom born of faith, they contribute to the building of an ever more just and fraternal society. The strong Christian families of these lands are a great legacy handed down from earlier generations. May today's families be faithful to that impressive heritage, and never lack the material and moral assistance they need to carry out their irreplaceable role in service to society.

An important aspect of your reflection during this Year of the Family has been the particular dignity, vocation and mission of women in God's plan. How much the Church in these lands owes to the patient, loving and faithful witness of countless Christian mothers, religious Sisters, teachers, doctors and nurses! How much your society owes to all those women who in different and at times courageous ways have devoted their lives to building peace and fostering love! From the very first pages of the Bible, we see how man and woman, created in the image of God, are meant to complement one another as stewards of God's gifts and partners in communicating his gift of life, both physical and spiritual, to our world. Sadly, this God-given dignity and role of women has not always been sufficiently understood and esteemed. The Church, and society as a whole, has come to realize how urgently we need what the late Pope John Paul II called the "prophetic charism" of women (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 29) as bearers of love, teachers of mercy and artisans of peace, bringing warmth and humanity to a world that all too often judges the value of a person by the cold criteria of usefulness and profit. By its public witness of respect for women, and its defence of the innate dignity of every human person, the Church in the Holy Land can make an important contribution to the advancement of a culture of true humanity and the building of the civilization of love.

Dear friends, let us return to the words of Jesus in today's Gospel. I believe that they contain a special message for you, his faithful flock in these lands where he once dwelt. "The good shepherd", he tells us, "lays down his life for his sheep." At the beginning of this Mass, we asked the Father to "give us new strength from the courage of Christ our shepherd", who remained steadfast in fidelity to the Father's will (cf. Opening Prayer, Mass of the Fourth Sunday of Easter). May the courage of Christ our shepherd inspire and sustain you daily in your efforts to bear witness to the Christian faith and to maintain the Church's presence in the changing social fabric of these ancient lands.

Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church's mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition; the courage to engage in dialogue and to work side by side with other Christians in the service of the Gospel and solidarity with the poor, the displaced, and the victims of profound human tragedies; the courage to build new bridges to enable a fruitful encounter of people of different religions and cultures, and thus to enrich the fabric of society. It also means bearing witness to the love which inspires us to "lay down" our lives in the service of others, and thus to counter ways of thinking which justify "taking" innocent lives.

"I am the good shepherd; I know my own, and my own know me" (Jn 10:14). Rejoice that the Lord has made you members of his flock and knows each of you by name! Follow him with joy and let him guide you in all your ways. Jesus knows what challenges you face, what trials you endure, and the good that you do in his name. Trust in him, in his enduring love for all the members of his flock, and persevere in your witness to the triumph of his love. May Saint John the Baptist, the patron of Jordan, and Mary, Virgin and Mother, sustain you by their example and prayers, and lead you to the fullness of joy in the eternal pastures where we will experience for ever the presence of the Good Shepherd and know for ever the depths of his love. Amen.

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Papal Address at Site of Christ's Baptism
"He Is With Us as the Vine Is With Its Own Branches"

BETHANY, Jordan, MAY 10, 2009 - Here is the text of the discourse Benedict XVI gave today at Bethany beyond the Jordan, the site of Christ's baptism. He blessed the cornerstones for two churches, one Latin-rite and the other Greek-Melkite.

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Your Royal Highness,
Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear friends,

It is with great spiritual joy that I come to bless the foundation stones of the two Catholic Churches to be built beside the river Jordan, a place marked by many memorable events in biblical history. The prophet Elijah the Tishbite, was from this area, not far north of Galaad. Near here, facing Jericho, the waters of the Jordan opened before Elijah who was taken up by the Lord in a chariot of fire (cf. 2 Kg 2:9-12). Here the Spirit of the Lord called John the son of Zechariah to preach a conversion of hearts. John the Evangelist also places in this area the meeting between the Baptist and Jesus, who at his baptism was "anointed" by the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and proclaimed the beloved Son of the Father (cf.Jn 1:28; Mk 1:9-11).

I was honored to be received at this important site by Their Majesties King Abdullah II and Queen Rania. I again wish to express my sincere gratitude for the warm hospitality they have shown me during my visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

I greet with joy His Beatitude Gregorios III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch for the Greek Melkite Church. I also greet with affection His Beatitude Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. I extend my warm best wishes to His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, to the Auxiliary Bishops present, particularly to Archbishop Joseph Jules Zerey and the Most Reverend Salim Sayegh, whom I thank for his kind words of welcome. I am pleased to greet all the Bishops, priests, religious and faithful who accompany us today. Let us rejoice in the knowledge that the two buildings, one Latin, the other Greek Melkite, will serve to build up, each according to the traditions of its own community, the one family of God.

The foundation stone of a church is a symbol of Christ. The Church rests on Christ, is sustained by him and cannot be separated from him. He is the one foundation of every Christian community, the living stone, rejected by the builders but chosen and precious in God's sight as a cornerstone (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-5, 7). With him, we too are living stones built into a spiritual house, a dwelling place for God (cf. Eph2:20-22; 1 Pet 2:5). Saint Augustine loved to refer to the mystery of the Church as the Christus totus, the whole Christ, the full or complete Body of Christ, Head and members. This is the reality of the Church; it is Christ and us, Christ with us. He is with us as the vine is with its own branches (cf. Jn 15:1-8). The Church is in Christ a community of new life, a dynamic reality of grace that flows from him. Through the Church Christ purifies our hearts, enlightens our minds, unites us with the Father and, in the one Spirit, moves us to a daily exercise of Christian love. We confess this joyful reality as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

We enter the Church through baptism. The memory of Christ's own baptism is brought vividly before us in this place. Jesus stood in line with sinners and accepted John's baptism of penance as a prophetic sign of his own passion, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Down through the centuries, many pilgrims have come to the Jordan to seek purification, renew their faith and draw closer to the Lord. Such was the pilgrim Egeria, who left a written account of her visit during the late fourth century. The Sacrament of Baptism, drawing its power from Christ's death and resurrection, will be cherished especially by the Christian communities that gather in the new church buildings. May the Jordan always remind you that you have been washed in the waters of baptism and have become members of the family of Jesus. Your lives, in obedience to his word, are being transformed into his image and likeness. As you strive to be faithful to your baptismal commitment of conversion, witness and mission, know that you are being strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the prayerful contemplation of these mysteries enrich you with spiritual joy and moral courage. With the Apostle Paul, I encourage you to grow in the whole range of noble attitudes covered by the blessed name of agape, Christian love (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-13). Promote dialogue and understanding in civil society, especially when claiming your legitimate rights. In the Middle East, marked by tragic suffering, by years of violence and unresolved tensions, Christians are called to offer their contribution, inspired by the example of Jesus, of reconciliation and peace through forgiveness and generosity. Continue being grateful to those who lead you and serve you faithfully as ministers of Christ. You do well to accept their guidance in faith knowing that, by receiving the apostolic teaching they transmit, you welcome Christ and you welcome the One who sent him (cf. Mt 10:40).

My dear brothers and sisters, we now proceed to bless these two stones, the beginning of two new sacred buildings. May the Lord sustain, strengthen and increase the communities that will worship in them. And may he bless you all with his gift of peace. Amen!


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Welcome Speech by Muslim Prince Ghazi
"We Understand This Visit to Be a Deliberate Gesture of Goodwill"

AMMAN, Jordan, MAY 10, 2009 - Here is a transcription of the welcome speech that Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammed gave to Benedict XVI when the Pope visited Jordan's state mosque on Saturday, the first full day of the Pontiff's weeklong pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The prince is an advisor to King Abdullah II and also the organizer of the Muslim initiative called "A Common Word," sent by 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders.

The speech was in English and Arabic.

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[Greeting in Arabic] Pax vobis. On the occasion of this historic visit to the Al-Hussein Bin Talal mosque here in Amman, I bid Your Holiness Pope Benedict XVI welcome in four ways.

First, as a Muslim. I bid Your Holiness welcome today as we understand this visit to be a deliberate gesture of goodwill and mutual respect from the supreme spiritual leader and pontiff of the largest denomination of the world's largest religion to the world's second-largest religion. Indeed, Christians and Muslims make up over 55% of the world's population and so it is especially significant that this is only the third time in history a reigning pope has visited a mosque, the first being by Your Holiness's much-beloved Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, to the historical remains, to the historical [...] mosque in Damascus, which contains the remains of John the Baptist [...] in 2001, and the second being by Your Holiness to the magnificent Blue Mosque [...] in Istanbul in 2006.

The beautiful King Hussein mosque in Amman, Jordan, is Jordan's state mosque and it was built and personally supervised by His Majesty King Abdullah II in loving honor of his late father, Jordan's great King Hussein, may God have mercy on his soul. Thus, this is the first time in history that a pope has ever visited a new mosque; hence, we see in this visit a clear message of the necessity of interfaith harmony and mutual respect in the contemporary world, as well as concrete proof of the willingness of Your Holiness to personally take a leading role in this.

This gesture is all the more remarkable, given the fact that this visit to Jordan by Your Holiness is primarily a spiritual pilgrimage to the Christian Holy Land, and in particular to the site of the baptism of Jesus Christ [...] by John the Baptist [...] at Bethany beyond the Jordan, John 1:28 and John 3:26.

And yet Your Holiness has made time, in your intense and tiring schedule, tiring for a man of any age, for this visit to the King Hussein mosque, in order to honor Muslims.

I must also thank Your Holiness, for the regret you expressed after the Regensburg lecture of September 13, 2006, for the hurt caused by this lecture, to Muslims. Of course Muslims know that nothing that can be said or done in this world can harm the prophet [...], who is, as his last words attested, with the highest companion [...], God himself, in paradise.

But Muslims were, nevertheless, hurt because of their love for the prophet [...], who is, as God says in the Holy Qu'uran, closer to the believers than their own selves. Hence, Muslims also especially appreciated the clarification by the Vatican that what was said in the Regensburg lecture did not reflect Your Holiness's own opinion, but was rather simply a citation in an academic lecture.

It hardly needs to be said, moreover, that the prophet Mohammed [...], whom Muslims love, emulate, and know as a living reality and spiritual presence, is completely and entirely different from the historical depictions of him in the West, ever since St. John of Damascus. These distorted depictions by those who either do not know Arabic or the Holy Qu'uran [...] or who do not understand the historical and cultural contexts of the prophet's life, and thus misunderstand and misconstrue the spiritual motives and intentions behind many of the prophet's [...] actions and words are unfortunately responsible for much historical and cultural tension between Christians and Muslims.

It is thus incumbent upon Muslims to explain the prophet's example [...] above all, with deeds of virtue, charity, and piety and goodwill, recalling that the prophet himself [...] was of an exalted nature. For God says in the Holy Qu'uran, "Verily ye have in the messenger of God, a beautiful paten of conduct, for whosoever hopes in God and the last day, and remembereth God much."

Finally, I must thank Your Holiness for many other friendly gestures and kindly actions towards Muslims, since your ascension in 2005, including graciously receiving both His Majesty King Abdullah II Bin Al-Hussein [...] of Jordan in 2005, and His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Ad-Al-Haziz [...] of Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the two holy places in 2008. And also especially for your warm reception of the historical or common word between us and you, open letter of October 13, 2007 by 138 leading international Muslim scholars, whose numbers continue increasing to this day.

It was as a result of this initiative, which, based on the Holy Qu'uran and the Bible, recognized the primacy of the love of God and love of the neighbor in both Christianity and Islam, that the Vatican, under Your Holiness's personal guidance, held the first seminar of the international Muslim-Catholic forum [...] 2008.

We will shortly be following up [...] with the very able Cardinal Tauran, the work initiated by this meeting, but for now I would like to cite and echo your words from the speech Your Holiness gave on the occasion of the end of the first seminar, and I quote, "The theme which you have chosen for your meeting, Love of God, Love of the Neighbor, the Dignity of the Human Person, and Mutual Respect, is particularly significant. It was taken from the open letter, which presents love of God and love of the neighbor as the heart of Islam and Christianity alike. This theme highlights even more clearly the theological and spiritual foundations of a central teaching of our respective religions. I am well aware that Muslims and Christians have different approaches in matters regarding God, yet we can and must be worshippers of the one God, who created us and is concerned about each person in every corner of the world. There is a great and vast field in which we can act together, in defending and promoting the moral values which are part of our common heritage" end quote.

Now I cannot but help remember God's words in the Holy Qu'uran, [...] "yet they are not all alike." Some of the people of the Scripture are a community upright, who recite God's verses in the watches of the night, prostrating themselves. They believe in God and in the last day, enjoining decency and forbidding indecency, vying with one another in good works. Those are of the righteous, and whatever good they do, they shall not be denied it, and God knows the God-fearing. And also God's words, "and you will find, and you will truly find, the nearest of them to those who believe, to be those who say, verily we are Christians. That is because some of them are priests, and monks. And because they are not proud [...]

Second, as a Hashemite, and a descendant of the prophet Muhammed [...] I also bid Your Holiness welcome to this mosque in Jordan remembering that the prophet [...] welcomed his Christian neighbors [...] to Medina, and invited them to pray in his own mosque, which they did in harmony, without either side compromising their own spiritual beliefs. This too is an invaluable lesson which the world desperately needs to remember.

Third, as an Arab, and a direct descendant of Ishmael Ali-Salaam [...], of whom the Bible says God would make a great nation, Genesis 21:18, and that God was with him, Genesis 21:20. I bid Your Holiness welcome.

One of the cardinal virtues of the Arabs, who traditionally have survived in some of the hottest and most inhospitable climates in the world, is hospitality. Hospitality is born of generosity, and it recognizes the needs of the neighbor and considers those who are far, or who come from far, as neighbors, and indeed this virtue is confirmed by God in the Holy Qu'uran with the words, "And worship God, and associate man [...] with him, be kind to parents, and near kindred, and to orphans, and to the needy, and to the neighbor who is far and to the neighbor who is near, and to the neighbor who is a stranger, and to the friend at your side. And to the wayfarer, and to what your right hands [...] possess, surely God loves not the conceited and the boastful. Chapter [...] 4,36.

Arab hospitality means not only loving to give and help, but also being generous of spirit, and thus appreciative. In 2000, during the late Pope John Paul II's visit to Jordan, I was working with the Jordanian tribes, and some of the tribesmen were saying that they really liked the late Pope. Someone asked them, "Why do you like him?" since he was a Christian and they were Muslims. They smiled and said, "Because he visited us." And of course, the late Pope John Paul II, like yourself, Holiness, could have easily gone to Israel and Palestine, but instead chose to start his pilgrimage with a visit to us here in Jordan, which we appreciate.

Fourth and finally, as a Jordanian, I bid Your Holiness welcome. In Jordan, everyone is equal before the law, regardless of religion, race, origin or gender, and those who work in the government are responsible to do their utmost to care for everyone in the country with compassion and with justice. This was the personal example and message of the late King Hussein, who over his long reign of 47 years, felt for everyone in the country as he did for his own children. It is also the message of his son, His Majesty King Abdullah II, who accordingly has made it the singular goal of his life and reign, to make the life of every Jordanian and indeed every person in the world that he can reach, as decent, dignified, and happy as he possibly can, with Jordan's meager resources.

Today, Christians in Jordan enjoy, by law, 8% of the seats in Parliament and similar quotas at every level of government and society, even though their numbers are less than that in actual fact. In addition to their own personal status laws and church courts, their holy sites, and their legal educational institutions and other needs are safeguarded by the state. And Your Holiness has just seen this in person, at the new Catholic university of Madaba, and will, God willing, soon see the new Catholic cathedral and the new Melkite church at the baptism site. And so Christians prosper today in Jordan, as they have for the last 2,000 years, in peace and harmony, and with good will and genuine brotherly relations between them and their Muslim neighbors. This is, in part of course, because Christians used to be more numerous in Jordan percentagewise than they are today, but declining Christian birthrates and conversely, high levels of education and prosperity which have led to their being in demand as immigrants to the West, have reduced their numbers. It is also, however, due to the fact that Jordan appreciates that Christians were in Jordan 600 years before Muslims. Indeed, Jordanian Christians are perhaps the oldest Christian community in the world, and the majority have always been Orthodox, adherence to the Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem in the Holy Land, which, as Your Holiness knows better than I, is the church of St. James, and was founded during Jesus' own lifetime [...].

Many of them are descended from the ancient Arab [...] tribes, and they have, throughout history, shared the fate and struggles of their fellow Muslim tribesman. Indeed, in 630, during the prophet's own lifetime, they joined the prophet's own army, led by his adopted son, [...] and his cousin [...] and fought against the Byzantine army of their fellow orthodox, at the battle of Mechtar [...]. It is because of this battle, that they earned their tribal name [...], which means "the reinforcements," and Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal himself comes from these tribes.

Then, in 1099, they were slaughtered by Catholic crusaders, at the fall of Jerusalem alongside their Muslim comrades. Later from 1916 to 1918, during the Great Arab revolt, they fought against Muslim Turks, alongside Arab-Muslim comrades. They thereafter languished for a few decades, along with their Muslim fellows, under a Protestant colonial mandate, and in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1967, and 1968, they fought with their Muslim-Arab comrades against Jewish opponents.

Christian Jordanians have always not only defended Jordan but have also tirelessly and patriotically helped to build Jordan, playing leading roles in the fields of education, health, commerce, tourism, agriculture, science, culture, and many other fields. All this is to say, then, that whilst Your Holiness may believe them to be your fellow Christians, we know them to be our fellow Jordanians. And they are as much a part of this country as the land itself. We hope that this unique Jordanian spirit of interfaith harmony, benevolence and mutual respect, will serve as an example to the whole world, and Your Holiness will carry it to places like Mindenau and certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where Muslim minorities are hard-pressed by Christian majorities, as well as to other places, where the opposite is the case.

Now, just as we welcome Your Holiness today in four ways, we receive Your Holiness today in four ways.

First, we receive Your Holiness as the spiritual leader, Supreme Pontiff, and Successor of St. Peter, for 1.1 billion Catholics, who are neighbors of Muslims everywhere, and who we greet through receiving you.

Second, we receive Your Holiness as Pope Benedict XVI, in particular whose reign has been marked by the moral courage to do and speak his conscience, no matter what the vogue of the day, who is personally also a master Christian theologian, responsible for historical encyclical letters on the beautiful cardinal virtues of charity and hope, who has refacilitated the traditional Latin Mass for those who choose it, and who has simultaneously made intrafaith and interfaith dialogue a top priority of his reign, in order to spread goodwill and understanding throughout all peoples of the world.

Third, we receive Your Holiness as a Head of State, who is also a world and global leader on the vital issues of morality, ethics, the environment, peace, human dignity, the alleviation of poverty and suffering, and even the global financial crisis.

Fourth and finally, we receive Your Holiness as a simple pilgrim of peace who comes in humility and gentleness to pray where Jesus Christ the Messiah [...], may peace be upon him, was baptized and began his mission 2,000 years ago.

So, welcome to Jordan, Your Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. God says in the Holy Qu'uran to the prophet Muhammed .... "Glory be to your Lord, the Lord of might," above what they allege, "and peace be to the messengers, and praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds." [...]

[Transcription by Vatican Radio]

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Benedict XVI's Farewell Address to Jordan
"It Is Principally as a Pilgrim and a Pastor That I Have Come"

AMMAN, Jordan, MAY 11, 2009 - Here is the text of the farewell address Benedict XVI gave today after the speech of King Abdullah II of Jordan.

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Your Majesties,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Friends,

As I prepare for the next stage of my pilgrimage to the lands of the Bible, I want to thank all of you for the warm welcome that I have received in Jordan over these last few days. I thank His Majesty King Abdullah II for inviting me to visit the Hashemite Kingdom, for his hospitality and his kind words. I also express my appreciation for the immense effort that has gone into making my visit possible, and ensuring the orderly unfolding of the various meetings and celebrations that have taken place. The public authorities, assisted by a great number of volunteers, have worked long and hard in order to direct the crowds and organize the different events. The media coverage has enabled countless people to follow the celebrations even if they could not be physically present. As well as thanking those who have made this possible, I wish to extend a special greeting to all who are listening on the radio or watching on television, especially the sick and those confined to their homes.

It has been a particular joy for me to be present at the launching of a number of major initiatives promoted by the Catholic community here in Jordan. The new wing of the Regina Pacis Centre will open up fresh possibilities of bringing hope to those who struggle with difficulties of various kinds, and to their families. The two churches to be built in Bethany will enable their respective communities to welcome pilgrims and to foster the spiritual growth of all who worship in that holy place. The University at Madaba has a particularly important contribution to offer to the wider community, in forming young people from various traditions in the skills that will enable them to shape the future of civil society. To all who are involved in these projects, I offer good wishes and the promise of my prayers.

One of the highlights of these days was my visit to the Mosque Al-Hussein Bin Talal, where I had the pleasure of meeting Muslim religious leaders together with members of the diplomatic corps and University Rectors. I would like to encourage all Jordanians, whether Christian or Muslim, to build on the firm foundations of religious tolerance that enable the members of different communities to live together in peace and mutual respect. His Majesty the King has been notably active in fostering inter-religious dialogue, and I want to put on record how much his commitment in this regard is appreciated. I also gratefully acknowledge the particular consideration that he shows towards the Christian community in Jordan. This spirit of openness not only helps the members of different ethnic communities in this country to live together in peace and concord, but it has contributed to Jordan's far-sighted political initiatives to build peace throughout the Middle East.

Dear Friends: as you know, it is principally as a pilgrim and a pastor that I have come to Jordan. Hence the experiences from these days that will remain most firmly etched in my memory are my visits to the holy places and the moments of prayer that we celebrated together. Once again I want to express the appreciation of the whole Church to those who look after the places of pilgrimage in this land, and I also thank the many people who contributed to the planning of Saturday's Vespers in Saint George's Cathedral and yesterday's Mass at the International Stadium. It was truly a joy for me to experience these Eastertide celebrations in company with the Catholic faithful from different traditions, united in the Church's communion and in witness to Christ. I encourage all of them to remain faithful to their baptismal commitment, mindful that Christ himself received baptism from John in the waters of the river Jordan.

As I bid you farewell, I want you to know that I hold in my heart the people of the Hashemite Kingdom and all who live throughout this region. I pray that you may enjoy peace and prosperity, now and for generations to come. Thank you once again. And may God bless all of you!


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Pope's Address Upon Arriving to Tel Aviv Airport
"The Holy See and the State of Israel Have Many Shared Values"

TEL AVIV, Israel, MAY 11, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today upon arriving from Jordan to the Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv, where he was received by the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the civil authorities and bishops of the Holy Land.

* * *

Mr. President,
Mr. Prime Minister,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your warm welcome to the State of Israel, a land which is held holy by millions of believers around the world. I am grateful to the President, Mr. Shimon Peres, for his kind words, and I appreciate the opportunity that has been offered to me to come on pilgrimage to 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 take my place in a long line of Christian pilgrims to these shores, a line that stretches back to the earliest centuries of the Church's history and which, I am sure, will continue long into the future. 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.

Mr. President, 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. It is right and fitting that, during my stay in Israel, I will have the opportunity to honor 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. May the words of Isaiah's prophecy be fulfilled, that many nations shall flow to the mountain of the house of the Lord, that he may teach them his ways, that they may walk in his paths -- paths of peace and justice, paths that lead to reconciliation and harmony (cf. Is 2:2-5).

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 recognized 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.

To the Catholic bishops and faithful here present, I offer a special word of greeting. In this land, where Peter received his commission to feed the Lord's sheep, I come as Peter's successor to minister among you. It will be my special joy to join you for the concluding celebrations of the Year of the Family, due to take place in Nazareth, home of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. As I said in my Message for the World Day of Peace last year, the family is the "first and indispensable teacher of peace" (No. 3), 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.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, once again I thank you for your welcome and I assure you of my sentiments of good will. May God give his people strength! May God bless his people with peace!

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Papal Address to Interreligious Dialogue Organizers
"We See the Possibility of a Unity Which Is Not Dependent Upon Uniformity"

JERUSALEM, MAY 11, 2009 - Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem in a meeting with organizations involved in interreligious dialogue.

* * *

Dear Brother Bishops,

Distinguished Religious Leaders,

Dear Friends,

It is a source of great joy for me to meet with you this evening. I wish to thank His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal for his kind words of welcome spoken on behalf of everyone present. I reciprocate the warm sentiments expressed and gladly greet all of you and the members of the groups and organizations you represent.

"God said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your kindred and your father's house for a land I shall show you' ... so Abram went ... and took his wife Sarah with him" (Gen 12:1-5). God's irruptive call, which marks the beginning of the history of our faith traditions, was heard in the midst of man's ordinary daily existence. And the history that ensued was shaped, not in isolation, but through the encounter with Egyptian, Hittite, Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian, and Greek cultures.

Faith is always lived within a culture. The history of religion shows that a community of believers proceeds by degrees of faithfulness to God, drawing from and shaping the culture it meets. This same dynamic is found in individual believers from the great monotheistic traditions: attuned to the voice of God, like Abraham, we respond to his call and set out seeking the fulfillment of his promises, striving to obey his will, forging a path in our own particular culture.

Today, nearly four thousand years after Abraham, the encounter of religions with culture occurs not simply on a geographical plane. Certain aspects of globalization and in particular the world of the internet have created a vast virtual culture, the worth of which is as varied as its countless manifestations. Undoubtedly much has been achieved to create a sense of closeness and unity within the world-wide human family. Yet, at the same time, the boundless array of portals through which people so readily access undifferentiated sources of information can easily become an instrument of increasing fragmentation: the unity of knowledge is shattered and the complex skills of critique, discernment and discrimination learned through academic and ethical traditions are at times bypassed or neglected.

The question naturally arises then as to what contribution religion makes to the cultures of the world against the backdrop of rapid globalization. Since many are quick to point out the readily apparent differences between religions, as believers or religious persons we are presented with the challenge to proclaim with clarity what we share in common.

Abraham's first step in faith, and our steps to or from the synagogue, church, mosque or temple, tread the path of our single human history, unfolding along the way, we might say, to the eternal Jerusalem (cf.Rev 21:23). Similarly, every culture with its inner capacity to give and receive gives expression to the one human nature. Yet, the individual is never fully expressed through his or her own culture, but transcends it in the constant search for something beyond. From this perspective, dear friends, we see the possibility of a unity which is not dependent upon uniformity. While the differences we explore in inter-religious dialogue may at times appear as barriers, they need not overshadow the common sense of awe and respect for the universal, for the absolute and for truth, which impel religious peoples to converse with one another in the first place. Indeed it is the shared conviction that these transcendent realities have their source in -- and bear traces of -- the Almighty that believers uphold before each other, our organizations, our society, our world. In this way not only do we enrich culture but we shape it: lives of religious fidelity echo God's irruptive presence and so form a culture not defined by boundaries of time or place but fundamentally shaped by the principles and actions that stem from belief.

Religious belief presupposes truth. The one who believes is the one who seeks truth and lives by it. Although the medium by which we understand the discovery and communication of truth differs in part from religion to religion, we should not be deterred in our efforts to bear witness to truth's power. Together we can proclaim that God exists and can be known, that the earth is his creation, that we are his creatures, and that he calls every man and woman to a way of life that respects his design for the world. Friends, if we believe we have a criterion of judgment and discernment which is divine in origin and intended for all humanity, then we cannot tire of bringing that knowledge to bear on civic life. Truth should be offered to all; it serves all members of society. It sheds light on the foundation of morality and ethics, and suffuses reason with the strength to reach beyond its own limitations in order to give expression to our deepest common aspirations. Far from threatening the tolerance of differences or cultural plurality, truth makes consensus possible and keeps public debate rational, honest and accountable, and opens the gateway to peace. Fostering the will to be obedient to the truth in fact broadens our concept of reason and its scope of application, and makes possible the genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.

Each one of us here also knows, however, that God's voice is heard less clearly today, and reason itself has in so many instances become deaf to the divine. Yet that "void" is not one of silence. Indeed, it is the din of egotistical demands, empty promises and false hopes that so often invades the very space in which God seeks us. Can we then make spaces -- oases of peace and profound reflection -- where God's voice can be heard anew, where his truth can be discovered within the universality of reason, where every individual, regardless of dwelling, or ethnic group, or political hue, or religious belief, can be respected as a person, as a fellow human being? In an age of instant access to information and social tendencies which engender a kind of monoculture, deep reflection against the backdrop of God's presence will embolden reason, stimulate creative genius, facilitate critical appreciation of cultural practices and uphold the universal value of religious belief.

Friends, the institutions and groups that you represent engage in inter-religious dialogue and the promotion of cultural initiatives at a wide range of levels. From academic institutions -- and here I wish to make special mention of the outstanding achievements of Bethlehem University -- to bereaved parents groups, from initiatives through music and the arts to the courageous example of ordinary mothers and fathers, from formal dialogue groups to charitable organizations, you daily demonstrate your belief that our duty before God is expressed not only in our worship but also in our love and concern for society, for culture, for our world and for all who live in this land. Some would have us believe that our differences are necessarily a cause of division and thus at most to be tolerated. A few even maintain that our voices should simply be silenced. But we know that our differences need never be misrepresented as an inevitable source of friction or tension either between ourselves or in society at large. Rather, they provide a wonderful opportunity for people of different religions to live together in profound respect, esteem and appreciation, encouraging one another in the ways of God. Prompted by the Almighty and enlightened by his truth, may you continue to step forward with courage, respecting all that differentiates us and promoting all that unites us as creatures blessed with the desire to bring hope to our communities and world. May God guide us along this path!

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Pope's Address at Yad Vashem
"May the Names of These Victims Never Perish"

JERUSALEM, MAY 11, 2009 - Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the Yad Vashem memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

* * *

"I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name ... I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off" (Is 56:5).

This passage from the Book of the prophet Isaiah furnishes the two simple words which solemnly express the profound significance of this revered place: yad - "memorial"; shem - "name". I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah. They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names: these are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again. Most of all, their names are forever fixed in the memory of Almighty God.

One can rob a neighbor of possessions, opportunity or freedom. One can weave an insidious web of lies to convince others that certain groups are undeserving of respect. Yet, try as one might, one can never take away the name of a fellow human being.

Sacred Scripture teaches us the importance of names in conferring upon someone a unique mission or a special gift. God called Abram "Abraham" because he was to become the "father of many nations" (Gen17:5). Jacob was called "Israel" because he had "contended with God and man and prevailed" (Gen32:29). The names enshrined in this hallowed monument will forever hold a sacred place among the countless descendants of Abraham. Like his, their faith was tested. Like Jacob, they were immersed in the struggle to discern the designs of the Almighty. May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten! And may all people of goodwill remain vigilant in rooting out from the heart of man anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!

The Catholic Church, committed to the teachings of Jesus and intent on imitating his love for all people, feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here. Similarly, she draws close to all those who today are subjected to persecution on account of race, color, condition of life or religion - their sufferings are hers, and hers is their hope for justice. As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I reaffirm - like my predecessors - that the Church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of peace (cf. Ps 85:9).

The Scriptures teach that it is our task to remind the world that this God lives, even though we sometimes find it difficult to grasp his mysterious and inscrutable ways. He has revealed himself and continues to work in human history. He alone governs the world with righteousness and judges all peoples with fairness (cf. Ps 9:9).

Gazing upon the faces reflected in the pool that lies in stillness within this memorial, one cannot help but recall how each of them bears a name. I can only imagine the joyful expectation of their parents as they anxiously awaited the birth of their children. What name shall we give this child? What is to become of him or her? Who could have imagined that they would be condemned to such a deplorable fate!

As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood. It is the cry of Abel rising from the earth to the Almighty. Professing our steadfast trust in God, we give voice to that cry using words from the Book of Lamentations which are full of significance for both Jews and Christians:

"The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent;
They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness.
My portion is the Lord, says my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
Good is the Lord to the one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him;
It is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord" (Lam 3:22-26).

My dear friends, I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope.

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Papal Address to Israeli President
"What Humane Political End Can Ever Be Served Through Conflict and Violence?"

JERUSALEM, MAY 11, 2009 - Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the presidential residence in Jerusalem during a courtesy visit to President Shimon Peres.

* * *



Mr President,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a kind gesture of hospitality President Peres has welcomed us here to his residence, enabling me to greet you all and to have this opportunity to share a few thoughts with you. Mr President, I thank you for this gracious welcome, and for your courteous greeting which I warmly reciprocate. I also thank the musicians who have entertained us with their fine performance.

Mr President, in the message of congratulations which I sent to you on the occasion of your inauguration, I gladly recalled your distinguished record of public service marked by a strong commitment to the pursuit of justice and peace. This afternoon I wish to assure you, together with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his newly formed Government, and all the people of the State of Israel that my pilgrimage to the holy places is one of prayer for the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and all of humanity. Indeed, I pray daily for peace born of justice to return to the Holy Land and the entire region, bringing security and renewed hope for all.

Peace is above all a divine gift. For peace is the Almighty's promise to humanity, and harbors unity. In the book of the prophet Jeremiah we read: "I know the plans I have in mind for you - it is the Lord who speaks - plans for peace not disaster, to give you a future and a hope" (Jer 29:11-12). The prophet reminds us of the Almighty's promise that he can "be found", that he "will listen", that he "will gather us together as one". But there is a proviso: we must "seek him", and "seek him with all our heart" (cf. ibid.,12-14).

To the religious leaders present this afternoon, I wish to say that the particular contribution of religions to the quest for peace lies primarily in the wholehearted, united search for God. Ours is the task of proclaiming and witnessing that the Almighty is present and knowable even when he seems hidden from our sight, that he acts in our world for our good, and that a society's future is marked with hope when it resonates in harmony with his divine order. It is God's dynamic presence that draws hearts together and ensures unity. In fact, the ultimate foundation of unity among persons lies in the perfect oneness and universality of God, who created man and woman in his image and likeness in order to draw us into his own divine life so that all may be one.

Religious leaders must therefore be mindful that any division or tension, any tendency to introversion or suspicion among believers or between our communities, can easily lead to a contradiction which obscures the Almighty's oneness, betrays our unity, and contradicts the One who reveals himself as "abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ex 34:6; Ps 138:2; Ps 85:11). My friends: Jerusalem, which has long been a crossroads for peoples of many different origins, is a city which affords Jews, Christians and Muslims both the duty and the privilege to bear witness together to the peaceful coexistence long desired by worshippers of the one God; to lay bare the Almighty's plan for the unity of the human family announced to Abraham; and to proclaim the true nature of man as a seeker of God. Let us resolve to ensure that through the teaching and guidance of our respective communities we shall assist them to be true to who they are as believers, ever aware of the infinite goodness of God, the inviolable dignity of every human being, and the unity of the entire human family.

Sacred Scripture also presents us with an understanding of security. According to the Hebrew usage, security - batah - arises from trust and refers not just to the absence of threat but also to the sentiment of calmness and confidence. In the book of the prophet Isaiah we read of a time of divine blessing: "Once more the Spirit is poured upon us ... and justice will dwell in the wilderness and integrity in the fertile land; integrity will bring peace, and justice everlasting security" (Is 32:15-17). Security, integrity, justice and peace. In God's design for the world, these are inseparable. Far from being simply products of human endeavor, they are values which stem from God's fundamental relationship with man, and dwell as a common patrimony in the heart of every individual.

There is only one way to protect and promote these values: exercise them! Live them! No individual, family, community or nation is exempt from the duty to live in justice and to work for peace. And naturally, civic and political leaders are expected to ensure just and proper security for the people whom they have been elected to serve. That objective forms a part of the rightful promotion of values common to humanity and thus cannot conflict with the unity of the human family. The authentic values and goals of a society, which always safeguard human dignity, are indivisible, universal and interdependent (cf.Address to the United Nations, 18 April 2008). Thus they cannot be satisfied when they fall prey to particular interests or piecemeal politics. A nation's true interest is always served by the pursuit of justice for all.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, lasting security is a matter of trust, nurtured in justice and integrity, and sealed through the conversion of hearts which stirs us to look the other in the eye, and to recognize the "Thou", as my equal, my brother, my sister. In this way does not society itself become the "fruitful field" (Is 32:15) marked, not by blocks or obstructions, but by cohesion and vibrancy? Can it not become a community with noble aspirations where all are willingly afforded access to education, family housing and the opportunity for employment, a society ready to build upon the lasting foundations of hope?

To conclude, I would like to turn to the ordinary families of this city, of this country. What parents would ever want violence, insecurity, or disunity for their son or daughter? What humane political end can ever be served through conflict and violence? I hear the cry of those who live in this land for justice, for peace, for respect for their dignity, for lasting security, a daily life free from the fear of outside threats and senseless violence. And I know that considerable numbers of men and women and young people are working for peace and solidarity through cultural programs and through initiatives of compassionate and practical outreach; humble enough to forgive, they have the courage to grasp the dream that is their right.

Mr President, I thank you for the courtesy you have shown to me and I assure you again of my prayers for the Government and all the citizens of this State. May a genuine conversion of the hearts of all lead to an ever strengthening commitment to peace and security through justice for everyone.

Shalom!

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Papal Address to Muslim Leaders in Jerusalem
"Here the Paths of the World's Three Great Monotheistic Religions Meet"

JERUSALEM, MAY 12, 2009 - Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today in the "al-Kubbah al-Nahawiyya" building, after visiting the Dome of the Rock, the oldest Islamic monument in the Holy Land, where he was greeted by the grand mufti, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein.

* * *
Dear Muslim Friends,

As-salámu 'aláikum! Peace upon you!

I cordially thank the Grand Mufti, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, together with the Director of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, Sheikh Mohammed Azzam al-Khatib al-Tamimi, and the Head of the Awquaf Council, Sheikh Abdel Azim Salhab, for the welcome they have extended to me on your behalf. I am deeply grateful for the invitation to visit this sacred place, and I willingly pay my respects to you and the leaders of the Islamic community in Jerusalem.

The Dome of the Rock draws our hearts and minds to reflect upon the mystery of creation and the faith of Abraham. Here the paths of the world's three great monotheistic religions meet, reminding us what they share in common. Each believes in One God, creator and ruler of all. Each recognizes Abraham as a forefather, a man of faith upon whom God bestowed a special blessing. Each has gained a large following throughout the centuries and inspired a rich spiritual, intellectual and cultural patrimony.

In a world sadly torn by divisions, this sacred place serves as a stimulus, and also challenges men and women of goodwill to work to overcome misunderstandings and conflicts of the past and to set out on the path of a sincere dialogue aimed at building a world of justice and peace for coming generations.

Since the teachings of religious traditions ultimately concern the reality of God, the meaning of life, and the common destiny of mankind -- that is to say, all that is most sacred and dear to us -- there may be a temptation to engage in such dialogue with reluctance or ambivalence about its possibilities for success. Yet we can begin with the belief that the One God is the infinite source of justice and mercy, since in him the two exist in perfect unity. Those who confess his name are entrusted with the task of striving tirelessly for righteousness while imitating his forgiveness, for both are intrinsically oriented to the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of the human family.

For this reason, it is paramount that those who adore the One God should show themselves to be both grounded in and directed towards the unity of the entire human family. In other words, fidelity to the One God, the Creator, the Most High, leads to the recognition that human beings are fundamentally interrelated, since all owe their very existence to a single source and are pointed towards a common goal. Imprinted with the indelible image of the divine, they are called to play an active role in mending divisions and promoting human solidarity.

This places a grave responsibility upon us. Those who honor the One God believe that he will hold human beings accountable for their actions. Christians assert that the divine gifts of reason and freedom stand at the basis of this accountability. Reason opens the mind to grasp the shared nature and common destiny of the human family, while freedom moves the heart to accept the other and serve him in charity. Undivided love for the One God and charity towards ones neighbor thus become the fulcrum around which all else turns. This is why we work untiringly to safeguard human hearts from hatred, anger or vengeance.

Dear friends, I have come to Jerusalem on a journey of faith. I thank God for this occasion to meet you as the Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, but also as a child of Abraham, by whom "all the families of the earth find blessing" (Gen 12:3; cf. Rom 4:16-17). I assure you of the Church's ardent desire to cooperate for the well-being of the human family. She firmly believes that the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham is universal in scope, embracing all men and women regardless of provenance or social status. As Muslims and Christians further the respectful dialogue they have already begun, I pray that they will explore how the Oneness of God is inextricably tied to the unity of the human family. In submitting to his loving plan for creation, in studying the law inscribed in the cosmos and implanted in the human heart, in reflecting upon the mysterious gift of God's self-revelation, may all his followers continue to keep their gaze fixed on his absolute goodness, never losing sight of the way it is reflected in the faces of others.

With these thoughts, I humbly ask the Almighty to grant you peace and to bless all the beloved people of this region. May we strive to live in a spirit of harmony and cooperation, bearing witness to the One God by generously serving one another. Thank you!

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Prayer Placed by Pope in Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
"Send Your Peace Upon This Holy Land, Upon the Middle East"

JERUSALEM, MAY 12, 2009 - Here is the text of the prayer Benedict XVI placed in one of the cracks of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem today.

* * *

God of all the ages,
on my visit to Jerusalem, the "City of Peace",
spiritual home to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike,
I bring before you the joys, the hopes and the aspirations,
the trials, the suffering and the pain of all your people throughout the world.
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
hear the cry of the afflicted, the fearful, the bereft;
send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East,
upon the entire human family;
stir the hearts of all who call upon your name,
to walk humbly in the path of justice and compassion.
"The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him" (Lam 3:25)!

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Benedict XVI's Visit to the Grand Rabbinate
"Our Two Communities Are Challenged to Engage People of Good Will at the Level of Reason"

JERUSALEM, MAY 12, 2009 - Here is the text of Benedict XVI's address during a courtesy visit today to the "Hechal Shlomo" center, seat of the Grand Rabbinate, after he visited the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

* * *

Distinguished Rabbis,

Dear Friends,

I am grateful for the invitation to visit Heichal Shlomo and to meet with you during this trip of mine to the Holy Land as Bishop of Rome. I thank Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger for their warm words of welcome and the desire they have expressed to continue strengthening the bonds of friendship which the Catholic Church and the Chief Rabbinate have labored so diligently to forge over the past decades. Your visits to the Vatican in 2003 and 2005 are a sign of the good will which characterizes our developing relations.

Distinguished Rabbis, I reciprocate by expressing my own respect and esteem for you and your communities. I assure you of my desire to deepen mutual understanding and cooperation between the Holy See, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and Jewish people throughout the world.

A great source of satisfaction for me since the beginning of my pontificate has been the fruit yielded by the ongoing dialogue between the Delegation of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel's Delegation for Relations with the Catholic Church. I wish to thank the members of both delegations for their dedication and hard work in implementing this initiative, so earnestly desired by my esteemed predecessor Pope John Paul II, as he said during the Great Jubilee Year of 2000.

Our encounter today is a most fitting occasion to give thanks to the Almighty for the many blessings which have accompanied the dialogue conducted by the Bilateral Commission, and to look forward with expectation to its future sessions. The willingness of the delegates to discuss openly and patiently not only points of agreement, but also points of difference, has already paved the way to more effective collaboration in public life. Jews and Christians alike are concerned to ensure respect for the sacredness of human life, the centrality of the family, a sound education for the young, and the freedom of religion and conscience for a healthy society. These themes of dialogue represent only the initial phases of what we trust will be a steady, progressive journey towards an enhanced mutual understanding.

An indication of the potential of this series of meetings is readily seen in our shared concern in the face of moral relativism and the offences it spawns against the dignity of the human person. In approaching the most urgent ethical questions of our day, our two communities are challenged to engage people of good will at the level of reason, while simultaneously pointing to the religious foundations which best sustain lasting moral values. May the dialogue that has begun continue to generate ideas on how Christians and Jews can work together to heighten society's appreciation of the distinctive contribution of our religious and ethical traditions. Here in Israel, given that Christians constitute only a small portion of the total population, they particularly value opportunities for dialogue with their Jewish neighbors.

Trust is undeniably an essential element of effective dialogue. Today I have the opportunity to repeat that the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council for a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews. As the Declaration Nostra Aetate makes clear, the Church continues to value the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews and desires an ever deeper mutual understanding and respect through biblical and theological studies as well as fraternal dialogues. May the seven Bilateral Commission meetings which have already taken place between the Holy See and the Chief Rabbinate stand as evidence! I am thus grateful for your reciprocal assurance that the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Chief Rabbinate will continue to grow in respect and understanding in the future.

My friends, I express again my deep appreciation for the welcome you have extended to me today. I am confident that our friendship will continue to set an example of trust in dialogue for Jews and Christians throughout the world. Looking at the accomplishments achieved thus far, and drawing our inspiration from the Holy Scriptures, we can confidently look forward to even stronger cooperation between our communities -- together with all people of good will -- in decrying hatred and oppression throughout the world. I pray that God, who searches our hearts and knows our thoughts (Ps 139:23), will continue to enlighten us with his wisdom, so that we may follow his commandments to love him with all our heart, soul and strength (cf. Dt 6:5), and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev 19:18). Thank you.

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Papal Address to Holy Land Ordinaries in Upper Room
"The Different Christian Churches Found Here Represent a Rich and Varied Spiritual Patrimony"

JERUSALEM, MAY 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today in the Upper Room in Jerusalem to the Holy Land ordinaries, including the Latin patriarch, the bishops of the Churches of different rites in communion with Rome, and the custodian of the Holy Land.

* * *

Dear Brother Bishops,

Dear Father Custos,

It is with great joy that I greet you, the Ordinaries of the Holy Land, in this Upper Room where according to tradition the Lord opened his heart to his chosen disciples and celebrated the Paschal Mystery, and where the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost inspired the early disciples to go forth and preach the good news. I thank Father Pizzaballa for the warm words of welcome which he has expressed to me on your behalf. You represent the Catholic communities of the Holy Land who, in their faith and devotion, are like lighted candles illuminating the holy places that were graced by the presence of Jesus our living Lord. This unique privilege gives you and your people a special place of affection in my heart as the Successor of Peter.

"When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn13:1). The Upper Room recalls the last supper of our Lord with Peter and the other apostles and invites the Church to prayerful contemplation. In this vein we gather together, the Successor of Peter with successors of the apostles, in this same place where Jesus revealed in the offering of his own body and blood, the new depths of the covenant of love established between God and his people. In the Upper Room the mystery of grace and salvation, of which we are recipients and also heralds and ministers, can be expressed only in terms of love. Because he has loved us first and continues to do so, we can respond with love (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 2). Our life as Christians is not simply a human effort to live the demands of the Gospel imposed upon us as duties. In the Eucharist we are drawn into the mystery of divine love. Our lives become a grateful, docile and active acceptance of the power of a love which is given to us. This transforming love, which is grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:17), prompts us, as individuals and communities, to overcome the temptation to turn in upon ourselves in selfishness or indolence, isolation, prejudice or fear, and to give ourselves generously to the Lord and to others. It moves us as Christian communities to be faithful to our mission with frankness and courage (cf. Acts 4:13). In the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock, in the Teacher who washes the feet of his disciples, you find, my dear brothers, the model of your own ministry in the service of our God who promotes love and communion.

The call to communion of mind and heart, so closely related to the commandment of love and to the central unifying role of the Eucharist in our lives, is of special relevance in the Holy Land. The different Christian Churches found here represent a rich and varied spiritual patrimony and are a sign of the multiple forms of interaction between the Gospel and different cultures. They also remind us that the mission of the Church is to preach the universal love of God and to gather, from far and near, all who are called by him, in such a way that, with their traditions and their talents, they form the one family of God. A new spiritual impulse towards communion in diversity within the Catholic Church and a new ecumenical awareness have marked our times, especially since the Second Vatican Council. The Spirit moves our hearts gently towards humility and peace, towards mutual acceptance, comprehension and cooperation. This inner disposition to unity under the prompting of the Holy Spirit is decisive if Christians are to fulfill their mission in the world (cf. Jn:17:21).

In the measure in which the gift of love is accepted and grows in the Church, the Christian presence in the Holy Land and in the neighboring regions will be vibrant. This presence is of vital importance for the good of society as a whole. The clear words of Jesus on the intimate bond between love of God and love of neighbor, on mercy and compassion, on meekness, peace and forgiveness, are a leaven capable of transforming hearts and shaping actions. Christians in the Middle East, together with other people of good will, are contributing, as loyal and responsible citizens, in spite of difficulties and restrictions, to the promotion and consolidation of a climate of peace in diversity. I wish to repeat to them what I stated in my 2006 Christmas message to Catholics in the Middle East: "I express with affection my personal closeness in this situation of human insecurity, daily suffering, fear and hope which you are living. I repeat to your communities the words of the Redeemer: 'Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom' (Lk 12:32)" (Christmas Message to Catholics living in the Middle East Region, 21 December 2006).

Dear Brother Bishops, count on my support and encouragement as you do all that is in your power to assist our Christian brothers and sisters to remain and prosper here in the land of their ancestors and to be messengers and promoters of peace. I appreciate your efforts to offer them, as mature and responsible citizens, spiritual sustenance, values and principles that assist them in playing their role in society. Through education, professional preparation and other social and economic initiatives their condition will be sustained and improved. For my part, I renew my appeal to our brothers and sisters worldwide to support and to remember in their prayers the Christian communities of the Holy Land and the Middle East. In this context I wish to express my appreciation for the service offered to the many pilgrims and visitors who come to the Holy Land seeking inspiration and renewal in the footsteps of Jesus. The Gospel story, contemplated in its historical and geographical setting, becomes vivid and colorful, and a clearer grasp of the significance of the Lord's words and deeds is obtained. Many memorable experiences of pilgrims to the Holy Land have been possible thanks also to the hospitality and fraternal guidance offered by you, especially by the Franciscan Friars of the Custody. For this service, I wish to assure you of the appreciation and gratitude of the Universal Church and I express the wish that many more pilgrims will visit in the future.

Dear brothers, as we address together our joyful prayer to Mary, Queen of Heaven, let us place confidently in her hands the well-being and spiritual renewal of all Christians in the Holy Land, so that, under the guidance of their Pastors, they may grow in faith, hope and love, and persevere in their mission as promoters of communion and peace.


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Pontiff's Words at Latin Patriarchate Co-Cathedral
I Give Thanks for "the Hidden Apostolate of the Contemplatives Who Are Present Here"

JERUSALEM, MAY 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of Benedict XVI's greeting given today to some 300 people, including contemplative religious, at the Latin patriarchate's co-cathedral of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in Jerusalem.

* * *

Your Beatitude, I thank you for your words of welcome. I also greet the Patriarch Emeritus and I assure you both of my fraternal good wishes and prayers.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I am happy to be here with you today in this Co-Cathedral, where the Christian community in Jerusalem continues to gather, as it has been doing for centuries, ever since the earliest days of the Church. Here in this city, Peter first preached the Good News of Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost, when about three thousand souls were added to the number of the disciples. Here too the first Christians "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). From Jerusalem, the Gospel has gone out "to all the earth ... to the ends of the world" (Ps 19:4), yet all the time, the Church's missionary effort has been sustained by the prayers of the faithful, gathered around the altar of the Lord, invoking the mighty power of the Holy Spirit upon the work of preaching.

Above all, it is the prayers of those whose vocation, in the words of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, is to be "love, deep down in the heart of the Church" (Letter to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart) that sustains the work of evangelization. I want to express a particular word of appreciation for the hidden apostolate of the contemplatives who are present here, and to thank you for your generous dedication to lives of prayer and self-denial. I am especially grateful for the prayers you offer for my universal ministry, and I ask you to continue to commend to the Lord my work of service to God's people all over the world. In the words of the Psalmist, I ask you also to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Ps 122:6), to pray without ceasing for an end to the conflict that has brought so much suffering to the peoples of this land. And now, I give you my blessing.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Latin Patriarch's Welcome Address to Benedict XVI
"You Stand Before a Small Flock that Is Shrinking"

JERUSALEM, MAY 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the welcoming address the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, gave to Benedict XVI at the beginning of Mass in the Valley of Josaphat, in front of the basilica of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives.

* * *

Holy Father,

The Church of Jerusalem fervently welcomes you to this city where Jesus Christ was welcomed by the crowd shouting "Hosanna in the Highest, Hosanna to the one who comes in the name of the Lord" (Mt. 21:9). Welcome to the city, where He obtained the victory over sin and death, and salvation for those who have faith in him. Here, with you, the Church takes loving care of and comes to pray at those places, where Our Lord carried out his awesome tasks of redemption. These sites are witnesses of the past and the truth of our present lives.

Just a few yards from here, Jesus said to his most favored disciples "Remain here, and watch with me" (Mt. 26:39). But these same disciples closed their eyes, not losing sleep over Jesus' agony, only a short distance away in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Holy Father, today, in many ways, the situation has not changed: around us, we have the agony of the Palestinian people, who dream of living in a free and independent Palestinian State, but have not found its realization; and the agony of the Israeli people, who dream of a normal life in peace and security and, despite all their military and mass media might, have not found its realization.

And the international community, just like Jesus' beloved disciples, stands apart, eyes drooping with indifference, unconcerned with the agony of the Holy Land, which has gone on for sixty-one years, and does not seriously rouse itself, to find a just solution. In this Valley of Jehoshaphat, a valley of tears, we raise our prayer for the realization of the dreams of these two peoples. We raise our prayer for Jerusalem, to be shared by the two peoples and three religions.

On this very Mount of Olives, Jesus wept in vain over Jerusalem, and continues to do so, with the disillusioned refugees, without any hope of return, with the widows of the victims of violence and the many families in this city, who every day see their homes demolished because, it is said, "they were built illegally," when the whole situation is illegal and still looking for a solution

Above where we stand now, Our Lord cried out: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children -- all your children, Jews, Christians and Muslim -- and you would not!" (Lk 13:34)

Dear Holy Father, we ask you to see and understand the lives of your poor children here, and to strengthen our faith and hope. Your visit brings the awareness and solidarity of the entire Church, and the attention of the world to this region, these peoples, their story, their struggles and hopes, their smiles and tears.

For one who suffers -- someone infirm, a refugee, a prisoner or one bearing the weight of injustice -- the greatest distress, is to think that he has been forgotten and that no one sees, knows or is moved by what he undergoes. Your visit today does much to comfort hearts and to say to all, that the God of compassion and those who believe in Him are not blind, have not forgotten and are not unmoved.

Your Holiness, you are the successor to St. Peter, charged by the Lord to "strengthen [his] brethren" in their faith. (Lk 22:32) This we entreat you then, and we cry out with the Apostles in the Gospel, "Increase our faith!" (Lk 17:25)

Holy Father, you stand before a small flock that is shrinking, that suffers from emigration, largely due to the effects of the unjust occupation and all its humiliation, violence and hatred. Yet we know that the faith is the victory that overcomes the world, (1 Jn 5:4) and that through it, we are able to see and recognize Jesus Christ in every person. With Jesus and in Jesus, we can enjoy here and now the peace that the world can neither give nor take out of our hearts. This peace means serenity, faith, a welcoming spirit and the joy of living and working in this Land.

Therefore we take advantage of your blessed presence among us to cry out with the suffering father in the Gospel who begged Jesus to free his son from long lasting torments "I do believe, help my unbelief."

Holy Father, as we welcome you as the successor to St. Peter, help our unbelief. Pray with us now to our Heavenly Father for all the inhabitants of the Holy Land; and to the Mother of Sorrows, who did not shirk from standing beneath the cross of her suffering son, that she help us have her same faith in God's loving providence, accepting all even before we understand.
Oh Lord, Strengthen our faith!

+ Fouad Twal, Patriarch

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Homily of Benedict XVI at the Mount of Olives
"In the Holy Land There Is Room for Everyone"

JERUSALEM, MAY 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the homily Benedict XVI gave today during a Mass in the Valley of Josaphat in Jerusalem, in front of the basilica of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

"Christ is risen, alleluia!" With these words I greet you with immense affection. I thank Patriarch Fouad Twal for his words of welcome on your behalf, and before all else I express my joy at being able to celebrate this Eucharist with you, the Church in Jerusalem. We are gathered beneath the Mount of Olives, where our Lord prayed and suffered, where he wept for love of this City and the desire that it should know "the path to peace" (Lk 19:42), and whence he returned to the Father, giving his final earthly blessing to his disciples and to us. Today let us accept this blessing. He gives it in a special way to you, dear brothers and sisters, who stand in an unbroken line with those first disciples who encountered the Risen Lord in the breaking of the bread, those who experienced the outpouring of the Spirit in the Upper Room and those who were converted by the preaching of Saint Peter and the other apostles. My greeting also goes to all those present, and in a special way to those faithful of the Holy Land who for various reasons were not able to be with us today.

As the Successor of Saint Peter, I have retraced his steps in order to proclaim the Risen Christ in your midst, to confirm you in the faith of your fathers, and to invoke upon you the consolation which is the gift of the Paraclete. Standing before you today, I wish to acknowledge the difficulties, the frustration, and the pain and suffering which so many of you have endured as a result of the conflicts which have afflicted these lands, and the bitter experiences of displacement which so many of your families have known and -- God forbid -- may yet know. I hope my presence here is a sign that you are not forgotten, that your persevering presence and witness are indeed precious in God's eyes and integral to the future of these lands. Precisely because of your deep roots in this land, your ancient and strong Christian culture, and your unwavering trust in God's promises, you, the Christians of the Holy Land, are called to serve not only as a beacon of faith to the universal Church, but also as a leaven of harmony, wisdom and equilibrium in the life of a society which has traditionally been, and continues to be, pluralistic, multiethnic and multireligious.

In today's second reading, the Apostle Paul tells the Colossians to "seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God" (Col 3:1). His words resound with particular force here, beneath the Garden of Gethsemani, where Jesus accepted the chalice of suffering in complete obedience to the Father's will, and where, according to tradition, he ascended to the right hand of the Father to make perpetual intercession for us, the members of his Body. Saint Paul, the great herald of Christian hope, knew the cost of that hope, its price in suffering and persecution for the sake of the Gospel, yet he never wavered in his conviction that Christ's resurrection was the beginning of a new creation. As he tells us: "When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, you too will be revealed with him in glory!" (Col 3:4).

Paul's exhortation to "set our minds on the things that are above" must constantly echo in our hearts. His words point us to the fulfillment of faith's vision in that heavenly Jerusalem where, in fidelity to the ancient prophecies, God will wipe away the tears from every eye, and prepare a banquet of salvation for all peoples (cf. Is 25:6-8; Rev 21:2-4).

This is the hope, this the vision, which inspires all who love this earthly Jerusalem to see her as a prophecy and promise of that universal reconciliation and peace which God desires for the whole human family. Sadly, beneath the walls of this same City, we are also led to consider how far our world is from the complete fulfillment of that prophecy and promise. In this Holy City where life conquered death, where the Spirit was poured out as the first-fruits of the new creation, hope continues to battle despair, frustration and cynicism, while the peace which is God's gift and call continues to be threatened by selfishness, conflict, division and the burden of past wrongs. For this reason, the Christian community in this City which beheld the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit must hold fast all the more to the hope bestowed by the Gospel, cherishing the pledge of Christ's definitive victory over sin and death, bearing witness to the power of forgiveness, and showing forth the Church's deepest nature as the sign and sacrament of a humanity reconciled, renewed and made one in Christ, the new Adam.

Gathered beneath the walls of this city, sacred to the followers of three great religions, how can we not turn our thoughts to Jerusalem's universal vocation? Heralded by the prophets, this vocation also emerges as an indisputable fact, a reality irrevocably grounded in the complex history of this city and its people. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike call this city their spiritual home. How much needs to be done to make it truly a "city of peace" for all peoples, where all can come in pilgrimage in search of God, and hear his voice, "a voice which speaks of peace" (cf. Ps 85:8)!
Jerusalem, in fact, has always been a city whose streets echo with different languages, whose stones are trod by people of every race and tongue, whose walls are a symbol of God's provident care for the whole human family. As a microcosm of our globalized world, this City, if it is to live up to its universal vocation, must be a place which teaches universality, respect for others, dialogue and mutual understanding; a place where prejudice, ignorance and the fear which fuels them, are overcome by honesty, integrity and the pursuit of peace. There should be no place within these walls for narrowness, discrimination, violence and injustice. Believers in a God of mercy -- whether they identify themselves as Jews, Christians or Muslims -- must be the first to promote this culture of reconciliation and peace, however painstakingly slow the process may be, and however burdensome the weight of past memories.

Here I would like to speak directly to the tragic reality -- which cannot fail to be a source of concern to all who love this City and this land -- of the departure of so many members of the Christian community in recent years. While understandable reasons lead many, especially the young, to emigrate, this decision brings in its wake a great cultural and spiritual impoverishment to the City. Today I wish to repeat what I have said on other occasions: in the Holy Land there is room for everyone! As I urge the authorities to respect, to support and to value the Christian presence here, I also wish to assure you of the solidarity, love and support of the whole Church and of the Holy See.

Dear friends, in the Gospel we have just heard, Saint Peter and Saint John run to the empty tomb, and John, we are told, "saw and believed" (Jn 20:8). Here in the Holy Land, with the eyes of faith, you, together with the pilgrims from throughout the world who throng its churches and shrines, are blessed to "see" the places hallowed by Christ's presence, his earthly ministry, his passion, death and resurrection, and the gift of his Holy Spirit. Here, like the Apostle Saint Thomas, you are granted the opportunity to "touch" the historical realities which underlie our confession of faith in the Son of God. My prayer for you today is that you continue, day by day, to "see and believe" in the signs of God's providence and unfailing mercy, to "hear" with renewed faith and hope the consoling words of the apostolic preaching, and to "touch" the sources of grace in the sacraments, and to incarnate for others their pledge of new beginnings, the freedom born of forgiveness, the interior light and peace which can bring healing and hope to even the darkest of human realities.

In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, pilgrims in every century have venerated the stone which tradition tells us stood before the entrance to the tomb on the morning of Christ's resurrection. Let us return frequently to that empty tomb. There let us reaffirm our faith in the victory of life, and pray that every "heavy stone" that stands before the door of our hearts, blocking our complete surrender to the Lord in faith, hope and love, may be shattered by the power of the light and life which shone forth from Jerusalem to all the world that first Easter morn. Christ is risen, alleluia! He is truly risen, alleluia!

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Pope's Farewell Address to Palestinian Authority
"It Is Necessary to Remove the Walls That We Build Around our Hearts"

BETHLEHEM, MAY 13, 2009 - Here is the text of the farewell address Benedict XVI gave today at the presidential palace in Bethlehem, in the presence of the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

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Mr. President,

Dear Friends,

I thank you for the great kindness you have shown me throughout this day that I have spent in your company, here in the Palestinian Territories. I am grateful to the President, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, for his hospitality and his gracious words. It was deeply moving for me to listen also to the testimonies of the residents who have spoken to us about the conditions of life here on the West Bank and in Gaza. I assure all of you that I hold you in my heart and I long to see peace and reconciliation throughout these tormented lands.

It has truly been a most memorable day. Since arriving in Bethlehem this morning, I have had the joy of celebrating Mass together with a great multitude of the faithful in the place where Jesus Christ, light of the nations and hope of the world, was born. I have seen the care taken of today's infants in the Caritas Baby Hospital. With anguish, I have witnessed the situation of refugees who, like the Holy Family, have had to flee their homes. And I have seen, adjoining the camp and overshadowing much of Bethlehem, the wall that intrudes into your territories, separating neighbors and dividing families.

Although walls can easily be built, we all know that they do not last forever. They can be taken down. First, though, it is necessary to remove the walls that we build around our hearts, the barriers that we set up against our neighbors. That is why, in my parting words, I want to make a renewed plea for openness and generosity of spirit, for an end to intolerance and exclusion. No matter how intractable and deeply entrenched a conflict may appear to be, there are always grounds to hope that it can be resolved, that the patient and persevering efforts of those who work for peace and reconciliation will bear fruit in the end. My earnest wish for you, the people of Palestine, is that this will happen soon, and that you will at last be able to enjoy the peace, freedom and stability that have eluded you for so long.

Be assured that I will continue to take every opportunity to urge those involved in peace negotiations to work towards a just solution that respects the legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike. As an important step in this direction, the Holy See looks forward to establishing shortly, in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority, the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission that was envisioned in the Basic Agreement, signed in the Vatican on 15 February 2000 (cf. Basic Agreement between the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organization, art. 9).

Mr. President, dear friends, I thank you once again and I commend all of you to the protection of the Almighty. May God look down in love upon each one of you, upon your families and all who are dear to you. And may he bless the Palestinian people with peace.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Benedict XVI's Address at Aida Refugee Camp
"I Renew My Plea for a Profound Commitment to Cultivate Peace and Non-Violence"

BETHLEHEM, MAY 13, 2009 - Here is the text of Benedict XVI's speech delivered today at the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, in the presence of the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

* * *

Mr. President,

Dear Friends,

My visit to the Aida Refugee Camp this afternoon gives me a welcome opportunity to express my solidarity with all the homeless Palestinians who long to be able to return to their birthplace, or to live permanently in a homeland of their own. Thank you, Mr. President, for your kind greeting. And thank you also, Mrs. Abu Zayd, and our other speakers. To all the officials of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency who care for the refugees, I express the appreciation felt by countless men and women all over the world for the work that is done here and in other camps throughout the region.

I extend a particular greeting to the pupils and teachers in the school. By your commitment to education you are expressing hope in the future. To all the young people here, I say: renew your efforts to prepare for the time when you will be responsible for the affairs of the Palestinian people in years to come. Parents have a most important role here, and to all the families present in this camp I say: be sure to support your children in their studies and to nurture their gifts, so that there will be no shortage of well-qualified personnel to occupy leadership positions in the Palestinian community in the future. I know that many of your families are divided -- through imprisonment of family members, or restrictions on freedom of movement -- and many of you have experienced bereavement in the course of the hostilities. My heart goes out to all who suffer in this way. Please be assured that all Palestinian refugees across the world, especially those who lost homes and loved ones during the recent conflict in Gaza, are constantly remembered in my prayers.

I wish to acknowledge the good work carried out by many Church agencies in caring for refugees here and in other parts of the Palestinian Territories. The Pontifical Mission for Palestine, founded some sixty years ago to coordinate Catholic humanitarian assistance for refugees, continues its much-needed work alongside other such organizations. In this camp, the presence of Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary calls to mind the charismatic figure of Saint Francis, that great apostle of peace and reconciliation. Indeed, I want to express my particular appreciation for the enormous contribution made by different members of the Franciscan family in caring for the people of these lands, making themselves "instruments of peace", in the time-honored phrase attributed to the Saint of Assisi.

Instruments of peace. How much the people of this camp, these Territories, and this entire region long for peace! In these days, that longing takes on a particular poignancy as you recall the events of May 1948 and the years of conflict, as yet unresolved, that followed from those events. You are now living in precarious and difficult conditions, with limited opportunities for employment. It is understandable that you often feel frustrated. Your legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian State, remain unfulfilled. Instead you find yourselves trapped, as so many in this region and throughout the world are trapped, in a spiral of violence, of attack and counter-attack, retaliation, and continual destruction. The whole world is longing for this spiral to be broken, for peace to put an end to the constant fighting.

Towering over us, as we gather here this afternoon, is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached -- the wall. In a world where more and more borders are being opened up -- to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges -- it is tragic to see walls still being erected. How we long to see the fruits of the much more difficult task of building peace! How earnestly we pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built!

On both sides of the wall, great courage is needed if fear and mistrust is to be overcome, if the urge to retaliate for loss or injury is to be resisted. It takes magnanimity to seek reconciliation after years of fighting. Yet history has shown that peace can only come when the parties to a conflict are willing to move beyond their grievances and work together towards common goals, each taking seriously the concerns and fears of the other, striving to build an atmosphere of trust. There has to be a willingness to take bold and imaginative initiatives towards reconciliation: if each insists on prior concessions from the other, the result can only be stalemate.

Humanitarian aid, of the kind provided in this camp, has an essential role to play, but the long-term solution to a conflict such as this can only be political. No one expects the Palestinian and Israeli peoples to arrive at it on their own. The support of the international community is vital, and hence I make a renewed appeal to all concerned to bring their influence to bear in favor of a just and lasting solution, respecting the legitimate demands of all parties and recognizing their right to live in peace and dignity, in accordance with international law. Yet at the same time, diplomatic efforts can only succeed if Palestinians and Israelis themselves are willing to break free from the cycle of aggression. I am reminded of those other beautiful words attributed to Saint Francis: "where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon ... where there is darkness, light, where there is sadness, joy."

To all of you I renew my plea for a profound commitment to cultivate peace and non-violence, following the example of Saint Francis and other great peacemakers. Peace has to begin in the home, in the family, in the heart. I continue to pray that all parties to the conflict in these lands will have the courage and imagination to pursue the challenging but indispensable path of reconciliation. May peace flourish once more in these lands! May God bless his people with peace!

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pontiff's Address at Caritas Baby Hospital
"Innocent Children Deserve a Safe Haven"

BETHLEHEM, MAY 13, 2009 - Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today during his visit to the Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem.

* * *

Dear Friends,

I affectionately greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ "who died, was raised from the dead, and now sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us" (cf. Rom 8:34). May your faith in his Resurrection and his promise of new life through Baptism fill your hearts with joy in this Easter season!

I am grateful for the warm welcome extended to me on your behalf by Father Michael Schweiger, President of the Kinderhilfe Association, Mr. Ernesto Langensand, who is completing his term as Chief Administrator of the Caritas Baby Hospital, and Mother Erika Nobs, Superior of this local community of the Elizabettine Franciscan Sisters of Padua. I also cordially greet Archbishop Robert Zollitsch and Bishop Kurt Koch, representing respectively the German and Swiss Episcopal Conferences, which have advanced the mission of Caritas Baby Hospital by their generous financial assistance.

God has blessed me with this opportunity to express my appreciation to the administrators, physicians, nurses and staff of Caritas Baby Hospital for the invaluable service they have offered -- and continue to offer -- to children in the Bethlehem region and throughout Palestine for over fifty years. Father Ernst Schnydrig founded this facility upon the conviction that innocent children deserve a safe haven from all that can harm them in times and places of conflict. Thanks to the dedication of Children's Relief Bethlehem, this institution has remained a quiet oasis for the most vulnerable, and has shone as a beacon of hope that love can prevail over hatred and peace over violence.

To the young patients and the members of their families who benefit from your care, I wish simply to say: "the Pope is with you"! Today he is with you in person, but he spiritually accompanies you each and every day in his thoughts and prayers, asking the Almighty to watch over you with his tender care.
Father Schnydrig described this place as "one of the smaller bridges built for peace". Now, having grown from fourteen cots to eighty beds, and caring for the needs of thousands of children each year, this bridge is no longer small! It brings together people of different origins, languages and religions, in the name of the Reign of God, the Kingdom of Peace (cf. Rom 14:17). I heartily encourage you to persevere in your mission of showing charity to all the sick, the poor and the weak.

On this Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, I would like to conclude by invoking Mary's intercession as I impart my Apostolic Blessing to the children and all of you. Let us pray:

Mary, Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners, Mother of the Redeemer: we join the many generations who have called you "Blessed". Listen to your children as we call upon your name. You promised the three children of Fatima that "in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph". May it be so! May love triumph over hatred, solidarity over division, and peace over every form of violence! May the love you bore your Son teach us to love God with all our heart, strength and soul. May the Almighty show us his mercy, strengthen us with his power, and fill us with every good thing (cf. Lk 1:46-56). We ask your Son Jesus to bless these children and all children who suffer throughout the world. May they receive health of body, strength of mind, and peace of soul. But most of all, may they know that they are loved with a love which knows no bounds or limits: the love of Christ which surpasses all understanding (cf. Eph 3:19). Amen.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Papal Greeting to Palestinian Authority President
"The Holy See Supports the Right of Your People to a Sovereign Palestinian Homeland"

BETHLEHEM, MAY 13, 2009 - Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Bethlehem, where he was greeted by the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

* * *

Mr. President,

Dear Friends,

I greet all of you from my heart, and I warmly thank the President, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, for his words of welcome. My pilgrimage to the lands of the Bible would not be complete without a visit to Bethlehem, the City of David and the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Nor could I come to the Holy Land without accepting the kind invitation of President Abbas to visit these Territories and to greet the Palestinian people. I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades. My heart goes out to all the families who have been left homeless. This afternoon I will pay a visit to the Aida Refugee Camp, in order to express my solidarity with the people who have lost so much. To those among you who mourn the loss of family members and loved ones in the hostilities, particularly the recent conflict in Gaza, I offer an assurance of deep compassion and frequent remembrance in prayer. Indeed, I keep all of you in my daily prayers, and I earnestly beg the Almighty for peace, a just and lasting peace, in the Palestinian Territories and throughout the region.

Mr. President, the Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders. Even if at present that goal seems far from being realized, I urge you and all your people to keep alive the flame of hope, hope that a way can be found of meeting the legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians for peace and stability. In the words of the late Pope John Paul II, there can be "no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness" (Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace). I plead with all the parties to this long-standing conflict to put aside whatever grievances and divisions still stand in the way of reconciliation, and to reach out with generosity and compassion to all alike, without discrimination. Just and peaceful coexistence among the peoples of the Middle East can only be achieved through a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, in which the rights and dignity of all are acknowledged and upheld. I ask all of you, I ask your leaders, to make a renewed commitment to work towards these goals. In particular I call on the international community to bring its influence to bear in favor of a solution. Believe and trust that through honest and persevering dialogue, with full respect for the demands of justice, lasting peace really can be attained in these lands.

It is my earnest hope that the serious concerns involving security in Israel and the Palestinian Territories will soon be allayed sufficiently to allow greater freedom of movement, especially with regard to contact between family members and access to the holy places. Palestinians, like any other people, have a natural right to marry, to raise families, and to have access to work, education and health care. I pray too that, with the assistance of the international community, reconstruction work can proceed swiftly wherever homes, schools or hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, especially during the recent fighting in Gaza. This is essential if the people of this land are to live in conditions conducive to lasting peace and prosperity. A stable infrastructure will provide your young people with better opportunities to acquire valuable skills and to seek gainful employment, enabling them to play their part in building up the life of your communities. I make this appeal to the many young people throughout the Palestinian Territories today: do not allow the loss of life and the destruction that you have witnessed to arouse bitterness or resentment in your hearts. Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism. Instead, let what you have experienced renew your determination to build peace. Let it fill you with a deep desire to make a lasting contribution to the future of Palestine, so that it can take its rightful place on the world stage. Let it inspire in you sentiments of compassion for all who suffer, zeal for reconciliation, and a firm belief in the possibility of a brighter future.

Mr. President, dear friends gathered here in Bethlehem, I invoke upon all the Palestinian people the blessings and the protection of our heavenly Father, and I pray fervently that the song which the angels sang here in this place will be fulfilled: peace on earth, good will among men. Thank you. And may God be with you.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Benedict XVI's Homily in Bethlehem's Manger Square
"Build up Your Local Churches, Making Them Workshops of Dialogue, Tolerance and Hope"

BETHLEHEM, MAY 13, 2009 - Here is the text of the homily Benedict XVI gave today in a Mass celebrated in Manger Square, in front of the basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I thank Almighty God for giving me the grace to come to Bethlehem, not only to venerate the place of Christ's birth, but also to stand beside you, my brothers and sisters in the faith, in these Palestinian Territories. I am grateful to Patriarch Fouad Twal for the sentiments which he has expressed on your behalf, and I greet with affection my brother Bishops and all the priests, religious and lay faithful who labor daily to confirm this local Church in faith, hope and love. In a special way my heart goes out to the pilgrims from war-torn Gaza: I ask you to bring back to your families and your communities my warm embrace, and my sorrow for the loss, the hardship and the suffering you have had to endure. Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead, and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted.

"Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy ... today in the city of David a Savior is born for you" (Lk 2:10-11). The message of Christ's coming, brought from heaven by the voice of angels, continues to echo in this town, just as it echoes in families, homes and communities throughout the world. It is "good news", the angels say "for all the people". It proclaims that the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of David, has been born "for you": for you and me, and for men and women in every time and place. In God's plan, Bethlehem, "least among the clans of Judah" (Mic 5:2), has become a place of undying glory: the place where, in the fullness of time, God chose to become man, to end the long reign of sin and death, and to bring new and abundant life to a world which had grown old, weary and oppressed by hopelessness.

For men and women everywhere, Bethlehem is associated with this joyful message of rebirth, renewal, light and freedom. Yet here, in our midst, how far this magnificent promise seems from being realized! How distant seems that Kingdom of wide dominion and peace, security, justice and integrity which the Prophet Isaiah heralded in the first reading (cf. Is 9:7), and which we proclaim as definitively established in the coming of Jesus Christ, Messiah and King!

From the day of his birth, Jesus was "a sign of contradiction" (Lk 2:34), and he continues to be so, even today. The Lord of hosts, "whose origin is from old, from ancient days" (Mic 5:2), wished to inaugurate his Kingdom by being born in this little town, entering our world in the silence and humility of a cave, and lying, a helpless babe, in a manger. Here, in Bethlehem, amid every kind of contradiction, the stones continue to cry out this "good news", the message of redemption which this city, above all others, is called to proclaim to the world. For here, in a way which surpassed every human hope and expectation, God proved faithful to his promises. In the birth of his Son, he revealed the coming of a Kingdom of love: a divine love which stoops down in order to bring healing and lift us up; a love which is revealed in the humiliation and weakness of the Cross, yet triumphs in a glorious resurrection to new life. Christ brought a Kingdom which is not of this world, yet a Kingdom which is capable of changing this world, for it has the power to change hearts, to enlighten minds and to strengthen wills. By taking on our flesh, with all its weaknesses, and transfiguring it by the power of his Spirit, Jesus has called us to be witnesses of his victory over sin and death. And this is what the message of Bethlehem calls us to be: witnesses of the triumph of God's love over the hatred, selfishness, fear and resentment which cripple human relationships and create division where brothers should dwell in unity, destruction where men should be building, despair where hope should flourish!

"In hope we were saved", the Apostle Paul says (Rom 8:24). Yet he affirms with utter realism that creation continues to groan in travail, even as we, who have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, patiently await the fulfillment of our redemption (cf. Rom 8:22-24). In today's second reading, Paul draws a lesson from the Incarnation which is particularly applicable to the travail which you, God's chosen ones in Bethlehem, are experiencing: "God's grace has appeared", he tells us, "training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires, and to live, temperately, justly and devoutly in this age", as we await the coming of our blessed hope, the Savior Jesus Christ (Tit 2:11-13).

Are these not the virtues required of men and women who live in hope? First, the constant conversion to Christ which is reflected not only in our actions but also in our reasoning: the courage to abandon fruitless and sterile ways of thinking, acting and reacting. Then, the cultivation of a mindset of peace based on justice, on respect for the rights and duties of all, and commitment to cooperation for the common good. And also perseverance, perseverance in good and in the rejection of evil. Here in Bethlehem, a special perseverance is asked of Christ's disciples: perseverance in faithful witness to God's glory revealed here, in the birth of his Son, to the good news of his peace which came down from heaven to dwell upon the earth.

"Do not be afraid!" This is the message which the Successor of Saint Peter wishes to leave with you today, echoing the message of the angels and the charge which our beloved Pope John Paul II left with you in the year of the Great Jubilee of Christ's birth. Count on the prayers and solidarity of your brothers and sisters in the universal Church, and work, with concrete initiatives, to consolidate your presence and to offer new possibilities to those tempted to leave. Be a bridge of dialogue and constructive cooperation in the building of a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration. Build up your local Churches, making them workshops of dialogue, tolerance and hope, as well as solidarity and practical charity.

Above all, be witnesses to the power of life, the new life brought by the Risen Christ, the life that can illumine and transform even the darkest and most hopeless of human situations. Your homeland needs not only new economic and community structures, but most importantly, we might say, a new "spiritual" infrastructure, capable of galvanizing the energies of all men and women of good will in the service of education, development and the promotion of the common good. You have the human resources to build the culture of peace and mutual respect which will guarantee a better future for your children. This noble enterprise awaits you. Do not be afraid!

The ancient Basilica of the Nativity, buffeted by the winds of history and the burden of the ages, stands before us as a witness to the faith which endures and triumphs over the world (cf. 1 Jn 5:4). No visitor to Bethlehem can fail to notice that in the course of the centuries the great door leading into the house of God has become progressively smaller. Today let us pray that, by God's grace and our commitment, the door leading into the mystery of God's dwelling among men, the temple of our communion in his love, and the foretaste of a world of eternal peace and joy, will open ever more fully to welcome, renew and transform every human heart. In this way, Bethlehem will continue to echo the message entrusted to the shepherds, to us, and to all mankind: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to those whom he loves"! Amen.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Benedict XVI's Words at Shrine of the Annunciation
"It Is Essential that You Should Be United Among Yourselves"

NAZARETH, MAY 14, 2009 - Here is the text of Benedict XVI's address delivered today at the Shrine of the Annunciation in Nazareth, after the celebration of Vespers with the bishops, priests, religious and ecclesial movements of Galilee.

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Brother Bishops,

Father Custos,

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is profoundly moving for me to be present with you today in the very place where the Word of God was made flesh and came to dwell among us. How fitting that we should gather here to sing the Evening Prayer of the Church, giving praise and thanks to God for the marvels he has done for us! I thank Archbishop Sayah for his words of welcome and through him I greet all the members of the Maronite community here in the Holy Land. I greet the priests, religious, members of ecclesial movements and pastoral workers from all over Galilee. Once again I pay tribute to the care shown by the Friars of the Custody, over many centuries, in maintaining holy places such as this. I greet the Latin Patriarch Emeritus, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, who for more than twenty years presided over his flock in these lands. I greet the faithful of the Latin Patriarchate and their current Patriarch, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, as well as the members of the Greek-Melkite community, represented here by Archbishop Elias Chacour. And in this place where Jesus himself grew to maturity and learned the Hebrew tongue, I greet the Hebrew-speaking Christians, a reminder to us of the Jewish roots of our faith.

What happened here in Nazareth, far from the gaze of the world, was a singular act of God, a powerful intervention in history, through which a child was conceived who was to bring salvation to the whole world. The wonder of the Incarnation continues to challenge us to open up our understanding to the limitless possibilities of God's transforming power, of his love for us, his desire to be united with us. Here the eternally begotten Son of God became man, and so made it possible for us, his brothers and sisters, to share in his divine sonship. That downward movement of self-emptying love made possible the upward movement of exaltation in which we too are raised to share in the life of God himself (cf. Phil 2:6-11).

The Spirit who "came upon Mary" (cf. Lk 1:35) is the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of Creation (cf. Gen 1:2). We are reminded that the Incarnation was a new creative act. When our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived in Mary's virginal womb through the power of the Holy Spirit, God united himself with our created humanity, entering into a permanent new relationship with us and ushering in a new Creation. The narrative of the Annunciation illustrates God's extraordinary courtesy (cf. Mother Julian of Norwich, Revelations 77-79). He does not impose himself, he does not simply pre-determine the part that Mary will play in his plan for our salvation: he first seeks her consent. In the original Creation there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of his creatures, but in this new Creation he does so. Mary stands in the place of all humanity. She speaks for us all when she responds to the angel's invitation. Saint Bernard describes how the whole court of heaven was waiting with eager anticipation for her word of consent that consummated the nuptial union between God and humanity. The attention of all the choirs of angels was riveted on this spot, where a dialogue took place that would launch a new and definitive chapter in world history. Mary said, "Let it be done to me according to your word." And the Word of God became flesh.

When we reflect on this joyful mystery, it gives us hope, the sure hope that God will continue to reach into our history, to act with creative power so as to achieve goals which by human reckoning seem impossible. It challenges us to open ourselves to the transforming action of the Creator Spirit who makes us new, makes us one with him, and fills us with his life. It invites us, with exquisite courtesy, to consent to his dwelling within us, to welcome the Word of God into our hearts, enabling us to respond to him in love and to reach out in love towards one another.

In the State of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Christians form a minority of the population. Perhaps at times you feel that your voice counts for little. Many of your fellow Christians have emigrated, in the hope of finding greater security and better prospects elsewhere. Your situation calls to mind that of the young virgin Mary, who led a hidden life in Nazareth, with little by way of worldly wealth or influence. Yet to quote Mary's words in her great hymn of praise, the Magnificat, God has looked upon his servant in her lowliness, he has filled the hungry with good things. Draw strength from Mary's canticle, which very soon we will be singing in union with the whole Church throughout the world! Have the confidence to be faithful to Christ and to remain here in the land that he sanctified with his own presence! Like Mary, you have a part to play in God's plan for salvation, by bringing Christ forth into the world, by bearing witness to him and spreading his message of peace and unity. For this, it is essential that you should be united among yourselves, so that the Church in the Holy Land can be clearly recognized as "a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race" (Lumen Gentium, 1). Your unity in faith, hope and love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, enabling you to be effective instruments of God's peace, helping to build genuine reconciliation between the different peoples who recognize Abraham as their father in faith. For, as Mary joyfully proclaimed in her Magnificat, God is ever "mindful of his mercy, the mercy promised to our forefathers, to Abraham and his children for ever" (Lk 1:54-55).

Dear friends in Christ, be assured that I constantly remember you in my prayer, and I ask you to do the same for me. Let us turn now towards our heavenly Father, who in this place looked upon his servant in her lowliness, and let us sing his praises in union with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with all the choirs of angels and saints, and with the whole Church in every part of the world.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Address at Nazareth Interreligious Meeting
"Peace Itself Is a Gift From God, Yet It Cannot Be Achieved Without Human Endeavor"

NAZARETH, MAY 14, 2009 - Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today in the auditorium of the Annunciation Shrine in Nazareth, during an interreligious meeting with leaders in Galilee, including Christians, Muslims, Jews and Druze.

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Dear Friends,

Grateful for the words of welcome offered by Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo and for your warm reception, I cordially greet the leaders of different communities present, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Druze and other religious peoples.

I feel particularly blessed to visit this city revered by Christians as the place where the Angel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. Here too Joseph, her betrothed, saw the Angel in a dream and was directed to name the child "Jesus". After the marvelous events surrounding his birth, the child was brought to this city by Joseph and Mary where he "grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him" (Lk 2:40).

The conviction that the world is a gift of God, and that God has entered the twists and turns of human history, is the perspective from which Christians view creation as having a reason and a purpose. Far from being the result of blind fate, the world has been willed by God and bespeaks his glorious splendor.

At the heart of all religious traditions is the conviction that peace itself is a gift from God, yet it cannot be achieved without human endeavor. Lasting peace flows from the recognition that the world is ultimately not our own, but rather the horizon within which we are invited to participate in God's love and cooperate in guiding the world and history under his inspiration. We cannot do whatever we please with the world; rather, we are called to conform our choices to the subtle yet nonetheless perceptible laws inscribed by the Creator upon the universe and pattern our actions after the divine goodness that pervades the created realm.

Galilee, a land known for its religious and ethnic diversity, is home to a people who know well the efforts required to live in harmonious coexistence. Our different religious traditions have a powerful potential to promote a culture of peace, especially through teaching and preaching the deeper spiritual values of our common humanity. By molding the hearts of the young, we mold the future of humanity itself. 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.

My dear friends, I know that you accept cheerfully and with a greeting of peace the many pilgrims who flock to Galilee. I encourage you to continue exercising mutual respect as you work to ease tensions concerning places of worship, thus assuring a serene environment for prayer and reflection here and throughout Galilee. Representing different religious traditions, you share a desire to contribute to the betterment of society and thus testify to the religious and spiritual values that help sustain public life. I assure you that the Catholic Church is committed to join in this noble undertaking. In cooperation with men and women of good will, she will seek to ensure that the light of truth, peace and goodness continue to shine forth from Galilee and lead people across the globe to seek all that fosters the unity of the human family. God bless you all.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Papal Homily on Nazareth's Mount of Precipice
"Children Have a Special Role to Play in the Growth of Their Parents in Holiness"

NAZARETH, MAY 14, 2009 - Here is the text of the homily Benedict XVI gave today on the Mount of Precipice in Nazareth, in a Mass that concluded the Year of the Family launched by the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"May the peace of the Risen Christ reign in your hearts, for as members of the one body you have been called to that peace!" (Col 3:15). With these words of the Apostle Paul, I greet all of you with affection in the Lord. I rejoice to have come to Nazareth, the place blessed by the mystery of the Annunciation, the place which witnessed the hidden years of Christ's growth in wisdom, age and grace (cf. Lk 2:52). I thank Archbishop Elias Chacour for his kind words of welcome, and I embrace with the sign of peace my brother Bishops, the priests and religious, and all the faithful of Galilee, who, in the diversity of their rites and traditions, give expression to the universality of Christ's Church. In a special way I wish to thank all those who have helped to make this celebration possible, particularly those involved in the planning and construction of this new theatre with its splendid panorama of the city.

Here in the home town of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we have gathered to mark the conclusion of the Year of the Family celebrated by the Church in the Holy Land. As a sign of hope for the future I will bless the first stone of an International Center for the Family to be built in Nazareth. Let us pray that the Center will promote strong family life in this region, offer support and assistance to families everywhere, and encourage them in their irreplaceable mission to society.

This stage of my pilgrimage, I am confident, will draw the whole Church's attention to this town of Nazareth. All of us need, as Pope Paul VI said here, to return to Nazareth, to contemplate ever anew the silence and love of the Holy Family, the model of all Christian family life. Here, in the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we come to appreciate even more fully the sacredness of the family, which in God's plan is based on the lifelong fidelity of a man and a woman consecrated by the marriage covenant and accepting of God's gift of new life. How much the men and women of our time need to reappropriate this fundamental truth, which stands at the foundation of society, and how important is the witness of married couples for the formation of sound consciences and the building of a civilization of love!

In today's first reading, drawn from the book of Sirach (3:3-7, 14-17), the word of God presents the family as the first school of wisdom, a school which trains its members in the practice of those virtues which make for authentic happiness and lasting fulfillment. In God's plan for the family, the love of husband and wife bears fruit in new life, and finds daily expression in the loving efforts of parents to ensure an integral human and spiritual formation for their children. In the family each person, whether the smallest child or the oldest relative, is valued for himself or herself, and not seen simply as a means to some other end. Here we begin to glimpse something of the essential role of the family as the first building-block of a well-ordered and welcoming society. We also come to appreciate, within the wider community, the duty of the State to support families in their mission of education, to protect the institution of the family and its inherent rights, and to ensure that all families can live and flourish in conditions of dignity.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Colossians, speaks instinctively of the family when he wishes to illustrate the virtues which build up the "one body" which is the Church. As "God's chosen ones, holy and beloved", we are called to live in harmony and peace with one another, showing above all forbearance and forgiveness, with love as the highest bond of perfection (cf. Col 3:12-14). Just as in the marriage covenant, the love of man and woman is raised by grace to become a sharing in, and an expression of, the love of Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:32), so too the family, grounded in that love, is called to be a "domestic church", a place of faith, of prayer and of loving concern for the true and enduring good of each of its members.

As we reflect on these realities here, in the town of the Annunciation, our thoughts naturally turn to Mary, "full of grace", the mother of the Holy Family and our Mother. Nazareth reminds us of our need to acknowledge and respect the God-given dignity and proper role of women, as well as their particular charisms and talents. Whether as mothers in families, as a vital presence in the work force and the institutions of society, or in the particular vocation of following our Lord by the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, women have an indispensable role in creating that "human ecology" (cf. Centesimus Annus, 39) which our world, and this land, so urgently needs: a milieu in which children learn to love and to cherish others, to be honest and respectful to all, to practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness.

Here too, we think of Saint Joseph, the just man whom God wished to place over his household. From Joseph's strong and fatherly example Jesus learned the virtues of a manly piety, fidelity to one's word, integrity and hard work. In the carpenter of Nazareth he saw how authority placed at the service of love is infinitely more fruitful than the power which seeks to dominate. How much our world needs the example, guidance and quiet strength of men like Joseph!

Finally, in contemplating the Holy Family of Nazareth, we turn to the child Jesus, who in the home of Mary and Joseph grew in wisdom and understanding, until the day he began his public ministry. Here I would simply like to leave a particular thought with the young people here. The Second Vatican Council teaches that children have a special role to play in the growth of their parents in holiness (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48). I urge you to reflect on this, and to let the example of Jesus guide you, not only in showing respect for your parents, but also helping them to discover more fully the love which gives our lives their deepest meaning. In the Holy Family of Nazareth, it was Jesus who taught Mary and Joseph something of the greatness of the love of God his heavenly Father, the ultimate source of all love, the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name (cf. Eph 3:14-15).

Dear friends, in the Opening Prayer of today's Mass we asked the Father to "help us to live as the Holy Family, united in respect and love". Let us reaffirm here our commitment to be a leaven of respect and love in the world around us. This Mount of the Precipice reminds us, as it has generations of pilgrims, that our Lord's message was at times a source of contradiction and conflict with his hearers. Sadly, as the world knows, Nazareth has experienced tensions in recent years which have harmed relations between its Christian and Muslim communities. I urge people of good will in both communities to repair the damage that has been done, and in fidelity to our common belief in one God, the Father of the human family, to work to build bridges and find the way to a peaceful coexistence. Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men's souls before it kills their bodies!

Allow me to conclude with a word of gratitude and praise for all those who strive to bring God's love to the children of this town, and to educate new generations in the ways of peace. I think in a special way of the local Churches, particularly in their schools and charitable institutions, to break down walls and to be a seedbed of encounter, dialogue, reconciliation and solidarity. I encourage the dedicated priests, religious, catechists and teachers, together with parents and all concerned for the good of our children, to persevere in bearing witness to the Gospel, to be confident in the triumph of goodness and truth, and to trust that God will give growth to every initiative which aims at the extension of his Kingdom of holiness, solidarity, justice and peace. At the same time I acknowledge with gratitude the solidarity which so many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world show towards the faithful of the Holy Land by supporting the praiseworthy programs and activities of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

"Let it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). May our Lady of the Annunciation, who courageously opened her heart to God's mysterious plan, and became the Mother of all believers, guide and sustain us by her prayers. May she obtain for us and our families the grace to open our ears to that word of the Lord which has the power to build us up (cf. Acts 20:32), to inspire courageous decisions, and to guide our feet into the path of peace!

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pontiff's Farewell Address to the Holy Land
"This Land Is Indeed a Fertile Ground for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue"

TEL AVIV, MAY 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the farewell address Benedict XVI gave today at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion international airport, before boarding a plane to return to Rome.

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Mr. President,

Mr. Prime Minister,

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I prepare to return to Rome, may I share with you some of the powerful impressions that my pilgrimage to the Holy Land has left with me. I had fruitful discussions with the civil authorities both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories, and I witnessed the great efforts that both governments are making to secure people's well-being. I have met the leaders of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, and I rejoice to see the way that they work together in caring for the Lord's flock. I have also had the opportunity to meet the leaders of the various Christian Churches and ecclesial communities as well as the leaders of other religions in the Holy Land. This land is indeed a fertile ground for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, and I pray that the rich variety of religious witness in the region will bear fruit in a growing mutual understanding and respect.

Mr. President, you and I planted an olive tree at your residence on the day that I arrived in Israel. The olive tree, as you know, is an image used by Saint Paul to describe the very close relations between Christians and Jews. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans how the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the cultivated olive tree which is the People of the Covenant (cf. 11:17-24). We are nourished from the same spiritual roots. We meet as brothers, brothers who at times in our history have had a tense relationship, but now are firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship.

The ceremony at the Presidential Palace was followed by one of the most solemn moments of my stay in Israel -- my visit to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem to pay my respects to the victims of the Shoah. There I also met some of the survivors. Those deeply moving encounters brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews -- mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, friends -- were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred. That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied. On the contrary, those dark memories should strengthen our determination to draw closer to one another as branches of the same olive tree, nourished from the same roots and united in brotherly love.

Mr. President, I thank you for the warmth of your hospitality, which is greatly appreciated, and I wish to put on record that I came to visit this country as a friend of the Israelis, just as I am a friend of the Palestinian people. Friends enjoy spending time in one another's company, and they find it deeply distressing to see one another suffer. No friend of the Israelis and the Palestinians can fail to be saddened by the continuing tension between your two peoples. No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades. Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice, let there be genuine reconciliation and healing. Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream. And let peace spread outwards from these lands, let them serve as a "light to the nations" (Is 42:6), bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict.

One of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands was the wall. As I passed alongside it, I prayed for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation, but rather respecting and trusting one another, and renouncing all forms of violence and aggression. Mr. President, I know how hard it will be to achieve that goal. I know how difficult is your task, and that of the Palestinian Authority. But I assure you that my prayers and the prayers of Catholics across the world are with you as you continue your efforts to build a just and lasting peace in this region.

It remains only for me to express my heartfelt thanks to all who have contributed in so many ways to my visit. To the Government, the organizers, the volunteers, the media, to all who have provided hospitality to me and those accompanying me, I am deeply grateful. Please be assured that you are remembered with affection in my prayers. To all of you, I say: thank you, and may God be with you. Shalom!

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Words at Armenian Patriarchal Church
Our Meeting Today "Is Another Step Along the Path Towards Unity"

JERUSALEM, MAY 15, 2009 - Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the Armenian patriarchal church of St. James in Jerusalem, in the presence of Patriarch Torkom II Manoukian.

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Your Beatitude,

I greet you with fraternal affection in the Lord, and I offer prayerful good wishes for your health and your ministry. I am grateful for the opportunity to visit this Cathedral Church of Saint James in the heart of the ancient Armenian quarter of Jerusalem, and to meet the distinguished clergy of the Patriarchate, together with the members of the Armenian community of the Holy City.

Our meeting today, characterized by an atmosphere of cordiality and friendship, is another step along the path towards the unity which the Lord desires for all his disciples. In recent decades we have witnessed, by God's grace, a significant growth in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. I count it a great blessing to have met in this past year with the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and with the Catholicos of Cilicia Aram I. Their visits to the Holy See, and the moments of prayer which we shared, have strengthened us in fellowship and confirmed our commitment to the sacred cause of promoting Christian unity.

In a spirit of gratitude to the Lord, I wish also to express my appreciation of the unwavering commitment of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the continuing theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. This dialogue, sustained by prayer, has made progress in overcoming the burden of past misunderstandings, and offers much promise for the future. A particular sign of hope is the recent document on the nature and mission of the Church produced by the Mixed Commission and presented to the Churches for study and evaluation. Together let us entrust the work of the Mixed Commission once more to the Spirit of wisdom and truth, so that it can bear abundant fruit for the growth of Christian unity, and advance the spread of the Gospel among the men and women of our time.

From the first Christian centuries, the Armenian community in Jerusalem has had an illustrious history, marked not least by an extraordinary flourishing of monastic life and culture linked to the holy places and the liturgical traditions which developed around them. This venerable Cathedral Church, together with the Patriarchate and the various educational and cultural institutions attached to it, testifies to that long and distinguished history. I pray that your community will constantly draw new life from its rich traditions, and be confirmed in its witness to Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection (cf. Phil 3:10) in this Holy City. I likewise assure the families present, and particularly the children and young people, of a special remembrance in my prayers. Dear friends, I ask you in turn to pray with me that all the Christians of the Holy Land will work together with generosity and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel of our reconciliation in Christ, and the advent of his Kingdom of holiness, justice and peace.

Your Beatitude, I thank you once more for your gracious welcome, and I cordially invoke God's richest blessings upon you and upon all the clergy and faithful of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the Holy Land. May the joy and peace of the Risen Christ be always with you.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Papal Address at the Holy Sepulcher
"Here the History of Humanity Was Decisively Changed"

JERUSALEM, MAY 15, 2009 - Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today during a visit to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

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Dear Friends in Christ,

The hymn of praise which we have just sung unites us with the angelic hosts and the Church of every time and place -- "the glorious company of the apostles, the noble fellowship of the prophets and the white-robed army of martyrs" -- as we give glory to God for the work of our redemption, accomplished in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Before this Holy Sepulchre, where the Lord "overcame the sting of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers", I greet all of you in the joy of the Easter season. I thank Patriarch Fouad Twal and the Custos, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, for their kind greeting. I likewise express my appreciation for the reception accorded me by the Hierarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. I gratefully acknowledge the presence of representatives of the other Christian communities in the Holy Land. I greet Cardinal John Foley, Gran Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and also the Knights and Ladies of the Order here present, with gratitude for their unfailing commitment to the support of the Church's mission in these lands made holy by the Lord's earthly presence.

Saint John's Gospel has left us an evocative account of the visit of Peter and the Beloved Disciple to the empty tomb on Easter morning. Today, at a distance of some twenty centuries, Peter's Successor, the Bishop of Rome, stands before that same empty tomb and contemplates the mystery of the Resurrection. Following in the footsteps of the Apostle, I wish to proclaim anew, to the men and women of our time, the Church's firm faith that Jesus Christ "was crucified, died and was buried", and that "on the third day he rose from the dead". Exalted at the right hand of the Father, he has sent us his Spirit for the forgiveness of sins. Apart from him, whom God has made Lord and Christ, "there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we are to be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Standing in this holy place, and pondering that wondrous event, how can we not be "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37), like those who first heard Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost? Here Christ died and rose, never to die again. Here the history of humanity was decisively changed. The long reign of sin and death was shattered by the triumph of obedience and life; the wood of the Cross lay bare the truth about good and evil; God's judgment was passed on this world and the grace of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon humanity. Here Christ, the new Adam, taught us that evil never has the last word, that love is stronger than death, that our future, and the future of all humanity, lies in the hands of a faithful and provident God.

The empty tomb speaks to us of hope, the hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the Spirit of life (cf. Rom 5:5). This is the message that I wish to leave with you today, at the conclusion of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. May hope rise up ever anew, by God's grace, in the hearts of all the people dwelling in these lands! May it take root in your hearts, abide in your families and communities, and inspire in each of you an ever more faithful witness to the Prince of Peace! The Church in the Holy Land, which has so often experienced the dark mystery of Golgotha, must never cease to be an intrepid herald of the luminous message of hope which this empty tomb proclaims. The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome, and that a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise for every man and woman, for the whole human family, and in a special way for the people who dwell in this land so dear to the heart of the Saviour.

This ancient Memorial of the Anástasis bears mute witness both to the burden of our past, with its failings, misunderstandings and conflicts, and to the glorious promise which continues to radiate from Christ's empty tomb. This holy place, where God's power was revealed in weakness, and human sufferings were transfigured by divine glory, invites us to look once again with the eyes of faith upon the face of the crucified and risen Lord. Contemplating his glorified flesh, completely transfigured by the Spirit, may we come to realize more fully that even now, through Baptism, "we bear in our bodies the death of Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our own mortal flesh" (2 Cor 4:10-11). Even now, the grace of the resurrection is at work within us! May our contemplation of this mystery spur our efforts, both as individuals and as members of the ecclesial community, to grow in the life of the Spirit through conversion, penance and prayer. May it help us to overcome, by the power of that same Spirit, every conflict and tension born of the flesh, and to remove every obstacle, both within and without, standing in the way of our common witness to Christ and the reconciling power of his love.

With these words of encouragement, dear friends, I conclude my pilgrimage to the holy places of our redemption and rebirth in Christ. I pray that the Church in the Holy Land will always draw new strength from its contemplation of the empty tomb of the Savior. In that tomb it is called to bury all its anxieties and fears, in order to rise again each day and continue its journey through the streets of Jerusalem, Galilee and beyond, proclaiming the triumph of Christ's forgiveness and the promise of new life. As Christians, we know that the peace for which this strife-torn land yearns has a name: Jesus Christ. "He is our peace", who reconciled us to God in one body through the Cross, bringing an end to hostility (cf. Eph 2:14). Into his hands, then, let us entrust all our hope for the future, just as in the hour of darkness he entrusted his spirit into the Father's hands.

Allow me to conclude with a special word of fraternal encouragement to my brother Bishops and priests, and to the men and women religious who serve the beloved Church in the Holy Land. Here, before the empty tomb, at the very heart of the Church, I invite you to rekindle the enthusiasm of your consecration to Christ and your commitment to loving service of his mystical Body. Yours is the immense privilege of bearing witness to Christ in this, the land which he sanctified by his earthly presence and ministry. In pastoral charity enable your brothers and sisters, and all the inhabitants of this land, to feel the healing presence and the reconciling love of the Risen One. Jesus asks each of us to be a witness of unity and peace to all those who live in this City of Peace. As the new Adam, Christ is the source of the unity to which the whole human family is called, that unity of which the Church is the sign and sacrament. As the Lamb of God, he is the source of that reconciliation which is both God's gift and a sacred task enjoined upon us. As the Prince of Peace, he is the source of that peace which transcends all understanding, the peace of the new Jerusalem. May he sustain you in your trials, comfort you in your afflictions, and confirm you in your efforts to proclaim and extend his Kingdom. To all of you, and to those whom you serve, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of Easter joy and peace.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Benedict XVI's Address at Ecumenical Meeting
"Bear United Witness to the Love of the Father"

JERUSALEM, MAY 15, 2009 - Here is the text of the address Benedict XVI gave today in an ecumenical meeting at the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is with profound gratitude and joy that I make this visit to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem; a moment to which I have much looked forward. I thank His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilus III for his kind words of fraternal greeting, which I warmly reciprocate. I also express to all of you my heartfelt gratitude for providing me with this opportunity to meet once again the many leaders of Churches and ecclesial communities present.

This morning I am mindful of the historic meetings that have taken place here in Jerusalem between my predecessor Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, and also between Pope John Paul II and His Beatitude Patriarch Diodoros. These encounters, including my visit today, are of great symbolic significance. They recall that the light of the East (cf. Is 60:1; Rev 21:10) has illumined the entire world from the very moment when a "rising sun" came to visit us (Lk 1:78) and they remind us too that from here the Gospel was preached to all nations.

Standing in this hallowed place, alongside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the site where our crucified Lord rose from the dead for all humanity, and near the cenacle, where on the day of Pentecost "they were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1), who could not feel impelled to bring the fullness of goodwill, sound scholarship and spiritual desire to our ecumenical endeavors? I pray that our gathering today will give new impetus to the work of theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, adding to the recent fruits of study documents and other joint initiatives.

Of particular joy for our Churches has been the participation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew I, at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome dedicated to the theme: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. The warm welcome he received and his moving intervention were sincere expressions of the deep spiritual joy that arises from the extent to which communion is already present between our Churches. Such ecumenical experience bears clear witness to the link between the unity of the Church and her mission. Extending his arms on the Cross, Jesus revealed the fullness of his desire to draw all people to himself, uniting them together as one (cf. Jn 12:32). Breathing his Spirit upon us he revealed his power to enable us to participate in his mission of reconciliation (cf. Jn 19:30; 20:22-23). In that breath, through the redemption that unites, stands our mission! Little wonder, then, that it is precisely in our burning desire to bring Christ to others, to make known his message of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor 5:19), that we experience the shame of our division. Yet, sent out into the world (cf. Jn 20:21), empowered by the unifying force of the Holy Spirit (ibid. v. 22), proclaiming the reconciliation that draws all to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (ibid. v. 31), we shall find the strength to redouble our efforts to perfect our communion, to make it complete, to bear united witness to the love of the Father who sends the Son so that the world may know his love for us (cf. Jn 17:23).

Some two thousand years ago, along these same streets, a group of Greeks put this request to Philip: "Sir, we should like to see Jesus" (Jn 12:21). It is a request made again of us today, here in Jerusalem, in the Holy Land, in the region and throughout the world. How do we respond? Is our response heard? Saint Paul alerts us to the gravity of our response: our mission to teach and preach. He says: "faith comes from hearing, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ" (Rm 10:17). It is imperative therefore that Christian leaders and their communities bear vibrant testimony to what our faith proclaims: the eternal Word, who entered space and time in this land, Jesus of Nazareth, who walked these streets, through his words and actions calls people of every age to his life of truth and love.

Dear friends, while encouraging you to proclaim joyfully the Risen Lord, I wish also to recognize the work to this end of the Heads of Christian communities, who meet together regularly in this city. It seems to me that the greatest service the Christians of Jerusalem can offer their fellow citizens is the upbringing and education of a further generation of well-formed and committed Christians, earnest in their desire to contribute generously to the religious and civic life of this unique and holy city. The fundamental priority of every Christian leader is the nurturing of the faith of the individuals and families entrusted to his pastoral care. This common pastoral concern will ensure that your regular meetings are marked by the wisdom and fraternal charity necessary to support one another and to engage with both the joys and the particular difficulties which mark the lives of your people. I pray that the aspirations of the Christians of Jerusalem will be understood as being concordant with the aspirations of all its inhabitants, whatever their religion: a life of religious freedom and peaceful coexistence and -- for young people in particular -- unimpeded access to education and employment, the prospect of suitable housing and family residency, and the chance to benefit from and contribute to economic stability.

Your Beatitude, I thank you again for your kindness in inviting me here, together with the other guests. Upon each of you and the communities you represent, I invoke an abundance of God's blessings of fortitude and wisdom! May you all be strengthened by the hope of Christ which does not disappoint!

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Words on Return From Holy Land Trip

"I Came as a Pilgrim and I Hope That Many Will Follow"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 17, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI’s remarks to the reporters that accompanied him on his return flight from the Holy Land to Rome on Friday.

* * *

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your work. I imagine that it was difficult, with all the problems, traveling, etc., and I would like to thank you for having accepted all these difficulties to inform the world about this pilgrimage, inviting others on the pilgrimage in this way.

I already gave a brief summary of this trip in the speech at the airport; I do not want to add much. I could give many, many details: the moving descent to the lowest place in the region in Jordan, which for us is also a symbol of God’s descent, the descent of Christ into the deepest points of human existence.

The Cenacle, where the Lord gave us the Eucharist, where the Pentecost occurred, the descent of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Sepulcher, so many other impressions, but I do not think that this is the moment to [go into these details].

Perhaps there are three fundamental impressions: The first is that I found everywhere, in all the environments -- Muslim, Christian, Jewish -- a decisive will for interreligious dialogue, to meeting and cooperation between the religions.

And it is important that everyone see this not only as an action -- let us say -- with political motivations in the given situation, but as a fruit of the nucleus of faith itself, because believing in one God who created all of us, Father of all of us, believing in this God that created humanity as one family, believing that this God is love and wants love to the be dominating force in the world, implies this coming together, this necessity of meeting, of dialogue, of cooperation as a requirement of the faith itself.

Second point: I also found a very encouraging ecumenical climate. We had many very cordial meetings with the Orthodox world; I was also able to speak with a representative of the Anglican Church and two Lutheran representatives, and to see that precisely this climate of the Holy Land also encourages ecumenism.

And the third point: There are very great difficulties -- we know it, we saw and felt it. The difficulties are more visible and we must not hide the difficulties: They exist, they must be cleared up. But the common desire for peace, of fraternity, is not as visible, and it seems to me that we must also speak about this, encourage everyone in this desire to find the certainly not so easy solutions to these difficulties.

I came as a pilgrim of peace. Pilgrimages are an essential element in many religions, so much a part of Islam, of the Jewish religion and of Christianity. It is also an image of our existence, which is a journey forward, toward God and thus toward the communion of humanity.

I came as a pilgrim and I hope that many will follow these paths and in this way encourage the unity of the peoples of this Holy Land and become messengers of peace. Thank you!

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On the Holy Land

"Symbol of God’s Love for His People and for the Whole of Humanity"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 17, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to those gathered in St. Peter's Square for the praying of the midday Regina Caeli.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters!

I returned from the Holy Land [on Friday]. I plan to speak to you about this pilgrimage at greater length during the general audience on Wednesday. Now, I would like to thank the Lord, above all, who granted me the possibility of completing this very important apostolic voyage. I also thank all of those who offered their assistance: the Latin patriarch and the pastors of the Church in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories; the Franciscans of the Holy Land Custody, the civil officials of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories; the organizers and the security forces. I thank the priests, religious and faithful who welcomed me with such affection and those who accompanied and supported me with their prayers. Thanks to all from the depths of my heart!

This pilgrimage to the holy places was also a pastoral visit to the faithful who live there, a service to Christian unity, to dialogue with the Jews and Muslims, and to the building up of peace. The Holy Land, symbol of God’s love for his people and for the whole of humanity, is also a symbol of the freedom and the peace that God wants for all his children. In fact, however, the history of yesterday and today shows that precisely that Land has become the symbol of the opposite, that is, of divisions and interminable conflicts between brothers. How is this possible? It is right that such a question should enter our hearts, since we know that God has a mysterious plan for that Land where -- as St. John writes -- God "sent his son as a victim for the expiation of our sins (1 John 4:10). The Holy Land has been called a "fifth Gospel," because here we see, indeed touch, the reality of the history that God realized together with men -- beginning with the places of Abraham’s life to the places of Jesus’ life, from the incarnation to the empty tomb, sign of his resurrection. Yes, God came to this land, he acted with us in this world. But here we can say still more: the Holy Land, because of its very history, can be considered a microcosm that recapitulates in itself God’s arduous journey with humanity. A journey that implicates even the cross with sin, but -- with the abundance of divine love -- the joy of the Holy Spirit too, the resurrection already begun, and it is the journey, through the valley of our suffering, to the Kingdom of God, the kingdom that is not of this world, but that lives in this world and must penetrate it with its power of justice and peace.

Salvation history begins with the election of one man, Abraham, and of people, Israel, but its aim is universality, the salvation of all nations. Salvation history is always marked by this intersection of particularity and universality. We see this nexus well in the first reading of today’s liturgy: St. Peter seeing the faith of the pagans in Cornelius’ household and their desire for God says: "Truly I am beginning to see that God does not distinguish between persons, but welcomes those who, from whatever nation, fear him and practice justice" (Acts (10:34-35). Learn to fear God and practice justice and in this way you will open the world to the Kingdom of God: this is the deeper purpose of every interreligious dialogue.

I cannot conclude this Marian prayer without turning my thoughts to Sri Lanka, to assure those civilians who find themselves in the combat zone in the northern part of the country of my affection and spiritual nearness. There are thousands of children, women, and elderly there from whom the war has taken away years of life and hope. In this respect, I would like once again to address an urgent invitation to the opposing sides to facilitate the evacuation [of the civilians] and join my voice to that of the United Nations’ Security Council which just some days ago asked for guarantees of their safety and security. Furthermore, I ask the humanitarian organizations, including Catholic ones, to do all they can to meet the refugees urgent food and medical needs. I entrust that dear country to the maternal protection of Holy Virgin of Madhu, loved and venerated by all Sri Lankans, and I lift up my prayers to the Lord that he will hasten the day of reconciliation and peace.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

[The Holy Father then addressed the faithful in various languages. In English, he said:]

I warmly greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this "Regina Caeli" prayer. In today’s Gospel Jesus invites his disciples to remain in his love by their love for one another. These words of the Risen Lord have a special resonance for me as I reflect on my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I ask all of you to join me in praying that the Christians of the Middle East will be strengthened in their witness to Christ’s victory and to the reconciling power of his love. Through the prayers of Mary, Queen of Peace, may the Christians of the Holy Land, in cooperation with their Jewish and Muslim neighbours, and all people of good will, work in harmony to build a future of justice and peace in those lands. Upon them, and upon all of you, I invoke an abundance of Easter joy in Christ our Saviour.

© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Analysis of Papal Visit:

Benedict’s visit to a land called to be holy
David Neuhaus SJ

One month ago, Pope Benedict made a much-heralded trip to the Holy Land. But what was his message? In two instalments, Israeli Jesuit and biblical scholar, David Neuhaus examines his words and actions to uncover a bold, prophetic message which has received all too little coverage in the media. Today, he looks at the pilgrim and the pastor on a mission to strengthen the people of the region, before analysing the tenor of his outreach to Jews and Muslims. In a second instalment, we will look at the Pope’s courageous calls for reconciliation, and at his new and challenging vision for the Holy Land and the world.

As Christians in the Holy Land reflect on the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, which took place from May 8 to 15, 2009 and during which he visited Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Autonomy, a first act is one of thanksgiving. First and foremost, thanksgiving to God for the wonderful gift of being able to welcome the Holy Father to the land that is the land of Jesus of Nazareth, the land of those who preceded him – priests, kings, sages and prophets – and those who followed him: disciples, apostles, martyrs and holy men and women. This same land is also the land of the Christians who live here and with pride we could say: ‘Ahlan wa-sahlan’ and ‘Baruch HaBa’ (‘welcome’ in Arabic and in Hebrew).

The Holy Father came as a pilgrim to pray for peace and unity in the places made holy by God through the history of salvation. He came as pastor to the Christian communities that form the Church of the Holy Land. He came as a man of dialogue to meet all Christians (not just Catholics), Jews and Muslims. He came as peacemaker to plead for justice and peace, pardon and reconciliation. In these four roles, he was able to show Christ’s face to those who listened to his words and followed his steps. What he said and did will, as we will see, undoubtedly help the Church further formulate her vision for this troubled land, arena of the formative encounters between God and the human person but submerged in conflict and bloodshed. The Pope’s journey will help the Church understand more deeply her vocation and her mission in this part of the world as all parties to the conflict demand her support.

Benedict the Pilgrim

The Holy Father came as a pilgrim to the places sanctified by God as meeting places with the human person in the central events of our history of salvation. On his return from his pilgrimage, the Holy Father commented:

The Holy Land has been called a ‘fifth Gospel,’ because here we see, indeed touch, the reality of the history that God realised together with men – beginning with the places of Abraham’s life to the places of Jesus’ life, from the incarnation to the empty tomb, sign of his resurrection. Yes, God came to this land, he acted with us in this world. But here we can say still more: the Holy Land, because of its very history, can be considered a microcosm that recapitulates in itself God’s arduous journey with humanity.[1]

The Pope’s visit encourages all Christians to come to this land because ‘the Gospel story, contemplated in its historical and geographical setting, becomes vivid and colourful, and a clearer grasp of the significance of the Lord's words and deeds is obtained’.[2] Christians see this land as different from all others because it is in this particular place that revelation met history, providing Christians with the very vocabulary and images of their faith. It is here, then, that Christians can come to refuel themselves, contemplating the events of the history of salvation, events that define who Christians are as the people of God. They come to re-experience the events of the Biblical narrative in order to actualise the meeting between God and the human person in their lives, wherever they may live. Christian pilgrims do not come to lay claim to the land but to carry from this land, called to be holy, the holiness they rediscover here, at the cradle of their faith. As with the Mass, the main focus is not ‘coming to’ but rather ‘going from’.

The Pope was able to visit the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Cenacle on Mount Zion, the Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem, the Annunciation Grotto in Nazareth, the Baptism site at the Jordan. At each place, the Pope could do what every pilgrim comes to do: to pray. Prayer must be one of the most important lessons of this visit. We, as Christians, are called before all else to be people of prayer, who open our hearts to a God seeking to work through His children in order to give them the gifts they most earnestly desire: peace and unity.

Prayer is hope in action. And in fact true reason is contained in prayer: we come into loving contact with the one God, the universal Creator, and in so doing we come to realise the futility of human divisions and prejudices and we sense the wondrous possibilities that open up before us when our hearts are converted to God's truth, to his design for each of us and our world.[3]

In lands where despair too often reigns supreme, prayer guides us to the surprising creativity of a God who can open even the most hermetically sealed routes. Benedict the pilgrim proclaimed this reality at every turn on his journey among us.

Benedict the Pastor

The most intense and joyful moments in the Holy Father’s visit were the times of prayer that he spent surrounded by the Christian communities of the Holy Land, and most particularly the four public Masses celebrated with the local faithful in Amman, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, where he expressed his fatherly solicitude for these disciples of Jesus living in the midst of conflict and travail. The Holy Father underlined the unique vocation of Christians in the region, encouraging them to continue bearing witness to the love of Christ in the land of Christ.

Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church's mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition; the courage to engage in dialogue and to work side by side with other Christians in the service of the Gospel and solidarity with the poor, the displaced, and the victims of profound human tragedies; the courage to build new bridges to enable a fruitful encounter of people of different religions and cultures, and thus to enrich the fabric of society. It also means bearing witness to the love which inspires us to ‘lay down’ our lives in the service of others, and thus to counter ways of thinking which justify ‘taking’ innocent lives.[4]

It was in Jerusalem, at the Mass held at the foot of the Mount of Olives, a few paces from the Garden of Gethsemane, that the Holy Father made direct reference to the many difficulties Christians face. In this context, he called on Christians to be pillars of faith and harmony: ‘Standing before you today, I wish to acknowledge the difficulties, the frustration, and the pain and suffering which so many of you have endured as a result of the conflicts which have afflicted these lands, and the bitter experiences of displacement which so many of your families have known and – God forbid – may yet know’. Here he fulfilled the words he had spoken in planning the visit: that he sought to come to support, console and encourage the Christians of the Holy Land. ‘I hope my presence here is a sign that you are not forgotten, that your persevering presence and witness are indeed precious in God's eyes and integral to the future of these lands.’[5]

In Bethlehem, in the heart of the Palestinian Autonomy, the Holy Father dwelt upon the Christian call to be witnesses to vitality rather than to death, to be evangelists of life:

Above all, be witnesses to the power of life, the new life brought by the Risen Christ, the life that can illumine and transform even the darkest and most hopeless of human situations. Your homeland needs not only new economic and community structures, but most importantly, we might say, a new ‘spiritual’ infrastructure, capable of galvanizing the energies of all men and women of good will in the service of education, development and the promotion of the common good. You have the human resources to build the culture of peace and mutual respect which will guarantee a better future for your children. This noble enterprise awaits you. Do not be afraid![6]

It was in the vespers service in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth that the Holy Father offered his most powerful image for the Christians of the Holy Land:

Perhaps at times you feel that your voice counts for little. Many of your fellow Christians have emigrated, in the hope of finding greater security and better prospects elsewhere. Your situation calls to mind that of the young Virgin Mary, who led a hidden life in Nazareth, with little by way of worldly wealth or influence. Yet to quote Mary's words in her great hymn of praise, the Magnificat, God has looked upon his servant in her lowliness, he has filled the hungry with good things. Draw strength from Mary's canticle, which very soon we will be singing in union with the whole Church throughout the world! Have the confidence to be faithful to Christ and to remain here in the land that he sanctified with his own presence! Like Mary, you have a part to play in God's plan for salvation, by bringing Christ forth into the world, by bearing witness to him and spreading his message of peace and unity.[7]

At these moments of intense and joyful prayer, there was an insistence on unity within the Catholic Church of the Holy Land, where Roman Catholics (known in these lands as Latins) are only one tradition among many. The liturgies the Pope celebrated combined strands from the Byzantine (Greek Catholic), Maronite, Syrian and Armenian traditions. As the Holy Father said: ‘The ancient living treasure of the traditions of the Eastern Churches enriches the universal Church.’[8]

An important element of the Holy Father’s visit among the local Christian communities, not to be overlooked, was the abundance of cornerstones that he blessed at every turn. He blessed the building of two new churches at the Baptism site in Jordan, one Roman Catholic and one Greek Catholic; he blessed the cornerstones of two new Christian-sponsored universities, one in Madaba in Jordan (of the Latin Patriarchate) and one in Galilee, Israel (founded by the Greek Catholic Archbishop); he blessed numerous other cornerstones of new Christian institutions and constantly praised the existing Christian institutions that give Christian life in the Holy Land vitality, prominence and consistency.

Benedict the pastor sought to console, encourage and strengthen. The moments he spent with the Christians, especially in liturgical celebration, were moments of pride for them. Gathering together in their thousands, singing and praying as one body, proclaiming a message of peace and unity, the Christians of the Holy Land, and especially the young among them, could sense the meaning of their presence in these lands – apostles of love, pillars of faith, evangelists of life, preachers of the Kingdom. Dare we hope that these moments might be an encouragement to the young people, not only to stay but to rediscover their vocation and deepen its roots?

Benedict the Man of Dialogue

The Holy Father came to promote ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue during his visit. Coming into a region where Christians make up a tiny part of the population, he sought to assure Muslims and Jews that the Church was a partner in the attempt to build a better world. In Jordan and in the Palestinian Territories, the Pope was encountering societies that are predominantly Muslim. The controversies of the past were, if not forgotten, put to one side and the meetings with Muslims were marked by great cordiality. The Pope visited mosques in both Amman and Jerusalem and re-expressed the conviction that Muslims and Christians are called to work together to build societies based upon the values they share.

Certainly there exists a common message, and there will be an occasion to present it and, despite the difference of origins, we have common roots (…) Islam was also born in an environment where Judaism and various branches of Christianity, Judeo-Christianity, Antiochian-Byzantine-Christianity were present, and all these circumstances are reflected in the tradition of the Quran. In this way we have much in common from our origins, in the faith in the one God. For that, it is important on one hand to maintain dialogue with the two parts – with the Jews and with Islam – and as well a trilateral dialogue.[9]

In a world in which Islam is often portrayed as being totally other, the Pope has insisted that Islam has much in common with Judaism and Christianity. This affirmation, axiomatic for Vatican II’s Nostrae Aetate, and affirmed by Pope Benedict, still has not penetrated all sectors of the Church. In Amman the Pope affirmed:

Muslims and Christians, precisely because of the burden of our common history so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive to be known and recognised as worshippers of God faithful to prayer, eager to uphold and live by the Almighty's decrees, merciful and compassionate, consistent in bearing witness to all that is true and good, and ever mindful of the common origin and dignity of all human persons, who remain at the apex of God's creative design for the world and for history.[10]

Furthermore, he pointed out: ‘Muslims worship God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who has spoken to humanity. And as believers in the one God we know that human reason is itself God's gift and that it soars to its highest plane when suffused with the light of God's truth.’[11]

During the visit to Israel, Pope Benedict was careful to address some of the issues that had caused controversy with Jews in the past but he was also calmly insistent on the particular context of the Church he was visiting, the Church of Israel, where Christians have the unique position of living as a tiny minority within a large and powerful Jewish majority. It was evident that he had not forgotten that the majority of Christians in Israel are Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, members of a people who are still struggling for their rights. The Holy Land is not Europe and, never forgetting the pastoral dimension of his visit to the Christians in the Holy Land, the Pope disappointed those who sought more forceful affirmations of the major themes of Jewish-Christian dialogue in Europe.

Addressing the subject of Catholic relations with the Jews, the Pope explained that overcoming centuries of difference, distrust and even hostility will take much wisdom and patience. As we learn to respect and honour what we have in common, the Church and the Jews must also discover how to respect and honour where we differ. ‘We should do everything to learn the language of the other, and it seems to me that we have made great progress.’[12] Inter-religious dialogue often seems smoother when we focus on our commonalities but the challenge is to promote dialogue when our differences are most evident. This is a formidable challenge that still lies before us.

While still in Jordan, as he looked into ‘the Promised Land’ from Mount Nebo, the Pope reminded his listeners of ‘the inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people’[13] – a link that passes through a shared spiritual and religious heritage: that of the Biblical tradition. The special place that the Jewish people have for the Church is tied to the Scriptures that Jews and Christians share and the spiritual-religious heritage that devolves from them. Face to face with the Jewish people, the Church is reminded of her own roots. However, this was also an important message for Muslims (and all Arabs): the dialogue with the Jews cannot be compromised by the difficult political situation between Israel and the Arab world in the past decades.

Following in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II, Benedict made two highly symbolic pilgrimages: one to the Western Wall, where he placed a written prayer on a note into the Wall; and the other to Yad VaShem, the memorial to the victims of the Shoah. It was at these two places that the Pope could be present to Jews in their spiritual-religious and in their historical-national dimension. Whereas at the Wall, the Pope simply read Psalm 122 in Latin, at Yad VaShem he tried to put words on the silence that is imposed by the horrific weight of history: ‘a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope.’ [14] In his words, the Pope again emphasised the importance of memory and vigilance: ‘May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten! And may all people of goodwill remain vigilant in rooting out from the heart of man anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!’[15]

Immediately upon arrival in Israel, the Pope had acknowledged addressed the significance of the Shoah. He insisted that the Church is committed to remembering the fighting and victims, side by side with the Jewish people, of all manifestations of anti-Semitism:

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.[16]

Some expected the tone of a mea culpa in the Pope’s words on the Shoah, both as a German and as head of the Catholic Church. Instead, what the Pope gave us was a resounding condemnation of anti-Semitism, the determination to fight it and the continuing commitment not to forget the victims. Benedict came as head of a universal Church and not simply as a European or a German. Specifically, he came into a context where his faithful are a small and embattled group struggling to find their place in a society that is predominantly Jewish. In this reality, he was determined to underline the universal message of the Shoah – may it never happen again to anyone; may we learn from it to build a better world together.

Perhaps with some of the recent controversies between Jews and Catholics in mind, at his meeting with the Chief Rabbis of Israel at the Chief Rabbinate, the Pope issued a plea for trust in the ongoing dialogue between Jews and Catholics.

Trust is undeniably an essential element of effective dialogue. Today I have the opportunity to repeat that the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council for a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews. As the Declaration Nostra Aetate makes clear, the Church continues to value the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews and desires an ever deeper mutual understanding and respect through biblical and theological studies as well as fraternal dialogues.[17]

The Pope came back to the reflection on the spiritual heritage that the Church shares with Judaism in his final words at Tel Aviv Airport. Recalling that he had planted an olive tree with the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, at the latter’s residence, he transferred the meaning of the olive tree from the political (a symbol of peace) to the spiritual

The olive tree, as you know, is an image used by Saint Paul to describe the very close relations between Christians and Jews. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans how the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the cultivated olive tree which is the People of the Covenant (cf. 11:17-24). We are nourished from the same spiritual roots. We meet as brothers, brothers who at times in our history have had a tense relationship, but now are firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship.[18]

Some interfaith activists and in particular some Jewish commentators expressed disappointment at the Pope’s declarations. This disappointment seemed often tinged with rancour concerning the Pope being a German or being a theologian of a conservative bent. In extreme cases, it seemed that opinions had been formed before the Pope even arrived. Some of the disappointment was a result of the constant comparisons with Pope John Paul II and his highly personal and charismatic approach. Alongside the images of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict seemed distant and unmoved. However, some of the disappointment was also due to Pope Benedict’s insistence on the separation between the relationship with Jews (spiritual, religious) and the attitude to the State of Israel (political), repeating a coherent message about the patrimony that Jews and Christians share without ignoring the obligations of justice and peace. He reminded one and all that religion must be a factor that contributes to justice, peace, pardon, reconciliation and the respect for human rights within the concrete situation of the Holy Land, particularly with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This message is not always a popular one, especially when these values are not at the very epicentre of inter-religious dialogue.

The great importance of the inter-religious dimension of the visit should not obscure the ecumenical dimension, particularly the ongoing dialogue with the Churches of the East. This visit was the occasion to meet the heads of all the non-Catholic Churches of the Holy Land; however, prominence was given particularly to the two venerable traditions within the Church of Jerusalem: the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian. The Pope’s exhortation was for the leaders to work together in order to strengthen the faith of the Christians within the difficult situation of the Holy Land: ‘The fundamental priority of every Christian leader is the nurturing of the faith of the individuals and families entrusted to his pastoral care. This common pastoral concern will ensure that your regular meetings are marked by the wisdom and fraternal charity necessary to support one another and to engage with both the joys and the particular difficulties which mark the lives of your people.’[19] Finally, it needs to be pointed out that wherever Pope Benedict went ordinary non-Catholic Christians and their bishops and leaders came out to welcome him and pray with him, his very presence inspiring us to ever-greater unity.


[1] Regina caeli prayer in Rome, May 17, 2009

[2] At the Cenacle, May 11,2009

[3] At Regina Pacis Center, Amman, May 8, 2009

[4] At Mass in Amman, May 10, 2009

[5] At Mass in Jerusalem, May 12, 2009

[6] At Mass in Bethlehem, May 13, 2009

[7] At vespers in Nazareth, May 14, 2009

[8] At vespers in the Greek Catholic Cathedral of Amman on May 9, 2009

[9] On the aeroplane, May 8, 2009

[10]At the Hussein Mosque, May 9 2009

[11]At the Hussein Mosque, May 9, 2009

[12] On the aeroplane, May 8, 2009

[13] At Mount Nebo, May 9, 2009

[14] At Yad VaShem, May 11, 2009

[15] At Yad VaShem, May 11, 2009

[16] At Ben Gurion Airport, May 11, 2009

[17] At the Chief Rabbinate, May 12, 2009

[18]At the Airport, May 15, 2009

[19] At the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, May 15, 2009

 

Benedict the peacemaker

During his flight to the Holy Land, the Pope addressed the possibility of a contribution to a fragile peace process in the Holy Land, particularly between warring Israelis and Palestinians:

I see [a contribution to be made on] three levels: As believers, we are convinced that prayer is a true force. It opens the world to God: We are convinced that God listens and that he can act in history. I think that if millions of people – believers – would pray, it could really be a force that could influence and contribute to the advancement of peace. Second point: We try to help in the formation of consciences. The conscience is the capacity of mankind to perceive the truth, but particular interests often block this capacity. And it is a big job to liberate from these interests, to open more to the truth, to the true values: It is a duty of the Church to help one to know the true criteria, the true values, and to liberate ourselves from particular interests. And thus, the third point, let us draw reason in as well (…) precisely because we are not a political party, perhaps too we can more easily, with the light of faith, see the true criteria, help bring an understanding of what contributes to peace and speak to reason, to support the truly reasonable positions. And this we have already done, and we want to do so now and in the future.[1]

The challenge is implicit in these words: can the Church see more clearly than the warring parties because she is not a political party to the conflict?

Throughout his visit, the Pope drew attention to his constant prayer for justice and peace. He did so not as a politician but as a man of prayer, as a pastor aware that his flock needs peace for their survival, and as a man of dialogue. At the Mass in Jerusalem, he drew attention to the vocation of Jerusalem, unrealised in the present turmoil:

Jerusalem, in fact, has always been a city whose streets echo with different languages, whose stones are trod by people of every race and tongue, whose walls are a symbol of God's provident care for the whole human family. As a microcosm of our globalised world, this City, if it is to live up to its universal vocation, must be a place which teaches universality, respect for others, dialogue and mutual understanding; a place where prejudice, ignorance and the fear which fuels them, are overcome by honesty, integrity and the pursuit of peace. There should be no place within these walls for narrowness, discrimination, violence and injustice.[2]

Without flinching, the Holy Father evoked over and over again the Church’s vocation to build bridges rather than walls. In clear words he addressed the distressing reality of the Holy Land where walls are more evident than bridges.

One of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands was the wall. As I passed alongside it, I prayed for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation, but rather respecting and trusting one another, and renouncing all forms of violence and aggression.[3]

The clear call for justice went hand in hand with a total rejection of violence. He pleaded constantly with both sides to open their hearts to a new spirit.

On both sides of the wall, great courage is needed if fear and mistrust is to be overcome, if the urge to retaliate for loss or injury is to be resisted. It takes magnanimity to seek reconciliation after years of fighting. Yet history has shown that peace can only come when the parties to a conflict are willing to move beyond their grievances and work together towards common goals, each taking seriously the concerns and fears of the other, striving to build an atmosphere of trust. There has to be a willingness to take bold and imaginative initiatives towards reconciliation: if each insists on prior concessions from the other, the result can only be stalemate.[4]

Walls do not last forever though, the Holy Father assured his listeners:

Although walls can easily be built, we all know that they do not last forever. They can be taken down. First, though, it is necessary to remove the walls that we build around our hearts, the barriers that we set up against our neighbours. That is why, in my parting words, I want to make a renewed plea for openness and generosity of spirit, for an end to intolerance and exclusion. No matter how intractable and deeply entrenched a conflict may appear to be, there are always grounds to hope that it can be resolved, that the patient and persevering efforts of those who work for peace and reconciliation will bear fruit in the end.[5]

In his final words, spoken from the podium at Ben Gurion Airport, the Holy Father insisted that he was a friend of both Israelis and Palestinians and he had given ample evidence of this throughout the visit. However, again he expressed the pain of all lovers of the Holy Land and all its peoples.

No friend of the Israelis and the Palestinians can fail to be saddened by the continuing tension between your two peoples. No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades. Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice, let there be genuine reconciliation and healing. Let it be universally recognised that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream. And let peace spread outwards from these lands, let them serve as a ‘light to the nations’ (Is 42:6), bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict.[6]

What is needed in the present situation, the Holy Father explained is ‘courage and imagination to pursue the challenging but indispensable path of reconciliation’.[7] Courage to imagine a different future! Perhaps with these words Pope Benedict XVI touched on one of the greatest walls – an inner wall that limits how far we can see, how far imaginations can roam. We are blocked by seeing the other as an implacable enemy, yet Pope Benedict’s moving across the walls and the barriers showed that they can come down if we could only open ourselves to imagine that possibility. Pope John Paul II had dwelt repeatedly on the necessity of pardon and Pope Benedict XVI brings to it the challenge of imagining the enemy as a friend.
An integral vision

The Pope’s visit to the Holy Land helps to deepen our understanding of what we must hold together without confusion when confronting the realities of a conflict that seems intractable. The four poles of his visit – pilgrimage to the Holy Land of our Bible and of Jesus of Nazareth, pastoral visit to the Mother Church of Jerusalem, dialogic encounter with the Jewish people and with Muslims, and preaching good news of peace to Israelis and Palestinians and all the peoples of the Middle East – provide an integral vision that can inspire all those who love Jerusalem and pray for her peace. These four poles can and must be held together without confusion.

For several decades, since the exposure of the terrible events of the Shoah and the establishment of the State of Israel, Catholics have been attempting to formulate a position on Israel, Palestine and Palestinians, Jews, Judaism and Islam. Deep fissures have marked the Church in this regard as various, often opposing, tendencies emerged. One movement was composed of the groups that saw with deep shame the role Catholics had played in promoting ‘a teaching of contempt’ for the Jewish people through the ages. This group is determined to push forward the dialogue with the Jewish people so that Catholics and Jews can enter a new age of reconciliation and collaboration. Often, this first group has been supported by those in the Church who study and teach the Bible. The increasing awareness that the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is incomprehensible without a profound awareness of Judaism, the history of the Jewish people and the Hebrew language, has strengthened the feeling that we have much in common with the Jewish people and that we have much to learn from them. Today it is not unusual for Catholic pastors, educators and lay leaders to travel to the land of the Bible and, through reading the Biblical text there, to become aware of the vitality and beauty of the Jewish tradition and those who practice it in Israel today. In this worldview, the Israelis are a courageous part of the Jewish people, struggling to be reborn after the traumatic and dramatic sufferings of the past. From this perspective, the Palestinians are barely on the radar screen.

However, alongside this tendency, another has emerged. Those Catholics committed to the work of justice and peace, determined to struggle against oppression and discrimination, have taken the Palestinians to their hearts. They see the Palestinians as a people struggling for their freedom, and in some cases this struggle has become paradigmatic for understanding the struggles of so many marginalised and dispossessed peoples and groups in contemporary society. In this worldview, the Israelis are a powerful, militarised and oppressive majority who dominate the last of the Third World’s nations as yet to achieve national independence, through a cruel machinery of occupation. Those in the Church particularly concerned with the dialogue with Muslims also tend to see the Palestinian question as central. Muslims are often profoundly offended by Western support for Israel and they are sensitive to the mounting racism towards Muslims in many Western countries. Those Catholics in dialogue with Muslims can not ignore the passionate concern for the plight of the Palestinians. To these is added the voice of those who are focused particularly on the plight of the Christians in the Holy Land, and who blame the present instability in the Middle East on the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

The Holy Father’s visit has illustrated to the Church that these tendencies not only can but must be held together without confusion. The Church is obligated to continue down the road of dialogue and reconciliation with the Jewish people. The Church is equally obligated to speak out for justice for Palestinians. These two positions will not always be accommodated among our partners in dialogue but they represent a Catholic position that integrates the Church’s fundamental commitments. Commitment to dialogue with the Jewish people cannot be synonymous with support for the political options of Zionism and the State of Israel. Commitment to justice for the Palestinian people cannot be synonymous with acquiescence in anti-Jewish sentiment or the justification of violence. Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us that the Church must become more and more a presence that not only concretely manifests justice and peace but also pardon, reconciliation, love and hope. The way that the Church speaks about the Land called to be holy and the people who live there must ultimately open up new possibilities so that a radically different future can begin to take shape in our imaginations – impregnated with the Gospel – in our discourse and ultimately in our praxis.

I conclude with the stirring words with which the Pope addressed the Church as he stood in front of the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem

The empty tomb speaks to us of hope, the hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the Spirit of life (cf. Rom 5:5). This is the message that I wish to leave with you today, at the conclusion of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. May hope rise up ever anew, by God's grace, in the hearts of all the people dwelling in these lands! May it take root in your hearts, abide in your families and communities, and inspire in each of you an ever more faithful witness to the Prince of Peace! The Church in the Holy Land, which has so often experienced the dark mystery of Golgotha, must never cease to be an intrepid herald of the luminous message of hope which this empty tomb proclaims. The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome, and that a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise for every man and woman, for the whole human family, and in a special way for the people who dwell in this land so dear to the heart of the Saviour.[8]


[1] (On the aeroplane, May 8, 2009)

[2] (At Mass in Jerusalem, May 12, 2009

[3] (At Ben Gurion Airport, May 15, 2009)

[4] (At Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, May 13, 2009)

[5] (At farewell, Palestinian Autonomy, Bethlehem, May 13, 2009)

[6] (At farewell at Ben Gurion Airport, May 15, 2009).

[7] (At Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, May 13, 2009).

[8] (At the Holy Sepulchre, May 15, 2009)

 

Fr David Neuhaus SJ is Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew Speaking Catholics at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, www.catholic.co.il



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