Monday, May 11, 2009

Pope addresses Holocaust, Mideast conflict on Israel visit

The following is from CNN:

TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI urged the Israelis and Palestinians to find a "just resolution" to their long-running conflict as he arrived in Israel Monday.

"I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue," the pope said, "So that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders."

He cited the Biblical prophet Isaiah on the meaning of "security" -- a justification Israel often uses for its actions against Palestinians.

"Security -- batah (in Hebrew) -- arises from trust and refers not just to the absence of threat but also to the sentiment of calmness and confidence," he said in a speech at Israeli President Shimon Peres' residence.

But even as he arrived in the country, Israelis and Palestinians were engaged in a dispute over the location of the press center for the papal trip.

Palestinian officials set up an alternative press center, arguing that the Jerusalem Municipal Building, the site of the official one, was linked to Israel's policy of demolishing Palestinian homes built without permission in East Jerusalem. Video Watch why the pope's visit is proving controversial »

Both sides claim the neighborhood.

Israeli police shut down the alternative press center, according to police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld, on the grounds that the Palestinian Authority was not allowed to host events in Jerusalem.

The pope also made reference to the Holocaust, an issue that sparked controversy for the Roman Catholic Church earlier this year.

"It is right and fitting that during my stay in Israel that I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Shoah," he said, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust. "And to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude."

The pope said anti-Semitism was "totally unacceptable."

Benedict drew the ire of Jews and German Catholics this year by rehabilitating a bishop who had been excommunicated, and who had disputed the number of Jews killed in concentration camps during World War II. His excommunication was unrelated to his Holocaust denial.

The Catholic Church is "profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism," Benedict said at the time.

The pope later on Monday laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, in memory of victims of the Holocaust.

He clutched a small cross and bowed his head in front of the eternal flame at the memorial, where he was accommpanied by Peres and other dignitaries.

The pope, quiet and somber, quoted the Biblical Book of Lamentations before saying he was "deeply grateful" for the opportunity to stand in silence and pray at the site.

The pope arrived at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport as part of an eight-day trip that takes in places of unequaled religious resonance for the world's 1.1 billion Catholics. He was due to meet Jerusalem's Muslim grand mufti and two chief rabbis .

His first stop in the region was in Jordan, where he called for greater respect for women at a historic Mass in Amman on Sunday. Video Watch Jordan residents' reaction to the pope's visit »

In the 13-minute address, he urged Christians in the Middle East to persevere -- an acknowledgment that the Christian population has declined sharply in the past 50 years in the region where the religion was born.

He also called on the faithful to oppose terrorism through good examples.

Benedict's trip includes stops in Bethlehem and Nazareth, which Monday he called "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," he said.

It is the first papal visit to some of Christianity's most holy places since Pope John Paul II made the pilgrimage in 2000.

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