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HOLYLAND-ROUNDUP (THIRD UPDATE) May-14-2009 (1,170 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope nears end of Holy Land trip with visit to Nazareth

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

NAZARETH, Israel (CNS) -- Nearing the end of his Holy Land pilgrimage, Pope Benedict XVI came to Nazareth, the city where Jesus grew up, and appealed for the strengthening of family bonds in the region and the world.

The papal Mass May 14, celebrated in a new amphitheater built into Nazareth's Mount Precipice, drew about 40,000 people, the biggest crowd on his eight-day pilgrimage. The pope had earlier visited Jordan, Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

In his homily, the pope said modern society needs to recognize the sacred nature 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 God's gift of new life."

Later, the pope met with Christian and non-Christian religious leaders of Galilee and emphasized the need to ease tensions over places of worship. In Nazareth, a decade of dispute over a planned mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation has soured relations between Christians and Muslims.

He urged all people of faith to protect children from "fanaticism and violence" and to teach respect for the beliefs and traditions of other religions.

Then the pontiff, smiling broadly, stood and held hands in prayer with other participants as a specially composed psalm was sung, using the words of peace in Arabic, Hebrew and English: "Salam, Shalom, Lord grant us peace."

Later, the pope led a prayer service for Catholics in the Basilica of the Annunciation. He said that with the appearance of the angel to Mary announcing that she would bear Jesus, God entered into human history. God's action in history holds a lesson for modern times, he said.

"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," he said.

In a meeting in a Franciscan convent with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the pope discussed how to advance prospects for Middle East peace.

The 82-year-old pontiff came to Israel from Jordan May 11. At an airport welcoming ceremony in Tel Aviv, he honored the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and prayed 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," he said.

In a visit that day to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Pope Benedict prayed silently before the eternal flame in the Hall of Remembrance and said the suffering of Jews under the Nazi extermination campaign must "never be denied, belittled or forgotten."

The pope called the Holocaust an atrocity that disgraced mankind and said the church is committed to working tirelessly "to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again."

He met with six Holocaust survivors, who later expressed their appreciation for the pope's gesture. But some Jewish leaders said they were disappointed that the German pope made no mention in his talk of the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust.

That evening, the pope told a group of interreligious dialogue experts that, in a world that has in some ways become "deaf to the divine," religions must give common witness to God's rightful place in the world. The event was marred by a Muslim sheik's denunciation of Israeli policies, which prompted some Jewish representatives to walk out.

On May 12, the pope celebrated an open-air Mass in Jerusalem, prayed at the Western Wall and visited one of Islam's most sacred shrines. The events underscored his message that Jerusalem, a meeting ground for Christianity, Judaism and Islam, must again become a city of peace.

The pope made a morning visit to the Dome of the Rock, sacred to Muslims as the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven. He told Islamic leaders there that Christians, Muslims and Jews have a "grave responsibility" to expand dialogue and mend divisions.

He then went to the Western Wall, a site sacred to Jews as the remains of the Second Temple, and placed a written prayer in a crevice between the massive stones. It asked God to "hear the cry of the afflicted" and "send your peace upon this Holy Land."

In the evening, the pope celebrated Mass for several thousand people in the Josafat Valley, beneath the Mount of Olives, and called for Jerusalem to regain its vocation as a "promise of that universal reconciliation and peace" against the "despair, frustration and cynicism" that afflict the city today.

Visiting the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 13, Pope Benedict called for an independent Palestinian state and urged young people to reject acts of violence and terrorism.

He celebrated Mass in the city of Christ's birth and encouraged Christians to 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."

To reach Bethlehem, the pope crossed the border from Israel through a gate in the most striking feature on the landscape: Israel's 26-foot-tall concrete security wall. Speaking at the Aida Refugee Camp later in the day, he said it was tragic to see new walls being erected at a time when more and more of the world's borders were being opened up.

The pope began his eight-day trip in Jordan, where he walked a pilgrim's path, energizing its minority Christian population and building bridges to the moderate Muslim world.

Arriving at Amman's airport May 8 he said he had come with "deep respect" for the Muslim community. It was Pope Benedict's first trip to an Arab country.

The pope paid tribute to interfaith dialogues launched by Jordanian leaders, saying they have advanced an "alliance of civilizations between the West and the Muslim world, confounding the predictions of those who consider violence and conflict inevitable."

The following day, the pope visited the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, pausing briefly in what the Vatican called "respectful meditation" in a Muslim place of prayer.

In a speech afterward to Muslim academics and religious leaders, the pope warned of the "ideological manipulation of religion" that can act as a catalyst for tensions and violence in contemporary societies.

The pope traveled May 9 to Mount Nebo, the place where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land before dying, and blessed the foundation of Jordan's first Catholic university in the biblical city of Madaba.

Celebrating Mass May 10 in an Amman soccer stadium for some 25,000 people, the pope said Christians in the Holy Land have a special vocation to engage in dialogue and build new bridges to other religions and cultures, and to "counter ways of thinking which justify taking innocent lives."

Later in the day the pope made his way to the Jordan River, where archaeologists believe they have identified the site of Jesus' baptism by St. John the Baptist. He blessed the foundation stones of two Catholic churches to be built at the location.


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