Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In Israel, Pope Urges 'Just Resolution' of Conflict

TEL AVIV -- Pope Benedict XVI landed in Israel Monday, denouncing the persistence of anti-Semitism world-wide and urging Israelis and Palestinians to reach a compromise on a two-state solution.


Pope Benedict walked with Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, right, as they greeted Catholic school children at the Mount Scopus helipad in Jerusalem.

The pope's five-day visit to the Holy Land is the third by a Vatican leader in the 61 years since the founding of the Jewish state.

"Even though the name Jerusalem means city of peace, it is all too evident that for decades, peace has eluded the inhabitants of this Holy Land," the pontiff said at Ben Gurion Airport, after emerging from a Royal Jordanian Airlines passenger jet flying Israeli and Vatican flags.

Pope's Trip to Middle East Deemed Controversial


Pope Benedict's Mideast trip is meant to soothe relations between the Vatican and Jewish and Muslim communities. But Pope Benedict's attempt to lift the excommunication of British Bishop Richard Williamson is still fresh in many minds.

"I plead with all of those responsible to explore every possible avenue 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," he said.

The remarks underlined the growing international pressure on the recently installed government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resume peace talks with the Palestinians.

Israeli analysts consider the very visit of Pope Benedict a diplomatic achievement. The Vatican and Israel established relations only in the months following the 1993 Oslo peace accord.

After a stop at the presidential residence, the pope participated in a memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial. The pope was welcomed by Yad Vashem Chairman Rabbi Yisrael Lau, who survived the Buchenwald death camp, and laid a wreath at the burial site of the ashes of Holocaust victims.

[Pope Benedict] Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI with, sitting from left, Chief Tel Aviv Rabbi and Holocaust survivor Yisrael Meir Lau, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Avner Shalev, the Director of Yad Vashem.

"I have come to stand in silence before this monument," he said. "...May the names of these victims never perish. May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten."

The pope didn't visit the exhibition at the Yad Vashem museum, which accuses Pope Pius XII of not speaking out during World War II against the Nazi genocide, a view the Roman Catholic Church disputes.

In a reminder of how delicate ties remain between the Vatican and Israel, his remarks triggered a swift critique from Mr. Lau, who expressed disappointment that the Pope did not express any remorse over the Holocaust or mention Nazi Germany. The Vatican has denied that Pope Pius XII failed to speak out during the war and says the pontiff worked to save the lives of many Jews.

Monday's events weren't without stumbles. At an evening multifaith gathering, a Muslim cleric delivered a 10-minute monologue denouncing Israel, as the pope looked on. The cleric ignored at least two requests to sit down. When he finally did so, the pope left the auditorium.

Earlier in the day, the pope said that "every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it may be found."