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Friday, May 15, 2009


VATICAN CITY, 15 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 1.30 p.m. today the Holy Father arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv where Shimon Peres, president of the State of Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister, were waiting to greet him.

In his farewell address, the Holy Father noted how he had "had fruitful discussions with the civil authorities both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories", and "witnessed the great efforts that both governments are making to secure people's wellbeing".

He referred to his meetings with leaders of the Catholic Church and of other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities, as well as with heads of other religions. "This land", he said, "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".

He also recalled how on the day of his arrival he and President Peres had together planted an olive tree in the garden of the latter's residence. "The olive tree, as you know, is an image used by St. 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. 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".

Benedict XVI described his visit to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem as "one of the most solemn moments of my stay in Israel". While his meeting with Holocaust survivors "brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews ... 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".

He went on: "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".

"No more bloodshed!", he cried in an appeal to the inhabitants of the Holy Land. "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", the Pope added, "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', bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict".

He went on: "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".

"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".

Having completed his address, the Pope boarded his plane, a B777 belonging to El Al, to begin his return journey to Rome.


VATICAN CITY, 15 MAY 2009 (VIS) - The Holy Father appointed as consultors of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches: Bishop Christo Proykov, apostolic exarch of Sofia for Catholics of the Byzantine-Slavic rite resident in Bulgaria and president of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Bulgaria, and Fr. Vasyl Hovera, delegate of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches for Greek-Catholic faithful in Central Asia.
NA/.../PROYKOV:HOVERA VIS 20090515 (70)


VATICAN CITY, 15 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 11 a.m. today the Holy Father visited the Armenian Patriarchal Apostolic Church of Jerusalem, where he was greeted by Patriarch Torkom Manoukian.

The faithful of the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate in the Holy Land number some 10,000, present in the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Israel.

"I count it a great blessing", said the Pope in his address, "to have met in this past year with the Catholicos and Supreme Patriarch 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".

The Holy Father also mentioned his appreciation for the 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". In this context he expressed the hope that the work of the commission may "bear abundant fruit for the growth of Christian unity, and advance the spread of the Gospel among the men and women of our time".

Pope Benedict gave assurances of his prayers that the Armenian Community in Jerusalem "will constantly draw new life from its rich traditions, and be confirmed in its witness to Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection in this Holy City".

"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", he concluded.

After the meeting, the Pope returned to the apostolic delegation in Jerusalem. He subsequently travelled by helicopter to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv for the departure ceremony.


VATICAN CITY, 15 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 10.15 a.m. today the Holy Father visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where he was received by six representatives from the three institutions (Greek Orthodox Church, Custody of the Holy Land and Armenian Apostolic Church) responsible for the "Status Quo", the agreement regulating the administration of the site. Coptic, Syrian and Ethiopian Orthodox may also officiate in the basilica.

According to tradition, the Holy Sepulchre is located on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again. It was known as Golgotha (which means skull in Aramaic, so-called for the rounded form of the mount). At the entrance of the basilica, in the atrium, is the Stone of the Anointing, a long block of polished red limestone. Surrounded by candelabra and eight lamps, it constitutes the thirteenth station of the "Via Crucis" (Way of the Cross). According to tradition, this marks the spot where Jesus, having been taken from the cross, was anointed. In the centre of the shrine and housed within a rectangular structure, lies the Holy Sepulchre itself, the fourteenth station of the Via Crucis.

The facade of the structure is covered with hanging lamps and silver spheres. Over the door there are three depictions of the Resurrection: Latin, Greek and Armenian. The small wooden door is always open except during the moment that the Armenian or Greek celebrant must remain alone, as prescribed by the liturgy. The structure houses a small vestibule called the Chapel of the Angel (announcement of the Resurrection to the holy women). A further door gives access to the Holy Sepulchre itself where a marble slab covers the original stone upon which Jesus' body was placed.

Restoration work began in 1971, financed by the three communities that co-own the site. In 1994 the Custody of the Holy Land, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Jerusalem signed a historic agreement for the restoration and decoration of the dome of the Anastasis. Work was completed in 1997.

Benedict XVI prayed at the Stone of the Anointing and at the empty tomb of the Resurrection. Then, having received the greetings of Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land, and of His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, he pronounced a brief address.

"Here Christ died and rose, never to die again", said the Pope. "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. ... 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", he added. "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".

"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 co-operation 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".

The Holy Father went on: "This ancient Memorial of the Anastasis 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. ... 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", the Holy Father ended his remarks, "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 her contemplation of the empty tomb of the Saviour. In that tomb she is called to bury all her anxieties and fears, in order to rise again each day and continue her journey through the streets of Jerusalem, Galilee and beyond, proclaiming the triumph of Christ's forgiveness and the promise of new life".

Having concluded his address, Benedict XVI moved on to the Chapel of the Apparition. There he paused in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament before climbing up to Golgotha where he prayed at the site of Calvary. Then, his visit complete, he travelled by car the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem.


VATICAN CITY, 15 MAY 2009 (VIS) - After celebrating Mass in private at the apostolic delegation in Jerusalem, at 9 a.m. today the Holy Father travelled to the city's Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, where he attended an ecumenical meeting.

The Pope was welcomed by His Beatitude Theophilus III, Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, who also holds the title of Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and all Palestine.

In his address to representatives of Christian communities in the Holy Land, Benedict XVI expressed the hope 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".

"Extending His arms on the Cross, Jesus revealed the fullness of His desire to draw all people to Himself, uniting them together as one", said the Holy Father. "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, that we experience the shame of our division".

And yet, he went on, "empowered by the unifying force of the Holy Spirit ... 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".

"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".

"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".

Benedict XVI concluded his address by saying: "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".

The meeting over, the Holy Father moved on to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.


VATICAN CITY, 14 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 5.30 p.m. today, in the Grotto of the Annunciation located in Nazareth's Basilica of the Annunciation, the Holy Father presided at Vespers with bishops, priests, religious, ecclesial movements, and pastoral care leaders of Galilee. Benedict XVI was greeted by Archbishop Paul Nabil El-Sayah of Haifa and the Holy Land of the Maronites, director of pastoral care for the family.

The Pope expressed his thanks for the presence of Maronite, Latin-rite and Greek Melkite faithful, and once again paid tribute to the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land for their work in conserving the Holy Places, including the Basilica of the Annunciation.

"What happened here in Nazareth, far from the gaze of the world", he said, "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".

The Holy Father explained how the Incarnation ushered in "a new Creation", and how the "narrative of the Annunciation illustrates God's extraordinary courtesy. 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".

"When we reflect on this joyful mystery, it gives us hope", the Pope insisted, "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". This invites 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", he added, "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".

Quoting then the words of the Magnificat - "God has looked upon His servant in her lowliness, He has filled the hungry with good things" - the Pope told those present: "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. ... For this, it is essential that you should be united among yourselves, so that the Church in the Holy Land can be clearly recognised as 'a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race'".

He concluded: "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 recognise Abraham as their father in faith".

After the ceremony the Pope went to the Nazareth heliport, and from there by helicopter to Jerusalem where he spent the night in the apostolic delegation.
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