Israel’s leading rabbis on Tuesday told Pope Benedict XVI that it was his duty to spread the message that the Jewish people belong in the Land of Israel.
“You represent a large nation of believers that knows what the Bible is, and it is your duty to pass on the message that the Jewish people deserve a renaissance, and a little respect — to live in this land,” Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar told the pope.
The pope met with Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger in Jerusalem on Tuesday, on the second day of his pilgrimage to Israel. Benedict told the chief rabbis during the meeting that he is committed to reconciliation between Christian and Jews.
He said he has delivered a prayer to God to help enact the command that one love their neighbor as they do themselves.
Metzger told the pope that he regretted that such meetings had not been held earlier in history.
“I thought to myself, if only a historic meeting like this in which the head of the biggest religion in the world meets in Jerusalem with the heads of Judaism, if this had happened many years earlier, so much innocent blood could have been saved,” Metzger said.
“So much senseless hatred could have been prevented in the world,” he said.
The pope continued his historic pilgrimage through the Holy Land earlier Tuesday, visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
He recited a prayer in Latin, before placing a note in the cracks of the wall, as is the custom. The Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovich, also recited a prayer.
Earlier, Benedict visited the Temple Mount, where he shook hands with the mufti of Jerusalem and senior Islamic Waqf officials.
The German-born pope stood in prayer for several minutes at the Western Wall, a remnant of the Roman-era Temple complex that is Judaism’s holiest place, after meeting the Grand Mufti, Palestinians’ senior Muslim cleric, at the Dome of the Rock which dominates the Old City.
With the mufti, he recalled the common roots of all three monotheistic religions in the story of Abraham and Jerusalem. He placed a written prayer in the Western Wall, a traditional gesture, and then met Israel’s two chief rabbis.
“Send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family,” the prayer said, according to text provided by the Vatican.
Palestinians later released balloons over Jerusalem’s Old City in the colors of the Palestinian flag while the pope was at the Western Wall.