Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Israel from Jordan on Monday morning, on the second leg of a pilgrimage to Middle East holy sites that takes him to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The pope, whose readmittance of a Holocaust denier into the Catholic Church has badly damaged ties with the Jewish world, vowed in his welcome speech at Tel Aviv airport to fight antisemitism, which he deemed “totally unacceptable.” “I take my place in a long line of Christian pilgrims to these shores, a line that stretches back to the earliest centuries of the Church’s history and which, I am sure, will keep and continue long into the future,” the pope said during his address on the tarmac.
“I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace — peace in the Holy Land and peace throughout the world.”
In his address, the pope also denounced antisemitism and said that humanity must make every effort to avoid a crime on the scale of which was committed during the Holocaust.
“I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah,” said the German pope, who faces criticism for policies toward Jews, including his recent reinstatement of a bishop who denied Nazis killed six million.
“Sadly, antisemitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable,” said the pontiff. “Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found, and to promote respect and esteem for the members of every people, tribe, language and nation across the globe.”
Pope Benedict also urged the warring parties in the Middle East to strive for peaceful relations.
“I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search 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,” the pope said.
The pope, who is on a pilgrimage of holy sites in the Middle East, landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport at approximately 11 A.M. on a special Royal Jordanian flight. He was met by Israeli dignitaries, including President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
An Israel Defense Forces honor guard greeted the pope upon his descent onto the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport. The pontiff stood between Netanyahu and Peres as the band played a rendition of the Israel’s national anthem “Hatikva,” the Vatican’s anthem and “Jerusalem of Gold.” After the welcoming ceremony, he was flown by helicopter to Jerusalem.
The pope was accompanied on his flight from Jordan by 40 members of the Vatican staff, and 70 reporters.
Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, the pope was greeted by Mayor Nir Barkat and other dignitaries, at the Mount Scopus landing pad.
Jerusalem Mayor Barkat told the pontiff he will feel at home in the Holy City. “In Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and the Jewish people, we promote pluralism, dialogue and freedom of religion,” said Barkat.
In the afternoon, the pontiff will meet at the President’s Residence with Peres and the parents of the captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit; a tree-planting ceremony is also scheduled there.
In the late afternoon the pope will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museuem and will make a statement after laying a wreath at the memorial for those who perished in the Shoah.
The head of the Catholic Church will hold an interfaith meeting in the early evening at the Notre Dame hotel in the city.
During his stay in Israel, through Friday, the pontiff will reside at the home of the Vatican ambassador in Jerusalem and not at one of the city’s hotels.