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Pope leaves Israel with a plea for peace

May 15, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI left Israel on Friday, May 15, concluding his week-long visit to the Holy Land. In a departure ceremony at Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv, attended by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Pope said that he saw the Holy Land as "fertile ground for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue," and hoped that "the rich variety of religious witness in the region will bear fruit in a growing mutual understanding and respect."

Pope Benedict emphasized his love for the Jewish people, and the strong religious bonds between Judaism and Christianity. "We are nourished from the same spiritual roots," he observed. Acknowledging that the two religious traditions "at times in our history have had a tense relationship," he said that Christians today "are firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship."

The Pope made special mention of his visit to the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem, and indirectly replied to the critics who were unsatisfied by his speech there. Repeating his condemnation of the Holocaust, he observed that millions "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."

Addressing the current political conflict in the region, the Holy Father made a final impassioned plea for a negotiated solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. "No more bloodshed!" he urged; "No more fighting! No more terrorism!"

The Pope repeated once again his conviction that "the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland." And he said that the security wall girding Palestinian communities on the West Bank was among the saddest sights he had observed during his stay.


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