Pope Benedict XVI
Photo: Reuters
Yad Vashem disputed
Photo: AFP
Envoy: Pope to shun photo at Yad Vashem
During Israel visit Benedict XVI will pay respects to Holocaust victims at Yad Vashem but refrain from visiting museum featuring exhibit critical of wartime pope, Vatican's envoy to Israel says

Pope Benedict XVI will pray at Israel's Holocaust memorial during his visit in May, but will stay away from the section featuring controversial comments about his Nazi-era predecessor, his envoy said on Tuesday.


The pontiff will "pray and pay respect to the victims of the Shoah (Holocaust,)" at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Papal Nuncio Antonio Franco said at a news conference.


"The pope does not go to the museum," he added, stressing: "this is not a polemic position."


One exhibit in the museum section features a caption below a picture of Pius XII that says the wartime pope failed to protest the Holocaust and maintained a largely "neutral position."


The caption has angered the Vatican, which disputes the claim.


While in Jerusalem, the pope will also pray at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, and the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest for Muslims.


'Not a political visit'

Benedict's May 8-15 visit to the Holy Land comes amid controversy over his lifting of the excommunication of ultra-conservative British Bishop Richard Williamson, who had publicly denied that Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers.


The move, aimed at healing a rift within the Catholic Church, further soured already tense relations with Israel.


Benedict already stirred controversy last year when he defended the memory of Pius XII and said he hoped his beatification - the first step towards sainthood - would proceed quickly.


Franco stressed that Benedict's visit to the trouble-torn region was strictly pastoral. "The visit is not political, the visit is religious," he said, though he did not rule out that political questions might come up during discussions with government officials.


During his visit, the German pope will celebrate masses in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and Amman and meet Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders.


He will also meet the grand mufti of Jerusalem and Israel's chief rabbis.


The visit will be Benedict's first to the Holy Land since becoming pope in 2005. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, visited in 2000.


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