Pope concludes Holy Land visit
Ceremony in Ben Gurion Airport marks end of Benedict XVI's trip to Holy Land. Pope says 'I came to this country as friend of Israelis, Palestinian people...One of the saddest sights for me was the wall'. President Peres thanks pope for his statements during visit, urges him to help battle religious fundamentalism
Pope Benedict XVI concluded his eight-day trip to the Middle East on Friday, and gave a farewell speech at Ben Gurion Airport before his departure back to Rome in which he thanks President Shimon Peres for his hospitality and recalled his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.
"I met some of the survivors who suffered the evils of the Shoah... 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," the pope said.
Benedict added that he came to the Holy Land "as a friend of the Israelis, just as I am a friend of the Palestinian people", and called for an end to tensions between the two.
"No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades. Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence," the pope said.
The pontiff called for a "lasting peace based on justice," adding, "Let it be universally recognized 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."
Referring to the separation fence he encountered during his time in Bethlehem, the pope said, "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."
End of pope's visit in Israel (Photo: AFP)
President Peres was there to bid farewell to the pope on Friday, and told him: "Your journey to the Holy Land was a heartfelt example of the exercise of spiritual values. It constituted a significant contribution to the new relations between the Vatican and Jerusalem.
"It was a profound demonstration of the enduring dialogue between the Jewish people and the hundreds of millions of Christian believers throughout the world."
Referring to the pope's speech at Yad Vashem, the president said: "Your statements during the journey here carried a substantive weight.
In particular your declaration that the Holocaust, the Shoah, must not be forgotten nor denied, and that anti-Semitism and discrimination, in any form, and in any place, must be fought intensively."
Peres also spoke about the needs to fight religious fanaticism. "Today's political and spiritual leaders face a profound challenge: how to divorce religion from terror.
"How to prevent terrorists from hijacking the religious conscience by cloaking an act of terrorism in the false guise of a religious mission… I believe that your great spiritual leadership… Can help people to recognize that God is not in the hearts of terrorists."
Pope urges worshippers not to lose hope
Earlier on Friday the pope paid a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of Jesus' crucifixion.
Benedict knelt down and kissed the rectangular stone on which Jesus' body is believed to have been placed after the crucifixion. Then he entered the structure inside the church marking the site of Jesus' tomb and knelt inside alone for several minutes, hands clasped, as priests chanted nearby.
In a speech afterward, he told those gathered in the church not to lose hope.
"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 cooperation 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 Savior," he said.
With those "words of encouragement," he said, "I conclude my pilgrimage to the holy places of our redemption and rebirth in Christ."