On Monday the 11th of May 2009, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Israel, the "land which is held holy by millions of believers around the world"*, for a historic pilgrimage.
The Pope emphasized the holiness of this land for the Christians, for it is the birthplace of the Christian faith:
“I appreciate the opportunity that has been offered to me to come on a pilgrimage to a land that is hallowed by the footsteps of patriarchs and prophets; a land that Christians hold in particular veneration as the setting for the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 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 continue long into the future”.*
The Pontiff described himself as a "pilgrim among pilgrims" who visited and will visit the holy sites in this land. Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem, central sites on the Pope’s pilgrimage itinerary, are among the holiest cities for Christians.
Jerusalem is a sparkling jewel. At its outskirts are Bethlehem and the hallowed Church of the Nativity, Ein Karem, associated with Saint John the Baptist, and Bethany, home of Mary and Martha.
The holy places mentioned in the Gospels come to life in Jerusalem, and pilgrims can see and visit them all. For example, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Kidron Valley.
Jesus' final path – the Via Dolorosa – is commemorated in the enchanting Old City, as is the site of His Resurrection, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Inside the Old City walls stands the holy Western Wall of the Jewish Temple, yearning for the Heavens. The Old City also houses Muslim shrines, such as the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Nazareth, the Flower of the Galilee, is the site of The Basilica of Annunciation and its famous Grotto
“And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Lk. 1: 30-31)*
Nazareth and the surrounding areas are overflowing with churches and archeological excavations related to the boyhood and ministry of Jesus. Just outside Nazareth is Precipice Mountain, where a mob attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff:
“And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.” (Lk. 4:29) *
Upon his arrival in Israel, the Pope stressed his condemnation of anti-Semitism: “It is right and fitting that, during my stay in Israel, I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah, and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude. Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable. 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.”*
His visit to Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority) in Jerusalem is another expression of his solidarity with the Jewish people and his acknowledgement of the horrors of the Holocaust.
President Shimon Peres, welcoming Pope Benedict XVI at Ben-Gurion International Airport, said, “I see your visit here, to the Holy Land, as an important spiritual mission of the highest order; a mission of peace. A mission of planting the seeds of tolerance and uprooting the weeds of fanaticism. I appreciate your opinions and actions to reduce the level of violence and hatred in the world. I am certain that this will be a continuation of the dialogue between Judaism and Christianity in the spirit of the Prophets.”*
Pilgrims in the Holy Land are pilgrims of peace and are always welcomed by the State of Israel, as they have been in the past and will be in the future.
* Official welcoming ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport – 11th May, 2009.
Information on the Holy Sites in Israel on our website: www.goisrael.com