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One of the highlights at today’s reception, held at the Residence of the President, Mr. Shimon Peres, in honor of Pope Benedict XVI, was the ceremonial – and symbolic – Peace Tree planting.

The Pope planted a centuries-old olive tree in the Peace Garden of the Presidential residence, a symbolic gesture in keeping with the Pope’s peace pilgrimage to the Holy Land and his expressed wish to foster peace and brotherhood between peoples and religions. The planting begins a new tradition for the President’s Residence and garden.

Olive trees, a symbol of peace dating back to the Bible, are indigenous to the Mediterranean region and form an integral part of Israel’s landscape. The Galilee area is particularly well-known for its olive trees, which grace the local landscape with their beauty and provide a livelihood for local farmers and olive oil producers.

Over 600 invited guests attended the event, including Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders, righteous gentiles, Israeli Nobel Prize winners, artists, theater directors, representatives of bereaved families and families of MIAs, Holocaust survivors, youth and student council representatives.

The Pope received a basket of fruit from two children, a Christian and a Jew, from Nazareth and Upper Nazareth respectively. The gift included the "Seven Species" of plants named in the Bible and other local produce, including a new strand of wheat developed by the Volcani Center and named Benedict XVI after the Pope. Other gifts included the complete text of the Old Testament inscribed in vowelled Hebrew on a 0.5mm² particle about the size of a grain of sand.

In his address, President Peres welcomed His Holiness with the words, “In you we see a promoter of peace, a great spiritual leader, a potent bearer of the message of peace to this land and to all others.”