Where: Nazareth, Israel
May 15, 2009 : Pope Benedict XVI, head of the worldwide Catholic Church, made a weeklong trip to the Middle East, touring the Holy Land in a bid to promote peace and unity in the region. The pope prayed at some of Christianity’s most sacred destinations and visited Muslim and Jewish holy sites. He also visited Israel’s Holocaust* memorial and saw the conditions in which Palestinian refugees live.
In the birthplace of Jesus Christ, Bethlehem (in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory) the pope appealed for a separate state for Palestinians. He also called for an end to the blockade Israel has imposed against Gaza (a Palestinian territory) since the Islamic Hamas movement seized power there in June 2007.
The pope’s pilgrimage began in Jordan, where he appealed to all Jordanians, both Christian or Muslim, “to build on the firm foundations of religious tolerance that enable the members of different communities to live together in peace and mutual respect.” The religious leader said the Middle East had been “marked by tragic suffering, by years of violence and unresolved tensions”. He appealed to his followers to take inspiration from the example of Jesus Christ, “of reconciliation and peace through forgiveness and generosity.” At the end of his tour, the pope prayed at Christianity’s holiest site, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to be buried.
*The Holocaust refers to the killing of six million European Jews as part of a planned program of elimination of all Jewish people by Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany during World War II. Israel is a Jewish nation which was established after World War II.