Pope: Jews Were 'Brutally Exterminated' in Holocaust

Peres applauds pontiff's vow to slam Holocaust denial in event marking the end of his Mideast visit.

Pope Benedict XVI voiced sorrow at the 'extermination' of Jews in the Holocaust during a farewell ceremony Friday at Ben Gurion Airport marking the end of five-day visit to Israel.

The pope spoke of a visit years ago to a Nazi death camp, "where so many Jews - mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends - were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred."

Benedict also referred to the subject during an address at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. In the speech, he eloquently spoke of the suffering of Holocaust victims but did not express remorse for the church's historic persecution of Jews, nor for what some believe to have been the church's passivity during the genocide or his own time as a member of the Hitler Youth.

He later drew fire over the perceived omissions, which led officials at the Yad Vashem memorial to take the exceptional step of openly criticizing the speech.

At the airport on Friday, the pope added: "That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied, those dark memories should strengthen our determination to draw closer to one another as branches of the same olive tree, nourished from the same roots and united in brotherly love."

President Shimon Peres was at the site to see Benedict off. He thanked the pope for his visit to the Holy Land, and applauded his remarks at Yad Vashem, which he said represented a welcome attack on Holocaust denial around the world.

On the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the pope said that during his visit to the holy land he had "witnessed the great efforts that both governments are making to securing their people's well being."

In the ceremony, also attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the pope reiterated his support for the Palestinian cause, saying that the "Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign state."

The pontiff expressed hopes that "the two-state solution will become a reality not a dream," and called for the end of the regional conflict.

"No more bloodshed, no more fighting, no more terrorism, no more war," he emotionally cried just before boarding the Rome-bound plane.

Earlier Friday, Pope Benedict XVI capped his Middle East visit by making a pilgrimage to a church revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion and assuring his followers in the Holy Land that peace was still possible.

A traditional escort of men in black robes and red fezzes accompanied the pontiff as he solemnly walked into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, rhythmically banging staffs on the ground to announce his approach.

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 - a central theme during a visit in which he addressed the Holocaust, Israeli-Palestinian politics and the shrinking number of Christians in the region.

"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."

Thousands of soldiers and policemen were deployed Friday around Jerusalem's Old City for the pope's visit to the ancient church, which tradition holds marks the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

"On the last day of his visit the pope is coming to the most important place for us," said Father Bernt, a Catholic priest at the church. "This is the center of Christianity, so it's very special."

The pope is leaving the Holy Land having fulfilled his mission of reaching out to Jews and Muslims, but some are giving his five-day trip only mixed reviews.

During his visit, he led 50,000 worshippers in a jubilant Mass outside of Nazareth, in an effort to rally his dwindling flock. He removed his shoes to enter Islam's third-holiest shrine, and he followed Jewish custom by placing a note bearing a prayer for peace in the cracks of the Western Wall.