Israel prepares red carpet welcome for Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI to leave Jordan Monday morning and arrive in Israel 45 minutes later.
Israel is planning the visit by Pope Benedict XVI down to the last detail, even holding dress rehearsal Sunday to prepare for the pontiff's arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday.
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The rehearsal, orchestrated by the Israel Airports Authority, will involve all the relevant bodies, a red carpet, an honor guard and the Israel Defense Forces Orchestra.
The pope is scheduled to take off for Israel on a special Royal Jordanian flight from Amman at 10:30 A.M. Monday, and will arrive at Ben-Gurion about 45 minutes later.
The vice president of Royal Jordanian, Hussein Dabbas, who is in charge of the company's Israel office, will accompany the pope on the fight.
In addition to the pope's 40-person entourage, some 70 journalists will also be on the flight.
President Shimon Peres and senior government officials will be at the official welcome ceremony.
The Shin Bet security service's VIP protection unit is responsible for the immediate security for the pope and for the top officials present to welcome him.
From Ben-Gurion, Benedict will be flown by Israel Air Force helicopter to the helipad on Mount Scopus, to avoid closing the Tel Avic-Jerusalem road with a papal motorcade.
Benedict XVI will stay at the papal nuncio's residence on the Mount of Olives.
On Saturday police detained two East Jerusalem residents near the Temple Mount. They had hundreds of leaflets calling for a boycott of Benedict's visit to Jerusalem.
Last week, the police simulated several scenarios of attempted harm to the pope. Traffic patterns on the papal entourage's planned routes were scrutinized for bottlenecks. Congestion is expected in Jerusalem on Monday and Tuesday, because main roads will be closed while the pope is in the capital and on his way to and from Bethlehem.
The head of the police operations division, Maj. Gen. Benzi Sao, said last week that the police would have their hands full this week. In addition to the pope's visit, this week includes the Depeche Mode concert in Tel Aviv, the Lag Ba'omer celebrations on Mount Meron and the marking of the Nakba, or disaster, the Palestinians' term for Israel's independence in 1948.
Pope: Visit is reminder of Jewish-Christian bond
The pope said on Saturday in Jordan that his visit to the Middle East was a reminder of the inseparable bond between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, a relationship that sometimes has been strained under his leadership.
The pope spoke from Mount Nebo, the hill overlooking the Jordan Valley from where the Bible says Moses saw the Promised Land.
"May our encounter today inspire in us a renewed love for the canon of sacred scripture and a desire to overcome all obstacles to the reconciliation of Christians and Jews in mutual respect and cooperation in the service of that peace to which the word of God calls us," Benedict said.
The pope's visit to Mount Nebo was the first of many that Benedict will make to holy places during his first visit to the Middle East.
"The ancient tradition of pilgrimage to the holy places also reminds us of the inseparable bond between the church and the Jewish people," said Benedict.
"From the beginning, the church in these lands has commemorated in her liturgy the great figures of the patriarchs and prophets, as a sign of her profound appreciation of the unity of the two testaments," Benedict also said.
Benedict met with Muslim leaders at the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman, where he gave a speech about harmony and shared purpose between the world's two largest religions. Benedict did not pray or remove his shoes while in the Mosque.
Pope Benedict XVI began his delicate trip to the Middle East on Friday by expressing "deep respect" for Islam and calling for a three-way dialogue of Christians, Muslims and Jews to help peace.
He said that peace efforts were often blocked by partisan interests and that the Church could "help reasonable positions bloom," and that it wanted to engage Jews and Muslims in a dialogue for peace.
"A trilateral dialogue must move forward. It is very important for peace and also to allow each person to live his or her faith well," he said.
The pope arrived in Jordan on Friday, where he began his first Middle East visit as a self-proclaimed pilgrim of peace. However, he could face criticism from Muslims still upset over past comments he made about the Prophet Mohammed.
Some 4,500 Catholic pilgrims arrived in Israel from Europe on Saturday, on charter flights by Arkia and Sun D'Or, a subsidiary of El Al, which is prohibited from flying on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. The flights were in cooperation with the Genesis travel agency.
According to Sun d'Or CEO Bezalel Karvat, the flights bringing the pilgrims for the papal visit came from Spain, Italy, Croatia and Poland. Among them were three Boing 747-400s carrying 405 passengers each from Madrid on Saturday, and another 215 passengers on a Boeing 757, also from Madrid. A flight from Barcelona brought in another 210 pilgrims. Arkia flew in about 800 pilgrims from Italy, who also will follow the pope through the country this week.
The pope will visit 23 sites this week, including sites sacred to Christianity in the north and in Jerusalem.
Earlier this year, the pope sparked outrage among many Jews when he revoked the excommunication of an ultraconservative bishop who denies the Holocaust. Benedict had lifted his excommunication along with three other ultraconservative prelates in a bid to end a church schism. But amid the uproar, the church has not allowed the bishop to resume his duties.
The pope's forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism and acknowledgment of Vatican mistakes have softened Jewish anger over the bishop. But another sore point has been World War II Pope Pius XII, whom Benedict has called a great churchman. Jews and others say he failed to do all he could to stop the extermination of European Jews.