Pope Urges 'Reconciliation and Respect'

Jews and Christians need a "genuine and lasting reconciliation," Pope Benedict XVI said on the second day of his visit to Israel yesterday.

The day included a visit to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, a reception by chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger, and a mass at the Gethsemane Church in Jerusalem.

Following his meeting with the chief rabbis, Benedict spoke of his desire to "deepen mutual understanding and respect" between the Vatican, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the Jewish people worldwide, through "fraternal dialogues." He also stressed that the Church remains "irrevocably committed" to the Second Vatican Council's call in 1965 for a "genuine and lasting" Christian-Jewish reconciliation.

Metzger responded by thanking the pope for what he termed a "historic agreement" under which the Church will cease missionary work aimed at converting Jews. He and Amar also reiterated a request, first raised at an earlier meeting at the Vatican, that the Church allocate an annual day to denouncing anti-Semitism.

Some members of the Chief Rabbinical Council skipped the reception, which Amar said was "their right."

At Gethsemane, Benedict described the trials of Jerusalem's dwindling Christian community as a direct continuation of Jesus' sufferings and assured the thousands of believers present that he understood the "frustration, pain and suffering" the Israeli-Arab conflict has caused them. He also urged the relevant authorities to value and support the Christian presence in the city.

The crowd included pilgrims from around the world, and even a group of Sudanese refugees, as well as Israeli Arabs and West Bank Palestinians. Prayers were therefore conducted in several languages.

During his visit to the Temple Mount, where he became the first pope to enter the Dome of the Rock, Benedict met with the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein. Like every Palestinian official the pope has met, Hussein urged him to do whatever he could to end "the ongoing aggression against our people, our land and our holy sites." The mufti also said the visit constituted recognition by the Vatican that the Temple Mount is a Muslim site.

In his address, however, Benedict dodged this issue, merely stressing the need for interfaith dialogue as a means of achieving peace.

He then visited the Western Wall, where he delivered a brief address in Latin in which he described Jerusalem as a city holy to three faiths. He also inserted a note in the wall, which, according to a Vatican spokesman, similarly referred to "Jerusalem, City of Peace, spiritual home to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike" and asked God to "send Your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family."

Today, Benedict will go to Bethlehem, where he will visit a children's hospital and a refugee camp, meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and say mass at the Church of the Nativity.