Pope Benedict 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
El Al will be flying Pope Benedict XVI and his entourage from the Holy Land back to Rome on May 15, when his historic visit to Jordan, the Palestinian-controlled areas and Israel ends.
The special flight from Ben-Gurion Airport to Rome will be on a Boeing 777 that will bear the Vatican logo.
Benedict plans to visit the region from May 8-15, stopping first in Jordan. He will arrive in Israel on May 11.
The pontiff's trip will include visits to the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, as well as Jesus's birthplace in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and the site on the Jordan River where, according to tradition, Jesus was baptized. He will conduct a mass in the Galilee and spend his last day here praying at various holy sites in Jerusalem.
The pope is expected to be accompanied by an entourage of 30 clergy and 70 journalists.
"Israel's national carrier El Al is proud to be chosen to serve the pope and his entourage on his historic visit to Israel and to offer the delegation a special flight back home," Haim Romano, El Al's director-general, said on Sunday.
"We are preparing to offer all the services needed for the pilgrimage tourism that is expected to follow the pope's visit," Romano added.
El Al, its subsidiary Sun D'or, and the Tourism Ministry are looking to use the pope's visit to attract Catholic pilgrims from around the world, particularly from South America. El Al is launching direct flights to and from Brazil in May.
Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador to the Holy See, H.E. Mordechay Lewy, issued a statement clarifying that during the pope's next visit to the Western Wall, "the same procedure that was applied in the papal visit of the year 2000 will be valid."
"The Israeli host will respect, as a matter of course, the religious symbols of the Holy Father and of his entourage, as expected in accordance with rules of hospitality and dignity," he said. "This was confirmed to a high official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Jerusalem personally by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who is responsible for worship matters at the Western Wall."
The statement said the clarification was deemed necessary after The Jerusalem Post published "a misleading quotation [by] the rabbi" that it was not proper to come to the site wearing a cross.
"My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross," Rabinovitch told the Post last Monday. "I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church."