(photo credit: AP)
Preaching peace and reconciliation, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Temple Mount and the Western Wall on Tuesday, taking off his shoes at the Dome of the Rock and slipping a note into the Wall as he pressed ahead with his tour of Jerusalem's holiest sites.
Returning to the religious roots of his pilgrimage, the white-robed pontiff began his second day in Israel with a visit to the Temple Mount.
The heavily-guarded hour-long visit, hosted by Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, and the subsequent stop at the Western Wall, offered a peaceful respite from the previous evening's controversy at Yad Vashem, where the pope delivered a speech that was ill received by many Jewish figures.
"Here the paths of the world's three great monotheistic religions meet, reminding us what they share in common," Benedict told Muslim religious leaders on the Temple Mount, according to a transcript released by the Vatican.
"In a world sadly torn by division, this sacred place serves as a stimulus, and also challenges men and women of goodwill to work to overcome misunderstandings and conflicts of the past, and set out in the path of a sincere dialogue aimed at building a world of justice and peace for the coming generations," he said.
Although the pope preached coexistence, politics inevitably reentered the fray when the grand mufti gave him a letter insisting that peace in the region "can only be achieved with the end of occupation and with our Palestinian people regaining their freedom."
On his first stop of the day, the pope was driven right up to the Dome of the Rock and, in keeping with Muslim tradition, removed his red shoes before entering the shrine, exiting minutes later in his socks.
Benedict is the first pope to visit the Temple Mount.
After his meeting with Hussein, who was appointed to the position by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in July 2006, and with the Islamic trust officials who administer the site, Benedict was driven down to the Western Wall.
He stood in silence and then placed a written prayer in a crevice in the Wall.
"God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, hear the cry of the afflicted, the fearful, the bereft; send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family; stir the hearts of all who call upon your name, to walk humbly in the path of justice and compassion," a passage from the prayer put out by the Vatican press office read.
Then it was off to his meeting with Israel's two chief rabbis at Heichel Shlomo on King George Street.