Pope's visit to focus on peace, ecumenical dialogue

Benedict will perform masses in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem curing next month's trip.

Pope Benedict 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Pope Benedict 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Pope Benedict XVI will visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan next month not only as a pilgrim to the Holy Land but also to promote interfaith relations and to discuss the possibilities for "promoting peace" with local political leaders, a media coordinator for his visit said on Tuesday. The pope would deliver "a very clear message" to the leaders and their people about the importance of trying different methods to achieve peace, Wadie Abunassar told journalists during a briefing at the Latin Patriarchate. The pope is scheduled to meet with King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan in Amman on May 8, President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on May 11, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on May 13, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Nazareth on May 14. "It is very complicated in our part of the world," Abunassar said. "There is a new government in Israel. It's not clear what will be the fate of the Palestinian internal [Fatah-Hamas] dialogue. It is not clear what will be the fate of the region. Now we have the Iranian issue. Iraq is not settled. Soon we will have elections in Lebanon. God knows how things will develop." Abunassar added that the pope, the local church and local Christians believe that nonviolence is the only solution. "Violence brings more violence. We think that this will be the main message," he said Abunassar, stressing that he was only a spokesman for the pope's visit. "There is no need for further killing to have peace in this region and we do believe that peace is possible." Benedict will perform masses in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem, where his speeches and homilies are expected to carry this message, Abunassar said. In addition, the pope will meet with spiritual leaders from various religions, including Chief Rabbis of Israel Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger, and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, to promote interfaith dialogue. The pope will also meet in Jerusalem with a number of representatives from organizations that promote interfaith dialogue, where he is expected to deliver a message "not only of encouragement, but a real push to hold more activities to strengthen their presence in society," Abunassar said. He is also scheduled to speak with religious leaders in Nazareth, a meeting that is likely to be followed up by councils for interreligious dialogue in Rome. In addition, the pope will visit the Armenian and Greek Orthodox patriarchates. At the latter, he will meet with heads of various churches to promote ecumenical dialogue. Abunassar estimated that there are roughly 170,000 Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories. About 200 Gazans are expected to be allowed to join the mass in Bethlehem and to meet the pope, although the church officials are still waiting for official approval from Israel, he said. Israel has extended some 10,000 Easter permits for West Bank Christians so they can also participate in some of the pope's activities in Israel, he said. The pope was bringing a message of hope to Christians in the Holy Land and a reaffirmation of ties between the Holy See and local Christians, whose numbers have been dwindling. Contrary to a previous media reports, the pope is only scheduled to visit the Dome of the Rock, not the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque, Abunassar said.