'We want only peace, peace'

Thousands of Christians flock to Nazareth to hear pope's message of reconciliation.

Pope Benedict XVI waves 248 88  (photo credit: )
Pope Benedict XVI waves 248 88
(photo credit: )
Michal Frenzel of Modi'in, "Laila" from Lebanon and Arab-Israeli Wasim Khoury were among the tens of thousands of worshipers on Mount Precipice in Nazareth on Thursday who had personal reasons for wanting to see Pope Benedict XVI's message of peaceful coexistence and reconciliation fulfilled. Like many other Israelis, Frenzel has experienced the effects of war firsthand: Her hometown of Kiryat Shmona was constantly bombarded by Katyusha rockets from Southern Lebanon over many years, and her home even sustained a direct hit. Her father and sister were both inside at the time, but fortunately nobody was hurt. "I think that all Christians, and also Jews and Muslims, need really to pray together and get to the right spirit, a spirit of giving, compromise to come to an agreement and to share this place," she said while waiting for the pope's mass to begin on Thursday. "It always starts with our hearts, you know. It doesn't start somewhere else. This is where we prepare our hearts." In addition, Frenzel, who was born Jewish but found Catholicism after studying in the United States, is a member of Hebrew Speaking Catholics of Israel. She celebrates both Jewish and Catholic holidays, something she says is not always understood in Israel or something she can talk about in all circles. In a message delivered to some 50,000 worshipers, the pope spoke Thursday of building bridges between Christians and Muslims in Israel to find the way to peaceful coexistence. "Nazareth has experienced tensions in recent years that have harmed relations between its Christian and Muslim communities," he said. "I urge people of good will in both communities to repair the damage that has been done, and in fidelity to our common belief in one God, the father of the human family, to work to build bridges and find the way to a peaceful coexistence. Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men's souls before it kills their bodies." The pope also met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Nazareth on Thursday, a day after the pope said that the Holy See supported the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state. According to Prime Minister's Office spokesman Mark Regev, Netanyahu discussed "the importance of speaking out as a moral leader of humanity against anti-Semitism, against Holocaust denial and against hatred." In addition, Netanyahu raised the issue of Iran and its leadership, which has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, Regev said. For Khoury, a 24-year-old Catholic from a village in the northern Galilee, the pope's presence was a boost and an encouragement to Christians, who are a minority in the region. Perhaps, Khoury said, his presence and his words would offer encouragement to prevent the dwindling Christian communities from leaving the Holy Land. Khoury said he also hoped the pope, as well as the United States and Western countries, would do more to help protect Christians from attacks by other religious groups inside Israel. In his native village, for instance, tensions have run high since Druse residents attacked Christian homes and property following an unsubstantiated rumor in 2005. "We are steadfast," he said as he held a large yellow and white Vatican flag. "I am not afraid, personally. The real Christianity would not leave this country." Before the pope spoke, the archbishop of Galilee for the Greek Melkite Church, Elias Chacour, welcomed the pope with a plea for his prayers and "moral and spiritual support" to stem the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land. He said the flight of Christians "fills me with pain" and that the future was not encouraging. A Catholic woman who identified herself as "Laila" was among a contingent of about 200 Lebanese Christians - all citizens of Israel and waving Lebanese flags - who attended the pope's mass. Laila and her husband, a former officer in the South Lebanese Army, were brought to Israel with their children after the IDF's 2000 withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. But because Lebanon and Israel have been at war, she hasn't seen her mother and other relatives in nearly 10 years. Strict rules about communication between the two countries make it difficult even to be in contact with one another. "We already have Israeli citizenship, but despite all of it, we are Lebanese," she said. "We wish for peace so we can return, and we will take [Israelis] with us to travel there. We wish that Christians, Muslims and Jews would live together in peace, that there would be no soldiers here, no soldiers there. No injured, no deaths. We want only peace, peace, peace." AP contributed to this report.