On the Pope's Trip to the Holy Land

"I Presented Myself as a Pilgrim of Faith"

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 20, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.



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Dear brothers and sisters,

I pause today to speak about the apostolic journey that I made May 8-15 to the Holy Land, for which I do not cease to give thanks to the Lord, because it has shown itself to be a great gift for the Successor of Peter and for the whole Church. I wish to again express my heartfelt gratitude to His Beatitude, Patriarch Fouad Twal, to the bishops of the various rites, the priests and the Franciscans of the Holy Land Custody. I thank the king and queen of Jordan, the president of Israel and the president of the Palestinian National Authority, with their respective governments, all the authorities, and those who have collaborated in various ways in the preparation and success of the visit. It was, above all, a pilgrimage, even more, a pilgrimage par excellence to the fount of the faith. At the same time, it was a pastoral visit to the Church that lives in the Holy Land: a community of singular importance, since it represents a living presence there, where [the Church] finds its origin.

The first stage, from May 8 to 11, was Jordan, in whose territory there are two principal holy sites: Mount Nebo, from where Moses contemplated the Promised Land and died without being able to enter, and then Bethany "beyond the Jordan," where, according to the Fourth Gospel, St. John baptized at the beginning. The memorial to Moses on Mount Nebo is a place of strong symbolic significance: It speaks of our condition as pilgrims between the "already" and the "not yet," between a promise so great and beautiful that it supports us along the way and a fulfillment that goes beyond us and beyond this world. The Church lives in herself this "eschatological character" and state as "pilgrim": She is already united to Christ, her spouse, but has only begun to savor the wedding party, in expectation of his glorious return at the end of time (cf. "Lumen Gentium," 48-50).

In Bethany, I had the joy of blessing cornerstones for two churches that will be built in the place where St. John baptized. This fact is a sign of the openness and the respect of the Hashemite Kingdom for religious liberty and the Christian tradition, and this merits great appreciation. I have been able to manifest this just recognition, united to a profound respect for the Muslim community, to the religious leaders, the diplomatic corps and the rectors of universities, gathered in the Al-Hussein bin-Talal mosque, built by King Abdullah II in memory of his father, the famous King Hussein, who welcomed Pope Paul VI in his historic pilgrimage of 1964. How important it is that Christians and Muslims coexist peacefully with mutual respect! Thanks be to God and the commitment of the government, this happens in Jordan. I have prayed a lot so that it could be this way as well in other places, thinking above all of the Christians who live a difficult situation in Iraq.

An important Christian community lives in Jordan, one that has grown with Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. Theirs is a significant and valued presence in society because of their educational and social works, attentive to the person, regardless of their ethnic or religious belonging. A beautiful example is the Regina Pacis rehabilitation center in Amman, which welcomes numerous people marked by disabilities. In visiting them, I have been able to take them a word of hope, but I have also received the same, in a testimony strengthened by the human person's suffering and the capacity to share.

As a sign of the Church's commitment in the realm of culture, I also blessed the cornerstone of the University of Madaba, of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. I experienced a great joy with the beginning of this new scientific and cultural institution, because it manifests in a tangible way that the Church promotes the search for truth and the common good and offers a high-quality, open space to those who want to dedicate themselves to this search, the indispensable premise for a true and fruitful dialogue between civilizations.

Also in Amman, two solemn liturgical celebrations were celebrated: Vespers in the Greek-Melkite Cathedral of St. George and holy Mass in the International Stadium, which permitted us to savor together the beauty of coming together as the pilgrim People of God, enriched by its different traditions and united in the one faith.

After leaving Jordan, at the end of the morning on Monday the 11th, I arrived in Israel, where from the beginning I presented myself as a pilgrim of faith, in the Land in which Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again, and at the same time, as a pilgrim of peace to implore from God that in the place where he became man, all men would live as his children, that is, as brothers.

This second aspect of my trip came out clearly in the meetings with civil authorities: in the visit to the Israeli president and the president of the Palestinian Authority. In this Land blessed by God, sometimes it seems impossible to get out of the spiral of violence. But, nothing is impossible for God and for those who trust in him! Because of this, faith in the one God, just and merciful, which is the most precious resource of these peoples, should pour forth its treasure of respect, reconciliation and collaboration. I wanted to express this wish in visiting the grand mufti and the leaders of the Islamic community in Jerusalem, as well as the grand rabbinate of Israel, and in the meeting with the organizations committed to interreligious dialogue and moreover, in the meeting with the religious leaders of Galilee.

Jerusalem is the crossroads for the three great monotheistic religions, and its very name -- "city of peace" -- expresses the design of God for humanity: to make of it a great family. This design, announced to Abraham, was entirely fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who St. Paul calls "our peace," since he broke down the wall of enmity with the strength of his Sacrifice (cf. Ephesians 2:14). All believers, therefore, should leave behind prejudices and a will to dominate and practice in harmony the fundamental commandment: to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

It is to this that Jews, Christians and Muslims are called to give witness, to honor with deeds the God to whom they pray with their lips. And this is exactly what I carried in my heart, in my prayer, in visiting Jerusalem, the Western Wall -- or Wailing Wall -- and the Dome of the Rock, symbolic places for Judaism and Islam, respectively. A moment of intense recollection was, as well, the visit to the Yad Vashem Memorial, constructed in Jerusalem in honor of the victims of the Shoah. There we paused in silence, praying and meditating on the mystery of a "name": Every person is sacred and his name is etched in the heart of the Eternal God. The tremendous tragedy of the Shoah must never be forgotten! It is necessary for it to always be in our memory as a universal admonition to the sacred respect for human life that always has an infinite value.

As I already mentioned, my trip had the priority objective of visiting the Catholic communities of the Holy Land, and this took place in various moments in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem and in Nazareth. In the Cenacle, with our thoughts on Christ who washed the apostles' feet and instituted the Eucharist, as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church on the day of Pentecost, I could meet with, among others, the custodians of the Holy Land, and meditate on our vocation to be one unit, to form one body and one spirit, to transform the world with the meek power of love. It is true that this call is experiencing particular difficulties in the Holy Land, and therefore, with the heart of Christ, I repeated to my brother bishops his very words: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). Later I briefly greeted the men and women religious of the contemplative life, thanking them for the service that, with their prayer, they offer to the Church and the cause of peace.

Above all, the Eucharistic celebrations were culminating moments of communion with the Catholic faithful. In the Valley of Josaphat, in Jerusalem, we meditated on the resurrection of Christ as a force of hope and peace for this city and for the entire world. In Bethlehem, in the Palestinian Territories, Mass was celebrated before the Basilica of the Nativity, with the participation of faithful from Gaza, who I had the joy of personally consoling, assuring them of my particular closeness. Bethlehem, the place where the heavenly hymn of peace for man resounded, is the symbol of the distance that continues separating us from the fulfillment of that proclamation: insecurity, isolation, uncertainty, poverty. All of that has led so many Christians to leave there.

But the Church carries on, sustained by the force of the faith and giving witness to her love with concrete works at the service of the brothers, such as the Caritas Baby Hospital of Bethlehem, supported by dioceses of Germany and Switzerland, and the humanitarian activity in the refugee camps. In the one I visited, I was able to assure the families that dwell there of the closeness and encouragement of the universal Church, inviting all to seek peace with nonviolent means, following the example of St. Francis of Assisi.

The third and final Mass with the people, I celebrated last Thursday in Nazareth, the city of the Holy Family. We prayed for all families so that they rediscover the beauty of matrimony and family life, the value of domestic spirituality and education, and attention to children, who have the right to grow in peace and serenity. As well, we sang our faith in the creative and transforming power of God. Where the Word incarnated himself in the womb of the Virgin Mary, arises an undying spring of hope and joy, that does not cease to encourage the heart of the Church, pilgrim in history.

My pilgrimage came to a close last Friday with the visit to the Holy Sepulcher and with two important ecumenical encounters in Jerusalem: with the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate, where all the ecclesial representations of the Holy Land gathered together, and finally in the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchal Church.

It is a pleasure to go over the whole itinerary that I was able to fulfill precisely with the sign of the resurrection of Christ: Despite the vicissitudes that through the centuries have marked the holy sites, despite the wars, the destruction and unfortunately, the conflicts among Christians, the Church has continued her mission, moved by the Spirit of the Risen Lord.

She is on the path toward full unity so that the world believes in the love of God and experiences the joy of his peace. On my knees, on Calvary and at the Holy Sepulcher, I invoked the strength of love that arises from the Paschal mystery, the only force capable of renewing man and orienting history and the cosmos toward its end. I ask you also to pray for this objective, as we prepare to live the Feast of the Ascension, which in the Vatican we will celebrate tomorrow. Thank you for your attention.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

My recent Apostolic Journey to the Holy Land was a pilgrimage to the sources of our faith and a pastoral visit to the Christian communities in the lands of our Lord’s birth, death and resurrection. I am grateful to the civil authorities, the Latin Patriarch and the Bishops of the local Churches, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land and all those who contributed to the Journey. Throughout my visit I wished to be a pilgrim of peace, reminding Jews, Christians and Muslims alike of our commitment, as believers in the one God, to promote respect, reconciliation and cooperation in the service of peace. In Jerusalem, "the city of peace" sacred to the followers of the three great monotheistic traditions, this was the message I brought to the holy places, and particularly to the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. One of the most solemn moments was the commemoration of the victims of the Shoah at Yad Vashem. My visit to the local Churches culminated in the Masses celebrated in Amman, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. My pilgrimage ended in prayer on Calvary and before the Holy Sepulchre, the empty tomb, which continues to radiate a message of hope for individuals and for the whole human family. With gratitude for the many blessings of this pilgrimage, I ask you to join me in praying for the needs of the Church in the Near East and the gift of peace for the entire region.

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present today, including the College groups from America. May your visit to Rome be a time of deep spiritual renewal. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of joy and peace.

[At the end of the audience, the Pontiff made another announcement in English:]

This coming Sunday, the Church celebrates World Communications Day. In my message this year, I am inviting all those who make use of the new technologies of communication, especially the young, to utilize them in a positive way and to realize the great potential of these means to build up bonds of friendship and solidarity that can contribute to a better world.

The new technologies have brought about fundamental shifts in the ways in which news and information are disseminated and in how people communicate and relate to each other. I wish to encourage all those who access cyberspace to be careful to maintain and promote a culture of respect, dialogue and authentic friendship where the values of truth, harmony and understanding can flourish.

Young people in particular, I appeal to you: bear witness to your faith through the digital world! Employ these new technologies to make the Gospel known, so that the Good News of God’s infinite love for all people, will resound in new ways across our increasingly technological world!

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