Pontiff Came as Friend of Israelis, Palestinians

President Peres Notes Papal Statement on Holocaust

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TEL AVIV, Israel, MAY 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- As Benedict XVI bid farewell to the Holy Land, he affirmed his friendship with the Israelis and Palestinians, calling for a cessation of all bloodshed and fighting.



The Pope said this today at the farewell address that concluded his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, before boarding a plane at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion international airport to return to Rome.

He recalled the olive tree that he planted at the residence of Israeli President Shimon Peres, an image used by St. Paul to signify "the very close relations between Christians and Jews."

The Pontiff continued: "We are nourished from the same spiritual roots. We meet as brothers, brothers who at times in our history have had a tense relationship, but now are firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship."

He affirmed, "I came to visit this country as a friend of the Israelis just as I am a friend of the Palestinian people," and friends "find it deeply distressing to see one another suffer."

The Pontiff issued an appeal: "No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war!"

He continued: "Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders.

"Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely.

"Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream."

The Pope's concluding word, "Shalom!" was echoed by the president, who gave the same farewell to the Holy Father.

New relations

President Peres, a Nobel Peace Prizewinner, described Benedict XVI's pilgrimage as an example of "spiritual values" that made a "significant contribution to the new relations between the Vatican and Jerusalem."

He called the visit a "profound demonstration of the enduring dialogue" between Jewish people and Christian believers.

The president affirmed that the Papal statements of the past week "carried a substantive weight."

He noted in particular the Holy Father's declarations "that the Holocaust, the Shoah, must not be forgotten nor denied" and that "anti-Semitism and discrimination, in any form, and in any place, must be fought intensively."

Peres added, "It touched our hearts and minds."

He spoke about the "profound challenge" faced by political and spiritual leaders of today: "how to divorce religion from terror" and "how to prevent terrorists from hijacking the religious conscience by cloaking an act of terrorism in the false guise of a religious mission."

"I believe that your great spiritual leadership can influence a spirit of godliness in man, can help people to recognize that God is not in the hearts of terrorists," the president told the Pope.

He expressed the confidence that the visit is a "historic mission" stemming from the Pontiff's "great ability to inspire others."

"We are deeply appreciative of your visit," Peres added, "knowing and valuing your efforts to build bridges of mutual respect between people and nations."

He concluded, "You came in peace you go in peace, and to you we say Shalom."

The Pope affirmed, "And let peace spread outwards from these lands, let them serve as a light to the nations, bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict."

The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was also at the farewell ceremony, an unusual gesture of esteem that stepped outside ordinary protocol.

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Full text: http://zenit.org/article-25917?l=english