Pontiff Hopes Marathon Can Aid Peace

Race Unites Palestinians and Israelis

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 2, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI hopes that the marathon-pilgrimage from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, which included Palestinians, Israelis and people from five other nations, would serve to promote peace in the Holy Land.

The April 23-28 marathon-pilgrimage, which was open to everyone, was 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) long and started at the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and ended at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

At the starting line, Archbishop Josef Clemens, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, read a message from the Pope addressed to those present for the event.

The message was signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and translated into Hebrew.

It said: "His Holiness, while expressing his sincere wish that this event might favor dialogue among different cultures and religions, unites himself to the pilgrims and participants present and assures them that he will remember them in his prayers to the Lord so that the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world might know a time of real and stable peace."

Some 180 runners participated; the oldest was 60 and the youngest was 5.

Blessed flame

The runners were preceded by the "flame of peace" which had been blessed by Benedict XVI.

In the first part of the race, 50 Palestinians ran together. After arriving at a checkpoint, 50 Israeli runners joined the group.

Before the marathon began, Monsignor Liberio Andreatta, the delegate administrator of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, issued a call for peace "so that hearts of pilgrims and the legs of these athletes may go where diplomacy has not been able to."

The initiative was organized, for the fourth consecutive year, in part by the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, the Vatican institution whose mission is to evangelize through pastoral tourism and the ministry of pilgrimage.