Pope's Visit to Israel Full of Pomp, Caution

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JERUSALEM - After a weekend tour and mass in Jordan, Pope Benedict XVI has begun his five-day visit to Israel.

The papal visit began with a red carpet welcome at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport.

"I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places and to pray especially for peace -- peace in the Holy Land and peace throughout the world," Pope Benedict XVI said.

Over the weekend, thousands of European pilgrims landed in Israel as well, ready to accompany the pope when he visits Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, among other places.

"We are very happy that he is here and we hope to see him," said German pilgram Hans Eisermann.

The mood in Israel toward Pope Benedict might best be described as polite, but cautious. The Vatican has called the visit a spiritual pilgrimage, but at every stop in the Holy Land there is potential for both political and religious difficulties.

Benedict was barely off the plane before he called for a Palestinian state, something that Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not eager to hear.

But perhaps the most sensitive event is a stop at Israel's Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. The museum posts a display charging that during World War II, the Vatican, under Pope Pius XII, did not speak out clearly against the Nazis' roundup and murder of six million Jews. Pope Benedict now supports sainthood for Pius.

Others plan to protest the Pontiff's visit because of his restoration of a Catholic bishop who denies the Holocaust happened.

But New York rabbi Arthur Shneier, a Holocaust survivor, believes the pope's trip to Yad Vashem is significant.

"If anyone knows the history, Pope Benedict does know the history of the trials and tribulations and the suffering of the Jewish people, and the greatest tragedy that befell us - the loss of six million," Shneier said.

Israel doesn't want surprises for this visit, and will field thousands of security people, more than triple the number of pilgrims.

But with all the events the pope will take part in here, his call for a Palestinian state may upstage all the others and put even more diplomatic pressure on Israel at a critical time.

 

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