Pope's Holy Land Visit: A Bridge to Peace?

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- He is calling it a pilgrimage of peace. Next week, Pope Benedict XVI is making his first papal visit to Israel and the Middle East.

In Israel's 61-year history as a nation, John Paul II was the only pope to officially visit Israel. On Monday, nine years after John Paul, Benedict will become the second pontiff to make such a trip.

Pope To Meet With Political and Religious Leaders

While he is in Israel, the pope will meet with both political and religious leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Muslim Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the heads of the Greek and Latin Orthodox churches.

He will hold masses in Jerusalem and Nazareth, and at the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem.

For Christians living in Israel and the West Bank, the papal tour means comfort in a time of war threats and economic hardship.

"This visit, which will be presented as a pastoral visit, meaning that he comes first of all to encourage the living stones, Christians, to strengthen their presence in the Holy Land," Pierbattista Pizzabella, Catholic Custodian of the Holy Land told CBN News. "Not to be afraid of the future, not to complain."
In Jerusalem's old city, Franciscan Fergus Clarke is excited that the pope will extol the Gospel's good news from the place where the good news was first preached.

"(He's) coming to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a place of prayer," he explained.  "(He's)coming like a pilgrim who is coming to discover again. Not that he has ever lost it, (he's) coming to discover again what it is like to have the risen Jesus present in his own life and how to proclaim the gospel in you to many peoples all over the world."

Will Visit Israel's Holocaust Museum

Pope Benedict also plans to spend time at Israel's holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. The stop has extra importance after one Catholic bishop's denial of the Holocaust produced a strain in relations between the Vatican and Jewish leaders.

"We see his visit as another instrument for the bridge of peace, " said Israel's tourist ministry spokesperson Raphael Ben Hur.

He's hoping that the pope's presence here will encourage others to come and see Israel for themselves.

"We're going to use this visit as such that will change or put the right image about Israel," Ben Hur said.

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CBN News
Chris Mitchell

Chris Mitchell

CBN News Middle East Bureau Chief

In a time where the world's attention is riveted on events in the Middle East, CBN viewers have come to appreciate Chris Mitchell's timely reports from this explosive region of the world. Mitchell brings a Biblical and prophetic perspective to these daily news events that shape our world.