Pontiff's Israel Trip Seen as "Courageous"

Vatican Spokesman Explains Context

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A Vatican spokesman has called Benedict XVI’s determination to travel to Jerusalem is «a courageous decision.»

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, analyzed the Pope’s decision to visit the Holy Land on the latest episode of the Vatican television program «Octava Dies.»

According to sources in Rome and Jerusalem, the Pontiff will travel to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories during the second week of May.

Benedict XVI personally announced Feb. 12 that he is preparing for this trip during an audience with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

«It is great news,» Father Lombardi said. «It is the desire of all Jews and Christians to go to Jerusalem. The ancient Israelites went up to the city singing, Jesus set out for Jerusalem decisively to fully accomplish the will of the Father.»

He explained that in visiting the Holy Land, pilgrims visit «the most holy places, the places of meeting between God and men which marked the history of our salvation.»

«The Pope also has this desire,» said Father Lombardi. «Although he has already been there, he feels the importance of returning as the head of a community of believers, who can go on pilgrimage in spiritual union with him and through him to the places that are at the root of their faith.»

«It was not by chance that Paul VI began the series of international trips by Popes in the Holy Land and that John Paul II followed in his footsteps, offering unforgettable signs of reconciliation and hope for peace,» he said. «Now it is Benedict’s turn. His is a courageous decision.»

Father Lombardi explained that currently «there is the uncertain political situation, the numerous internal divisions among various camps. There are the continual tensions of region overrun with conflicts and most recently the scene of a war that devastated the Gaza Strip and profoundly wounded its people.

«The peace process is hard put to make decisive progress. Shadows or diffidence often return to obscure the well begun dialogue between the Jewish world and the Catholic Church.»

«But it is necessary to go all the same,» the spokesman added. «Indeed, perhaps for all these reasons it is urgent to go. To pray in the places most crucial in the confrontation between hate and love: There where reconciliation seems impossible from a human point of view.

«To remind [us] that the name and the vocation of Jerusalem is to be the ‘city of peace,’ of the meeting of peoples in the name of a God of salvation, peace and love for all.»

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