Dates Confirmed for Pope's Israel Trip

To Visit Holy Land May 8-11

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JERUSALEM, FEB. 17, 2009 ( A spokesman for the Church in Jordan says Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel will take place May 8-11.

Father Rifaat Bader made this announcement today, following Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s confirmation Sunday of the papal trip.

Jordan will be the first site on the Pope’s pilgrimage, with a stop at Mount Nebo where Moses saw the Promised Land, and at the place where tradition says Jesus was baptized by John. He is also expected to meet with Islamic leaders in the mosque of Prince Hussein.

Regarding the Israel leg of the trip, details have still not been released. However, Olmert affirmed that President Shimon Peres would accompany the Pontiff to various sites.

The apostolic nuncio in Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco, told the Italian SIR agency that the trip «should be understood in a pastoral key: The Pope is coming to visit the Catholic community of Jordan and the Holy Land, and therefore, both in Israel and in the Palestinian territories.»

He said there will be three meetings with Catholic communities — in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and in Galilee. A stop in Gaza is not expected, though the Catholic community of that region will be present in the papal events, the nuncio said.

The Bishop of Rome is also planning to meet with Islamic and Jewish leaders, as well as political leaders of the area.

Archbishop Franco did not confirm if the Pope will visit the Wailing Wall, as Pope John Paul II did in 2000.

The nuncio also mentioned recent turmoil in Jewish-Catholic relations, caused by a Society of St. Pius X bishop who denies the Holocaust.

The archbishop said that «reactions are always a little emotional,» but that the Holy Father «has again unambiguously stated the position that is already part of the life and patrimony of the Church.»

«Regarding the continuity between John Paul II and Benedict XVI there was no doubt, nor [was there] before regarding the magisterium of the Church on these points and positions,» he said. «If someone had unclear signs due to interpretations given to other gestures of the Pope, now they have a categorical and clear affirmation.»

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