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Every Sunday - 9am Divine Liturgy in English (fully or mostly) at the Holy Family Cathedral

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Monday, 11 May 2009

Pope Benedict arrives in the Holy Land

The Vatican Information Service reports, 11 May 2009:

At 11 a.m. local time today, Benedict XVI arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, where he was greeted by Shimon Peres, president of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister, the country's civil and political authorities, and the ordinaries of the Holy Land.

In his address, the Pope expressed his thanks for the welcome to the State of Israel, "a land", he said, "which is held holy by millions of believers around the world, ... a land that is hallowed by the footsteps of patriarchs and prophets, a land that Christians hold in particular veneration as the setting for the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. ... I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace - peace here in the Holy Land, and peace throughout the world".

He also noted how the Holy See and the State of Israel "have many shared values, above all a commitment to give religion its rightful place in the life of society. The just ordering of social relationships presupposes and requires a respect for the freedom and dignity of every human being, whom Christians, Muslims and Jews alike believe to be created by a loving God and destined for eternal life. When the religious dimension of the human person is denied or marginalized, the very foundation for a proper understanding of inalienable human rights is placed in jeopardy.

"Tragically, the Jewish people have experienced the terrible consequences of ideologies that deny the fundamental dignity of every human person", he added. "It is right and fitting that, during my stay in Israel, I will have the opportunity to honour the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah, and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude. Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable. Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found, and to promote respect and esteem for the members of every people, tribe, language and nation across the globe.

"During my stay in Jerusalem, I will have the pleasure of meeting many of this country's distinguished religious leaders. One thing that the three great monotheistic religions have in common is a special veneration for that holy city. It is my earnest hope that all pilgrims to the holy places will be able to access them freely and without restraint, to take part in religious ceremonies and to promote the worthy upkeep of places of worship on sacred sites".

The Holy Father continued: "Even though the name Jerusalem means 'city of peace', it is all too evident that, for decades, peace has tragically eluded the inhabitants of this holy land. The eyes of the world are upon the peoples of this region as they struggle to achieve a just and lasting solution to conflicts that have caused so much suffering. The hopes of countless men, women and children for a more secure and stable future depend on the outcome of negotiations for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"In union with people of good will everywhere, I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognised borders. In this regard, I hope and pray that a climate of greater trust can soon be created that will enable the parties to make real progress along the road to peace and stability".

The Holy Father completed his remarks by addressing Catholics, recalling how he will be joining them in Nazareth for the concluding celebrations of the Year of the Family. "The family", he said, "is the 'first and indispensable teacher of peace', and hence it has a vital role to play in healing divisions in human society at every level.

"To the Christian communities in the Holy Land, I say: by your faithful witness to Him Who preached forgiveness and reconciliation, by your commitment to uphold the sacredness of every human life, you can make a particular contribution to ending the hostilities that for so long have afflicted this land. I pray that your continuing presence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories will bear much fruit in promoting peace and mutual respect among all the peoples who live in the lands of the Bible".

At the end of the ceremony the Pope travelled by helicopter to the heliport of Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, where he was greeted by Nir Barkat, mayor of the city. From there he was taken by car to the apostolic delegation in Jerusalem where he had lunch.

At 5.45 p.m, Benedict XVI arrived at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem. Yad Vashem - which literally means "a monument and a name" - was officially founded by the State of Israel in 1953 to commemorate the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust Memorial is composed of two museums, exhibition halls, outdoor monuments, and documentation and information centres. The name of the complex comes from a passage in the Book of Isaiah: "I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name. ... I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off".

Other memorial sites within the complex include the Children's Memorial, a tribute to the approximately one and a half million children who died in the Holocaust; The Valley of the Communities, a monument dug in bedrock which commemorates the over 5,000 Jewish communities which were destroyed, and the Avenue and Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, which honours the non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

The Pope was welcomed on arrival by the president and the director of the centre. He then walked around the perimeter of the memorial until reaching the entrance of honour to the Hall of Remembrance, where he was greeted by the president of the State of Israel, and by the rabbi chairman of Yad Vashem.

The Hall of Remembrance is a tent-like structure on the floor of which are the names of the six death camps and some of the concentration camps. There is also a memorial flame in front of which there is a crypt containing the ashes of some of the victims.

Benedict XVI stoked the flame and laid a floral wreath. Then, having met and conversed with six Holocaust survivors, he pronounced his address:

"I have come", he said, "to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honour the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah. They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names: these are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again. Most of all, their names are forever fixed in the memory of Almighty God.

"One can rob a neighbour of possessions, opportunity or freedom", he added. "One can weave an insidious web of lies to convince others that certain groups are undeserving of respect. Yet, try as one might, one can never take away the name of a fellow human being".

"The names enshrined in this hallowed monument will forever hold a sacred place among the countless descendants of Abraham. Like his, their faith was tested. Like Jacob, they were immersed in the struggle to discern the designs of the Almighty. May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten! And may all people of goodwill remain vigilant in rooting out from the heart of man anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!

"The Catholic Church, committed to the teachings of Jesus and intent on imitating His love for all people", said the Pope, "feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here. Similarly, she draws close to all those who today are subjected to persecution on account of race, colour, condition of life or religion - their sufferings are hers, and hers is their hope for justice. As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I reaffirm - like my predecessors - that the Church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of peace".

"Gazing upon the faces reflected in the pool that lies in stillness within this memorial, one cannot help but recall how each of them bears a name. ... Who could have imagined that they would be condemned to such a deplorable fate! As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood. It is the cry of Abel rising from the earth to the Almighty".

Then, in order to "give voice to that cry", the Pope read some verses from the Book of Lamentations which begin: "The favours of the Lord are not exhausted, His mercies are not spent".

Having complete the reading, the Pope said: "I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope".

At the end of the ceremony, the Holy Father signed the Yad Vashem visitors book in which he wrote a verse from the Book of Lamentations: "His mercies are not spent". He then bade farewell to the authorities as a choir accompanied his departure, before travelling by car to the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute of Jerusalem.

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