Pope visits Jerusalem’s Old City

Pope Benedict XVI meets with religious leaders at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel.
Pope Benedict XVI will complete his eight-day tour of the Holy Land on Friday with a busy morning in Jerusalem’s Old City, including meeting the patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches.

In between sessions with the patriarchs, Benedict will tour and pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, believed to be located on the site where Jesus was crucified and buried. He revisits the Old City after a similar outing on Tuesday that had him touring the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine, and praying at the Western Wall. Also known as the Wailing Wall, it was once part of Judaism’s Second Temple, which was destroyed. The pope’s trip to the Middle East will end with a farewell ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv at 1:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m. ET), which will include speeches by Israeli President Shimon Peres and the pontiff. On his Middle East visit, the pope has navigated the region’s treacherous political landscape, which often pits Jews against Muslims; and Muslims against Christians. Benedict has repeatedly called for reconciliation between the peoples of the region during his visit, urging Israelis and Palestinian to put aside their grievances and divisions.

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“Just and peaceful coexistence among the peoples of the Middle East can only be achieved through a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, in which the rights and dignity of all are acknowledged and upheld,” the pope said. In the speech attended by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Benedict assured Palestinians of the Vatican’s support of a sovereign Palestinian homeland. Celebrating Mass on Thursday, Benedict covered similar territory in a message to about 20,000 parishioners gathered at the Mount of the Transfiguration, outside Nazareth. Watch the reaction of one visitor who attended Mass »

“Christians readily join Jews, Muslims, Druze and people of other religions in wishing to safeguard children from fanaticism and violence, while preparing them to be builders of a better world,” he said. Benedict’s trip marks the first papal visit to some of Christianity’s most holy places since Pope John Paul II made the pilgrimage in 2000.