Pope denounces Holocaust, ends Holy Land pilgrimage
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Pope Benedict forcefully denounced the Holocaust on Friday, telling Israelis that the brutal extermination of Jews by the "godless" Nazi regime would never be forgotten or denied.
His language appeared to lift Jewish disappointment over earlier remarks about the murder of six million Jews by his fellow Germans, which to Israelis had sounded cold and distant.
His words were welcomed by Holocaust memorial chairman Avner Shalev who said they "strengthen the pope's message to the world about the importance of remembering the events of the Holocaust" and who rated the visit a "very positive and significant event."
Ending a Holy Land pilgrimage which he said made "powerful impressions" of hope and sadness, the 82-year-old pontiff also appealed for peace between Israelis and Palestinians so each can live in their own state, as trustful neighbors in security.
"One of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands was the wall," he said of the high barrier that Israel erected between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the Palestinian town that Christians believe was the birthplace of Jesus.
"As I passed alongside it, I prayed for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation," the pope said on departure at the airport.
His visit had been awaited with hope in the Middle East, where peace-making efforts have stalled. In January, it was in doubt as relations with Israel plunged over Benedict's decision to readmit to the Church a bishop who had denied the extent of the Holocaust, one of a number of issues to anger Jews.
Israelis hoping for an apology had voiced disappointment at the speech the pope made at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.
His condemnation of Holocaust deniers seemed mechanical to many who expected more empathy from a man who was a teenage conscript in the Hitler Youth and World War Two German army.
But in Friday's address, taking leave of President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the pontiff used more powerful language, calling his meeting with Holocaust survivors "one of the most solemn moments" of the pilgrimage.
"(It) brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews -- mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends -- were brutally exterminated under a godless regime," he said.
Nazi anti-Semitism and hatred had written an "appalling chapter of history (that) must never be forgotten or denied."
A STATE FOR PALESTINIANS
Rabbi Yisrael Lau, a Holocaust survivor and former Israeli chief rabbi, saw in the remarks a key to wider reconciliation.
"These words are a bridge of friendship, of understanding, of peace and love between nations, religions and races," Lau told Reuters Television.
Before departing for Rome, the pope again drove home his political message, calling for peace to end Israeli occupation of the West Bank and give the Palestinians their own homeland.
He stressed this goal several times during his five-day tour, aware that Israel's new government has so far declined to endorse the "two-state solution" desired by the West.
"I wish to put on record that I came to visit this country as a friend of the Israelis, just as I am a friend of the Palestinian people," he said.
The appeal came 61 years to the day since Israel became a state, a day known as the Nakba, or disaster, by Palestinians, half of whom fled or were forced from their homes in 1948.
To both sides he urged: "No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war!"
Israel's right to exist in security must be universally recognized, he said, and it must be acknowledged that "the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely."
Peres told the pope his visit had made "a significant contribution to the new relations" between the Vatican and Israel, and his speeches "carried a substantive weight."
In the final act of worship of his visit, Benedict preached a message of hope for all mankind at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.
"The empty tomb speaks to us of hope, the hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the spirit of life," he said. "Love is stronger than death."
(Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Peter Millership)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this