Pope leaves with a message of peace

The Pope concluded his visit to the Holy Land with a strong message that peace is possible in the Middle East.

Before taking off for Rome he also appeared to address some of the criticism leveled at him for a speech on the Holocaust some Israelis felt was lukewarm. He described his visit to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem as “one of the most solemn moments of my stay”. He also called Israel's West Bank separation barrier "one of the saddest sights" of his visit.
He said: “No more bloodshed. No more fighting. No more terrorism. No more war.”

He knelt and kissed the rectangular stone on which Jesus' body is believed to have been placed after the crucifixion before kneeling at the site of Jesus' tomb for several minutes, as priests chanted nearby and scores of soldiers stood guard.

He then spoke of not losing hope, a central theme during a visit in which he addressed the Holocaust, Israeli-Palestinian politics and the shrinking number of Christians in the region.

“The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome,” he said.

The five-day trip, his first to Israel and the Palestinian territories, received mixed reviews.
He led 50,000 worshippers in a jubilant Mass outside of Nazareth.

He removed his shoes to enter Islam's third-holiest shrine, and he followed Jewish custom by placing a note bearing a prayer for peace in the cracks of the Western Wall.

He also met Israeli and Palestinian leaders and won aplaudits from Palestinians for endorsing their call for an independent state. But some Israelis were disappointed with his treatment of the Holocaust, saying he could have gone further in a speech at the country's national Holocaust memorial.

He did not follow the lead of his predecessor, John Paul II, in expressing remorse for the Church's historic persecution of Jews. Neither did he discuss what some see as the Church's passivity during the Nazi genocide or his own time as a member of the Hitler Youth.

Those perceived omissions led officials at the Yad Vashem memorial to take the exceptional step of openly criticising the speech. They also noted he said Jews were “killed,” rather than “murdered”.

Last updated: 10:01am, May 19 2009