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In Israel, Pope Says He Will Honor Holocaust Dead


Pope Benedict upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport.

Pope Benedict upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport.

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Pope Benedict XVI used his first speech in Israel to remember the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis and try to heal fresh wounds over his reinstatement of a bishop who denied the Holocaust.

"Tragically, the Jewish people have experienced the terrible circumstances of ideologies that deny the fundamental dignity of every human person," he said at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport, going on to challenge Israel's right-leaning government by calling for a Palestinian homeland.

"I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Shoah," the German-born pope said, using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, "and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude."

He later flew by Israeli military helicopter to Jerusalem.

In the 45 years since the Second Vatican Council repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for Christ's death, Catholic-Jewish relations have been haunted by the Holocaust and the question of what the church did, or failed to do, about it.

They went through one of their worst periods after the pope in January lifted the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, including one who denied 6 million Jews were killed.

The Vatican says it had not known enough about that British bishop's past and the church and Jewish religious leaders now hope the issue can be definitively closed with a visit later in the day by the pontiff to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel's memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

'Rear Its Ugly Head'

Pope Benedict, who flew into Israel from Jordan, lashed out at anti-Semitism, which he said "continues to rear its ugly head" in many parts of the world.

"This is totally unacceptable," he said in his speech at Ben-Gurion airport. "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."

Pope Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria in 1927, was a member of the Hitler Youth and later served in the German army before deserting at the end of World War II.

In his welcoming remarks at the airport, Israeli President Shimon Peres said: "We see in your visit here to the Holy Land as an important spiritual mission of the highest order, a mission of peace, a mission of planting seeds for tolerance and uprooting of the weeds of fanaticism."

Reiterating Vatican policy, the pope called for "just resolution" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders."

Since being sworn in as Israel's prime minister on March 31, Benjamin Netanyahu has not specifically discussed establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a U.S. and Arab priority.

The pope's remarks on the subject will echo around the region, particularly when he visits a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on May 13. In Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas.

At a brief ceremony in Jerusalem, its Israeli mayor welcomed the pope to "the capital of Israel," a status that has not won world recognition. The mayor, Nir Barkat, used the term in the Hebrew portion of his speech, but not in his remarks in English.

During the pope's visit to Jordan, he stressed his desire for warm relations between Christians and Muslims and tried to wipe away residual bitterness over a 2006 lecture he made which Muslims saw as offensive.

'57-State Solution'

Jordan's King Abdullah was quoted on May 11 by London's "Times" newspaper as saying the United States was promoting a peace plan for the Middle East involving a "57-state solution" in which the entire Muslim world would recognize Israel.

During his five-day stay in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the pope is expected to repeat his offer for the Catholic Church to do all it can to help the stalled peace process.

"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," the pontiff said.

Between visits to sacred sites connected to the life of Jesus he will also hold talks with Israeli officials, Palestinian leaders and Jewish and Islamic religious leaders.

Israeli police said they would be carrying out their largest security operation in nearly a decade, since the visit by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

Some 30,000 police will be on duty. Everywhere he travels, the pope will have police helicopters tracking him from above.
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