00 5/14/2009 4:09 PM


As usual, there is a wealth of photos before the Mass and around the Mass (and very little on the Mass rite itself - which is a fault with all the newsphoto agencies, including the Catholic ones) but it takes time to sort them out, so I've only posted a representative selection for now.

Pope celebrates Nazareth Mass
with tens of thousands

By Jonathan Ferziger and Gwen Ackerman

NAZARETH, May 14 (Bloomberg) -- Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass on Nazareth’s Mount of Precipice with tens of thousands of people before a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the town where tradition holds Jesus grew up.

“Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice which kills men’s souls before it kills their bodies,” the pope said during a service celebrating the sanctity of the family before a crowd that Israeli police estimated reached 40,000.

Steps up to the stage and podium were lined with yellow flowers. The Pontiff was welcomed with chants of “Benvenuto,” and “Long live the Pope” from a crowd waving Israeli, Palestinian and Vatican flags.

The Pontiff was in Nazareth after touring the West Bank town of Bethlehem yesterday, where he declared support for a sovereign Palestinian homeland.

He has met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres and toured the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.

“It’s difficult to look at events so far and to see too many obvious successes,” said Thomas Landy, director of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

“Benedict tends to speak in generalities and about more abstract ideals of hope and avoids specificity or grand gestures,” he added in an e-mail.

In Nazareth, the 82-year-old pope, dressed in yellow and white vestments, stood on a stage facing an open-air amphitheatre on the Mount of Precipice, where tradition says an angry mob tried to throw Jesus off a cliff because of his teachings.

The Pope recalled the tale and urged the Muslim and Christian communities of Nazareth to build “goodwill” and find a “way to peaceful coexistence.”

One Muslim leader, angry over remarks Benedict made in 2006 linking Islam to violence, had protested the visit of the Pope.

Israeli leaders, such as the chairman of Yad Vashem and the speaker of Parliament, criticized the Pope’s speech at the Holocaust memorial as not being specific about Nazi responsibility for the Holocaust and for failing to express regret in a stronger manner.

During his visit, Benedict has said he would like to see Israel lift its embargo on the Gaza Strip soon and security concerns ease sufficiently to allow easier movement of Palestinians in the West Bank. He has called on Israelis and Palestinians to work for peace.

Benedict’s visit comes as peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain deadlocked after a 22-day Israeli military offensive against the Islamic militant Hamas in the Gaza Strip that ended Jan. 18. The fighting left Gaza devastated.

Netanyahu, who was in Jordan today for talks with King Abdullah, heads to the U.S. next week to meet with President Barack Obama, who has pledged to “vigorously” pursue Israeli- Palestinian peace.

Israeli's security arrangements for the Pope in Nazareth were particularly stringent because of threats by some local Muslim extremists before the visit.

For the first time, there were armed soldiers discreetly posted behind the Pope's acolytes during the Mass.

Pope in Nazareth:
'Reject hatred and prejudice'


NAZARETH, Israel, May 14 (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI greeted tens of thousands of adoring followers in Jesus's childhood hometown with a message of reconciliation Thursday, urging Christians and Muslims to overcome recent strife and "reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice."

The Pope delivered his message on the fourth day of a Holy Land pilgrimage [the seventh day, actually, counting his visit to Jordan where he went to Mt. Nebo and to the Jordan River site of Jesus's baptism] meant to promote peace and unity in the Middle East.

Throughout the trip, however, he has been confronted with the region's most sensitive issues, including the legacy of the Holocaust, the Palestinian plight under Israeli occupation and fragile interfaith ties.

At midafternoon Thursday, the Pope sat down for a highly anticipated meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The meeting came a day after the Pope made an emotional appeal in the West Bank for the establishment of an independent Palestinian homeland — a concept the Israeli leader has refused to endorse. The men appeared to exchange pleasantries before reporters were ushered out of the room to allow them to speak privately.

Before the meeting, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the meeting would be key because "personal contact is always very important."

The choice of Nazareth — home to many key sites in Christianity — as the venue for the largest Mass the pope has celebrated during his visit was at least an indirect reflection of the interfaith strains he has tried to ease.

The city, located in northern Israel's Galilee region, is the country's largest Arab city. Roughly two-thirds of its 65,000 people are Muslims and one-third are Christians. While the two communities tend to get along, they also have come into sporadic conflict.

Earlier this decade, Muslim activists outraged Christians when they built an unauthorized mosque next to the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Christians believe the Angel Gabriel foretold the birth of Jesus to Mary. Israel later tore down the mosque.

Muslim activists also have periodically marched through the city in shows of strength meant to intimidate Christians.

In his homily, Benedict spoke of the tensions that have harmed interfaith relations.

"I urge people of goodwill in both communities to repair the damage that has been done, and in fidelity to our common belief in one God, the Father of the human family, to work to build bridges and find the way to a peaceful coexistence," he said. "Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men's souls before it kills their bodies."

The comments touched on some of the key themes the Pope has focused on during the trip, which a day earlier took him to the West Bank town of Bethlehem — Jesus' traditional birthplace. From there, Benedict issued his ringing appeal for an independent Palestinian state.

Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the Pope was "very happy" with the outcome of the trip and that "all the important meetings were very positive."

He said the main goal was "peace, peace, peace," adding that he felt the Pope had listened to all sides, acting like a "bridge" between the various positions.

During a weeklong trip that included a stop in neighboring Jordan, the Pope has also tried to draw attention to the dwindling number of Christians in the Middle East.

Members of the region's once large and prosperous Christian communities are increasingly leaving conflict-ridden areas including Iraq and the Palestinian territories to seek better lives in the West.

On Thursday, the archbishop of Galilee for the Greek Melkite Church, Elias Chacour, welcomed the Pope with a plea for his prayers and "moral and spiritual support" to stem the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land.

He said the flight of Christians "fills me with pain" and that the future is not encouraging.

In Nazareth, where tradition holds that Jesus grew up, an estimated 50,000 people greeted the Pope, many of them swaying back and forth to Arabic music played over loudspeakers, clapping in unison and waving yellow and white Vatican flags.

As the music subsided, the crowd began the familiar chants in Italian of "Benedetto" and "Viva il Papa."

The Pope passed through the crowd in his white popemobile, led by a procession of priests and bishops in flowing white robes. The leader of the procession swung an incense burner and behind him another priest held an ornate silver cross high above his head.

The Pope carried a larger gold cross and a golden cloak over his traditional white robe as he walked on stage and waved to the crowd. Surrounding him were younger priests in yellow and white robes who held their hands raised in prayer, bibles tucked under their arms.

One of the younger priests handed Benedict the incense burner, which he swung back and forth as he walked around a table resplendent with silver candlesticks. A picture of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child sat in front of the table facing the crowd.

A string of armed guards in heavy dark coats stood in front of the stage between the pontiff and the faithful.

Thursday's Mass was celebrated on Mount Precipice, where Christian tradition says a mob tried to throw Jesus off a cliff [traditional Jews of his time who found his teachings heretical].

Later in the day, the Pope was to head to the Basilica of the Annunciation to worship and for talks with local religious leaders. He is to return to the Vatican on Friday.

According to tradition, Jesus traveled through the Galilee with his disciples preaching and performing miracles in the final years of his life.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/15/2009 5:08 AM]