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Sunday, 10 May 2009

POPE'S 'COMPLEX' MISSION

Story Image Visit: Pope Benedict is going to Israel

SUNDAY EXPRESS, May 10, 2009

By Matthew Kalman

POPE Benedict arrives in Israel tomorrow on a visit intended to mend fences with both Muslims and Jews amid efforts to reverse the plummeting numbers of Christians in the Holy Land.

Vatican spokesman Rev Frederico Lombardi described the Pope’s “very important and very complex” pilgrimage this week as “an act of hope and faith toward peace and reconciliation”.

Muslims have still not forgiven Pope Benedict for a speech he gave at Regensburg in 2006 in which he quoted a medieval pope who appeared to describe Islam as violent and irrational.

In Jordan, where he arrived on Friday, the Pope faced a chorus of disapproval from Islamic leaders, undermining the hopes of King Abdullah II that his visit would help rekindle Jordan’s tourism industry.

“The present Vatican Pope is the one who issued severe insults to Islam and did not offer any apology to the Muslims,” said Zaki Bani Rusheid, head of the Jordanian Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“What is needed from the Pope is to have the courage to apologize,” Bani Rusheid said.

The Pope has expressed regret for misunderstandings over Regensburg but not for the speech itself.

Jordanian Islamists also condemned a planned visit to Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem memorial to Holocaust victims, even though Pope Benedict will also visit a refugee camp in Bethlehem.

Palestinian Christians, who feel caught between Jews and Muslims struggling for control of the Holy Land, have expressed delight that the Pope is coming.

But a study published this week shows the number of Christians in Jerusalem has fallen from 30,000 in 1946 to just 14,000.

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