NAZARETH, Israel (CNS): Nearing the end of his Holy Land pilgrimage, Pope Benedict XVI came to Nazareth, the city where Jesus grew up, and appealed for the strengthening of family bonds in the region and the world.
The papal Mass on May 14, celebrated in a new amphitheatre built into Nazareth’s Mount Precipice, drew about 40,000 people, the biggest crowd on his eight-day pilgrimage.
The Pope had earlier visited Jordan, Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.
In his homily, the Pope said modern society needed to recognise the sacred nature of the family, “which in God’s plan is based on the lifelong fidelity of a man and a woman consecrated by the marriage covenant and accepting God’s gift of new life”.
Later, the Pope met with Christian and non-Christian religious leaders of Galilee and emphasised the need to ease tensions over places of worship.
In Nazareth, a decade of dispute over a planned mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation has soured relations between Christians and Muslims.
He urged all people of faith to protect children from “fanaticism and violence” and to teach respect for the beliefs and traditions of other religions.
Then the pontiff, smiling broadly, stood and held hands in prayer with other participants as a specially composed psalm was sung, using the words of peace in Arabic, Hebrew and English: “Salam, Shalom, Lord grant us peace.”
Later, the Pope led a prayer service for Catholics in the Basilica of the Annunciation.
He said that with the appearance of the angel to Mary announcing that she would bear Jesus, God entered into human history.
In a meeting in a Franciscan convent with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Pope discussed how to advance prospects for Middle East peace.
The 82-year-old pontiff came to Israel from Jordan on May 11.
At an airport welcoming ceremony in Tel Aviv, he honoured the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and prayed that “humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude”.
“Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable,” he said.