On a historic visit to the Holy Land, Pope Benedict XVI on Monday, strongly condemned anti-Semitism and sought an early resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by finding a way that "people can live in security in a homeland of their own."
The pope, whose re-admittance of a Holocaust denier into the Catholic Church has badly damaged ties with the Jewish
world, condemned anti-Semitism as "totally unacceptable."
"Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable," the pontiff said at the start of a high-security five-day tour of Israel and the occupied West Bank following a visit to Jordan.
"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," he said.
He urged the warring parties in the Middle East to strive for peaceful relations. "I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognised borders," he added.
The German Pope in his address also called upon humanity to make every effort to avoid a crime on the scale of which
was committed during the Holocaust. "I will have the opportunity to honour the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah," The Catholic Church head, who faces criticism for policies toward Jews including his recent reinstatement of a bishop who denied Nazis killed six million, said.
The pope, who is on a pilgrimage of holy sites in the Middle East, landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport at approximately 11a m on a special Royal Jordanian flight.
"I take my place in a long line of Christian pilgrims to these shores, a line that stretches back to the earliest centuries of the Church's history and which, I am sure, will keep and continue long into the future," the pope said on his arrival at the airport. "I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace - peace in the Holy Land and peace throughout the world," he added.
The pope was received by Israeli dignitaries, including President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. An Israel Defense Forces honour guard greeted the pope upon his descent onto the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport. The pontiff stood between Netanyahu and Peres as the band played a rendition of the Israel's national anthem "Hatikva," the Vatican's anthem and "Jerusalem of Gold."
After the welcoming ceremony, he was flown by helicopter to Jerusalem where he was greeted by Mayor Nir Barkat and other dignitaries at Mount Scopus.
The pontiff will meet Peres and the parents of the captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit at the President's residence and proceed to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museuem where he will make a statement after laying a wreath at the memorial for those who perished in the Shoah.
The head of the Catholic Church will also hold an interfaith meeting in the early evening at the Notre Dame hotel in Jerusalem. The pope has tried to improve interfaith relations throughout his four-year papacy, and as a cardinal, had a long record of promoting dialogue with other faiths but Benedict has had to tread carefully on his Middle East visit because of past gaffes.
He angered many in the Muslim world three years ago when he quoted a medieval text that characterized some of Islam's Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."
He later expressed regret that his comments offended Muslims and before leaving Jordan after a three day visit today he said that he had a "deep respect" for Islam.
During his stay in Israel, through Friday, the pontiff will reside at the home of the Vatican ambassador in Jerusalem and not at one of the city's hotels.
Image: Pope Benedict XVI and Israel's President Shimon Peres walk in the garden of the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem.
Photograph: Reuters/Oded Balilty