Beliefnet
JERUSALEM, March 26 (RNS)--In an unprecedented gesture of reconciliation between Catholics and Jews, Pope John Paul II ended his weeklong Holy Land pilgrimage Sunday by praying at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, where he placed a plea for forgiveness and brotherhood between its ancient stones.

The pope left Israel aboard an El Al jetliner shortly after 7:30p.m. (12:30 p.m. EST) for the three-hour-and-45-minute flight to Rome'sCiampino Airport. At the top of the boarding stairs, he turned, waved, and shook his clasped hands in a victory gesture.

Israeli President Ezer Weizman and Prime Minister Ehud Barak saw thepope off at Ben Gurion International Airport in a ceremony that mirroredthe pomp on his arrival from Jordan Monday, complete with red carpet,flags, flowers, balloons, military band, and honor guard. There were nospeeches, but John Paul shook hands with dozens of cabinet ministers,ambassadors, religious leaders, and other dignitaries.

John Paul ended his weeklong pilgrimage to the Holy Land by visitingthe places that are holiest to Jerusalem's Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

In addition to visiting the Western Wall, he met with the Muslim Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, where the Al-Aksa and Dome of the Rock mosques stand. The site is known to Jews as the Temple Mount for the biblical temples that once stood there.

John Paul also celebrated Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the traditional sites of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

"These have been days of intense emotion," the 79-year-old pontiff told worshippers in the 12th-century Crusader-era church in Jerusalem's Old City.

John Paul, dressed in the purple penitential vestments of Lent, was ledto the church by two men in traditional Turkish costume who pounded onthe ground with their staffs to announced the arrival of a bishop--inthis case the bishop of Rome.

Entering the church by a specially constructed ramp, he paused to prayand kiss the stone at the place were it is believed that Jesus' body waslaid after he was taken from the cross. The pope paused again to enterthe narrow opening of the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and pray at theplace where Jesus was buried.

"Following the path of salvation history, as narrated in the Apostles'Creed, my Jubilee pilgrimage has brought me to the Holy Land," he saidin his homily. "From Nazareth, where Jesus was conceived of the VirginMary by the power of the Holy Spirit, I have reached Jerusalem, where hesuffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. Herein the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I kneel before the place of hisburial."

Among leaders of other rites attending the Mass were PatriarchsDiodoros I of the Greek Orthodox Church and Torkom Mangoogian ofthe Armenian Apostolic Church, with whom the Vatican had to negotiate for theright to use the sanctuary, which is their common property within the denominationally divided Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

On his last day in Jerusalem, the Roman Catholic pontiff was at thecenter of the religion-tinged political controversy that is endemic tothe city, fought over for centuries by the three monotheistic religions.

As John Paul arrived for his meeting with the Grand Mufti, SheikhIkrema Sabri, Palestinians floated the red, white, green, and blackPalestinian flag attached to balloons over the Haram al-Sharif in ademonstration apparently sanctioned by the Palestinian NationalAuthority.

Islamic officials removed a blue and white Israeli flag, flying withthe yellow and white flag of the Vatican, from the pope's car during hisvisit.

After John Paul left, Palestinian youths threw stones at PalestinianMinister for Jerusalem Faisal Husseini, who was part of the receptioncommittee. The youths branded the pope "a Satanic influence and an agentof the United States."

Israeli authorities deployed a heavy security force on the Haram al-Sharif platform for the first time since violent clashes there in 1990.

The pontiff drove directly from the mosque to the Western Wall belowfor a brief ceremony at Judaism's holiest place. The wall is allthat remains of the Second Temple, built some 70 years after theBabylonians destroyed King Solomon's First Temple in 586 B.C.E. The Romansdestroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

Jews have prayed for thousands of years before the wall, which also containsstones from the First Temple of 3,000 years ago.

Standing on a blue carpet, Israeli flags fluttering in the breeze, thepope and Israeli Cabinet Minister Rabbi Michael Melchoir recited the 122nd Psalm, the pope speaking in Latin, Melchoir in Hebrew.

Israeli officials said the psalm was chosen because it contains aprayer for Jerusalem: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; those who loveyou will be serene. May there be peace within your walls, serenity withinyour palaces."

After reciting the psalm, the elderly and ailing ponitiff walked slowly to thewall and prayed with bent head. Then, following Jewish custom, he placeda prayer in a crevase in the stones and stood for a time with his trembling left hand touching the wall.

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