It was Monday, March 20, the first day of the pontiff's historic Holy Land visit, and the pope had gone to the nearby mountain to pray, gaze, and meditate from the lookout where tradition says Moses was permitted by God to see the Promised Land before his death.
Unlike Moses, the aging and ailing pope got to see, enter and touch the holy stones of the Promised Land last week, on a symbolic journey of faith that may have been the climax of his papacy.
And the soldier Boutros--like millions of Christians, Muslims and Jews in the region and around the world--shared vicariously in this pilgrim's spiritual journey and mission of peace to a land holy to the world's three great monotheistic religions.
"It was an exceptional trip," said the Rev. Robert Fortin, secretary general of the Jubilee Committee for the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Holy Land.
"I guess only history will tell us whether it will have really long-lasting consequences in the way his trip to Poland did at the beginning of his pontificate--a trip that helped change the face of Europe and hasten the fall of communism. But coming at the end of his pontificate, it is a beautiful capstone to his career," Fortin said.
From Mount Nebo, to the West Bank Palestinian Deheisheh Refugee camp, and the conversations with Jewish Holocaust survivors at the Jerusalem Holocaust memorial of Yad Vashem, the visit was full of symbolic moments and gestures.
Those moments spoke even more powerfully than the pontiff's homilies, delivered in a cracked and fading English.
He prostrated himself before the entrance to Christianity's Church of the Holy Sepulcher; slipped a written prayer into the cracks of the Western Wall, Judaism's most holy site; and ascended to Al-Aksa Mosque, on Jerusalem's ancient Temple Mount, to meet Islam's top Jerusalem leader here.
In every locale, the pope sought over and over to demonstrate his spiritual and emotional identification with every religious persuasion, every partisan in a troubled region.
"This pope came to be nonpartisan, and I think he did in a masterful way," said Rabbi Ron Kronish, head of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. "He was an actor when he was younger, so he has value for the theater. And this was a lot of theater, good theater. His gestures spoke louder than his words, which were often hard to hear."
The visit touched the hearts and minds of Jews here in a way unlike that of any other visit by a Christian figure.
Whereas until the visit, the 30-year Jewish-Catholic rapprochement and dialogue had been largely the purview of scholars and theologians, the weeklong pilgrimage opened up the reconciliation process to the Jewish and Israeli public.
The real turning point for Israelis came on Thursday, when the pope met for the first time ever with Israel's top Orthodox rabbinical leadership and later with Holocaust survivors at Yad Vashem.
"It was a rare and moving moment for Israel and the Jewish community," said Yossi Kucik, director general of Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office, who was present at the ceremonies. "As I stood there, a second-generation Holocaust survivor, I saw my father and grandfather's figures flit before my eyes. To see him asking the Jewish people for forgiveness, it was a rare gift."
More so than the theological aspects of his statements, the humanity of the pontiff finally seemed to captivate Israelis at this moment. Veteran Israeli journalists and radio broadcasters choked with emotion as they listened to the Polish-born Edit Sirev describe how the pope had carried her on his back when as a young girl she was making her way from a Nazi work camp to Krakow, just after the liberation of Poland.
They learned for the first time about the pope's childhood friend Jurik Kluger, a Jew who survived the war and even accompanied the pontiff at Yad Vashem. Through such accounts, Israelis were finally able to appreciate how the young Wojtyla had personally defied the currents of Polish anti-Semitism.
"The secret that we in the interfaith business knew for 30 years was mentioned over and over again by all of the major political commentators," remarked Kronish. "This pope had a special connection to the Jewish people. Until the visit, Israelis and Jews around the world were largely ignorant about the pope and the Vatican. Now, suddenly all of the documents were published in the press and extensively discussed. People learned a lot."
"It was an excellent visit which achieved a lot," said West Bank Preventative Security chief Jibril Rajoub, a key figure in the Palestinian Authority. "It strengthened PLO-Vatican relations, the reconciliation mood between Christians and Moslems, and proved that despite a lot of difficulties, Palestinians and Jews can work together."
Yet, clearly, as the pope's helicopter lifted off from Jerusalem on Sunday, the Palestinian mood was less buoyant and effusive than was the Israeli sentiment about the trip, spent mostly on Israeli turf and orchestrated largely by Israeli security.
Palestinian youths jeered the pontiff and stoned Palestinian Minister Faisal Husseini just after a stiff and highly politicized encounter between the pope and the Grand Mufti of Al-Aksa Mosque, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri. Speaking to reporters earlier, the mufti caused a stir by accusing Israel of "using" the issue of the Holocaust in order to gain world sympathy for repressive policies against Palestinians.
And in an interreligious event Thursday involving the pontiff, Israel's Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and the mufti's deputy, Sheikh Taysir Tamimi, Tamimi launched an angry diatribe against Israel's occupation of Jerusalem, destroying the attempt to stage a dialogue.
"I think that in general, the Palestinians were comforted by the fact that the pope understood their plight," observed Fortin. "But the interreligious dialogue, that still has a way to go.
"You need a certain amount of tranquility and peace to be able to talk about important religious subjects. When people's houses are being bulldozed, and they don't have basic human rights respected, then it's hard to go beyond that and talk about theological considerations," he added, referring to Palestinian complaints of Israeli treatment of Arabs in east Jerusalem and occupied West Bank areas.