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Pope wraps up delicate Mideast pilgrimage

By Aron Heller

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 26 2014 5:11 p.m. MDT

The conversation turned awkward after Netanyahu told the pope that Jesus spoke Hebrew.

"He was speaking Aramaic," the pope replied with a smile. "He spoke Aramaic, and he also knew Hebrew," Netanyahu said.

After Francis made an unscheduled stop at the massive concrete barrier on Sunday, Netanyahu asked Francis to deviate from his whirlwind itinerary to pray at Jerusalem's Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial, which includes the names of hundreds of civilians killed in Palestinian and Arab attacks since 1851, Lombardi and Netanyahu's office said.

As he did at the separation barrier and the Western Wall, Francis bowed his head in prayer and placed his hand on the stone. Lombardi said he then delivered a sweeping denunciation of terrorism in all its forms.

At Yad Vashem, the pope prayed before a crypt with ashes of Holocaust victims and laid a wreath of yellow and white flowers in the "Hall of Remembrance."

Upon his arrival in Israel after visiting the West Bank, Francis clearly condemned the slaughter of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, making up for what many Jews felt was a tepid speech from the German Pope Benedict XVI during his 2009 visit to Yad Vashem.

On Monday, his actions almost spoke louder than his words. In one of the most poignant moments of the trip, Francis kissed the hands of six Holocaust survivors as he heard their stories.

"Never again, Lord, never again!" Francis said. "Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man — created in your own image and likeness — was capable of doing." He repeated that phrase in writing in the memorial's guest book.

Joseph Gottdenker, born in Poland in 1942, said he briefly told the pope how he was saved as a boy by Catholics who hid him during the Holocaust. Gottdenker, who now lives in Canada, said the meeting was more emotional than he expected.

"The Catholic people who saved me and risked the lives of their whole families to save me, they are looking down today and proud to see me meet the leader of their faith," Gottdenker said.

Yisca Harani, an expert on Christianity in the Holy Land, said she was disappointed with the visit. While the pope arrived to celebrate peace, he was instead greeted by two angry parties who tried to pull him in their direction.

"I expected someone stronger. I expected some strong words of encouragement or a real push," she said. "I found a frail pope. There were very few moments when I saw his face lit up. From the moment he landed he looked afraid."

Associated Press writer Ariel David contributed to this report. Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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