Wednesday, 11 March 2009

“The Pope’s journey should not at all be seen in a political light,” His Excellency Mgr. Antonio Franco declared yesterday afternoon at a press conference at the Notre Dame Centre in Jerusalem. “It is a pilgrimage, and the motive for his official visits is courtesy...” Mgr. Franco is the Apostolic Nuncio in Israel and the Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine.
Among those present at the press conference were Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM, the Custos of the Holy Land.
The Nuncio outlined the Holy Father’s planned itinerary, emphasizing that the most important parts of it would be the three Masses he will attend: one in Jerusalem, which the Nuncio said 5000 people were expected to attend (the maximum capacity of the place where the open-air Mass will be held, the Valley of Jehoshaphat), the one in Bethlehem, and the one in Nazareth at Mount Precipice, where the largest turnout is expected – “40 to 50 thousand local people, in addition to pilgrims, who will of course be welcome,” according to Mgr. Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo. On this occasion, the Holy Father will convey a blessing on the first stone of the International Centre for families.
“Of course, the Holy Father will also spend some time in prayer, at the Cenacle and at the Holy Sepulchre. He will also meet with various officials: the Israeli president, the Palestinian president, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (whom he will meet at the mosque esplanade). He will then visit the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, and he will also meet with rabbis from Jerusalem, as well as other religious authorities in Jerusalem and in Nazareth.
The Apostolic Nuncio then answered some questions. Several people expressed concern about whether Christians from everywhere in the Holy land would be able to attend the various events. Both the Nuncio and the Custos replied saying that the issue had been raised with the Israeli authorities and that they had received a positive response from them. A group of Christians from Gaza will be able to go to Bethlehem, along with their parish priest, Father Manuel Mussalam. (Ed. That is great news indeed – two busses are being given permission)
An official itinerary has yet to be published, so some parts of it are as yet uncertain.
Undoubtedly, the main goal of the press conference was to emphasize the religious nature of the Pope’s pilgrimage – a pilgrimage of prayer with the goal of supporting all those living in the Holy Land, and above all supporting all local Christians.

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