THE LAST DAY OF THE PAPAL PILGRIMAGE

“With words of encouragement, I conclude my pilgrimage to the holy places of our redemption and rebirth in Christ."
15 May 2009

On the final day of his five-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City, revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

A traditional escort of men in black robes and red fezzes, rhythmically banging staffs on the ground to announce his approach, accompanied the Pontiff as he entered the Church. He knelt down and kissed the rectangular stone on which Jesus' body is believed to have been laid after the crucifixion. This is a gesture millions of pilgrims make when they visit the Church, one of the most visited Christian sites in Israel.

When Pope Benedict entered the structure marking the site of Jesus' tomb, he knelt alone for several minutes, hands clasped, as priests chanted nearby.

 

Pope Benedict XVI at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher . Photo: Government Press Office

 

In his address at the church, the Pope urged the congregation not to lose hope: "The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome... With those words of encouragement, I conclude my pilgrimage to the holy places of our redemption and rebirth in Christ."

At the state ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport, marking the end of Pope Benedict XVI's Israel visit, the Pontiff spoke of "some of the powerful impressions that my pilgrimage to the Holy Land has left me". He expressed his sorrow at the brutal extermination of Jews in the Holocaust and called for the realization of the two-state solution.

In his speech, President Shimon Peres thanked the Pope for his visit to the Holy Land ("We are deeply appreciative "), and called his journey to the Holy Land, "a heartfelt example of the exercise of spiritual values and …a significant contribution to the new relations between the Vatican and Jerusalem."

After the ceremony, the Pope, together with the members of his delegation, boarded a special El Al flight back to Rome.

 

Farewell ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport. Photo: Government Press Office