POPE VISITS WAILING WALL AND GRAND MUFTI OF JERUSALEM

Two Key Events for Promotion of Inter-Religious Dialogue

JERUSALEM, MAR 26 (ZENIT.org).- "Peace" was the first word John Paul II spoke when he arrived in Amman, Jordan, on March 20, and this was the clear message he gave on the last day of his stay in Jerusalem.

Meeting with Grand Mufti The Pope's public appointments began with a courtesy visit to the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Akram Sabri, in Mosque Square, a plaza where the worship of Christians, Jews and Muslims comes together, as it is linked to Abraham and Isaac, the Jerusalem Temple, and Christ's prophecy of its destruction. For Muslims, this is the third most sacred place, after Mecca and Medina. There are two imposing mosques in this area: Al-Aqsa and Omar, the old church of the Knights Templar, housing the rock from which, according to Islamic tradition, Mohammed went up to Heaven.

The meeting was preceded by last week's controversial statements by the Grand Mufti, who did not attend the assembly of religious leaders with the Pope on Thursday, because he did not want to shake hands with Israel's Chief Rabbi. The Muslim leader also criticized the Holy Father for asking the Jewish people for forgiveness when he visited the Memorial to the Holocaust. According to the Mufti, by exaggerating the proportions of the Shoah, "the Jewish people has found a formidable way to muster the solidarity of the world."

During the meeting with the Mufti, a Palestinian leader referred to the sufferings of his people. John Paul II confirmed Jerusalem's sacred character, common patrimony of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and of the whole of humanity. He referred to Psalm 122, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!"

At the "Wailing Wall"

The second stage of the Pope's last day in Jerusalem was his visit to the "Wailing Wall," built by Herod to enclose the Temple's courtyard. It is the Jewish sacred place par excellence; here they pray and weep in memory of the ancient splendor of Jerusalem and the Temple, once the center of all Jewish life, definitively destroyed by the Romans. They place small votive messages in the crevices of the slabs of stone.

John Paul II also came to place his bit of paper. It was the prayer he read in Rome on March 12 praying for forgiveness for the sufferings caused to Jews by the Church's children. This petition for forgiveness is also a commitment to genuine fraternity with the people of the Covenant. It was a very emotional moment: the Pontiff walked up to the Wall alone and prayed there for a few moments before placing the piece of paper in one of the crevices. He then placed his right hand on the Wall, before blessing himself.

These were two symbolic moments of that peace that the Pope came to foster with his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and that this very day was passing through a decisive phase with the meeting between U.S. President Bill Clinton, and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls disclosed that the Vatican has appealed to the Israeli authorities to re-examine the question of the Nazareth mosque. An Islamic fundamentalist group plans to construct a mosque in the Square of the Basilica of the Annunciation, one of the places
most visited by Christian pilgrims. The Israeli government has supported this plan, in spite of the fact that the Islamic fundamentalists invaded the land by force and, on several occasions, attacked Christians after important Masses. According to the Vatican, the mosque does not respond to a felt need of the Islamic community, which has other mosques in the area, but, rather, is a provocation (local Catholics describe it as a threat) against Christian pilgrims.