After three days in Jordan, the Pope arrives in Israel today, beginning the most delicate part of his Middle East journey.
Having stressed his wish for warm ties between Christians and Muslims, he will now have to face the thorny subject of Vatican-Jewish relations. Israel has been preparing for the papal visit for months, with a huge security operation put in place to protect him. And, officially at least, the German-born pontiff – forced to join the Hitler Youth under Nazism – is guaranteed a warm welcome. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said: “We are very happy to have him here and I think that even (though) there are some that are talking about his past in Germany, it is still very important to have him here and to try to narrow the gaps between the Jews and the Christians.” But in recent months, ties have been under tremendous strain. Intense anger remains over the Pope’s decision to l lift the excommunication of traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson, who has denied the extent of the Holocaust. Today Benedict will visit the Yad Vashem memorial to victims in Jerusalem, although not its Holocaust museum where disagreement over the wartime role of Pope Pius XII is reflected. Many in Israel believe he turned a blind eye to the genocide of the Jews, a view rejected by the Vatican.