Before he departs for Rome later this afternoon, Pope Benedict made sure to visit Christianity’s holiest site—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—where Jesus died, was buried and rose from the dead. The Pope urged the people of the Holy Land to bury their sufferings in the empty tomb, since their “strife-torn land” can find the peace it yearns for in Jesus, the person who rose from it.
A delegation comprised of the numerous Christian traditions that care for the church accompanied Pope Benedict as he stopped at the place where Jesus was prepared for burial (Stone of the Unction) and the tomb in which Jesus was buried. As he paused at each place, he kissed the stone and then prayed for several minutes.
Upon leaving the Tomb of Christ, the Pope was welcomed by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, who gave thanks for Benedict XVI’s visit. The patriarch noted that the congregation had just sung the “Te Deum”–a hymn of thanks to God—and that they sang it “first of all for your presence in our midst, during these days.”
“We sing this ‘Te Deum’ in joy, despite the complications of the situation today,” said Twal referencing the tensions in the Holy Land.
Archbishop Twal also noted the exhaustion the Pope endured to make the trip, and encouraged him, saying, “You guide Peter’s boat with courage and joy, despite the personal attacks launched against you.”
“The distance between the tomb and Golgotha, as you have seen Holy Father, is very short,” noted Twal. “In this sense, so too may this distance between the time of conflict and peace be short. Neither the conflict, nor the occupation, nor the culture of death, nor the emigration of Christians, will succeed in bringing us down or prevent us from proclaiming Christ is Risen! Resurrexit sicut dixit!”
Pope Benedict then thank the patriarch for his welcome and invoked the symbolism of the Successor of Peter visiting the place where St. Peter had discovered with St. John that Jesus had risen from the dead.
“I wish to proclaim anew, to the men and women of our time, the Church’s firm faith that Jesus Christ ‘was crucified, died and was buried,’ and that ‘on the third day he rose from the dead.’ Exalted at the right hand of the Father, he has sent us his Spirit for the forgiveness of sins. Apart from him, whom God has made Lord and Christ, ‘there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we are to be saved,’ the Pope proclaimed.
With the people of the Holy Land’s frequent experience of the “dark mystery of Golgotha” in mind, Pope Benedict said that he wished to leave the message with them: “the empty tomb speaks to us of hope, the hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the Spirit of life.”
Noting that this visit concludes his pilgrimage, Pope Benedict prayed that “the Church in the Holy Land will always draw new strength from its contemplation of the empty tomb of the Savior. In that tomb it is called to bury all its anxieties and fears, in order to rise again each day and continue its journey through the streets of Jerusalem, Galilee and beyond, proclaiming the triumph of Christ’s forgiveness and the promise of new life.”
“As Christians,” he reminded, “we know that the peace for which this strife-torn land yearns has a name: Jesus Christ. ‘He is our peace,’ who reconciled us to God in one body through the Cross, bringing an end to hostility. Into his hands, then, let us entrust all our hope for the future, just as in the hour of darkness he entrusted his spirit into the Father’s hands.”
Benedict XVI concluded by inviting his brother bishops and the priests and religious in the Holy Land to “rekindle the enthusiasm of your consecration to Christ and your commitment to loving service of his mystical Body” and called on them to bring Christ’s “healing presence and reconciling love” to all those who live in the Holy Land.