Some 50,000 pilgrims, well-wishers, and onlookers attended mass with Pope Benedict XVI at the Mount of the Precipice in Nazareth, a predominantly Palestinian town in northern Israel on Thursday morning.
In a wide-ranging address, Benedict spoke about the need for coexistence between religions and also expressed conservative views about the role of the family in society.
“Sadly, as the world knows, Nazareth has experienced tensions in recent years which have harmed relations between its Christian and Muslim communities. I urge people of good will in both communities to repair the damage that has been done, and in fidelity to our common belief in one God, the Father of the human family, to work to build bridges and find the way to a peaceful coexistence,” said Benedict.
He also said, “Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men’s souls before it kills their bodies!”
“In God’s plan for the family,” the pope said, the love of husband and wife bears fruit in new life, and finds daily expression in the loving efforts of parents to ensure an integral human and spiritual formation for their children.”
“Here we begin to glimpse something of the essential role of the family as the first building-block of a well-ordered and welcoming society,” he said.
Israel deployed some 5,000 police officers throughout the city and the sites the pontiff will visit. In the afternoon Benedict XVI will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, visit the Church of the Annunciation, the site where it is believed the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she would give birth to the son of God.
The Mount of the Precipice is where the Bible says a mob attempted to throw Jesus off a cliff.
While in Nazareth the pope met with the Bishop of the Catholic community in the Galilee region, Elias Shakur, according to the newspaper Haaretz.
Shakur told the pontiff, according to Haaretz, of the Christian residents of two northern Galilee villages who have been trying to return home since they were expelled by the advancing Israeli army in 1948. He asked the pope to work toward the residents’ return to their villages.
The right of return for Palestinian refugees was also a major theme of Benedict’s visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, where he visited crowded Aida Refugee Camp and delivered a speech in the shadow of Israel’s separation wall. The camp’s residents are also refugees who were expelled from their land at the creation of Israel in 1948.