Pope Benedict XVI urged an end to “hatred and violence” in the Middle East during his midnight mass Christmas homily ahead of a planned trip to the region.
“Let us pray that peace will be established there, that hatred and violence will cease,” he said in his homily, referring in particular to Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
Jerusalem’s Latin patriarch said on Monday that the pope would visit the Holy Land in May on his first trip to the region as pontiff.
“With joy we would like to announce to you the desire of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to visit the Holy Land as a pilgrim next May,” Fuad Twal, the Catholic leader in the Holy Land, told reporters.
It was the first official confirmation of Benedict’s widely discussed first trip to the region since being elected pope in 2005.
“The supreme pontiff wishes to pray with us and for us, and to acquire a first-hand knowledge of the hard conditions of our region,” Twal said in his Christmas message.
“We are confident in the Lord that this pontifical pilgrimage and pastoral visit will be a blessing for all of us as well as a substantial contribution to better understanding among the various nations of the region, lifting the barriers and helping solve the problems, removing distress and consolidating good relations among people, religions and denominations,” Twal said.
He did not give specific dates.
“We are studying the program with the local authorities,” he said.
Last week the Italian newspaper Il Foglio said the pope would travel to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories from May 8 to May 15.
The head of the Catholic Church in his Christmas homily also spoke of the plight of children “who are denied the love of their parents.”
“Let us think of those street children who do not have the blessing of a family home, of those children who are brutally exploited as soldiers and made instruments of violence, instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace,” he said.
“Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatized in the depths of their soul,” he said.
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni traveled to Egypt for talks about rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
Israel is not prepared to accept a situation of continuous rocket fire on its citizens, Livni said yesterday, hinting that Israel was gearing up to strike at Palestinian militant groups.
She spoke a day after Gazan militias pummeled Israel with more than 80 rockets and mortars.
“Enough is enough,” Livni said in Cairo after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
“We cannot accept this situation, and this situation will change,” she said.