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Pope Tells Palestinian Christians to Hold Fast in Face of Conflict


Pope Benedict XVI has called on Palestinian Christians to hold fast as their numbers dwindle in the Holy Land. The pope made his remarks before thousands of followers at a Mass in Jerusalem Tuesday. The pope on Tuesday also reached out to Jews and Muslims in the city.

Thousands gathered on Tuesday as Pope Benedict celebrated Mass outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, near the spot believed to be where Jesus was arrested before his crucifixion.

The pope preached to a flock of largely Palestinian Christians, whose numbers in the last six decades have dwindled from 15 percent to two percent of the Palestinian population - most being forced to leave by economic pressures brought on largely by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Pope Benedict told Palestinian Christians that he hopes his presence here is a sign to them that they are not forgotten. He said that because of their deep roots in this land, Christians are called to serve as a beacon of faith and a leaven of harmony, wisdom, and equilibrium.

He told them to hold fast to hope, in the face of despair, frustration, and cynicism.

Pope Benedict earlier on Tuesday also reached out to Jews and Muslims. He visited the Temple Mount where he met with the Mufti of Jerusalem. Later, he walked to the Western Wall, the holiest shrine in Judaism, and prayed.

The pope read from the Psalms in Latin, the official language of the Holy See, before inserting a note containing a written prayer into a seam in the Wall, as is the tradition.

In the note, the pope said he had come to Jerusalem, the "City of Peace," and spiritual home to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. He said he brings the joys, hopes, aspirations, trials, suffering and pain of all peoples.

His efforts to reach out have not been welcomed by all.

Some Israeli politicians on Tuesday criticized the Pontiff for not apologizing personally for the Holocaust when he visited Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Monday and paid tribute to the victims.

The speaker of Israel's parliament also accused the pope, who is German, of being part of the Nazi apparatus that killed six million Jews. The pope was a child when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, and has been scrutinized for his brief participation in Hitler's youth wing, as well as the military.

The pope and his family opposed the Nazis, and said his participation in any Nazi-related organization at the time was compulsory.

On Wednesday, the third day of his visit here, the pope will go to Bethlehem in the West Bank, where he will minister to Palestinian Christians and meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

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