Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass outside of Jerusalem’s Old City on Tuesday after two days in Israel spent navigating the currents of the region’s conflicts and appealing for reconciliation.
Benedict was greeted by thousands of cheering pilgrims as his white popemobile trundled through the olive groves in the valley of Kidron between the Mount of Olives and the 400-year-old walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The mass was the first the pope has celebrated since arriving in Israel on Monday at the start of a five-day visit that has already taken him to sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
“Here the path of the world’s three great monotheistic religions meet, reminding us what they share in common,” Benedict said earlier as he became the first pope to visit the Dome of the Rock shrine inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a site holy to Jews and Muslims.
“This sacred place serves as a stimulus, and also challenges men and women of goodwill to work to overcome misunderstandings and conflicts of the past and set out on the path of a sincere dialogue,” he said.
The pontiff arrived at the Dome of the Rock early on Tuesday, taking off his red shoes before entering the shrine whose huge golden cupola has become Jerusalem’s main distinguishing landmark.
The compound in which it stands in the Old City is the holiest place in Judaism and third-holiest in Islam and has often been a flashpoint in the Middle East conflict, most recently when the second Palestinian uprising erupted there in 2000.
Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein, who escorted the pontiff on the visit, urged the pope to work to end Israeli “aggression” against Palestinians.