VATICAN CITY, 15 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 1.30 p.m. today the Holy Father arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv where Shimon Peres, president of the State of Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister, were waiting to greet him.
In his farewell address, the Holy Father noted how he had "had fruitful discussions with the civil authorities both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories", and "witnessed the great efforts that both governments are making to secure people's wellbeing".
He referred to his meetings with leaders of the Catholic Church and of other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities, as well as with heads of other religions. "This land", he said, "is indeed a fertile ground for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, and I pray that the rich variety of religious witness in the region will bear fruit in a growing mutual understanding and respect".
He also recalled how on the day of his arrival he and President Peres had together planted an olive tree in the garden of the latter's residence. "The olive tree, as you know, is an image used by St. Paul to describe the very close relations between Christians and Jews. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans how the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the cultivated olive tree which is the People of the Covenant. We are nourished from the same spiritual roots. We meet as brothers, brothers who at times in our history have had a tense relationship, but now are firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship".
Benedict XVI described his visit to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem as "one of the most solemn moments of my stay in Israel". While his meeting with Holocaust survivors "brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews ... were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred. That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied. On the contrary, those dark memories should strengthen our determination to draw closer to one another as branches of the same olive tree, nourished from the same roots and united in brotherly love".
He went on: "I came to visit this country as a friend of the Israelis, just as I am a friend of the Palestinian people. Friends enjoy spending time in one another's company, and they find it deeply distressing to see one another suffer. No friend of the Israelis and the Palestinians can fail to be saddened by the continuing tension between your two peoples. No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades".
"No more bloodshed!", he cried in an appeal to the inhabitants of the Holy Land. "No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence.
"Let there be lasting peace based on justice", the Pope added, "let there be genuine reconciliation and healing. Let it be universally recognised that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-State solution become a reality, not remain a dream. And let peace spread outwards from these lands, let them serve as a 'light to the nations', bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict".
He went on: "One of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands was the wall. As I passed alongside it, I prayed for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation, but rather respecting and trusting one another, and renouncing all forms of violence and aggression".
"I know how hard it will be to achieve that goal. I know how difficult is your task, and that of the Palestinian Authority. But I assure you that my prayers and the prayers of Catholics across the world are with you as you continue your efforts to build a just and lasting peace in this region".
Having completed his address, the Pope boarded his plane, a B777 belonging to El Al, to begin his return journey to Rome.
PV-ISRAEL/DEPARTURE/TEL AVIV VIS 20090515 (760)