Pope Benedict XVI vowed to fight anti-Semitism and called for an independent Palestinian state upon his arrival in Israel.
The pope also invoked the memory of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust and said he would pray for peace during his five-day visit to Israel, which began Monday morning when he landed in a plane belonging to the Jordanian royal family at Ben Gurion International Airport.
“I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace—peace here in the Holy Land, and peace throughout the world,” Benedict said during a welcoming ceremony at the airport.
The pope said that at his scheduled visit later in the day to the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, he would “have the opportunity to honor the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Shoah, and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude.”
Benedict lamented the worldwide rise in anti-Semitism.
“Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable,” he said. “Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found, and to promote respect and esteem for the members of every people, tribe, language and nation across the globe.”
The pope then switched his attention to achieving peace between Palestinians and Israel.
“In union with people of good will everywhere, I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders,” he said.
Israeli President Shimon Peres greeted the pope in Latin and Hebrew before addressing him in English.
“Your visit here brings a blessed understanding between religions and spreads peace near and far,” Peres said. “Historic Israel and the renewed Israel together welcome your arrival as paving the great road to peace from city to city.”
Following the airport ceremony, the pope flew by helicopter to Jerusalem, where he was greeted by Mayor Nir Barkat and a group of children waving Israeli flags and singing “Haveinu Shalom Aleichem.”
At Yad Vashem, the pope will meet with Holocaust survivors. Later he will attend a welcoming reception at the president’s official residence in Jerusalem.
The pope, who is traveling with a 40-person staff and 70 reporters, will stay at the Papal Nuncio’s residence in Jerusalem during his visit. He is scheduled to visit the Temple Mount and the Western Wall on Tuesday, Bethlehem on Wednesday and Nazareth on Thursday. He will fly back to Rome Friday afternoon on a special El Al flight.
Upon the pope’s arrival, “Operation White Robe,” which will include 80,000 police officers and security guards, went into effect to protect his safety.