Pope will visit Israel in May, says Olmert

February 16th, 2009 - 1:27 am ICT by IANS  

Jerusalem, Feb 15 (DPA) Pope Benedict XVI will pay an official visit to Israel in May this year, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced Sunday.

“The entire Israeli government welcomes the visit,” Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev said.

A detailed itinerary of the pope’s visit is not yet available.

It would be the third visit of a reigning pontiff to Israel since the state was created in 1948.

Pope Paul VI made a one-day stop-over from Jordan in 1964, but since the Vatican and Israel did not yet have diplomatic relations, he avoided any statement or act which could be interpreted as even indirect recognition of the Jewish state.

In March 2000 Pope John Paul II made a five-day pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian areas, during which he visited Christian and Jewish holy sites.

Pope Benedict announced the official visit while meeting US Jewish leaders Thursday, but had not disclosed a date, that meeting coming in the wake of the Bishop Williamson Holocaust denial scandal.

Relations between Israel and the Vatican were soured when, in January, the Pope moved to lift the excommunication of Williamson, who had previously made comments denying the Holocaust.

The Israeli Holocaust memorial centre, Yad Vashem, welcomed Thursday Benedict’s public condemnation of Holocaust denial.

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