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Pope honors Holocaust, terror victims in Israel

JERUSALEM (AP) - Pope Francis honored Jews killed in the Holocaust and in terrorist attacks, and kissed the hands of Holocaust survivors as he capped his three-day Mideast trip with poignant stops Monday at some of the holiest and most haunting sites for Jews.

At Israel's request, Francis deviated from his whirlwind itinerary to pray at a memorial to victims of terrorism, giving the Jewish state his full attention a day after voicing strong support for the Palestinian cause.

Visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Francis prayed before a crypt with ashes of victims and laid a wreath of yellow and white flowers in the "Hall of Remembrance."

And then one by one, he kissed the hands of a half-dozen Holocaust survivors in a sign of humility and honor as he heard their stories and of loved ones killed by the Nazis during World War II.

"Never again, Lord, never again!" Francis said. "Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man - created in your own image and likeness - was capable of doing."

Joseph Gottdenker, born in Poland in 1942, said he briefly told the pope how he was saved as a boy by Catholics who hid him during the Holocaust. Gottdenker, who now lives in Canada, said he was more emotional than he expected to be when he met the pope.

"The Catholic people who saved me and risked the lives of their whole families to save me, they are looking down today and proud to see me meet the leader of their faith," Gottdenker said after the ceremony.

A day earlier, upon his arrival in Israel after visiting the West Bank, Francis clearly condemned the slaughter of six million Jews during the Holocaust, making up for what many Jews felt was a tepid speech from Pope Benedict XVI during his 2009 visit to Yad Vashem.

Earlier Monday, Francis prayed at Jerusalem's Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, and left a note with the text of the "Our Father" prayer written in his native Spanish in one of the cracks between the stones.

After praying at the wall, Francis then embraced his good friend, Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, and a leader of Argentina's Muslim community, Omar Abboud, both of whom joined his official delegation for the trip in a sign of interfaith friendship.

His gesture at the wall and at the terrorism memorial - head bowed in prayer, right hand touching the stone - was the same he used a day earlier when he made an impromptu stop at the Israeli separation barrier surrounding the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Israel says the massive concrete barrier is necessary for its security, while the Palestinians say it has engulfed the West Bank land and suffocated the biblical town.

The prime minister's office said Benjamin Netanyahu explained to Francis Israel's rationale for building the wall while they were at the terrorism memorial. Netanyahu asked Francis to add the memorial in at the last minute, and showed him the section dedicated to the victims of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish association in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. The Argentinian-born Francis was an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires at the time of the attack and later became archbishop.

"I explained to the pope that constructing the fence (separation barrier) prevented many more victims of Palestinian terror, which continues today," Netanyahu said.

Francis' intensely busy trip has been marked by his surprise invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican next month to pray for peace. Both men accepted, and Francis met with the outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres on Monday.

Francis started the day by taking off his shoes to enter the Dome of the Rock, the iconic shrine located at the third-holiest spot in Islam. The gold-topped dome enshrines the rock where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven.

The mosque complex, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, is at the heart of the territorial and religious disputes between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Speaking to the grand mufti of Jerusalem and other Muslim authorities, Francis deviated from his prepared remarks to refer not just to his "dear friends" but "dear brothers."

"May we respect and love one another as brothers and sisters!" he said. "May we learn to understand the suffering of others! May no one abuse the name of God through violence!"

Meeting with Israel's chief rabbis, Francis called Jews the "older brothers" of Christians.

The pope appeared tired, but holding up well despite the breakneck, back-to-back schedule that took him from the Dome of the Rock to the Western Wall, to Mount Herzl, the Israeli national cemetery named for the father of modern Zionism, and Yad Vashem. Meetings with the Israeli prime minister and local priests were also on the agenda, and finally, Mass in the Room of the Last Supper, where Catholics believe Jesus shared his final meal with his disciples before being crucified.

Francis is due to return to Rome just before midnight.

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stengernc May 26 2014 at 7:01 AM

The world needs a United Nations of Religion within which all leaders of EVERY FAITH meets monthly to discuss the commonality of their religion and then begins to discuss the differences....they may be surprised to discover that humans gave GOD different names but that after stripping away the veil of ideologies we truly pray to the same creator. Peace can be achieved only when we realize this. Once this is achieved then the leaders of all nations should meet and pray with the UN of Faith and start a new era of understanding and a rejection of hate using God as a pretext.

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30 replies
vladswim May 26 2014 at 6:53 AM

Its interesting that the world only chooses to remember the Jewish people who were slaughtered in the camps but not all the other millions of people who lost their lives. 7 million Jews were exterminated under Nazis. 40 million Russians were slaughtered.

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34 replies
kiick23 May 26 2014 at 7:03 AM

Two words for those Arabists, Nazis and hypocrites who denounce the security wall....NEVER AGAIN.

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5 replies
Bernhard Rosenberg May 26 2014 at 6:43 AM

Another Holocaust can happen. .If it happened before it can happen again. We must make certain that Israel remains strong. That is our salvation. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg http://www.mycentraljersey.com/viewart/20140409/GETPUBLISHED/404090316/Edison-rabbi-publishes-Holocaust-film-book

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8 replies
Sir James May 26 2014 at 7:56 AM

This pope seems to be a tad too socialist but you have to consider the country of his national origin. His proclamation yesterday of "the State of Palestine" continues to show he sticks his butt up in the air in the direction of the United States of America and Israel. Should we all be reminded who the Vatican's home countty of Italy sided with in World War 2? Not a fan of this pope at all and I don't care how so many try to sugar-coat him as something special. Will he also get a Nobel Peace Prize before he does anything worth writing home about, too?

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22 replies
keithj77441 May 26 2014 at 6:51 AM

Between the Nazis and the muslims, we have had ove r25 million deaths just in recent memory

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6 replies
Mike May 26 2014 at 6:48 AM

The Church's own holocaust against children still continues.

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19 replies
dal May 26 2014 at 6:47 AM

As long as man exist, man kinds existence is tentative at best. It would seem we are by design intolerant and self destructive.

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4 replies
vladswim May 26 2014 at 6:40 AM

Why doesn't the pope support peaceful solution in Ukraine? There are many Catholic people in the country. There are many fascists there also.

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6 replies
hewhocares1 May 26 2014 at 6:12 PM

Pope Francis delivered a powerful boost of support to the Palestinians during a Holy Land pilgrimage Sunday, repeatedly backing their statehood aspirations, praying solemnly at Israel’s controversial separation barrier and calling the stalemate in peace efforts “unacceptable.”

Palestinian officials hailed Francis’ decision to refer to the “state of Palestine.” In its official program, the Vatican referred to President Mahmoud Abbas as the president of the “state of Palestine,” and his Bethlehem office as the “presidential palace.” He pointedly called Abbas a “man of peace.”
Satan is truely at work, and The World is loving it.
May Israel stay strong, and never give in to the pressures of a wicked World .
May God bless, and protect His People.

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1 reply
glencove hewhocares1 May 26 2014 at 11:31 PM


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