Vatican: Pope Benedict XVI may visit Holy Land in 2009

1st December 2008, Comments 0 comments

Tel Aviv-based daily Haaretz said in its online English version that Benedict had accepted an invitation by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Vatican City -- Diplomatic "contacts" are under way for a possible visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Israel and the Palestinian Territories in 2009, the papal spokesman said last week.

Father Federico Lombardi was commenting on a report by an Israeli newspaper that the pontiff was set to visit the Holy Land in May 2009.

Lombardi said no definite date had been set since the Vatican was still "studying" the situation.

Tel Aviv-based daily Haaretz said in its online English version that Benedict had accepted an invitation by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The visit would "hopefully end the high tension of recent months between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people over the initiative of canonizing Pope Pius XII," Haaretz said.

It was referring to an ongoing controversy over Vatican moves to elevate to sainthood the World War II-era pontiff Pius, who many Jews accuse of failing to speak out against the Nazi mass-murder of Jews, the Holocaust.

The German-born Benedict defended Pius when commemorating the 50th anniversary of his death this year. However, he has put Pius' beatification -- an important step towards sainthood -- on hold.

Late last year the Vatican turned down an invitation by Peres to visit the Holy Land in 2008, citing a stall in long-standing negotiations with Israel.

The talks focus on taxation of church property and visas for Catholic clergy -- issues that have marred Israel's relations with the Holy See for decades.

Also, there could also be no talk of a papal visit until the conditions of general peace in the area could be established, the Vatican then said.

For years the Vatican resisted establishing diplomatic ties because of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, disputes over church property in the Holy Land and the status of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and for which the Vatican champions the granting of an international status.

If Benedict's visit were to take place it would mark the third time a modern-era pope has traveled to the Holy Land. Pope Paul VI visited in 1964, while Pope John Paul II did so in 2000.

DPA/Expatica

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