Amid an almost blackout by major Israeli dailies, Pope Benedict XVI travels to Nazareth, the boyhood town of Jesus, on Thursday, May 14, a day after calling for a Palestinian state and ending Israel’s long-running siege on the Gaza Strip.
"This is like a dream to see our pope," Moses Denorio, a Filipino who has been living in Tel Aviv for the past 25 years, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"It is so special to see him," he said.
"It is a blessing for us and a blessing for Nazareth."
The pontiff was due to celebrate an open-air mass, expected to see the biggest turnout his tour to the Holy Land.
"We’re praying for peace in Israel and for the Palestinians," said Denorio.
"We pray and we don’t lose hope. There is always hope."
While in Nazareth, a predominantly Arab city where 30 percent of the 66,300 population is Christian, the pope is expected to reiterate his call for Christians to remain in the Holy Land.
The leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics delivered a similar message his visit to Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
In the basilica Benedict will pray at the Grotto of the Annunciation, where Christians believe Jesus’ impending birth was announced to his mother, Mary.
An estimated 130,000 of Israel’s 7.4 million population are Christian.
Pope Benedict was also due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
His talks with the hawkish Israeli premier come one day after the pontiff called for a state for the Palestinian people.
"The Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders," he told a press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Netanyahu opposes the two-state solution with the Palestinians.
He advocates a longer-term, "bottom-up" approach to peace with the Palestinians built on economic development of the West Bank and a gradual handover to Palestinian security forces.
Benedict’s visit to Israel has been almost ignored by major Israeli media outlets.
The pope’s visit to Israel aroused controversy among Jews who was upset by his speech at the Yad Vashem holocaust, saying the speech was too abstract and lacked empathy.
Relations between the church and Israel have been damaged this year by Vatican support for sainthood for World War Two Pope Pius and for Benedict’s decision to lift the excommunication of a British bishop who questioned the Holocaust.
The pope completes his pilgrimage in Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) on Friday with a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and the tomb where he was buried.
Muslims believe in Jesus as one of the great Prophets of God and that he is the son of Mary but not the Son of God. He was conceived and born miraculously.
As for his crucifixion, Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified but was lifted up to heaven.
(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)