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Pope John Paul II Arrives in Israel

Aired March 21, 2000 - 10:50 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Seventy-nine years old, 22 years as the pope, Pope John Paul II, growing up in southern Poland, now to possibly disembark from this Royal Jordanian aircraft here, about to disembark, and into perhaps the crowning achievement of his 22 year papacy. Pope John Paul II on the ground in Israel proper.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: It has been 36 years since the pope has visited Israel, and what a different trip this is going to be, 36 years ago when it was Pope Paul VI, in 1964, it wasn't such a warm and fuzzy feeling we are going to see today. The pope then and Israeli officials didn't even meet on that trip, and yet today, as you will see, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Ezer Weizman there to greet the pope's plane.

HEMMER: And indeed, as of late, Pope John Paul II has made rather poignant remarks to try and bring the religious differences closer together, not only between Jews and Christians, but also between Jews, Christians and Muslims as well. As the door opens, this will begin what will be an incredible couple of days, all the way through Sunday throughout the Holy Land, the pope visiting several places that are not only near and dear to Christians, but also to Jews and Muslims as well.

KAGAN: The pope has said all along that this is a spiritual journey for him, and yet, as we heard from the "Time" magazine or the "Life" magazine correspondent earlier saying the pope is not naive, and he realizes that he's going into a politically hot area as well, the differences between the religions and the people, and his mission here to bring peace, and inspire peace among these peoples.

HEMMER: From here, the pope will travel east from Tel Aviv into Jerusalem. Tomorrow and Wednesday he will be in Bethlehem, a morning mass at Manger Square in heart of Bethlehem. He will also make a courtesy call with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader; he will visit a refugee camp as well. That is only tomorrow. After that, Thursday, back in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. And then later in the week, up to the Sea of Galilee; and then on Saturday, Nazareth, and Sunday, prayers at the Western Wall.

KAGAN: The easiest way to describe the pope's agenda here would be to say he is trying to retrace the footsteps of Jesus.

And with more on that and more on the pope's journey, let's bring in our Walter Rodgers, who is in Jerusalem, as he covers the pope's trip -- Walter.


The pope's plane has indeed landed at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, which is situated between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The red carpet is out, and there has been a kind of divine blessing on the pope's visit already. We've had rain here, rain is always scarce in the Middle East, and always most welcome.

Pope John Paul II is only the second pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, that is 264 popes, he's only the second pope to ever visit the Holy Land, the cradle of Christianity. As Daryn pointed out earlier in the day, the previous pope to visit was Paul VI in 1964, that was a much less happy visit for Israelis. The Vatican had not at that time recognized Israel as a state, consequently, Paul VI never mentioned Israel formally by name.

There is his holiness getting off his plane now, and walking -- about to walk down the ramp, behind him there is the papal nuncio, Pietro Sampi (ph), that is the apostolic delegate, the Vatican's ambassador to the Holy Land.

There is no way to express how important a visit this is in terms of the history of the papacy, in terms of the visit of a pope coming to Israel, which is indeed the first state visit we have ever had of a pope to Israel because, as I say, previously when Paul VI came, the Vatican did not recognize Israel.

The time difference over the last 34 years is enormous. The pope navigating carefully down the steps. Of course, as is his tradition, he kisses the soil here. But because of his fragile health, a bowl of Israeli soil will be lifted for him to kiss, an official Vatican welcome, as it were, to the Holy Land to Israel.

This is terribly important what you are about to witness because the pope is about to be greeted by Ezer Weizman, the president of Israel. That is important because it is the Vatican's recognition of Israel as a state , Israel -- recognizing Jews' rightful place in the Holy Land for many Jews, rabbis with whom I've spoken, there's the ceremonial dirt lifted by a Jewish child, a Christian child, and a Muslim child, the pope kissed it, now he is being given his cap, and he is soon to receive the official welcome from President Ezer Weizman.

As I say, this is terribly important because when the previous pope came, Paul VI, he would not even refer to the then president of Israel Solomon Shezar (ph), as Mr. President, again, because of the absence of diplomatic relations, this pope of course has done much to heal the historic rift between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish people.


RODGERS: Ehud Barak saying welcome to the Holy Land to his holiness. That is Mrs. Barak, Nama (ph). For many Jews, this visit of the pope to the Holy Land and especially Israel is even more symbolic than the visit later in the week to the Western Wall because it is, as rabbis have told me, an acknowledgement of the Jews' rightful place in this part of the world, something that the Vatican had more or less denied earlier.


RODGERS: You are watching Pope John Paul II at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, her has just been welcomed by Ezer Weizman, the president of Israel, the head of state. On the pope's left is Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the head of government here.

The pope now carefully navigating a red carpet. In a few moments there will welcoming speeches. The pope is expected to push for progress in the Middle East peace process. Ezer Weizman, of course, the president of Israel, welcoming his holiness John Paul II to Israel on the first state visit ever

Joining me now is the Reverend David Burrell. Father Burrell is the Theodore Hessberg (ph) professor of theology at Notre Dame University.

I wonder if you could give us some perspective in how you feel looking at these pictures?

REV. DAVID BURRELL, NOTRE DAME UNIVERSITY: It's very important, Walter, to recognize the sense of place that this pope has. And one of the things that infects one in the Holy Land is that this the place where Jesus walked, taught, died, was buried and rose from the dead. And it's that journey that the pope wants to continue. And he does it inserted within the political structures of this land, beginning in Jordan, now in Israel, and later in the Palestinian Authority. So it's the Holy Land that the pope wants to visit, the Holy Land that remains under sovereignty of three groups.

RODGERS: As you look at these pictures, Father Burrell, how important is this papal visit, this reconciliation between Christians and Jews?

BURRELL: I tell everyone this papal visit is even more than a papal visit because it comes at a time in which people can -- will be discovering, many people for the first time, that nearly 50 years ago -- 40 years ago, I should say, the Vatican altered significantly and officially its relationship to the Jewish people.

RODGERS: Thank you, Father Burrell.


RODGERS: We're watching Pope John Paul II approach the dais where he is going to deliver a speech, and a brief speech, on this official visit to Israel. And, of course, the other speech will be delivered by the president of the state of Israel, Ezer Weizman. The official party is forming now on that elevated platform and the speeches are about to be delivered, we understand. His holiness, the pope, will deliver his speech in English.

Father Burrell, what do you think it's important for the pope to say in terms of effecting further reconciliation between Christians and Jews?

BURRELL: I think it's important for him to remind us of what he did last Sunday, that the church has, in marginalizing the Jewish people throughout the Christian history, has indeed betrayed its deepest instincts, which was to -- which have always been to recognize in Hebrew scriptures the revelation of the torah to Moses,. and following upon that revelation, the revelation of God in Jesus. So it's that sense of continuity and sense of deep, mutual understanding that I think the pope is bringing.

RODGERS: Father Burrell, the -- this pope has apologized 35 times, by most counts, for the Roman Catholic Church's record in its treatment of the Jews. Where do we go from here?

BURRELL: Well, I think we go to working together for peace. And I think it's terribly important to remember that Islam is also part of this picture. And so when one thinks of Christianity and Judaism, one also thinks of Islam. And it's always useful when we have a conflict between two people to bring in a third to round out the conversation.

RODGERS: Thank you, Father David Burrell. Thanks very much for being with us.

We're watching the receiving with Pope John Paul II upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv. Soon the pope will be flying to Jerusalem. He'll be staying here all throughout this visit from here on out -- Bill.

HEMMER: Walter, it should be stressed, I guess, as we look at these live pictures from Ben Gurion Airport as the visiting line moves past Pope John Paul II, how deeply personal this trip must be for him. He has said it is his own long-held dream of walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. And now at the age of 79, when you look at the itinerary that he will embark on between now and next Sunday, even a tourist to the Holy Land, even a tourist to the Holy Land would be jealous of a trip such as this. But it must be incredibly personal and deeply heartfelt for him to be standing where he is today and about to embark on the tour that he's about to begin.

RODGERS: Indeed, Bill, since John Paul II ascended to throne of St. Peter in 1978, he has dreamed of this pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But it is not just the footsteps of Jesus which this pope hopes to walk in, he has several other goals as well. Another goal is to effect this reconciliation between Christians and Jews; also to effect a better relationship between Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.

Additionally, this pope is here, of course, to try to push the peace process forward. We expect him to make reference to that in his remarks very, very shortly -- Bill.

KAGAN: Walter, Daryn Kagan here as well. This is not only an ambitious outing, it could be a tiring one as well. Much has been made of the pope being 79 years old and in frail health. What's being done to accommodate that information?

RODGERS: Much, Daryn. That's an excellent question. Much is being done. Let me give you just a few examples. Of course the pope will be traveling everywhere throughout the region in a helicopter. And of course the famous, or infamous, Popemobile will be taking him part of the way in this part of the world. In the house where he's staying, the papal nuncio's house -- that is the Vatican's ambassador to the Holy Land -- in that house, a special elevator was put in so the pope would be able to get up to the upper floors of that and not have to traverse stairs.

So much has been done. The Israelis have spent millions and millions of dollars in terms of infrastructure improvement. The Palestinians have spent millions of dollars as well trying to spruce up both Jerusalem, Bethlehem and all of the areas the pope is going to visit, trying to make them more comfortable, more safe and actually just general improvement there to give the entire area a face lift for this truly historic visit -- Daryn.

HEMMER: All right, Walter.

We're going to hang on here again. The pope is expected to speak shortly here. As the music dies down we will go silent and listen.


HEMMER: My Hebrew not quite up to speed. My regrets and my apologies.

If Walter Rodgers is still with us, Walter, while we wait for the pontiff to speak, Walter, if you're still with us, one thing that I noticed on the itinerary for this week's tour throughout the Holy Land and various sites, there will not be visit to the Dome of the Rock.

Walter, hang off right there just in case the pope -- OK he's not going to.

Walter the Dome of the Rock is not on the itinerary. Was that intentional, or is that something that may be able to be worked into in the old city of Jerusalem?

RODGERS: Well, actually, he will be walking in that plaza around the Al-Aqsa Mosque and around the Dome of the Rock. Of course, the pope being very careful, very politically sensitive to give equal time, as it were. So, in addition to going to the Western Wall, which is, of course, the holiest site in Judaism, he will shortly thereafter be visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque; of course not praying there, but certainly going there.

And by the way, that's traditionally a very important area for both Christians and Jews as well as for Muslims. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is now built over the site of the Jews second temple, which was destroyed by the Romans. And of course that's the temple which Jesus walked in, prayed in. So wherever he goes in that entire area will be holy ground -- Bill.

KAGAN: All right, Walter, thank you.

I believe we have an English translation now on the Hebrew, so let's just go ahead and listen in to the speech.


WEITZMAN (through translator): ... have experienced this period in which the Jews have come back to our own country and established our own state. And we, your holiness, very much appreciate what you have said with regard to the sins committed by the church against the members of the Jewish nation. As has been pointed out, we must together fight manifestations of anti-Semitism and racism in the world. We very much appreciate the new approach in which the Catholic Church wishes to emphasize the Jewish roots of its faith to recognize the Jewish people as it has defined itself.

And it is therefore absolutely vital that the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church should also recognize the modern situation where the state of Israel is the center of the Jewish people, a state in which Jews Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths live side by side.

Since its very beginning, the state of Israel has promised freedom of religion and freedom of access to the holy sites. And in the course of your pilgrimage, you, I'm sure, will be aware of this in our country. And we, for more than 100 years of the realization of Zionism, have hoped for peace and made every effort to achieve it.

From the very beginning, our hands have been extended in peace to all our Arab neighbors. We dream of and aspire to and pray for this peace, which appears, as something beautiful, which the Jewish people aspire to. Pray for peace and pursue it.

Your holiness, you will be coming to Jerusalem, the city of peace, the capital of Israel, and the heart of Jewish people, which is holy also to the Christian and Islamic faiths. It says in the Bible, "Rise up and go up to Zion. For from Zion, will go out the law, and the word of the lord from Jerusalem."

Jerusalem is the very heart of the Jewish people and has been over all our generations, it gives us our strength, it is an eternal city, it is the city of the kings and the judges of Israel, of the dreamers, and of the profits.

Israel is -- Jerusalem is the city of peace, it is the pride of the state of Israel. The government and the people of Israel have acted -- have done a great deal in order to ensure that you can visit the holy sites. As part of the tradition of hospitality of Abraham, our forefather, we obviously pursue the same tradition in ensuring that there is a freedom of access to all holy places to all religions.

We welcome you to the Holy Land, Pope John Paul II, and wish you many years of health.

POPE JOHN PAUL II: Dear President and Madame Weizman, Dear Prime Minister and Madame Barak, dear Israeli friends, ladies and gentlemen, yesterday, from the heights of Mount Nebo, I looked across the Jordan Valley, to this blessed land. Today, it is with profound emotion, that I set foot in the land that God chose to preach his stand, and made it possible for man to encounter him more direct.

This year, on the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, it has been a strong personal desire to come here, and to pray the most important places, which have from ancient times have seen God's intervention, the wonders he has done. You are -- God works wonders, to show power among the peoples.

Mr. President, I thank you for your warm welcome and your person I greet all the people of the state of Israel. My visit is both a personal pilgrim and the spiritual journey of the people of Rome to the origins of our faith and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

It is a part of a larger of prayer, and thanksgiving, the mountain and the covenants, the place where nation was shaped, subsequent history of generation. Now, I shall have the privilege of visiting some of the places more closely connected with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And move -- God, has gone before us -- teach us all, wants us to honor him, his spirit, and in truth to acknowledge the differences between us, but also the recognize in everyone being the image and likeness of the one creator of heaven and earth.

Mr. President, you are known as a man of peace and peacemaker. You all know is the need for peace and justice, not for Israel, but for the entire region. Many things have changed in relations between the Holy Sea and the state of Israel since my predecessor Pope Paul VI came here in 1964.

The establishment of diplomatic relations between us, in 1994, efforts to open an era of dialogue on questions and common interest concerning religious freedom, relations between the state, and more generally, relations between Christians and Jews.

World opinion follows with close attention the peace process, which finds all the peoples of region in the world. In the difficult search for a lasting peace, and justice for all, with newfound openness to us, one another, Christians and Jews together, must make courageous efforts to involve (ph) all forms of prejudice.

We must strive always and everywhere to present the true faith of the Jews and the Judaism, as likewise of Christians and their Christianity. And this, teaching, and communication.

My job, therefore, is a pilgrimage in a spirit of humble gratitude and calm, through the origins of our religious history, it is a tribute to the three religious traditions which coexist in this land. For a long time, I have looked forward to meeting the face of the Catholic communities, the rich variety and the members of the various Christian churches and communities present in the Holy Land. I pray that my visit will serve to encourage and increase inter- religious dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims, to seek in their respective beliefs, and in the brotherhood that unites all the members of the human family, the motivation, and the perseverance to all for the peace and justice of Holy Land, do not yet have, and for which I am sorry (ph).

The service (ph) reminds us the peace, that peace is God's gift. I hear what the lord God has to say, a voice that speaks of peace, peace for his people and his lands, and those who turn to him in their hearts, may peace be God's gift to the land he choose as his own. Shalom.

RODGERS: Pope John Paul II has just delivered his introductory remarks at Ben Gurion Airport on this millennial year 2000 pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The pope did his best to throw the moral force of papacy and the Vatican behind the Middle East peace process, saying there must be peace and justice, not just for Israelis, but for all people of the region.

The pope knows that he must tread a very careful line, here, walking between Israel, and the Palestinians, and he is committed to do that. He wants as little politics injected into this visit, as possible. His holiness, of course, is trying to make this the capstone of his career, his 22-year career in the papacy. He has dreamed of this visit to the Holy Land. He will be here through this coming Sunday.

His holiness, the pope, now takes a helicopter from Ben Gurion Airport here to Jerusalem. He will be spending the night, almost every night, on the Mount of Olives behind me, at the papal nuncio's place there, the papal nuncio's house. The pope will be spending every night there, though commuting throughout the Holy Land over the course of the next several days.

There are no other official stops on the pope's itinerary this evening. This is, of course, the Jewish holiday the, feast of Purim. So this it for the pope, here on the first day of this visit. As I say, he is due to helicopter here within the next few minutes.

I'm Walter Rodgers, CNN. live, Jerusalem.

HEMMER: All right, Walter, as we continue to watch the pope there on the tarmac.

To let our viewers know, once again, he will be heading to Jerusalem later tonight, and then begin his tour of the Holy Land. And we made mention 30 minutes ago, Daryn, about the significance of this trip, not only because of the every leading member of the Israeli government is there, to greet the pope, but also the pope's words himself, mentioning again, Pope Paul VI in 1964, the last papal visit, and Pope John Paul II saying that many things have changed between Israel and the Holy Sea, the Vatican, since that time, 1964.

KAGAN: And Walter, as we have said, once and again, this is what the pope we heard in his words called this a "personal pilgrimage," a "spiritual journey." Supposedly not a political trip, and yet the pope making mention of the word "peace," and he will be meeting with leaders, not only Israeli leaders here, but also Christian leaders and Muslim leaders as well. Can you add to that?

Walter, are you still with us? RODGERS: Actually, I am, Daryn, is the line up?

HEMMER: It sure is, Walter. We are live here in Atlanta.

KAGAN; And we are still watching the pictures, talking again about how this isn't necessarily a political journey, and yet how it cannot but help be a political journey for the pope.

RODGERS: Well, that is true, Daryn, and the pope, of course, is fully aware of that, but you have to remember, that the pope wears actually two hats. He is, of course, the head of the largest Christian church in world, one billion Roman Catholics, and he wears a spiritual hat in that capacity. But he is also a head of state. He is head of the Vatican, and the Vatican has diplomatic ties with countries around the world. So, the pope is no newcomer to this -- remember, this is a pope who has traveled to 92 different countries. He knows politics probably better than most world leaders. So he will certainly be sensitive to all the balancing that is necessary here -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Walter Rodgers joining us from Jerusalem, as we watch the pope arrive just outside Tel Aviv.

HEMMER: And our coverage will continue, not only throughout the day here, but also through Sunday, before the pope disembarks out of Israel and heads back to Vatican City.

This has been our special coverage live from Israel.



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