Ben-Gurion Airport Prepares For Pope Welcoming Ceremony


ben-gurionA dress rehearsal will be held tomorroe to prepare for the landing of Pope Benedict XVI’s plane at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday. The rehearsal, orchestrated by the Israel Airports Authority, will involve all the relevant bodies, a red carpet, an honor guard and the Israel Defense Forces Orchestra. The pope is scheduled to take off for Israel on a special Royal Jordanian flight from Amman at 10:30 A.M. Monday, and will arrive at Ben-Gurion about 45 minutes later.

The vice president of Royal Jordanian, Hussein Dabbas, who is in charge of the company’s Israel office, will accompany the pope on the fight.

In addition to the pope’s 40-person entourage, some 70 journalists will also be on the flight.

President Shimon Peres and senior government officials will be at the official welcoming ceremony.

The Shin Bet security service’s VIP protection unit is responsible for the immediate security for the pope and for the top officials present to welcome him.

From Ben-Gurion, Benedict will be flown by Israel Air Force helicopter to the helipad on Har Hatzofim, to avoid closing the main road to Yerushalayim due to a papal motorcade.

Benedict XVI will stay at the papal nuncio’s residence on the Har Hazeisim.

Today police detained two East Jerusalem residents near the Har Habayis. They had hundreds of leaflets calling for a boycott of Benedict’s visit to Yerushalayim.

Last week, the police simulated several scenarios of attempted harm to the pope. Traffic patterns on the papal entourage’s planned routes were scrutinized for bottlenecks. Congestion is expected in Yerushalayim on Monday and Tuesday, because main roads will be closed while the pope is in the capital and on his way to and from Beis Lechem.

The head of the police operations division, Maj. Gen. Benzi Sao, said last week that the police would have their hands full this week. In addition to the pope’s visit, this week includes the Lag Ba’omer celebrations in Meron and the marking of the Nakba, or disaster, the Palestinians’ term for Israel’s independence in 1948.

The pope said todat in Jordan that his visit to the Middle East was a reminder of the inseparable bond between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, a relationship that sometimes has been strained under his leadership.

The pope’s visit to Mount Nebo was the first of many that Benedict will make to holy places during his first visit to the Middle East.

“The ancient tradition of pilgrimage to the holy places also reminds us of the inseparable bond between the church and the Jewish people,” said Benedict.

“From the beginning, the church in these lands has commemorated in her liturgy the great figures of the patriarchs and prophets, as a sign of her profound appreciation of the unity of the two testaments,” Benedict also said.

Benedict met with Muslim leaders at the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman, where he gave a speech about harmony and shared purpose between the world’s two largest religions. Benedict did not pray or remove his shoes while in the Mosque.

Pope Benedict XVI began his delicate trip to the Middle East on Friday by expressing “deep respect” for Islam and calling for a three-way dialogue of Christians, Muslims and Jews to help peace.

He said that peace efforts were often blocked by partisan interests and that the Church could “help reasonable positions bloom,” and that it wanted to engage Jews and Muslims in a dialogue for peace.

“A trilateral dialogue must move forward. It is very important for peace and also to allow each person to live his or her faith well,” he said.

The pope arrived in Jordan on Friday, where he began his first Middle East visit as a self-proclaimed pilgrim of peace. However, he could face criticism from Muslims still upset over past comments he made about the prophet of Islam.

Some 4,500 Catholic pilgrims arrived in Israel from Europe today, on charter flights by Arkia and Sun D’Or, a subsidiary of El Al, which is prohibited from flying on Shabbos.

According to Sun d’Or CEO Bezalel Karvat, the flights bringing the pilgrims for the papal visit came from Spain, Italy, Croatia and Poland. Among them were three Boing 747-400s carrying 405 passengers each from Madrid on Saturday, and another 215 passengers on a Boeing 757, also from Madrid. A flight from Barcelona brought in another 210 pilgrims. Arkia flew in about 800 pilgrims from Italy, who also will follow the pope through the country this week.

The pope will visit 23 sites this week, including sites sacred to Christianity in the north and in Yerushalayim.

Earlier this year, the pope sparked outrage among many Jews when he revoked the excommunication of an ultraconservative bishop who denies the Holocaust. Benedict had lifted his excommunication along with three other ultraconservative prelates in a bid to end a church schism. But amid the uproar, the church has not allowed the bishop to resume his duties.

The pope’s forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism and acknowledgment of Vatican mistakes have softened Jewish anger over the bishop. But another sore point has been World War II Pope Pius XII, whom Benedict has called a great churchman. Jews and others say he failed to do all he could to stop the extermination of European Jews.

{Haaretz/Yair Israel}