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Pope Benedict XVI Arrives in Middle East for Five-Day Visit

May 11, 2009 at 6:35 PM EDT
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Pope Benedict XVI launched the second leg of a closely-watched trip to the Middle East Monday with a visit to Israel's Holocaust memorial where he said victims of the genocide "lost their lives but they will never lose their names." Ray Suarez reports.
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JIM LEHRER: Next tonight, the pope’s trip to the Middle East. Ray Suarez has our story.

RAY SUAREZ: Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Tel Aviv this morning on the second leg of a week-long trip to the Middle East. The pontiff was met by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli dignitaries, as well as Christian and Muslim leaders.

POPE BENEDICT XVI: I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace.

RAY SUAREZ: Within minutes of his arrival, the pope called for the creation of a Palestinian homeland, a position the Vatican has supported in the past.

POPE BENEDICT XVI: I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own.

RAY SUAREZ: But a Hamas spokesman was quick to dismiss the pope’s two-state solution, saying, “We oppose any statement supporting a two-state solution that improves the image of the Jewish extremist state at the expense of the rights of our Palestinian people.”

There was also disappointment among Christians in Gaza. Palestinian and Christian clerics reported two-thirds of the applications to cross over into Jerusalem or Bethlehem to see the pope were denied by the Israeli government.

It is the pope’s first trip to the region since becoming pontiff four years ago, and it’s being watched very closely by Christians, Muslims and Jews.

This afternoon, Pope Benedict laid a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Pope Benedict sparked outrage earlier this year after he revoked the excommunication of a British bishop who denies the Holocaust. The pontiff later explained he’d been unaware of the bishop’s history.

And today he said the cry of Holocaust victims still echoes in our hearts.

POPE BENEDICT XVI: They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names that are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, the surviving fellow prisoners, and also those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again.

RAY SUAREZ: Before traveling to Israel, he also traveled to the Al-Hussein bin-Talal Mosque in Amman, Jordan. The pope also celebrated mass for Jordanian Christians yesterday; 30,000 people attended.

Pope Benedict is scheduled to make stops in Bethlehem and Nazareth before returning to the Vatican on Friday.