The pope’s whirlwind tour of the Holy Land

April 12, 2009

The Holy Land is scrambling in its preparations for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI, pouring millions of dollars into infrastructure and security. It comes just nine years after his predecessor, John Paul II, made his historical visit. He will be travelling from May 8-15.

More than 1 million Christian pilgrims passed through Israel last year, and the tourism ministry is preparing for a spike in that number around the time of the pope’s visit. The pontiff will travel with heavy security, sometimes on new roads built specifically for him.

You can scroll down and read about the key stops, in chronological order, on his whirlwind tour.

Mount NeboPope Benedict will begin his trip with a few days in Jordan. He is expected to give a speech at the ancient basilica on Mount Nebo that overlooks the Jordan River and Jerusalem. Mount Nebo is believed to be where the Prophet Moses died.

The pope will also hold a mass at the Amman International Stadium

Barack Obama, who at the time was a candidate for president of the United States, during a visit last year to the Hall of Rememberance at Yad Vashem.Yad Vashem — One of the pope’s first stops in Israel will be at the Jewish state’s memorial to victims of the Nazi Holocaust. It is particularly significant because of the controversy surrounding his decision to lift the excommunication of a bishop who denies the Holocaust. Pope Benedict later admitted the Vatican mishandled the affair. He will meet Jewish Holocaust survivors and attend a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, a common stop among visiting dignitaries. He will also plant a tree in a nearby forest.

Inside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, the area dubbed the “holy basin” is packed with sites, often overlapping, holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Besides being a political flashpoint, it is a destination for millions of tourists each year. The pope will make a number of stops in the Old City.

An aerial view of the Old City of Jerusalem is seen October 2, 2007.Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif — Known by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the noble sanctuary), this spot has often been at the centre of conflict. Built on the site of an ancient Jewish temple, two domed structures stand there today, one an Islamic monument and the other a mosque. The pope will meet with the Grand Mufti, who is in charge of Islamic holy places in Jerusalem.

A lone Jewish worshipper stands at the Western WallWestern Wall — Also known as the Wailing Wall, it is a perimeter wall of the Jewish temple razed by the Romans in 70 AD and one of the holiest sites in Judaism. It is common for visitors to place notes in the wall. The pope will meet the rabbi of the Western Wall.


Nuns visit the site where Christian tradition says the last supper was heldCoenaculum of the last supper — A second storey room off a narrow alley just outside the Old City walls where tradition says Jesus held the last supper. The hall was built by Crusaders in the 12th century. You can still see ancient graffiti on its walls from visitors throughout the centuries. Jewish tradition says the floor below is the burial site of King David. The pope will hold a small prayer session.

Valley of Josaphat — Believed by many Christians to be the valley where the Last Judgment is to take place, the pope will hold a mass there. It is located near the Old City.

The pope will visit the West Bank city of Bethlehem, where work is being done to renovate roads and buildings for his arrival.

Manger Square in front of the Church of the NativityManger Square and Church of the Nativity — The pope will hold a mass in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity. He will then visit the grotto in the church where Christians believe the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ.

While in Bethlehem, the pope will also visit the Caritas Baby Hospital and deliver a speech in the Aida Palestinian refugee camp.

The pope will visit Nazareth, the largest Arab city in northern Israel and believed to be the boyhood home of Jesus, escorted by about nine helicopters and 2,000 clergy. Israel has invested at least $3 million dollars in the city alone in preparation.

Heavy machinery works on Mount Precipice near the northern city of Nazareth April 2, 2009. The land is being prepared for a grand mass to be led by Pope Benedict XVIMount Precipice — The highlight of the trip will be a mass at a huge amphitheatre built into the hill where Christian tradition says an angry mob tried to throw Jesus off a cliff. Some 40,000 people are expected to attend. The mount overlooks the Jezreel Valley, a fertile area that has been used a battlefield for thousands of years, from the ancient Greeks to Napoleon.

Christians attend a mass in front of the grotto of the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation in the city of NazarethChurch of the Annunciation — The traditional Roman Catholic site where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. The first shrine on site was likely built in the middle of the 4th century. The pope will enter the grotto of the church and afterward lead prayers and give a speech in the second story of the basilica.

The tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that Christian tradition says is the burial place of JesusChurch of the Holy Sepulchre — On the final day of his trip, the pope will tour the Jerusalem church which is traditionally revered as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb. The mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine identified the place of the crucifixion and first built the shrine around AD 330. The church is maintained by six Christian denominations and fights between the groups are not uncommon. Details are not yet finalised, but the pope is expected to enter the tomb and hold a ceremony outside.


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The pope will not visit Gaza to see the aftermath of the Israeli holocaust perpetrated there in December and January with 1400 people slaughtered? And yet he blabs on and on about the Nazi holocaust? This pope is a tool of the Zionists and little more. The hypocrisy is disgusting.

Posted by Michael Hoffman | Report as abusive

michael hoffman: i guess hh benedict won’t be blessing jihadis, either. he’s a leader in the christian world, and i don’t remember gaza as being a so-called holy site. he may be an head of state, but his primary role is spiritual; your hypocrisy regarding politicising his visit is equally disgusting, although it may well get you promoted to gauleiter

Posted by jd | Report as abusive

jd: pope benedict is indeed the spiritual leader of the christian world and his trips should not be politicized, wherever they may take him. what is shocking to me, however, is why he preaches for peace and the end of human suffering the world over, without condemning the acts of horrific human suffering inflicted on the people of gaza by israeli forces. by failing to condemn and demand justice we are just allowing history to repeat itself. the only difference: the oppressed have become the oppressors.

Posted by zb | Report as abusive

zb: you make a valid point – except for benedict being “the” leader of the christian world; we protestants see him otherwise. i would be happy if he’d keep his nose out of all politics, although the rcc does have a lot of fencemending to do vis-a-vis the wars and sufferings it countenanced and caused. i’m not a dispensationalist or a christan zionist, and so have no belief in israel’s alleged god-given territorial rights, but istm the the jews are no friends to christians whilst islam is a sworn enemy of them, and i’m more than fed-up with media and academic “professional turks” and “jacuzzi jihadis” excusing the most horrific behaviour and then yelping when they get their just deserts. yes, israel must answer for dropping willie petes in densely populated areas, but let’s not forget human shielding and self-immolation in the name of militant islam. i’m all for balance and fairness, but am not holding my breath

Posted by jd | Report as abusive