The pope’s whirlwind tour of the Holy Land
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.
Pope 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
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.
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.
Western 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.
Coenaculum 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 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.
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.
Mount 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.
Church 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.
Church 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.