BEIRUT

Middle East

Pope: Aim of Mideast trip purely religious

Pope Francis adjusts his skullcap during the weekly general audience at St Peter's square on May 21, 2014 at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

VATICAN CITY: Israeli police said Wednesday it had issued restraining orders against several Jewish extremists who had planned to “disrupt” the upcoming visit of Pope Francis.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says a “number of right-wing activists” have been restrained for their intention to carry out “provocative and illegal acts” during the three-day visit to the Holy Land.

In recent weeks, vandals have scribbled anti-Arab and anti-Christian graffiti on Christian holy sites and mosques.

Pope Francis has said his upcoming trip would be entirely devotional, aimed at praying for peace in the region and improving relations with other branches of Christianity.

“It will be a purely religious trip,” the Argentine pope told some 50,000 pilgrims at a general audience in St. Peter’s Square Wednesday ahead of a three-day trip to Israel, Jordan and the Palestine starting Saturday.

Francis said the main reasons for the trip – billed a “pilgrimage of prayer” by the Vatican – were to meet with the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and “to pray for peace in that land, which has suffered so much.”

The visit kicks off Saturday when Francis flies to Amman and meets Syrian refugees. He will then travel on to Bethlehem, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, wrapping up the visit Monday with a Mass in the place where Christians believe Jesus had the last supper with his disciples.

Francis will meet with all the main Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders, but only briefly. 

There has also been opposition from ultra-Orthodox Jews over perceived Vatican designs on holy sites in Jerusalem.

Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, an old friend of Francis who will be traveling with him, said the pontiff would try to avoid political pitfalls in the sensitive region by dividing his visits equally between Jewish Israeli sites and Muslim or Christian landmarks in Palestinian territory.

“He will try to be balanced,” Skorka told journalists in Jerusalem.

Skorka condemned opposition by ultra-Orthodox Jews to the visit.

“I’m totally against them [demonstrations against the visit]. This is a visit by someone who is seeking a road to peace and dialogue and he should be received with open arms,” Skorka said.

“We cannot remain and live in a vicious circle of hate.”

 

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