.- Mass at the foot of the Mount of Olives began on Tuesday afternoon with Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, welcoming Pope Benedict and urging greater attention be paid to the suffering of Christians in the Holy Land. In his homily, the Pope said that Jerusalem must fulfill its "universal vocation" and become a "city of peace."
The Holy Father began his homily by proclaiming, "Christ is risen, alleluia!" which was received by applause and the response, "Christ is truly risen!"
Saying that he comes as the Successor of Peter to confirm them in the faith, Benedict XVI said he wished to "acknowledge the difficulties, the frustration, and the pain and suffering which so many of you have endured as a result of the conflicts which have afflicted these lands, and the bitter experiences of displacement which so many of your families have known and – God forbid – may yet know."
"I hope my presence here is a sign that you are not forgotten, that your persevering presence and witness are indeed precious in God’s eyes and integral to the future of these lands," he added.
The Christian presence, said the Pope, plays an important role as the "leaven of harmony" in the multiethnic, multicultural city of Jerusalem.
The inhabitants of Jerusalem must not lose sight of the "universal vocation" of the City as "a 'city of peace' for all peoples," the Pope maintained.
"Jerusalem, in fact, has always been a city whose streets echo with different languages, whose stones are trod by people of every race and tongue, whose walls are a symbol of God’s provident care for the whole human family. … There should be no place within these walls for narrowness, discrimination, violence and injustice. Believers in a God of mercy – whether they identify themselves as Jews, Christians or Muslims – must be the first to promote this culture of reconciliation and peace, however painstakingly slow the process may be, and however burdensome the weight of past memories."
The Pope then explicitly turned his attention to the "tragic reality – which cannot fail to be a source of concern to all who love this City and this land – of the departure of so many members of the Christian community in recent years."
"While understandable reasons lead many, especially the young, to emigrate, this decision brings in its wake a great cultural and spiritual impoverishment to the City," the Holy Father noted.
"Today I wish to repeat what I have said on other occasions: in the Holy Land there is room for everyone! As I urge the authorities to respect, to support and to value the Christian presence here, I also wish to assure you of the solidarity, love and support of the whole Church and of the Holy See."
Pope Benedict encouraged the Christians of the Holy Land to "touch" the historical realities that they are surrounded by and "see and believe" like St. Thomas. The grace of this encounter, he said, will "incarnate for others their pledge of new beginnings, the freedom born of forgiveness, the interior light and peace which can bring healing and hope to even the darkest of human realities."
The Holy Father brought his homily to a close by calling to mind the empty tomb from which Christ rose from the dead. "Let us return frequently to that empty tomb. There let us reaffirm our faith in the victory of life, and pray that every 'heavy stone' that stands before the door of our hearts, blocking our complete surrender to the Lord in faith, hope and love, may be shattered by the power of the light and life which shone forth from Jerusalem to all the world that first Easter morn."
"Christ is risen, alleluia! He is truly risen, alleluia!" the Pope said, concluding his homily as he began it.