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In pope's Holy Land visit, symbolism for Israelis and Palestinians

JERUSALEM — On a day laden with symbolism that evoked the fraught history of relations between Jews and the Catholic church, Pope Francis on Monday laid a wreath on the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, the first such tribute by a visiting pope.

The gesture was part of a packed itinerary that also included a visit to Israel's national Holocaust memorial, encounters with top Jewish and Muslim clerics, and visits to the Western Wall, Judaism's most revered shrine, and the compound of al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site.

The final day of what the pope called a religious pilgrimage to the Holy Land resonated with the political overtones that have accompanied his carefully choreographed trip to the West Bank and Israel, which followed a stop in Jordan.

The visit to Herzl's grave at Israel's national cemetery was a counterpoint to gestures to the Palestinians during the pope's visit to the West Bank on Sunday, during which he referred to "the state of Palestine" and paused for prayer at an Israeli-built wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

Accompanied by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the pope laid a wreath of yellow and white flowers, the Vatican colors, on Herzl's tombstone.

The gesture came 110 years after Herzl's meeting with Pope Pius X, in which the pontiff rebuffed a plea for support for the Zionist effort to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.

Francis held separate meetings with Netanyahu and with Peres, who has accepted the pope's invitation to come to his home in the Vatican with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to pray for peace, now set for June 6.

In pope's Holy Land visit, symbolism for Israelis and Palestinians 05/26/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 26, 2014 9:34pm]
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