The Pope’s words were seen as a gesture of support to Roman Catholic bishops in the Holy Land who have dedicated this year to the family.
During his visit yesterday (May 14) to Nazareth, a once predominantly Christian town, the pontiff also noted, “Nazareth has experienced tensions in recent years which have harmed relations between its Christian and Muslim communities.”
He added, “I urge people of good will in both communities to repair the damage that has been done, and in fidelity to our common belief in one God, the father of the human family, to work to build bridges and find the way to a peaceful coexistence.”
Northern Israel is the home of most of Israel’s Catholics, who make up about 1.7 percent of the population and who follow either the Latin or Greek-Melkite rites.
Tens of thousands of Catholics gathered at the “Mount of Precipice” (believed to be the place where the Gospels say the enemies of Jesus wanted to put him down from the mount) to participate in the Mass, which was celebrated in Latin and Arabic.
“Here, in the example set by Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we come to appreciate even more fully the sacredness of family, based, in God’s plan, in lifelong fidelity,” the 82 year-old German pontiff said.
He added, “Nazareth reminds us of our need to acknowledge and respect the God-given dignity and proper role of women, as well as their particular charisma and talents.”
As a sign of hope for the future of the family, after Mass Pope Benedict blessed the first stone of an International Centre of the Family to be built in Nazareth.
In the afternoon the Pope met Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, and later celebrated the Vespers, or evening prayers, in the Upper Basilica of the Annunciation.
On the final day of his visit the pontiff is scheduled to meet Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theofilos III, the Armenian Patriarch Torkom II Manoukian, and the heads of churches from other Christian churches in the Holy Land. After that the Pope will leave for Rome, ending his eight-day pilgrimage in the Holy Land, which has included stops in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
On May 13 the pontiff visited Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, where he came out strongly in support of Palestinian sovereignty.