Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope to enter a politically-charged shrine in Jerusalem sacred to Jews and Muslims. The pope continues to face criticism on the second day of a week-long visit to the region.
The pope left a note at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem
Police cordoned off the walled Old City of Jerusalem on Tuesday as the pope made his way to an elevated stone platform known to Muslims as the Holy Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Benedict became the first pope to enter the Dome of the Rock shrine, also known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is Islam's third-holiest site. It is also the holiest in Judaism and has been a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the latest Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000.
The sacred spot should encourage people to “work to overcome misunderstandings and conflicts of the past,” he said, according to a Vatican transcript.
"Here the path of the world's three great monotheistic religions meet, reminding us what they share," Benedict said.
Pope talks of conflict
Benedict visited a mosque built on a site sacred to Jews and Muslims
The pope then moved onto the Wailing Wall, the only standing remnant of the Jewish temple complex, where he prayed for several minutes and placed a prayer in its cracks, asking for peace in the Middle East.
Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, said he felt the pope had been “receptive” when he raised the issue of the suffering of the Palestinian people.
Later in the day, Benedict met with Catholic officials and conducted a late-afternoon mass for several thousand pilgrims at the Garden of Gethsemane.
"I wish 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," the pontiff said in his homily.
Criticism over speech continues
Critics say the pope lacked compassion when speaking of the Holocaust
Benedict's trip to Israel is aimed in part at boosting bilateral ties. During a meeting with Israel's two chief rabbis on Tuesday, the pontiff reiterated that the Catholic Church was committed to reconciliation with Jews.
Yet criticism kept reverberating from a speech Benedict had made on Monday at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center. Some Israeli officials and other critics thought the speech did not go far enough in condemning the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed.
Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and himself a Holocaust survivor, was among those who criticized the speech, saying it was devoid of "any compassion, any regret, any pain over the horrible tragedy of the six million victims."