- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2009

NAZARETH, Israel | Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday celebrated Mass for tens of thousands of Christians in the town where Jesus grew up, calling for people of all faiths in the Holy Land to “reject the power of hatred and prejudice.”

“Sadly, as the world knows, Nazareth has experienced tensions in recent years which have harmed relations between its Christian and Muslim communities,” Benedict said in his homily.

The pope appeared to be referring to recent tensions in Nazareth over plans to build a mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation that were scotched in 2002 after intervention by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, and others. Nearly half of Nazareth’s 70,000 residents are Christian Arabs, predominantly Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox.

“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 peaceful coexistence,” he said. “Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men’s souls before it kills their bodies.”

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About 40,000 people, including pilgrims from around Europe, attended the open-air Mass in a special amphitheater built for the event at Mount Precipice, where the Bible says an angry mob tried to hurl Jesus off a cliff.

It was the largest turnout among the four Masses Benedict has celebrated during his delicate pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which ends Friday. The pope, who was due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later Thursday, has angered some Israelis by calling for a Palestinian state and denouncing a wall Israel has built through the West Bank — a security measure for Israelis that has made Palestinian movement even more difficult.

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