JERUSALEM -- With church bells ringing, sirens of a police motorcade wailing and helicopters whirring overhead, Israel's capital welcomed Pope Benedict XVI.
The city's mayor, Nir Barkat, greeted the Pope and other dignitaries at helipad near Hebrew University and told His Holiness to feel at home during his stay.
"In Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and the Jewish people, we promote pluralism, dialogue and freedom of religion," said Barkat.
In his five-day visit, the Pope will tackle divisive religious issues in a city that three religions claim as holy. This evening, he will meet the parents of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit at President Shimon Peres' official reception, he visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, then immediately following that, he will attend an inter-faith dialogue with Jewish and Muslim leaders.
As he did in Jordan during the past three days of his journey, Benedict XVI will also encourage the Christian community in Israel and the Palestinian territories, a minority living among Jews and Muslims here.
The Pope took the opportunity at Ben Gurion Airport to address anti-Semitism upon his arrival in Israel.
"Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable," said the pontiff. "Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found, and to promote respect and esteem for the members of every people, tribe, language and nation across the globe."
The German pope has been criticized for lifting an excommunication order on a bishop who said the Jewish death toll during the Holocaust was exaggerated. The bishop has not been reinstated to his position.
"Tragically, the Jewish people have experienced the terrible consequences of ideologies that deny the fundamental dignity of every human person," the Pope said. "It is right and fitting that during my stay in Israel I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Sho’ah (Holocaust), and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude.”
Tomorrow the Pope will tour Old City sites, including the Dome of the Rock. He will end the day with a mass in Jerusalem's Kidron Valley at the foot of the Mount of Olives. His visit follows months of preparation regarding security, infrastructure and tourism.
"I take my place in a long line of Christian pilgrims to these shores, a line that stretches back to the earliest centuries of the Church's history and which, I am sure, will keep and continue long into the future," the pope said during his address on the tarmac. "I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace - peace in the Holy Land and peace throughout the world."
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