Welcome ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport
March 21, 2000
Address by the President of the State of Israel Ezer Weizman
Your Holiness, Pope John Paul II,
In the name of the people in Israel, I welcome you with the traditional greeting: "Baruch haba".
Two hundred generations have passed since the beginning of our people’s history, yet they seem to us like a short time. Only 200 generations since the emergence on the stage of history of a man called Abraham, who left his home and native land and went to a place which is today my country. Only 150 generations have passed from the pillar of fire that signaled the redemption of the Exodus from Egypt until the pillars of smoke that signaled the destruction in the Holocaust.
And we, who were born as children of our forefather Abraham, were present in all of these. Wanderers were we, following in the footsteps of our forefathers, but throughout the long years of our exile, our spirit was never broken and our yearning for Zion never wavered.
Two thousand years ago the people of Israel was exiled from its country and its homeland, and dispersed among the nations, over lands and continents. During the years of exile, we suffered religious persecution and anti-Semitism, and a third of our people were exterminated, incinerated in the terrible Holocaust. Today we are no longer Jews in exile wandering the globe from land to land, from diaspora to diaspora. We, my brothers and contemporaries, were born into the era when the Jews returned to their land and rebuilt it.
We appreciate Your Holiness’ contribution to condemning anti-Semitism by labeling it as a crime against God and humanity, and by the request for forgiveness for deeds carried out in the past by representatives of the Church against the Jewish people. As you have noted, we must act together to fight the plague of racism and anti-Semitism all over the world.
We are mindful of the new emphasis in Catholic religious teaching that calls for acknowledging the Jewish roots of Christianity and recognizing the Jewish people as it defines itself.
Therefore, it is important for the men and women in the Church to also become familiar with the modern Israeli reality, the State of Israel, as the spiritual center of the Jewish people, where Jews, Moslems, Christians, together with people of other faiths live together in peace and harmony.
From its inception, the State of Israel has guaranteed freedom of religion and freedom of access to holy sites to all peoples, and you will certainly see the evidence of this, Your Holiness, throughout your visit in Israel.
The State of Israel is presently in the midst of a peace process that is exciting and encouraging. Throughout the more than one hundred years of Zionist achievement, we have hoped for this peace and we have made great efforts to achieve it.
From the very outset, our hand has been outstretched in peace to our Arab neighbors. We eagerly await this peace, dream of it, pray for it. It appears in every chapter of Jewish thought, as in the words of Kind David, lyric poet of Israel: "Seek peace and pursue it."
You are arriving this evening in Jerusalem, the city of peace, the capital of the State of Israel, the heart of the Jewish world, which is also a holy site for Christianity and Islam. In the words of the prophet Isaiah: "And many people shall go and say, Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths. For out of Zion will go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."
Jerusalem has been the heart of the Jewish people throughout all the generations; it is what gives us our spiritual power. Jerusalem is the city of eternity, a city that has been reunified. It is the city of the judges of Israel, the kings of Israel, and the prophets of Israel, the capital and source of pride of the State of Israel.
The government of Israel and the people of Israel have done a great deal to guarantee your pilgrimage to the sites holy to you, in the best tradition of hospitality of our forefather Abraham, and in the finest of that same tradition of commitment to freedom of religion and freedom of access to the holy sites to peoples of all religions, be it those who live among us or those who come to us from other places for this purpose.
We wish you many more years of good health.
We welcome you here, Your Holiness, John Paul II.
||Israel welcomes visit to Israel by Pope John Paul II|