Fifty year Ago: Pope Paul VI’s visit to the Holy Land

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Fifty year Ago: Pope Paul VI’s visit to the Holy Land

Arthur House

The front, back and centre pages of The Sunday Telegraph have been devoted to Pope Paul VI's historic three-day visit to the Holy Land, which, fittingly for the end of the Christmas season, seemed to promise peace and goodwill to all men.

"A flight of white doves released by Jordanian schoolgirls greeted the Pope when he arrived at Amman Airport today on his history-making pilgrimage marking the first visit of a Pope to the Holy Land for nearly 2,000 years," we reported.

There was a suggestion of divine intervention in the arrival of the pontiff, whose many foreign visits would later earn him the nickname of the "Pilgrim Pope": "Thick clouds blanketing the mountains surrounding the airport caused doubts that the Pope's aircraft would be able to land. For a time, weather conditions closed the airport, but less than an hour before the Pope's plane arrived, the clouds lifted and the wintry sun appeared."

He was greeted by the 28-year-old King Hussein of Jordan, who hailed the visit as ushering in a new era of closer friendship and understanding between Christianity and Islam. King Hussein, who was dressed in an air marshal's uniform, presented the Pope with "two wooden sculptures worked from the wood of the Garden of Gethsemane", while the Pope reciprocated with "an 18th century clock and an electrode machine for use in Jordanian hospitals".

The papal visit was also an opportunity to build bridges with the Orthodox Church. Meetings between the Pope and Orthodox patriarchs in Jerusalem were "the first high-level contact between the Churches for hundreds of years".

Pope Paul travelled by car from Amman to Jerusalem, stopping on the bank of the River Jordan to bless the waters, where he "must have felt in communion with the ancient Jewish race for whom this was ever the frontier of freedom. But there was no Jew there to see. It was still the world of the Arab Legion, with King Hussein himself piloting a plane above, as though to emphasise his sovereignty over both banks."

The authorities had clearly underestimated the crowds that would greet the Pope's arrival in the Holy City. "Jostled by the exuberant but unruly throng in the Via Dolorosa, the Pope was swept past at least one of the Stations of the Cross, and had to enter a small chapel for 25 minutes while anxious authorities discussed how to get him safely on his way. Security forces used rifle butts and batons to clear a path as people pressed around trying to touch his white robe."

So great was the crush that when he eventually arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to celebrate Mass, he found that the doors had been shut. In a seemingly symbolic gesture, "A Moslem guardian knocked, calling: 'Let the Pope in'.”

Wed, 01/08/2014 - 11:36
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