Pope Stresses Jewish Role in Religion; Greeted by Crowds in Israel
Menu JTA Search

Pope Stresses Jewish Role in Religion; Greeted by Crowds in Israel

Download PDF for this date

Pope Paul VI, the first Pontiff over to visit the Holy Land, told Israeli President Zalman Shazar today that he includes in his prayers the Jews, as “the sons of the people of the Covenant, whose part in the religious history of mankind can never be forgotten.”

The Pontiff’s statement to President Shazar, in response to a greeting by Mr. Shazar at Megiddo, was one of the highlights in a crowded day, during which the leader of world Catholicism was hailed by hundreds of thousands of Israelis–Christian, Jewish and Moslem–on his historic pilgrimage to this country. Mr. Shazar had welcomed the Pope in Hebrew. The Pope, in turn, concluded his remarks by using a Hebrew word twice–the word “Shalom.”

It was a bright, clear day, as the Pope, with his entourage of three cardinals and other Catholic dignitaries, entered Israel at the town of Ta’amch, opposite the Jordanian border village of Jenin. That frontier post, usually closed to any travel between Jordan and Israel, was opened especially for the Pope’s visit.

Officials of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs greeted the Pope at Ta’anach, at the southern edge of the Valley of Jezreel. (Mrs. Golda Meir, Israel’s Foreign Minister, was not present; she had hurt a foot and was hospitalized in Jerusalem just prior to the Pope’s arrival.)

With Israeli outriders preceding the papal convoy, and the road guarded by scores barricades, the entourage made its way up a hill to the ancient town of Megiddo, arriving there in 10 minutes.

An Israeli military guard of honor snapped to attention and presented arms as trumpets sounded a ceremonial welcome to the head of the Catholic Church. Awaiting the Pope atop the hill was the official welcoming party, composed, in addition to President Shazar, of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol; Deputy Premier Abba Eban; Dr. Zorach War-hafting, Minister for Religious Affairs; Chief Supreme Court Justice Yitzbik Olshan; Minister of Police Behor Shitreet; Speaker of the Knesset Kadish Luz; and other high Israeli officials. Present also, as dean of the diplomatic corps in Israel, was Soviet Ambassador Mikhail Bodrov.


A red carpet had been spread from the Pontiff’s automobile to the spot where President Shazar awaited the Pope. Television and other broadcast apparatus had bean set, as Mr. Shazar stepped forward and told the Pope:

“With utmost respect, and in full awareness of the historic significance of this occurrence, unprecedented in the annals of the generations, I have come in the name of the Government of Israel, and in my own, to bid welcome to the supreme Pontiff, the spiritual Father of the Catholic Church throughout the world. I have come to greet him with the age-old blessing: ‘Blessed be thou in thy coming.”

“From Jerusalem, our capital city, the City of David, I, and the members of the Israel Government with me, have made our way down to Megiddo, the city that Solomon built, so that we may welcome him as soon as he has stepped upon the soil of our land, this Holy Land.”

Noting that the Pope had described his pilgrimage to the Holy Land as a journey of prayer, seeking “mercy for all mankind,” President Shazar continued: “Surely the devastation of my people during this last generation is a bitter warning of the depth of bestiality and the loss of the Divine image to which ancient prejudices and racial hatreds can drag men down, if a purifying spirit does not come into being white there is yet time to dam up these dangers forever.”

The Israeli President then voiced hope for the realization of the call expressed by the ancient Hebrew prophets who looked toward the day when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation.” This countryside,” said Mr. Shazar, “testifies as living witness to the fact that prophecies are being fulfilled–the prophecies of the ingathering of our people here from all corners of the earth, and the renewal of their independent life as in the days of old.

Here, from Megiddo, stretches before us the Valley of Jezreel, whose fields are fruitful once again, whose landscape is enhanced by scores of new settlements based upon foundations of labor, equality, justice. And in every village and town of our land, there is being built the fulfillment of the promise of new life.” The President concluded: “Blessed be our illustrious guest upon his arrival amongst us.”


Speaking in French, in reply to President Shazar’s Hebrew greeting, Pope Paul expressed his emotions at “seeing with our own eyes, and treading with our own feet, this land where the patriarchs once lived–this land where down through the centuries there resounded the voices of the prophets speaking in the Name of God, in the names of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and hallowed forever for all Christians by the Presence of Jesus.”

Addressing President Shazar directly, the Pontiff continued: “Your Excellency knows, and God is our witness, that we are not inspired during this visit by any other motives than purely spiritual ones. We come as a pilgrim to venerate the Holy Places. We come to pray. From this land, our humble supplication is raised toward God for all men, believers and non-believers, and we happily include the sons of the people of the Covenant whose part in the religious history of mankind can never be forgotten. Shalom! Shalom!


President Shazar then presented the Pope with a specially minted gold medallion. In turn, the Pontiff gave Mr. Shazar and to the members of Israel’s Cabinet participating in the ceremonies a medallion minted at the Vatican, marking the Pope’s Holy Land pilgrimage. Pope Paul also gave Mr. Shazar two large, silver candelabra, an auto-graphed photograph of himself, and an electrocardiograph. He asked President Shazar to present that scientific instrument to an Israeli hospital.

From Megiddo, the Pope and his party were driven to Nazareth, the city with a predominantly Arab population. Many thousands again shouted welcome to the Pope as the convoy drove to Nazareth. Newsmen who had been with the Pope’s party yesterday in Jordan remarked that the Israeli crowds and security arrangements were very orderly, compared with the chaos that prevailed on the Pontiffls first day in the Holy Land, yesterday, in Jordan. The Israeli crowds had waited for hours to greet the Pope. The papal convoy had been held up for an hour beyond schedule by disorderly crowds jamming the roads from Jordanian Old Jerusalem to Jenin.

More than 100,000 persons crowded Nazareth as the Pope arrived there, but again strict order prevailed in spite of the vast enthusiasm with which he was received. As he entered the Basilica of the Church of the Annunciation–considered the spot where the Mother of Jesus was told she would give birth to Christ–the Pope book hands with another, larger, official welcoming party. This group was headed by Deputy Premier Eban, who had come ahead of the convoy from Megiddo, and included Archbishop George Hakim, of Galilee; Nazareth’s Arab Mayor Zouaby; and about 100 members of the diplomatic corps.


The Pope went to the Church of St. Joseph, then to the shores of Lak Tiberias, the site where the Christians believe Jesus performed His first miracle, turning water into wins. The party visited the ancient Synagogue of Capernaum, believed to be the oldest synagogue in existence, thence to the Basilica of Transfiguration atop Mt. Tabor.

Through the Valley of Jezsel the convoy headed for Israel’s Jerusalem, through the hills of Judea, taking the road traveled by King David when he went to Jerusalem to head the Jewish nation. Welcoming, cheering crowds flanked the entire road on the way to Jerusalem. At the entrance to Jerusalem, the Pope was greeted by the city’s Mayor. Mordechal Ish-Shalom.

In Jerusalem, the Pope ascended to Mount Zion–where Israel had prepared a specially improved road for his convenience–and visited the room where Jesus was reported in the New Testament to have had his Last Supper, and the Church of the Dormition, which honors the end of the life of Mary, Mother of Jesus. One of the cardinals accompanying the Pope visited the chamber on the mountain honoring the Jews martyred in World War II, and there lighted six candles in memory of the 6, 000, 000 Jews annihilated by the Nazis during World War II.

Finally, the Pontiff returned to Jordan, via the Mandetbaum Gate. There, President Shazar saw the Pontiff for the second time today, bidding farewell to the Catholic leader.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund