BY ANNA ARCO
POPE BENEDICT could face security threats during his visit to Nazareth later this month, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, Shin Bet, has said.
The Vatican has been warned not to use the open popemobile for Benedict XVI’s visit to the city amid fears that it is not safe enough to withstand a terrorist attack. According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, the Shin Bet has asked the Vatican to reconsider using the glass-enclosed white Mercedes Benz in the city where Jesus spent his childhood. Nazareth has a predominantly Arab population which is approximately 30 per cent Christian and 68 per cent Muslim.
Shin Bet fears the possibility of a radical Islamic attack on the Holy Father. It cited the appearance of pamphlets being circulated in the north which have supposedly called for demonstrations during the Pope’s visit. Other pamphlets by radical Islamists in the region allegedly call for acts of violence in protest at the Pope’s visit.
The visit takes place on May 14, a significant date for the city’s Arab population as it marks the day on which Palestinians commemorate the 1948 war between Palestinians and Israelis which marked the beginning of Palestine’s loss of power. The security agency is anticipating riots in the West Bank. Ha’aretz said the Holy See had hoped Benedict XVI would be able to use the popemobile in Nazareth in order to be closer to the faithful who are expected to come. The Vatican is said to be aware of the security issues and is working on a solution together with the Israelis.
Benedict XVI makes his first visit to the Middle East as Pope next week, landing in Jordan on May 10 before arriving in Israel where he will stay for four days. His itinerary includes a trip to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a visit to the Palestinian Authority and meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. He will also visit the Yad Vashem memorial.
Palestinian Christians were putting pressure on the Pope to visit Gaza during his stay in Israel, but the Vatican has dismissed this because of security fears, to the disappointment of Israeli Christians.
Earlier this year the visit seemed in jeopardy when Pope Benedict’s lifted the excommunications of four Lefebvrist bishops including one who denied the Holocaust, angering Jewish group. But the Pope took steps to repair JewishCatholic dialogue.
Pope John Paul II visited Israel in 2000. He was the first Pope to visit a synagogue in Rome in 1986 and established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994.