|Vatican||POPE RETURNS TO ROME AFTER VISIT TO HOLY LAND|
Pope John Paul returned to Rome on Sunday evening at the end of his week-long pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Earlier, he had dramatically reiterated the message of reconciliation he has been emphasising since his arrival with a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism's holiest shrine, formerly known as "the Wailing Wall" and a remnant of its ancient holy temple.
Rabbi Michel Melhior, Israel's Minister for Social and Diaspora Affairs, welcomed the Pope's going there "as the realisation of a commitment of the Catholic Church to end the era of hatred, humiliation, and persecution of the Jewish people".
Then, in one of his dramatic gestures towards the Jewish people, Pope John Paul prayed at the wall and, as is traditional with the Jews, placed a prayer in one of its crevices.
It read: "God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant." The prayer was later taken to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial hall, where it is to be put on permanent display.
Later, the Israeli President, Mr Ezer Weizman, and the Prime Minister, Mr Ehud Barak, bade the Pope farewell at an official departure ceremony at Ben-Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.