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Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 15:16 GMT
Flashback: 1964 papal visit

Pope Paul VI during his 1964 visit to the Holy Land
Rewind 36 years to January, 1964, and the first ever papal visit to Israel.

That visit, by Pope Paul VI, took place in very different circumstances.

During his short trip to Israel - it lasted only 11 hours - Pope Paul VI never once called Israel by name, and went out of his way to avoid using the word Jews.

In those days, the Vatican saw Israel as a non-country, and its people as a non-nation.

Pope Paul VI even used the occasion to praise his mentor, Pope Pius XII, defending the latter's silence during the Holocaust.

The current visit, by contrast, will be seen by many as cementing the establishment seven years ago of full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel.

Christian pilgrimage

The newspapers of 36 years ago hailed the announcement of Pope Paul VI's visit as "astonishing", saying he clearly wished "to go beyond every historical precedent".

In the land of his redemption the Pope was a stranger, the half-understood guest of rulers of other faiths

Sunday Telegraph January 1964
The Pope, they said, was careful to stress that his pilgrimage was "a purely religious act, absolutely extraneous to any kind of political or temporal considerations".

He dedicated it to "Christian unity", especially unity between Catholics and the Greek Orthodox church, rather than to the reconciliation of different religions.

After the trip, the Sunday Telegraph in London compared the Pope in Israel to "his Master", Jesus Christ, who was also only "half-understood" and "a stranger" in "that same country".

Changing times

Pope Paul VI's itinerary included many of the same holy sites as those on Pope John Paul II's agenda.

Highlights of Paul VI's visit
Meets President Shazar in Megiddo
Nazareth - Church of the Annunciation
Tour of sites on shores of Sea of Galilee
Jerusalem: Ceremonies on Mount Zion
Celebrates Mass in Bethlehem
But he avoided all sites of Jewish significance, including Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust museum and memorial.

And although he met President Shazar of Israel, he refused to meet Israel's Chief Rabbi.

Two years had elapsed since the Second Vatican Council convened by Pope John XXIII in 1962, which set out to dismantle the charge that Jews were responsible for killing Jesus. Neverthless, Israel's statehood was still unrecognised by the Vatican.

The trip also took place before the 1967 war - in which Israel seized Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and east Jerusalem, the scene of the crucifixion.

The Vatican only recognised the Jewish state 46 years after its creation and, like the rest of the international community, it does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over east Jerusalem - which during the visit of Pope Paul VI was under Jordanian rule.

The map of Israel has changed several times since then - making the sensibilities of the second papal visit as complex as ever.

But there is fresh hope this time around that the occasion will do more to ease tensions between Israel and the Vatican than the visit of 36 years ago.

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