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The BBC's Orla Guerin
"A historic visit"
 real 28k

Naim Ateeq, writer on Palestinian Christians
""Visit is a boost to the moral of the Christian community"
 real 28k

Saturday, 25 March, 2000, 20:43 GMT
Pope prays in divided Nazareth
Pope in Nazareth
Crowds lined the streets to cheer the Pope
Pope John Paul II has celebrated mass in Nazareth, the town where Jesus is said to have grown up.

His visit passed off peacefully despite a long-running dispute between Christians and Muslims in the town over plans to build a Mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation - where the Angel Gabriel is said to have appeared before Mary, the mother of Jesus.

A BBC correspondent in Nazareth says the Pope's visit calmed religious tensions in the town. He treated the mass at the basilica as a purely religious affair, avoiding any reference to the divisive issue.

Muslim activists had warned the Pope not to interfere in the dispute and security was tight for his visit.

Pope at mass
The Pope's voice was hoarse during the blessing
Shortly before the mass ended, the Muslim call to prayer went out over a loudspeaker at a nearby mosque. After the gathering, worshippers dispersed quietly, heeding the prayer leader's request not to disrupt the papal mass.

One of the main themes of the Pope's pilgrimage to the Holy Land has been the need for unity between the religions.

The mosque dispute has divided Nazareth's 70,000 people - two-thirds of whom are Muslim - and sparked riots in October.

Muslims want to build the mosque on the site of a small mausoleum housing the tomb of Shihab el-Din, said to be a nephew of Saladin, the Kurdish general who defeated the Crusaders in the 12th Century.

Israel's approval of the project last year in the face of fierce objections from Christian leaders led to a two-day shutdown of Christian sites throughout the Holy Land and threatened the pontiff's visit.

'Defend family'

In his sermon, the Pope appealed to all people to respect the dignity of others.

Pope in grotto
The Pope in the grotto where Christians say Gabriel appeared to Mary
He also urged Christians around the world to defend the family "against so many present-day threats to its nature, its stability and its mission".

Before beginning mass, the Pope prayed in the grotto where Gabriel is said to have told Mary she was carrying the baby Jesus.

His visit coincided with a Roman Catholic feast day commemorating the event.

Click here for a map of the Pope's route

As dusk fell, the Pope returned to Jerusalem where he visited the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, praying in a basilica built on the spot where the gospels recount Jesus' torment on the night before he was betrayed and arrested.

Pope John Paul bowed his head and rested his hands on an altar built above the rock where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus prayed in such agony he sweated blood.

The Pope's pilgrimage comes to a close on Sunday. He is due to celebrate mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, on the site where Jesus is said to have been crucified, buried and resurrected.

During the visit, some 20,000 security personnel have been deployed in Israel's biggest ever peace-time security operation.

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See also:

25 Mar 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Pope in Nazareth
24 Mar 00 | Middle East
The Pope's personal pilgrimage
23 Mar 00 | Middle East
Vatican's Mid-East balancing act
23 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Pope's message scrutinised
23 Mar 00 | Middle East
Arab press celebrate Pope's support
23 Mar 00 | Middle East
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