Israel Apologizes to Vatican for Announcing Papal Visit

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel apologized to the Vatican on Monday for breaking protocol by announcing details of Pope John Paul II scheduled visit next March. The Vatican itself usually announces papal travel plans.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office announced on Sunday said that a delegation had been visiting in Israel last week to finalize details regarding the Pontiff's visit to the Holy Land.

The Vatican was not able to confirm the plans on Monday. "Our office hasn't made any formal announcement from here," the Vatican press office told

According to Israeli sources, the Pope plans a religious pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas from March 21-26, after a one-day visit to Jordan.

He will visit Christian holy places in Jerusalem and the Galilee, as well as celebrate Mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Jesus' boyhood home.

He will also bathe in the waters of the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, and visit Yad V'Shem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

The Pope will meet both Barak and Israeli President Ezer Weizman, as well as with the country's chief rabbi, most likely at the Western Wall of the ancient Temple, Judaism's most holy site.

"This can be a new page in the relations between the peoples and the religions," Rabbi Israel Meir Lau said on Israel Radio.

Rabbi David Rosen, Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Israel and the ADL's liaison to the Vatican, agrees that the first visit by a pope to Israel since 1964, is "very important."

The visit will have "enormous long-term historical significance," Rosen told

He said relations between Israel and the Holy See have turned around completely in the last 100 years. At the turn of the century, Pope Pius X refused Zionist leader Theodor Herzl's request to recognize and support the Jewish people's aspirations for their own state in the Holy Land, believing the Jews were condemned to wander eternally.

But by 1965, Rosen said, the Nostra Aetate declaration of the church had reversed many traditional Catholic positions. It condemned anti-Semitism, renounced the belief that the Jewish people were "collectively and forever responsible for the death of Christ" and stated that God's covenant with the Jewish people was eternal.

Rosen said Pope John Paul's meeting with the president of Israel would be the "ultimate symbolic" gesture in the reconciliation of the Vatican and Israel.