JORDAN: Pope's pilgrimage in Moses' footsteps
Pope Benedict XVI is on Day Two of his week-long visit to the Middle East. Today, he visited the ancient Basilica of the Memorial of Moses at Mt. Nebo. This is the site where, according to the Bible, Moses first saw the prophesied Promised Land.
The Pope has a number of stops planned for his trip, which is the first papal visit to the region since 2000. The Vatican says the tour will include a number of sites sacred not only to Christians but also Jews and Muslims.
Reuters has outlined some holy highlights of the Pope's visit.
• This is where the Bible says Moses first saw the Promised Land and died after leading the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The remains of a 4th century church stand on the site, which Christian tradition holds to be the final resting place of Moses. Muslims associate the events with another site, Nebi Musa on the west bank of the Jordan.
• The Pope is to visit the site on the east bank of the River Jordan where some believe Christ was baptised. The exact location is unclear and a rival spot across the narrow muddy river has long claimed to be the place where John the Baptist and Jesus met for the cleansing ritual. For over a decade, Jordanian experts have unearthed ruins of ancient churches amid the tamarisk trees and found early pilgrims' writings about the site. Christian denominations have begun building new churches for modern pilgrims nearby. Benedict will lay cornerstones for two Catholic churches on higher ground nearby.
Temple Mount / al-Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary)
• It is home to al-Aqsa mosque and the gilded Dome of the Rock. The Western Wall below is a Jewish prayer site believed to be a perimeter wall of the biblical temple complex.
• It is the most sacred site in Judaism. Jews believe biblical King Solomon built the first temple there 3,000 years ago. A second temple was razed by the Romans in AD 70.
• Muslims see it as the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina.
• Christians believe Jesus taught at the temple and that he drove out money-changers.
• According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Mohammad ascended into heaven from a rock at the centre of what is now the Dome of the Rock. Jews believe the rock marks the spot where Abraham bound his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God.
• Israel captured the site in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it with the rest of East Jerusalem in a move not recognised internationally.
• The compound is administrated by an Islamic trust known as the Waqf. Jews are forbidden by ritual law from visiting the Temple Mount out of fear they might tread on sacred ground where faithful believe the Holy of Holies, which enshrined the Ark of the Covenant, once stood.
• Al-Aqsa mosque was badly damaged in a fire started by an Australian Christian tourist in 1969. He believed it was necessary to prepare the way for the Messiah.
• In 1982, an Israeli soldier went on a shooting rampage on the compound, killing two Arabs.
• In 1984, Israel uncovered a plot by a group of Jews to blow up Al-Aqsa mosque so that a new temple could be built.
• In 1990, Israeli police killed 18 Palestinians and wounded 150 others when thousands of Palestinians threw stones at Jewish worshippers and attacked two policemen on the Temple Mount.
• Israel's opening of an archaeological tunnel near the site sparked Palestinian anger in 1996. Sixty-one Arabs and 15 Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes.
• A Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000 after then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the compound.
• The spot where Christian tradition says Jesus attended The Last Supper. The hall on Mount Zion, just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, was constructed by the Crusaders and renovated by the Franciscans during the Middle Ages. Some Jews believe a cave at the site is the Tomb of King David, but archaeologists dispute this.
• At the foothill of the Mount of Olives, it is believed to be the site where Jesus had his final prayer before he was betrayed and arrested. A Franciscan church built in 1924 over the ruins of a 12th century Crusader church stands at the site.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
• The traditional site, encompassing Golgotha, or Calvary, where Jesus was crucified and the tomb where he was buried and resurrected. The church was originally built in the fourth century by Constantine the Great, whose mother, Queen Helena, had visited the site and identified it as the place of Jesus' resurrection.
Control over the grounds of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is painstakingly carved among six Christian denominations. Fistfights have broken out among rival clerics in the Basilica over the years.
-- Jessica Roy / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Pope Benedict XVI prays close to the Antique Basilica and Moses Memorial on Mt. Nebo, where the Bible says Moses saw the Promised Land. The pope's visit to Mount Nebo was the first of many that the Pope will make to holy places during his first visit to the Middle East. (Credit: Pier Paolo Cito / Associated Press)