Pope leaves Mideast peace message
VALLETTA, Malta -- Pope John Paul II has arrived in Malta on the last leg of his historic pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Paul.
Before leaving the Middle East -- where his trip has been a mixture of pilgrimage and politics -- he appealed for "the door of peace to be opened" between Jews and Arabs.
The pope said: "The world looks to the Middle East with hope and concern expectantly waiting for any sign of constructive dialogue."
During his stay in Malta the 80-year-old pontiff will beatify two priests and a nun who lived in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The pope flew to Malta from Syria, where he visited the Syrian side of the Golan Heights and prayed for peace.
The pope watered and blessed an olive tree on Monday, but it was the reminders of destruction in the town of Quneitra that Syrian authorities wanted to highlight.
Quneitra was once a thriving agricultural town, but its buildings and homes were destroyed during fighting with Israel. It remains little more than rubble and ruin.
Israeli troops withdrew from the town 27 years ago, but Syrian authorities have not rebuilt it, instead leaving the destroyed buildings as an example and reminder of Israeli aggression.
Greeted by thousands of people, including some former residents of the town, the pope toured a heavily damaged Greek Orthodox church, within sight of Israeli occupation forces on the Golan Heights.
As he has since the start of his trip to Syria on Saturday, the pope did not appear to want to cast any blame for the violence.
"Peace is a gift from God," he said. "Even today, in the eyes of God, my prayer becomes more intense."
In Malta, the pope will beatify Father George Preca, who founded the Society of Christian Doctrine in 1907 to evangelise a population which, although Catholic, based its beliefs just on popular devotion.
Preca will be beatified along with two other Maltese -- cleric and lawyer Ignatius Falzon, who converted at least 640 British servicemen to Catholicism in the 19th century, and cloistered Benedictine nun Maria Adeodata Pisani (1806-1855).
As the pope moves on to Malta, he leaves behind him some controversy in Syria. Israel is angry with some of the comments made on Saturday by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he welcomed the pope.
Al-Assad cited "the suffering of people in Lebanon and Palestine," an apparent slap at Israel. He also talked about the persecution of Jesus Christ by first century Jews.
Vatican officials with the pope said he was a guest of Syria and would not comment on the president's remarks.
The pope's trip was designed to help promote peace between Syria and its Middle East neighbours, but it is also largely personal, meant to retrace the journey of the apostle Paul. Christians believe he converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus.
Christian faiths compose 10 percent of Syria's predominantly Muslim population of 17 million. About 310,000 of those Christians practise Roman Catholicism.
Pope pleads for Muslim, Christian forgiveness
Greek Orthodox Church
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