By Jack Khoury, Haaretz Correspondent
The large mass that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate during his May visit to Israel will be held in Nazareth, and not in Haifa, as had been proposed.
Haaretz has learned that the Vatican made the decision last weekend following a visit by a Vatican delegation that met here with representatives of the two cities. The Christian historical associations with Nazareth tipped the scales in its favor despite some Vatican preference for Haifa.
Israel was notified Sunday about the plans for the mass, which is expected to attract tens of thousands of worshipers, although a formal announcement of the pope's visit and his schedule are only expected next week.
Speaking to Haaretz, Nazareth Mayor Ramez Jeraisi confirmed the details regarding the Vatican's decision on the venue of the mass, and said the city has begun making arrangements for the visit. The mayor indicated that Precipice Mountain will be the venue for the mass; it was prepared for such an event in 2000, when John Paul II visited Israel.
Jeraisi said he met Monday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other officials, and that Nazareth was promised government help for the papal visit, including an allocation from the state budget.
The Nazareth municipality had been concerned about a possible Vatican preference for holding the mass in Haifa as the government believed Nazareth lacked the appropriate facilities. "We are pleased," Jeraisi said, "that in the end the Vatican took the correct and proper decision from our point of view, because no one can deny the status of Nazareth, and we will do whatever we can to ensure the visit and the mass will take place as they should, with the utmost success."
Vatican adviser Wadia Abu Nasser, who will accompany the pope on his visit, said the pope is scheduled to land at Ben-Gurion International Airport on May 11. The mass in Nazareth will take place on the 14th. The Vatican envoy in Israel will announce further details about the visit in the near future.