March 21st (EWTNews) Today as Pope John Paul II arrived at the Ben Gourion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, the Holy Father began the fulfillment of a dream he has had for over 21 years, to visit the land where Christ was born and died. ``In this year of the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, it has been my strong personal desire to come here and to pray in the most important places which, from ancient times, have seen God's interventions, the wonders He has done.'' He went on to say, "Now I shall have the privilege of visiting some of the places more closely connected with the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ."

As the Holy Father stepped off the plane he was welcomed with the sound of fanfares and an honor guard. The President and Prime Minister of Israel greeted the Pope after he kissed a bowl of the Israeli soil presented to him by three Israeli children from Jesus’ boyhood town of Nazareth -- a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim.

"It is with profound emotion that I set foot in the Land where God chose to 'pitch his tent,''' said the Holy Father at the welcome ceremony. Again, the Pope restated that his visit "is both a personal pilgrimage and the spiritual journey of the Bishop of Rome to the origins of our faith in ‘the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob’ (Ex 3:15). "

"My journey therefore is a pilgrimage, in a spirit of humble gratitude and hope, to the origins of our religious history. It is a tribute to the three religious traditions which co-exist in this land."

He concluded his welcoming remarks with the hope that his visit "will serve to encourage an increase of interreligious dialogue" and provide "the motivation and the perseverance to work for the peace and justice which the peoples of the Holy Land do not yet have, and for which they yearn so deeply."

After the welcome address, he was flown to Jerusalem via helicopter and had the opportunity for a panoramic view of the city. As the Holy Father landed, all the bells were ringing. During his visit to Jerusalem, the Pope will stay at the Apostolic Delegate's residence at the foot of Mount Scopus next to the Mount of Olives.

On Wednesday, Pope John Paul II will be present at a Welcome Ceremony in Bethlehem followed by Solemn Mass in Manger Square in front of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Holy Father will then visit the Deheisha Refugee Camp, where he is to meet with Yasar Arafat. The day will end with the Pope greeting those present at the Departure Ceremony as he departs from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.