JERUSALEM — While Israeli authorities are preparing for Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage later this month, they have had to contend with opposition to the visit from various groups.

In Jerusalem, members of the rightist group Kach issued pamphlets against the visit, calling it “foreign work,” and anti-papal graffiti was found Feb. 27 scrawled along walls of the offices of the Chief Rabbinate.

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Israel Meir Lau strongly condemned the attacks.

“We have very bitter memories [of the Church] in the past … but Judaism speaks to us about turning an enemy into a friend, and [this] turning of a friend into an enemy is not acceptable. We need to give the Pope the respect due him,” Rabbi Lau told Israel Radio.

A spokesman at the apostolic nunciature said such opposition was inevitable, but he was not concerned by it. In fact, he was surprised there were not more such responses.

Pope John Paul is to travel on a pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories March 20-26.

A group of rabbis opposed to the Holy Father celebrating Mass in Nazareth March 25, which falls on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, met Feb. 24 with the apostolic nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Pietro Sambi.

They presented him with a petition signed by several thousand rabbis asking that the Mass be postponed so as not to force Jewish security personnel to desecrate the Sabbath.

Such use of security personnel on Saturdays is routine for state occasions and the visits of foreign dignitaries.

Meanwhile, in Nazareth, the Islamic Movement retains custody of a plot of land in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation where Pope John Paul is scheduled to celebrate Mass March 25.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security denied media reports that the government would request that the site be evacuated before the papal Mass at the basilica.

Following two years of contention, a cornerstone for a mosque was laid at the site in November, with the understanding that construction would begin only after the Pope's visit.

In separate developments, the Catholic and Jewish communities of Rome will host a number of events later this month in anticipation of the Pope's trip, said ZENIT, the Rome-based news service.

“The events are intended to help Christians learn more about the Jewish culture and religion, and to discover the common roots of Christians and their ‘elder brothers in the faith,’” said ZENIT.

An art and photo exhibit featuring the possessions of Roman Jews will be held at the Gregorian Univerity from March 15 to April 12.

A concert featuring Israeli singer Mira Zakai and musicians Jonathan Zakand and Gilad Hildesheim will be held March 15 at the Caravita Oratory.

The Gregorian will also hold a conference March 20 on “Thirty-five Years of Excavations in Jerusalem,” led by Professor of Archeology Dan Bahat of Israel's Bar-Ilan University.

The Israeli embassies to the Vatican and Italy are helping to sponsor the events.