In Israel, Pope Francis calls for 2-state solution


The Vatican said the main reason for the visit was a meeting in Jerusalem with Bartholomew I, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, and “to pray for peace in that land, which has suffered so much.”

By i24news


Pope Francis joined with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I for a historic unity service Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Christianity’s holiest site.

Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I in Jerusalem ( )

Arriving to Jerusalem, Francis met with Orthodox Patriarch to lead historic joint service – Photo: Mark Neiman

The two met at the ancient shrine inside the walled Old City after signing a landmark pledge to work together to further unity between the eastern and western branches of Christianity.

Pope Francis arrived in Israel Sunday at 16:30 Jerusalem Standard Time (13:30 GMT), his helicopter landing at the Ben Gurion International Airport.

The Pope was met by a delegation led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

In his first speech on Israeli soil, Francis pledged his support for the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying he hopes that “it would become reality and not remain just a dream.” He further added that he supports Israel’s right to existence and the Palestinians have a right for a sovereign state, imploring all parties to find a solution sooner rather than later.

“I wish to bless all the people of Israel and wish them that their aspiration for peace and prosperity,” said Pope Francis, speaking at the airport. “I come to the Holy Land as a pilgrim, to the place where the three monotheistic religions had developed. In light of this, I sincerely hope that there will be no room here for any who exploit and distort their religious affiliations for intolerance and violence towards the other.”

Francis had also condemned the shooting attack outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels Saturday, in which three were killed and one was critically injured. After concluding his speech at the airport, Pope Francis flew to Jerusalem, where he will visit major holy sites.

Earlier, opening the greeting ceremony, Peres called Pope Francis “a brother” and thanked him for “assuming a sensitive and resolute stand against all expressions of anti-Semitism”.

“Nothing enriches more than love of humanity. Indeed, our Sages taught us that only love will build Jerusalem,” said Peres, “you bring with you great tidings and hope for all. You carry a message of brotherhood among peoples, and friendship for all.”

Taking to the podium after Peres, Netanyahu welcomed the Pope to Israel. In his speech, he called Israel “an island of tolerance in the Middle East” and underlined Israel’s commitment to the status quo for Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites.

Earlier, Pope Francis invited Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday to his home in the Vatican for a “heartfelt prayer” for peace.

“I wish to invite you, president Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace,” he said at the end of an open-air mass in Manger Square in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

“I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer,” he said.

“Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment. The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace.” The two leaders accepted the invitation and will fly to Rome next month.


In a purely political move, Pope Francis praying in front of the security barrier – Twitter

As Francis entered the square to conduct the mass outside the Basilica of the Nativity, he was welcomed by 10,000 cheering pilgrims, who waved flags and sang hymns and carols as he drove up in a white open jeep.

Earlier, he urged an end to the “increasingly unacceptable” Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling on leaders to show “courage” to achieve a peace based on a two-state solution.

“The time has come for everyone to find the courage… to forge a peace which rests on the acknowledgement by all of the right of two states to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders,” he said on meeting Abbas at his presidential palace.

During the meeting, Abbas raised the thorny subject of Jerusalem — claimed both by Israel and the Palestinians as their capital — accusing Israel of “systematically acting to change its identity and character, and strangling the Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, with the aim of pushing them out.”

After meeting with Abbas, who also complained about the “hideous’ Separation Fence built by Israel along its border with the West Bank, the Pope made an unscheduled stop beside a section of the barrier, drawing attention to the towering eight-meter concrete wall topped by a guard tower.

The 77-year-old pontiff was surrounded by anxious Palestinian security forces as he stepped out of his white jeep and moved towards the graffiti-covered wall to pray. Bowing his head in silent prayer, he paused for several minutes in front of wall, his palm resting against the concrete.

“Pope we need to see someone to speak about justice. Bethlehem look like Warsaw ghetto. Free Palestine,” read the graffiti in English, scrawled over the wall.


Forging regional peace

The Pope arrived in Bethlehem, the second stop on his three-day Middle East tour aimed at forging regional peace and easing an age-old rift within Christianity.


Pope Francis’ Mass in Manger Square, Bethlehem, 25.5.2014 – Photo: Twitter

He flew to Bethlehem by helicopter from Amman, where he began his Mideast trip on Saturday with an urgent appeal to end the bloodshed in Syria.

“Lasting peace for the entire region… requires that a peaceful solution be found to the crisis in Syria, as well as a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the pope said at the royal palace, ahead of a meeting with Syrian refugees on the banks of the River Jordan.

After his Bethlehem mass, the Pope will have lunch with several Palestinian families then meet children from three nearby refugee camps.

During the afternoon, he will take a short flight to Tel Aviv where he will be formally welcomed to Israel by President Shimon Peres before flying on to Jerusalem.

“I don’t think the visit is going to bring the signing of a peace deal tomorrow… but I am sure that it will make a substantial contribution, because the pope respects all cultures and all religions,” Peres told French daily Le Figaro.

It is inside Jerusalem’s walled Old City that he will attend a special joint service with Bartholomew in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher — venerated as the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection — which is seen by the Vatican as the highlight of the visit.

Monday will see Francis meeting Jewish and Muslim leaders at two key holy sites in the Old City, as well as holding talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which will touch on politics.

Traveling with the Argentine pontiff are two of his old friends from Buenos Aires — Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Islamic studies professor Omar Abboud — in a symbolic gesture of openness.


“Purely religious trip”

Although Francis himself has said it will be a “purely religious trip,” both Israel and the Palestinians will be looking to use the visit to score a few political points.

Key events in Pope Francis' visit to the Middle East ( AFP )

Key events in Pope Francis’ visit to the Middle East – Illustration: AFP

The Vatican said the main reason for the visit was a meeting in Jerusalem with Bartholomew I, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, and “to pray for peace in that land, which has suffered so much.”

Key events in Pope Francis’ visit to the Middle East ( AFP )But ahead of the trip, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin defended the Palestinians’ right to a “sovereign and independent” homeland and said he hoped Francis’s visit would lead to “courageous decisions” for peace.

In Israel, police issued restraining orders against 15 right-wing Jewish activists, barring them from sites that the pope will visit following a string of anti-Christian hate attacks. On Saturday, police also arrested 26 Jewish demonstrators protesting the Pope’s visit at a site believed to be the venue of the Last Supper, as well as King David’s Tomb.

Police with sniffer dogs combed the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, closely examining all the shops along the stone alleyways down which the pontiff will walk later on Sunday.

Israeli authorities gave permits for 23,000 Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and 600 from Gaza to enter Israel for the Pope’s visit.


View original i24news publication at: