Israeli-Palestinian situation is 'unacceptable' says Pope in Holy Land

(Photo: REUTERS / Finbarr O'Reilly)Pope Francis (R) conducts Mass at Manger Square, outside the Church of Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, May 25, 2014. Pope Francis on Sunday invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican to pray for peace a month after U.S.-backed talks aimed at ending the Middle East conflict collapsed.

Pope Francis arrived in Bethlehem Sunday, the town where the birth of Jesus is celebrated and where the pontiff said the impasse between Israel and its Palestinian neighbor is unacceptable.

Courageous decisions are needed resolve the impasse said the Pope..

"The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable," Francis said in a speech to Palestinian leaders and President Mahmoud Abbas who was standing next to him.

"For the good of all, there is a need to intensify efforts and initiatives aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice, on the recognition of the rights of every individual, and on mutual security.

"The time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good, the courage to forge a peace which rests on the acknowledgment by all of the right of two States to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders."

Francis offered his "home in the Vatican" for a meeting of peace prayer along with Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

On his way to celebrate a mass at Manger Square in Bethlehem the Pope stopped and inspected a massive separation barrier, which Israel insists is a security measure. He prayed there.

Critics of the barrier say it has annexed land across the West Bank owned Palestinians and has choked commerce in Bethlehem.

After leaving his vehicle the pontiff inspected the barrier surrounded by Palestinians waving Vatican flags who took photographs.

Francis arrived in Bethlehem by helicopter from Jordan where he arrived Saturday on the first leg of a three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

"The fact that he is coming straight from Jordan to Bethlehem without going through Israel" is a tacit recognition of a Palestinian state, said Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian Christian and a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, The Associated Press reported.

The Pope celebrated mass in Manger Square outside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, the site where many Christians believe Jesus was born and where Francis' homily addressed the protection of the child.

"This Child, like every other child, is vulnerable; he needs to be accepted and protected. Today too, children need to be welcomed and defended, from the moment of their conception."

Francis said, "In an age which insists on the protection of minors, there is a flourishing trade in weapons which end up in the hands of child-soldiers, there is a ready market for goods produced by the slave labor of small children.

"Their cry is stifled: they must fight, they must work, they cannot cry! But their mothers cry for them."

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