Pope wants Israeli, Palestinian prayer meeting to 'mark new beginning'

(Photo: REUTERS / Max Rossi)(L-R) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Pope Francis, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the Orthodox Christians, arrive at the Vatican Gardens to pray together in the Vatican June 8, 2014.

Pope Francis has told the Israeli and Palestinian presidents they "must respond" to a "summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence" they have faced in the impasse between their peoples.

The Pope was speaking Sunday to Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas following a two-hour evening service in the Vatican gardens.

It was a Christian, Jewish and Muslim inter-faith prayer meeting and was also ecumenical with the participation of an Eastern Orthodox Patriarch, whose churches are estranged from the Roman Catholic Church.

The Pope had invited the Abbas and Peres to his home on June 8 for "heartfelt prayer" for peace during his three-day trip to the Holy Land in May.

"It is my hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a new journey where we seek things that unite, so as to overcome the things that divide," Francis said at the gathering.

Also attending was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, considered by many as the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians, whom Francis met during his trip to Jerusalem.

"Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare," said Francis.

"It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity.

"All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity."


Vatican officials had said the pontiff did not have a political agenda when he issued the invitation to the two Holy Land leaders but wanted them to pray at his home to regenerate a desire for peace.

Before Sunday's prayer meeting Peres and Abbas had embraced in the lobby of the Vatican hotel where Francis lives and engaged in friendly conversation.

They shared a minibus with Francis and Bartholomew on the way to prayers ceremony which took place in a garden.

In his remarks the 90-year-old Peres deviated from his prepared text and said, "I was young. Now I am old.

"I experienced war. I tasted peace. Never will I forget the bereaved families - parents and children - who paid the cost of war. And all my life I shall never stop to act for peace, for generations to come.

"Let's all of us join hands and make it happen," he said.

In his prayer Abbas said, " I beseech You, O Lord, on behalf of my people, the people of Palestine ‫Moslems, Christians and Samaritans‫- who are craving for a just peace, dignified living, and liberty.

"I beseech you, Oh Lord, to make prosperous and promising the future of our people, and freedom in our sovereign and independent State."

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