Pope Francis Calls for Peace in First Visit to Israel

Pope calls on Israelis and Palestinians to 'leave no stone unturned' in quest for peace.

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Pope Francis arrived in Israel on Sunday afteroon, a day after landing in the Middle East for his first visit to the Holy Land. The pope spent the morning in the West Bank and arrived in Israel later in the day.

After landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, the pope called on Israelis and Palestinians to leave 'no stone unturned' in the quest for peace in the Middle East. Speaking before him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel extends its hand in peace, while President Shimon Peres thanked the pope for his unrelenting stance against anti-Semitism.

The pope, Netanyahu and Peres each condemned the terror attack in Brussels on Saturday, in which three people were killed - two of them Israelis.

Veering off a prepared text, Francis deplored "this criminal act of anti-Semitic hatred."

"With a deeply pained heart, I think of those who have lost their lives in the cruel attack that occurred yesterday in Brussels," he said. "I entrust the victims to God's mercy and invoke recovery for the injured."

Speaking earlier in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the Pope made a plea for peace, saying the prolonged Israel-Palestinian conflict had become unacceptable. At the end of an open-air Mass, Francis invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to the Vatican to pray for peace. His invitation was accepted by both leaders.

Francis delighted his hosts in the West Bank by referring directly to the "state of Palestine," giving support for their bid for full statehood recognition in the face of a paralyzed peace process. However Francis made clear that a negotiated accord was needed, calling on leaders from both sides to show the necessary courage to forge a deal.

"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," he said.

The offices of the Israeli and Palestinian presidents confirmed that they have accepted an invitation from Pope Francis to visit the Vatican together next month, joining the pope in a prayer for peace.

9 P.M.: Christian unity should be the goal of both faiths, say the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches as they mark 50 years since a historic reconciliation during a ceremony in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians prayed together inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Jerusalem church that symbolizes their divisions, calling their historic meeting a step toward healing the centuries-old Catholic-Orthodox schism.

Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I embraced one another in the stone courtyard outside the 12th century church and recited the "Our Father" prayer together once inside. It was an unprecedented moment of solemnity at the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.

The Sunday evening encounter was full of symbolic meaning. After Bartholomew delivered his remarks, Francis bent down and kissed his hand in a remarkable show of papal respect for an Orthodox patriarch.

6 P.M.: Pope Francis has arrived in Jerusalem. After landing on Mt. Scopus, the pope was greeted by Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, among others, and is currently holding a private meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I at the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem. Following the meeting, the pope will participate in an Ecumenical meeting on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

5 P.M.: On the second day of his three-day visit to the Middle East, Pope Francis urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders “to leave no stone unturned” in their quest for a “just and lasting solution” to the ongoing conflict between the sides.

While the Palestinians needed to recognize Israel’s right to live peacefully “within internationally recognized border,” he said, Israel also had to recognize the rights of the Palestinians to their own sovereign state.

“A two-state solution must become reality and not remain a dream,” said the pope at a welcoming ceremony at the airport, where he touched down at 16:30.

The pope was greeted at the reception by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, members of the cabinet and religious clergy. He and Peres exchanged warm greetings, kissing one another on both cheeks, both at the start and end of the reception. With the prime minister, he merely shook hands.

In his address, Francis reiterated the invitation he extended earlier in the day to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to convene at his residence in the Vatican.

The pope said he expected one of the most moving events on his visit to Israel to be his trip on Monday to Yad Vashem.

In this context, he decried the attack outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels on Saturday, calling it “a terrible example of anti-Semitism.” Four people were killed, including an Israeli couple on vacation.

Peres also referred to the attack in his address, describing it as a “hate crime stemming from racism.”

“It cannot and should not be tolerated,” added the Israeli president.

Peres said the Israeli people were “thrilled” about the pope’s visit and saw him as a “humble pastor.”

Netanyahu described the papal visit, in his address, as “an important chapter in relations between Christians and Jews.” He said the Israeli people were particularly moved by the pope’s decision to lay a wreath on the grave of Theodor Herzl during his visit.

Calling Israel an “island of tolerance” in the Middle East, Netanyahu promised the pope that his government was committed “to maintaining the status quo at the holy sites of Christians, Muslims and Jews.”

Netanyahu said that Israel was prepared to extend its hands in peace to “whoever wants to live in peace with us.”

The pope arrived with his entourage at Ben Gurion airport on Jordanians helicopters from Bethlehem. From there they proceeded on Israeli helicopters to Jerusalem, where he will spend the final day of his visit to the Middle East.

4 P.M.: The pope and his entourage have arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv via three Jordanian helicopters. Red carpets have been rolled out and a military honor guard is currently in place.

Upon landing, the pope was greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. The Vatican anthem was played, followed by Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem.

Following the anthems, the military band played iconic Israeli songs "Al Kol Eleh" and "Jerusalem of Gold," as the pope greeted a line of Israeli dignitaries.

Before departing Bethlehem by helicopter, the pope had lunch with Palestinian families and visited a Palestinian refugee camp.

He listened attentively as Palestinian youths in Deheisheh, on the outskirts of the of Bethlehem, performed music and described their lives in the crowded camp.

"Don't let the past stop you from the future," he told them, through an interpreter. "Violence is not the way."

3 P.M.: A senior Israeli official says that the Vatican envoy to Israel met with President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a few days ago to deliver a personal invitation from the pope for a peace prayer at the Vatican.

The official says that Vatican representatives emphasized that the pope wants to turn this public invitation into a central declaration during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The official also says that both Netanyahu and Abbas gave their go-ahead for the initiative already a few days ago, and that an exact date has still not been set.

The official also stressed that Peres briefed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the invitation.

2 P.M.: The offices of the Israeli and Palestinian presidents confirmed that they have accepted an invitation from Pope Francis to visit the Vatican together next month.

The decision by 90-year-old Peres, who is stepping down this summer, risks upsetting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is angry about outreach efforts by other politicians at a time when Abbas is reconciling with the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Above: A nun waves to the helicopter carrying Pope Francis on his way to a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity. (AP)

12 P.M.: In an unscheduled stop not listed on his published itenerary, Pope Francis descended from his popemobile when it drove past the hulking grey concrete wall that Israel erected 10 years ago during a Palestinian uprising, that divides Bethlehem from the adjacent Jerusalem.

The pope spent several minutes under the shadow of an Israeli watchtower and said a prayer, a Reuters witness said.

11 A.M.: Pope Francis waves to the crowd from his popemobile, as he arrives at the Manger Square before presiding over an open-air mass outside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. "What a great grace it is to celebrate the Eucharist in the place where Jesus was born," said the pontiff, after a flag-waving crowd of thousands welcomed him - cheering 'Viva il Papa.' (AFP)

Pope Francis prays at Israel's separation fence on his way to a mass in Manger Square. (AP)

10:30 A.M.: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking at a welcome ceremony for Pope Francis, discusses the continued construction in the Israeli settlements, Israel's practice of administrative detention of Palestinians, and what he referred to as Israel's intense efforts to change the face of Jerusalem by building in the eastern neighborhoods. Abbas also discusses the restrictions placed on worshipers wishing to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Palestinians still believe in peace, Abbas says, and support every initiative that would help advance the national goal of the Palestinian people for a state within the 1967 borders. Abbas adds that in his meeting with the pope to follow the ceremony, he will discuss the need to advance the peace process based on the Arab initiative.

Pope Francis issues a plea for peace, saying the prolonged Israel-Palestinian conflict had become unacceptable.

Referring directly to the "state of Palestine," Francis gives support for their bid for full statehood recognition. He makes clear, however, that a negotiated accord is needed, calling on leaders from both sides to show the necessary courage to forge a deal.

"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," he says.

Francis also invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican to pray for peace.

"In this, the birthplace of the Prince of 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," the Pope said during Mass in Bethlehem.

"I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer," Francis said.

Pope Francis and Abbas sit during a welcome ceremony in Bethlehem. (AFP)

10 A.M.: Pope Francis meets with Palestinian Authority leaders.

Sunday, 9:30 A.M.: Pope Francis arrives in Bethlehem, is welcomed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (AFP)

Sunday 8:30 A.M.: Jerusalem police say they have arrested 26 Jewish nationalists holding a violent protest at the Cenacle in Jerusalem, the traditional site of Jesus's Last Supper, where Pope Francis is due to hold a Mass on Monday.

The protesters have gathered at the venue several times this month to denounce what they said were Israeli plans to hand over parts of the site to the Vatican. Israeli authorities deny any such intention. The hall on Mount Zion, just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, was constructed by the Crusaders and renovated by the Franciscans during the Middle Ages.

Sunday, 8:30 A.M., Amman: Jordan's King Abdullah bids farewell to Pope Francis, who is leaving for the West Bank after his visit to Jordan, at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman. Reuters

Saturday, 7 P.M., The Jordan River: Pope Francis visits Bethany beyond the Jordan River, the site of Christ's baptism.

Bethlehem: People hold placards to shape the words "We love Papa" as they gather at the Manger Square, where Pope Francis will preside over an open-air Holy mass on May 25, 2014. AFP

Peres, Pope Francis and Netanyahu at Ben-Gurion Airport, May 25, 2014.Credit: Haim Tzach, GPO
Pope Francis during an unplanned stop at the separation fence on the way to Bethlehem.Credit: Reuters

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