Pope urges Israeli and Palestinian leaders to achieve peace
POPE Francis urged the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to "break the spiral of hatred and violence" in an unprecedented prayer meeting at the Vatican which he hoped would mark "a new journey" towards peace in the Middle East.
Shimon Peres, the Israeli president and Mahmoud Abbas, his Palestinian counterpart, embraced warmly and shared a joke before the Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers in the Vatican gardens, where the leaders planted an olive tree.
The Pope said too many children had been killed by war and said the two leaders "must respond" to their people's "yearning for the dawn of peace" in the Middle East. He called on them to find "the strength to persevere undaunted in dialogue", following the breakdown of talks in April.
"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," he said in a short address to the gathering.
"Peacemaking calls for courage, much more than warfare, the courage to say 'yes' to encounter and 'no' to conflict, 'yes' to dialogue and 'no' to violence."
The ceremony ended with the three leaders' individual invocations for peace.
It was the first time the two presidents had met publicly in more than a year, and the first time that Jewish, Christian and Islamic prayers were said together in such a way at the Vatican.
Mr Peres described the Pope as a "bridge builder" who had touched peoples' hearts regardless of their faith or nation, during his visit to the Holy Land in May.
Vatican officials insisted the Pope had no political agenda in inviting the two leaders to pray at his home, other than to rekindle a desire for peace. (© Daily Telegraph, London)