Pope Francis attempts to bridge Middle East divide
Pope Francis projected empathy with Palestinian suffering and made a foray into Middle East diplomacy yesterday during a visit to Bethlehem.
On his way to celebrate Mass in Manger Square, near the traditional site of Jesus's birth, the Pope made a powerful gesture to Palestinians by praying and touching his head to the daunting, grey, Israeli separation barrier that divides Bethlehem from Jerusalem and which, to Palestinians, is the embodiment of Israeli oppression. The Pope will spend today, the last of his three-day trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in Jerusalem visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Western Wall – Judaism's holiest site.
He will hold a Mass at the traditional site of the Last Supper and hold talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Vatican's official spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi said the pontiff invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican to pray for peace with him and Mr Peres.
"I offer my home in the Vatican as the place of prayer. All of us, especially those at the service of their people, have the duty to become artisans of peace, especially by our prayers. Building peace is difficult but living without it is a torment," Pope Francis said.
Later, both Mr Abbas and Mr Peres confirmed that they would meet the Pope in the Vatican next month.
A reference by the Pope to "the state of Palestine" was well received by Palestinians.
Fadi Salameh, a 27-year-old tourism worker who attended the Mass, said: "It shows he identifies with the suffering of all the people. He is making the world a better place."
Speaking at the presidential palace in Bethlehem, where he met Mr Abbas, Pope Francis declared: "The time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good, to have 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 recognised borders."
(© Independent News Service)