Pope Francis took a dramatic plunge on Sunday into Mideast politics while on his Holy Land pilgrimage, receiving an acceptance from the Israeli and Palestinian Presidents to visit him at the Vatican next month to discuss embattled peace efforts.
“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. I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer,” Francis said.
“Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment. The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace,” he added.
The invitation came after Francis delivered a message of unity to a crowd of thousands celebrating Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square.
Leaders accept invite
The offices of the Israeli and Palestinian Presidents quickly confirmed that they had accepted the invitation.
“We welcome Pope Francis’ invitation to the Vatican. President Shimon Peres has supported and will continue to support all avenues to bring about peace,” Mr. Peres’ office said in a statement.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said the summit would take place sometime in June.
Abbas bats for peace
Earlier, Francis landed by helicopter in Bethlehem from Jordan and walked down a red carpet, holding hands with Mr. Abbas and welcomed by a Palestinian honour guard.
“In expressing my closeness to those who suffer most from this conflict, I wish to state my heartfelt conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation, which has become increasingly unacceptable,” he said at Mr. Abbas’ presidential palace in Bethlehem.
Mr. Abbas said Francis’ visit was a “message to the entire world reminding it of the difficulty of life in Palestine.” “From here I send also a message to our neighbours the Israelis,” he added. “Come and let’s make peace based on truth, justice, equality and mutual respect.”
“We welcome Pope Francis to the land of Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet in Jerusalem. “We appreciate the strong stance of the Pope against anti-Semitism.”