Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Pope Francis kisses the hand of holocaust survivor Sonia Tunik-Geron during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance in the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, in Jerusalem, Monday, May 26, 2014. Pope Francis honored Jews killed in the Holocaust and other attacks, and kissed the hands of Holocaust survivors as he capped his three-day Mideast trip with poignant stops Monday at some of the holiest and most haunting sites for Jews.(AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Pope wraps up delicate Mideast pilgrimage
First Published May 26 2014 10:32 am • Last Updated May 26 2014 12:56 pm

Jerusalem • Pope Francis wrapped up his Mideast pilgrimage Monday with a balancing act of symbolic and sometimes spontaneous gestures to press his call for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and friendship between Jews and Muslims in the land of Jesus’ birth.

A day after he boosted Palestinian aspirations by praying at Israel’s security barrier surrounding Bethlehem, Francis honored Holocaust victims by kissing the hands of several survivors, and accepted Israel’s last-minute request to pray at a memorial to victims of suicide bombings and other attacks.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

But the image that the Vatican hopes will define the trip, and perhaps Francis’ young papacy, was another: that of the leader of the 1.2 billion strong Roman Catholic Church embracing his Argentine friends, a rabbi and a Muslim, in front of the Western Wall, adjacent to the disputed hilltop compound that lies at the heart of decades of Israel-Arab tensions.

After visiting the golden-topped Dome of the Rock shrine on the compound on Monday morning, Francis prayed at the nearby Western Wall, leaving a hand-written note with the "Our Father" prayer written in his native Spanish in between the cracks of stone.

When he finished, a visibly emotional Francis embraced Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, a leader of Argentina’s Muslim community, both of whom joined Francis on his official delegation in a potent symbol of interfaith friendship.

"I think this was the real answer to such problems that come from very long and profound difficulties," the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said of the embrace. "What can we do? We can pray. We can ask God to help us. We can love mutually and then embrace."

That logic lies at the heart of Francis’ surprise invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican next month to pray for peace. The invitation was a dramatic — but very Franciscan — initiative that confirmed that the pope who named himself after the peace-loving St. Francis of Assisi feels free and even obliged to pursue any initiative that might benefit peace.

Francis made a similar foray into world diplomacy last year when he rallied millions of people to fast and pray for a peaceful resolution to threatened U.S.-led military strikes on Syria. More recently, the Vatican has intervened directly in Venezuela’s unrest by participating in talks between the government and the opposition.

In the case of the Vatican prayer meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres readily accepted the invitation, and Peres and Francis discussed the encounter during a lengthy meeting at the president’s office.

"The humility in your nature and the power in your spirit raised a spiritual elation and a thirst for peace," Peres told him at a ceremony in the garden of the presidential residence.


story continues below
story continues below

The prospects of a breakthrough at the Vatican meeting next month are slim. Peres, a 90-year-old Nobel peace laureate, holds a largely ceremonial office and is set to step down this summer. But the pope’s gesture seemed to send a powerful message to the region’s leaders not to give up, weeks after the latest round of peace talks collapsed.

The atmosphere was starkly different in Francis’ one-on-one with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has expressed anger with politicians who have reached out to Abbas at a time when the Palestinian leader is reconciling with the Islamic militant group Hamas. Israel considers Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, a terrorist group.

In his talks with Francis, Netanyahu lauded Israel’s treatment of Christians and defended its West Bank separation barrier. Israel says the structure is a security measure. The Palestinians say it has gobbled up their land and stifled their economy.

"When incitement and terror against Israel stops, there won’t be the need for the security fence which has saved thousands of lives," Netanyahu said.

The conversation turned awkward after Netanyahu told the pope that Jesus spoke Hebrew.

"He was speaking Aramaic," the pope replied with a smile. "He spoke Aramaic, and he also knew Hebrew," Netanyahu said.

After Francis made an unscheduled stop at the massive concrete barrier on Sunday, Netanyahu asked Francis to deviate from his whirlwind itinerary to pray at Jerusalem’s Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial, which includes the names of hundreds of civilians killed in Palestinian and Arab attacks since 1851, Lombardi and Netanyahu’s office said.

As he did at the separation barrier and the Western Wall, Francis bowed his head in prayer and placed his hand on the stone. Lombardi said he then delivered a sweeping denunciation of terrorism in all its forms.

At Yad Vashem, the pope prayed before a crypt with ashes of Holocaust victims and laid a wreath of yellow and white flowers in the "Hall of Remembrance."

Upon his arrival in Israel after visiting the West Bank, Francis clearly condemned the slaughter of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, making up for what many Jews felt was a tepid speech from the German Pope Benedict XVI during his 2009 visit to Yad Vashem.

On Monday, his actions almost spoke louder than his words. In one of the most poignant moments of the trip, Francis kissed the hands of six Holocaust survivors as he heard their stories.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.