Pope Francis welcomed the presidents of Israel and Palestine to the Vatican on Sunday evening for an unprecedented meeting of prayer, the “Invocation for Peace.” Joined by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, the three leaders prayed for peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East. “I am profoundly grateful to you for accepting my invitation to come here and to join in imploring from God the gift of peace. It is my hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a new journey where we seek the things that unite, so as to overcome the things that divide,” said Pope Francis on June 8 in the Vatican gardens. The Pope had issued the invitations on his recent trip to the Holy Land in late May. The presidents quickly accepted the invitation. Presidents Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas arrived separately to meet with Pope Francis individually in the Casa Santa Marta guesthouse. The three eventually met and were joined by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, before proceeding to the Vatican gardens for an “Invocation for Peace.” The evening’s prayer was divided into three parts, following the chronological ordering of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religious communities. Prayers were offered in Hebrew, English, Italian, and Arabic, praising God for creation, asking pardon for sin, and requesting the gift of peace. Selections included several psalms, a prayer from the Jewish Day of Atonement service, a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, and several Islamic prayers. After the prayers, Pope Francis, Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas each spoke briefly about the need for peace. “This meeting of prayer for peace in the Holy Land, in the Middle East and in the entire world is accompanied by the prayers of countless people of different cultures, nations, languages and religions: they have prayed for this meeting and even now they are united with us in the same supplication,” said Pope Francis. “It is a meeting which responds to the fervent desire of all who long for peace and dream of a world in which men and women can live as brothers and sisters and no longer as adversaries and enemies.” The pontiff then cautioned that “peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare.” History reveals that peace cannot come merely through human strength, noted the Pope. “That is why we are here, because we know and we believe that we need the help of God. We do not renounce our responsibilities, but we do call upon God in an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples.” Pope Francis encouraged those present to “break the spiral of hatred and violence” with the word “brother.” We must “lift our eyes to heaven and acknowledge one another as children of one Father,” he said. Israeli President Shimon Peres then made a heart-felt appeal for peace, saying “I come to call for peace between nations.” He, too, acknowledged that “peace does not come easy.” Even if peace “seems distant,” the Israeli president continued, “we must pursue it to bring it close.” “We are commanded to pursue peace,” he emphasized. Peres expressed his belief that “if we pursue peace with determination, with faith, we will reach it.” He recalled that in his life, he had seen both peace and warfare. He would never forget the devastation caused by war. “We owe it to our children,” to seek peace, stressed Peres. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke in the words of a prayer, beseeching the Lord “on behalf of my people, the people of Palestine - Muslims, Christians, and Samaritans - who are craving for a just peace, dignified living, and liberty.” “Grant, O Lord, our region and its people security, safety and stability. Save our blessed city Jerusalem; the first Kiblah, the second Holy mosque, the third of the two Holy Mosques, and the city of blessings and peace with all that surround it,” Abbas prayed. The Muslim political leader affirmed, “reconciliation and peace, O Lord, are our goal.” He prayed that God would “make Palestine and Jerusalem in particular a secure land for all the believers, and a place for prayer and worship for the followers of the three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and for all those wishing to visit it as is stated in the Holy Koran.” The evening closed with a handshake of peace amongst the leaders, and the planting of an olive tree, symbolic of the desire for peace on behalf of each of the religious communities.
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