Late Sunday afternoon Pope Francis arrived in Tel Aviv, where he urged Israeli President Shimon Peres and other authorities to adopt a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Renewing the appeal made by former pontiff Benedict XVI, Pope Francis called for “universal recognition” of “the right of the State of Israel to exist and flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders.” “At the same time, there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement. The 'Two State Solution' must become reality and not remain merely a dream,” he urged those gathered at the Ben Gourion Airport in Tel Aviv on May 25. The Pope’s speech to Palestinian leaders in Bethlehem early in the day expressed the same call for a peaceful solution. Pope Francis reiterated his invitation to prayer in the Vatican, which he had also offered to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Both Abbas and Peres have accepted and will join him sometime in June. The Pontiff noted improving relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel, expressing his prayerful best wishes to “all the people of Israel” that “their aspirations of peace and prosperity will achieve fulfillment.” He described his journey as a pilgrimage to a land of “immense spiritual significance for a great part of humanity,” praying that “this blessed land may be one which has no place for those who, by exploiting and absolutizing the value of their own religious tradition, prove intolerant and violent towards those of others.” Pope Francis’ words were emphatic, imploring “those in positions of responsibility to leave no stone unturned in the search for equitable solutions to complex problems.” “The path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace must constantly be taken up anew, courageously and tirelessly. There is simply no other way,” he stressed. Before his speech, the Holy Father had been welcomed by both Israeli President Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu spoke of his gratitude to Pope Francis for his closeness to the Jewish people, particularly visible in his co-authorship of a book with Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka. The Prime Minister assured the Pontiff of Israel’s desire for peace, describing the state as an “island of tolerance” where they are committed to freedom of religion. Pope Francis also acknowledged his desire to “promote an education in which exclusion and confrontation give way to inclusion and encounter.” He lamented the many victims of anti-semitism in the Holocaust, saying, “I beg God that there will never be another such crime, which also counted among its victims many Christians and others.” The pontiff closed his remarks by offering “a warm and fraternal greeting” to the local bishops and Christian faithful — assuring them that they are in his prayers. “I encourage them to persevere in their quiet witness of faith and hope in the service of reconciliation and forgiveness, following the teaching and example of the Lord Jesus, who gave his life to bring about peace between God and man, and between brothers,” he said.
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