Pope Prays At Israeli Wall of Oppression; Calls for Peace

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Pope Francis in his first historic visit to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ
Pope Francis in his first historic visit to the Holy Land  stops over to touch  and pray at the Israeli wall or separation barrier that cuts away Palestinian territories. 

BETHLEHEM: Pope Francis came face to face with the daily reality of Palestinians on Sunday, even touching the controversial separation wall, after calling for an end to the “increasingly unacceptable” Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The pope has said his three-day visit to the Middle East, which began in Jordan on Saturday, has “purely religious” motives, but he grabbed headlines with a spontaneous stop at the West Bank separation wall, where he rested his forehead against the barrier in prayer.

“Humble pope,” famed for his defense of the oppressed, halted his open jeep as his convoy passed near the controversial separation wall in Bethlehem erected by the Israelis.

The Vatican admitted the stop was a surprise.

It was a show of support that Palestinians had been hoping for, weeks after the collapse of US-brokered peace talks with the Israelis.

In an unprecedented move, Francis invited Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to his home in the Vatican for a “heartfelt prayer” for peace.

“Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment,” he said.

Abbas accepted pope’s invitation to pray for peace with Peres on June 6 at the Vatican, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told reporters.

Peres’s spokesman said earlier that the Israeli president, welcomed Francis’s invitation but did not explicitly confirm he would attend.

“The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable,” the 77-year-old pontiff said.

Flanked by Abbas at his official welcoming ceremony to the Palestinian territories, Francis added: “The time has come for everyone to find the courage… to forge a peace which rests on the acknowledgement by all of the right of two states to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognised borders.”

Francis’s arrival in the West Bank early on Sunday marked the start of the second stage of his brief tour aimed at easing an ancient rift with Orthodox Christians and speaking out in favour of regional peace.–AFP

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