Pope Francis invites Israeli, Palestinian leaders for prayer at the Vatican
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Pope Francis capped his three-day Middle East trip with some stops at some of the holiest sites for Jews and Muslims today. Coming weeks after U.S.-led talks collapsed between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, the pope’s visit mixed symbolism with calls for renewed peace talks.Jeffrey Brown has our report.
JEFFREY BROWN: In Jerusalem this morning, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Pope Francis laid a wreath of white and yellow flowers, rekindled the Eternal Flame at Remembrance Hall, and kissed the hands of six Holocaust survivors.
POPE FRANCIS (through interpreter): Remember us in your mercy. Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done, to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, for having despised and destroyed our own flesh, which you have formed from the earth, to which you gave life with your own breath of life. Never again, lord. Never again.
JOSEPH GOTTDENKER, Holocaust Survivor: I thought I should kiss his hand, not him kiss my hand.
JEFFREY BROWN: One survivor, Joseph Gottdenker, told the pope a Catholic family had saved his life.
JOSEPH GOTTDENKER: I said, I know that they are looking down from heaven and very proud that the person that they saved was in the presence of their pope.
JEFFREY BROWN: Earlier in the day, Pope Francis prayed at the Western Wall and left a handwritten note with the “Our Father” prayer amid the cracks of stone.
At Israel’s request, the pope visited the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial, where he bowed his head and touched the stone, and also laid a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism. Later, Francis exchanged gifts with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, in what the AP termed an awkward conversation, discussed the language used by Jesus.
“Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,” Netanyahu said. “Aramaic,” the pope interjected. “He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew,” Netanyahu answered.
The Jerusalem portion of the trip included a visit to another holy shrine, the Dome of the Rock, where Francis met with Muslim leaders.
POPE FRANCIS (through interpreter): Following in the footsteps of my predecessors, I have greatly desired to come as a pilgrim to the places which witnessed the earthly presence of Jesus Christ. But my pilgrimage wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t also include a meeting with the people and the communities who live in this land. I am particularly happy, therefore, to be with you, dear Muslim friends.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yesterday, the political symbolism was, if anything, even more charged, as the pope made history by flying directly to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, rather than through Israel and became the first pontiff to refer to the area as the — quote — “state of Palestine.”
Speaking in front of a mural of Jesus wrapped in a keffiyeh, the pope made a plea for peace. He then called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to join him at the Vatican.
POPE FRANCIS (through interpreter): In this place where the prince of peace was born, I wish to direct an invitation to you. Mr. President Mahmoud Abbas, and to, Mr. President Shimon Peres, to hold together with me an intense prayer to invoke from God the gift of peace. I offer my house in the Vatican to host this meeting of prayer. All of us desire peace.
JEFFREY BROWN: Both men accepted the invitation.
In perhaps the most surprising and apparently unscripted moment of the trip, the pope later prayed at the controversial separation wall between Israel and the Palestinian territory. And at a Palestinian refugee camp, Francis spoke to young children.
POPE FRANCIS (through interpreter): I would like to tell you something important. Violence only begets violence. Violence can only be defeated through peace. And peace is achieved through hard work and dignity on the path forward.
JEFFREY BROWN: Today, in front of the Western Wall, the leader of the Catholic Church embraced two Argentine friends who’d accompanied him on the trip, one a rabbi, the other a Muslim.