Pope completes spiritual pilgrimage in Holy Land calling for unity and peace

BY Ellen Rolfes  May 26, 2014 at 5:49 PM EDT
Pope Francis prays at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site,  in Jerusalem's Old City on May 26, 2014. Photo by Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis prays at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 26, 2014. Photo by Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

While the pope’s spokesman said that Francis had “no political agenda or proposals to make” during his trip to Israel, Francis’ presence in the Holy Land, in Palestinian territory and Jerusalem, was filled with political implications.

After meeting with Israeli survivors of the Holocaust, Francis unexpectedly went and prayed at a memorial to Israeli victims of terrorism, civilians who were largely killed by Palestinian militants.

I pray for all the victims of terrorism. Please, no more terrorism,” Francis said on Monday at the memorial.

Video by The Associated Press

The memorial visit was added to the pope’s schedule at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request, giving the Jewish state his full attention a day after voicing strong support for the Palestinian cause.

Much of Francis’ time was devoted to visiting religious sites, important to all three faiths in Jerusalem.

Earlier on Monday, Francis visited the Dome of the Rock, a shrine from which Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad climbed to heaven, and then went to the Western Wall, a shrine revered by Jews as the last standing wall of the Second Temple, built in 20 B.C. He visited the sacred site with a Jewish rabbi and Muslim leader, both from his home country of Argentina.

On Sunday, the pope met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and called for an independent “state of Palestine” and visited — also unexpectedly — a wall that divides Bethlehem and Jerusalem, which Palestinians say encroaches on their territory for a future state.

Francis also invited Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to visit the Vatican on June 6 to pray for peace, both of whom accepted.

Though Mideast politics dominated much of the attention of Francis’ journey to the Holy Land, the pope traveled there to primarily commemorate the 50th anniversary since the first meeting between then Pope John Paul VI and the first leader among equals of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. During this historic meeting in 1964, the Pope lifted mutual excommunications, or religious censures, that both Christian sects had applied to each other for more than 900 years.

Francis and the current ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I prayed in front of the Stone of Unction, the location where Jesus’ body was laid after he removed from the cross.