Pope ends Holy Land visit with plea to work together for peace

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 11:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 11:12pm

Pope Francis mourned victims of the Holocaust and terrorist attacks in Israel as he ended his three-day trip to the Holy Land with an impassioned appeal to "work together for justice and peace".

A day after saluting Palestinian statehood and calling attention to the barrier that separates Israel from the West Bank, the pope sought to balance his message in Jerusalem.

He placed a wreath at the grave of Zionism founder Theodor Herzl, visited a shrine to Israeli victims of terrorism and lit a flame at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. "Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing," Francis said at the site dedicated to the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust. He also kissed the hands of six survivors.

The pope's trip skated along the edges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, alternating between meetings with political leaders and visits to religious sites. Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed hope that stalled peace talks would be revived after the pope's return to the Vatican.

"Your visit and call for peace will echo through the region and contribute to revitalising the efforts to complete the peace process between us and the Palestinians, based on two states living side by side in peace," Peres said during a ceremony at his residence in Jerusalem.

The pope met privately afterwards with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hosting him for lunch at the Vatican's Notre Dame headquarters in east Jerusalem.

The pontiff had began the day by visiting a hilltop compound in Jerusalem's Old City that houses Islam's third-holiest site and is revered by Jews as the site of their biblical temple. He removed his shoes, in the Muslim tradition, to enter the gold-capped Dome of the Rock on the site known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount.

"From this holy place I make a heartfelt plea to all people and to all communities who look to Abraham: May we respect and love one another as brothers and sisters!" he said after leaving the Dome of the Rock to address Muslim clergy.

"May we work together for justice and peace! Salaam!" he said, using the Arabic word for peace.

At the foot of the compound, Francis placed a note in a crevice of the Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical Jewish temple, as is the Jewish custom. The note contained the text of the "Our Father" prayer, written in his native Spanish, the Vatican said.