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Pope Francis hosts Mideast peace prayer at the Vatican

© AFP

Video by Seema GUPTA

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-06-09

In a symbolic gesture, Pope Francis hosted on Sunday an unprecedented peace prayer in the Vatican with Israeli President Shimon Peres (pictured right) and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (pictured left).

Abbas and Peres greeted each other warmly after arriving in the Vatican and meeting Francis outside his residence, along with Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the Orthodox Christians.

All four then took a white minibus to the Vatican Gardens for the ceremony, where Pope Francis urged the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to find the “strength to persevere in undaunted dialogue”.

Mahmud Abbas called for a "comprehensive and just peace" with Israel, while Shimon Peres said that making peace in the Middle East was a “duty” and a “holy mission”.

Peres, who is 90 years old and will be stepping down next month, was quoted by his office as saying that the spiritual call for peace was "very important".

"I hope the event will contribute to promoting peace between the two sides and throughout the world," he said, adding that the conflict was "both political and religious" and "religious leaders resonate".

‘Time out of politics’

The unusual prayer summit was a feat of diplomatic and religious protocol, organised in the two weeks since Francis issued the surprise invitation to Peres and Abbas from Manger Square in Bethlehem.

It took place in the lush Vatican gardens in the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica, the most religiously neutral place in the tiny city-state. It incorporated Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers, delivered in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Italian and with musical interludes from the three faith traditions.

The prayers focused on three themes common to each of the religions: thanking God for creation, seeking forgiveness for past wrongdoing and praying to God to bring peace to the region. At the conclusion, Francis, Peres and Abbas shook hands and planted an olive tree together in a sign of peace.

Vatican officials have described the prayer evening as something of a “time-out” in political negotiations, merely designed to rekindle the desire for peace through prayers common to all the main faith traditions in the Holy Land.

Little expectations

The Vatican is being realistic about the ceremony, which is unlikely to have any immediate effect.

"Nobody is fooling themselves that peace will break out in the Holy Land," said Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head of the Franciscan Order in the Middle East who is organising the historic event.

"But this time to stop and breathe has been absent for some time," he told reporters at a briefing, adding: "Not everything is decided by politics."

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-06-08

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