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On Last Morning in Holy Land, Pope Reaches out to Muslims, Jews

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Pope Francis visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem on 26 May. The pope laid a wreath of flowers at the site, and talked to and kissed the hands of six Holocaust survivors. Also in attendance are Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo: CNS/OSSERVATORE ROMANO handout, EPA) 

26 May 2014 – By Francis X. Rocca

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Pope Francis spent the last morning of his three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land meeting with Muslims and Jews and calling for closer relations among the three major monotheistic religions as the basis for peace in the region.

At his first appearance on 26 May, Pope Francis toured the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, sacred to Muslims as the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven, and spoke to Muslim leaders.

Addressing his listeners as “brothers” — rather than “friends,” as indicated in his prepared text — the pope pointed to Abraham as a common model for Muslims, Jews and Christians, since he was a pilgrim who left “his own people and his own house in order to embark on that spiritual journey to which God called him.”

“We must constantly be prepared to go out from ourselves, docile to God’s call,” especially “his summons to work for peace and justice, to implore these gifts in prayer and to learn from on high mercy, magnanimity and compassion,” the pope said.

In his remarks to the pope, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, accused Israel of impeding Muslims’ access to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Pope Francis then visited the Western Wall, the only standing part of the foundation of the Second Temple, destroyed in 70 A.D.

The pope stood for more than a minute and a half with his right hand against the wall, most of the time in silent prayer, before reciting the Our Father. Then he followed custom by leaving a written message inside a crack between two blocks.

Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a longtime friend of the pope from Buenos Aires and an official member of the papal entourage, said the pope’s message contained the text of the Our Father and of the 122nd Psalm, traditionally prayed by Jewish pilgrims who travel to Jerusalem.

Stepping away from the wall, the pope simultaneously embraced Rabbi Skorka and Omar Abboud, a Muslim leader from Buenos Aires and a member of the papal entourage.

“We did it,” Rabbi Skorka said he told the pope and Abboud.

The pope also visited a memorial to victims of terrorism, a stop that had not appeared on his original itinerary. It was added at the request of Israeli authorities, in reaction to his spontaneous decision the previous day to pray at Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank. The separation wall, which Israel says it needs to protect itself from terrorism, has been a target of Palestinian protests and international condemnation. At the terrorism memorial, the pope prayed with his hand against the stone, the same gesture he used at the separation wall and at the Western Wall.

Following a brief wreath-laying at the grave of Theodor Herzl, father of the Zionist movement that led to Israel’s founding, Pope Francis visited the Yad Vashem Memorial to victims of the Holocaust. There he greeted half a dozen survivors of the Nazi genocide, kissing their hands in honor.

“He took my hand in his two hands and kissed my hand. I was dumbfounded. I never had a rabbi do that,” Joe Gottdenker of Toronto told Catholic News Service.





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Tags: Pope Francis Holy Land Unity Interreligious Dialogue