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Pope Francis in Israel

( During his visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Sunday, May 25, Pope Francis said he hoped “all will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “For the good of all, there is a need to intensify efforts and initiatives aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice, on the recognition of the rights of every individual, and on mutual security,” the pope said while standing next to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Francis also mentioned good relations between the Vatican and “the State of Palestine,” and made a surprise stop at the Israeli security fence, where he prayed next to graffiti that read “Free Palestine” and “Bethlehem look like Warsaw Ghetto,” resulting in a controversial photo op.

On Monday, May 26, the final day of his Mideast trip, Pope Francis visited the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, among other major sites in Jerusalem. At the Western Wall, the pope prayed by the remains of the Second Temple and left a note in one of the cracks between the stones. Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said, “From this place, this holy place dedicated to you and me and millions of others worldwide, I wish to join you in asking the believers of all faiths to fight hatred and growing anti-Semitism.”

Francis met with Jerusalem Grand Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Hussein at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, urging his “Muslim brothers” to “respect and love one another as brothers and sisters.”

The pope laid a wreath at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery, where Israeli leaders and soldiers are buried, before visiting Yad Vashem. There, he laid a wreath in the “Hall of Remembrance” and kissed the hands of half a dozen Holocaust survivors. “Never again, Lord, never again,” said Francis. “Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing.”

During the Pope’s visit, President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accepted an invitation by Pope Francis to pray for peace at the Vatican. “In this, the birthplace of the prince of peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with Israeli President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace,” Francis said on his Mideast trip.

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