Pope Francis has extended an invitation to both the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to host a prayer summit meeting at his apartment in the Vatican. The pope’s invitation to pray together was accepted by Presidents Shimon Peres of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. The prayer meeting is scheduled to take place on June 6.
The invitation was extended in Bethlehem, where the pope became the first pontiff to fly directly into the West Bank. The pope also made a dramatic, unscheduled stop at the concrete barrier separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem, where he touched his head against the wall and prayed. The pope described the situation between Israel and the Palestinians as “increasingly unacceptable.”
Francis said, “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 rights for every individual, and on mutual security.” He continued on to say that peace “must resolutely be pursued, even if each side has to make certain sacrifices.” During his visit, he referred to the Israeli-occupied territory as the “State of Palestine.”
Pope Francis has repeatedly demonstrated the broad ambitions of his papacy. Pope Francis’ actions show that he is seeking to reassert the Vatican’s ancient role as an arbiter of international diplomacy. The meeting could have tremendous influence on the peace process, which has all but completely broken down. Last September as the United States was considering military strikes against the Syrian government, nearly 100,000 people took part in a peace vigil for Syria at St. Peter’s Square that lasted for four hours.
The global popularity of Pope Francis, for the moment, seems to transcend religion. Philip Jenkins, a history professor at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, said, “If you look around the world, there are very few political leaders who are relatively untainted. People want to believe there is somebody good and charismatic, and a good authority figure, out there.”