BETHLEHEM — Today Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that they have accepted Pope Francis’ invitation to join him at the Vatican for an encounter of prayer.
Pope Francis issued his invitation at the close of a papal Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square on May 25, asking both men “to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace. I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer.”
According to a report by The Associated Press, President Peres’ office issued a confirmation statement soon after: “We welcome Pope Francis’ invitation to the Vatican. President Peres has supported and will continue to support all avenues to bring about peace.”
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for President Abbas, noted that the meeting would take place sometime in June.
Pope Francis’ invitation was issued on the second day of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where all of his addresses have focused heavily on the theme of peace.
This morning, he told Palestinian President Abbas and other leaders that “the time has come to put an end to this situation, which has become increasingly unacceptable.”
Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians have broken down over the last year, leading to what the Pope termed "a climate of instability.”
“All of us want peace,” the Pope affirmed at the end of this morning’s liturgy.
“Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers.”
But the Pope called upon the leadership in a particular way, saying, “All of us – especially those placed at the service of their respective peoples – have the duty to become instruments and artisans of peace, especially by our prayers.”
Pope Francis spent Saturday in Jordan with King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, then started out early on Sunday morning for Bethlehem, where he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other leaders.
His itinerary also includes a meeting on Monday with Israel's President Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as several religious leaders from Christianity, Islam and Judaism.