Jordan, Syria bar envoys in tit-for-tat diplomatic row

JERUSALEM: Pope Francis celebrated mass at a contested Jerusalem site on Monday at the end of a whirlwind pilgrimage which he marked by making a personal bid for Middle East peace. 
The 77-year-old pontiff, who has made interfaith dialogue a cornerstone of his papacy,  made an impassioned call for an end to religious intolerance, and insisted that believers must have free access to sites they consider sacred within the Holy City. 
Despite stating that the trip would be “purely religious” he waded into the sensitive politics of the region, issuing a unique invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to pray with him at the Vatican to end their “increasingly unacceptable” conflict.
On the final day of Francis’ visit, Israel approved plans for 50 new settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem. The Palestinians said continued settlement building collapsed US-sponsored peace talks.
The pope was seen off in a brief airport ceremony in Tel Aviv by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 
Earlier, a visibly tired Francis celebrated the last public mass of his visit at the Upper Room on Mount Zion, in which Jesus is believed to have held the Last Supper, where Christians have access but very limited freedom of worship. 
Vatican efforts to negotiate greater rights at the Upper Room have sparked opposition from nationalist and Orthodox Jews, who revere part of the building as the tomb of King David, prompting a series of angry protests and several anti-Christian attacks. 
Earlier, the pontiff drove home a strong message about religious intolerance and called for “free access to holy sites” within Jerusalem. And he called for a “firm rejection” of intolerance towards “places of worship”, in an apparent allusion to extremist hate crimes targeting mosques and churches.
Touring the holiest sites in Jerusalem’s walled Old City early Monday, he issued a call for the three religions to “work together for justice and peace” as he was shown around the Al-Aqsa compound, the third holiest site in Islam which Jews also consider sacred. Entering the exquisite blue-tiled Dome of the Rock with its landmark golden cupola, used as a place of worship for women only, the pope first removed his shoes before walking to visit the smaller, silver-domed Al-Aqsa mosque.At the Western Wall, the holiest site at which Jews can pray, he left a note in between the ancient stones before sharing an emotional embrace with two close friends travelling with him, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Islamic studies professor Omar Abboud.
Watching from a distance were a handful of ultra-Orthodox youngsters who shouted : “Tragedy, horrible!” in Yiddish.
Francis had promised the three-day pilgrimage, which began on Saturday in Jordan, would steer clear of political issues.
But at the end of an open-air mass in Bethlehem, where he began the Israel-Palestinian leg of his trip, he invited Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres to join him at the Vatican for a “heartfelt prayer” for peace.
Peres told the pope he was happy to accept, while a senior Palestinian official confirmed Abbas would visit the Vatican for the prayer on June 6.
In a further divergence from prepared texts, the pope spoke out against anti-Semitism and religious intolerance and made unscheduled stops which were seized upon as political capital by Israel and the Palestinians. 
In Bethlehem he surprised his entourage by hopping out of his white open jeep to touch and briefly pray at Israel’s towering concrete separation barrier which cuts through the West Bank city in what the Palestinians hailed as an “eloquent and clear message”.
Israel says the barrier, which it began building in 2002, is crucial for security. Palestinians see it as a land grab aimed at stealing territory they want for a future state. On Monday, he made a surprise stop at an Israeli memorial for victims of militant attacks, reportedly at Netanyahu’s request.
The prime minister thanked the pope for visiting the memorial, telling him it was directly connected to the barrier.

comments powered by Disqus
  • DailyTimes.Official
  • DailyTimes_DT
  • Rss
Sunday Magazine