Pope Mourns Holocaust, Honors Herzl to Conclude Holy Land Visit

Pope Francis mourned victims of the Holocaust and terrorist attacks in Israel as he wound up his three-day trip to the Holy Land with an impassioned appeal to “work together for justice and peace.”

A day after saluting Palestinian statehood and calling attention to the barrier that separates Israel from the West Bank, the pope sought to balance his message in Jerusalem. He placed a wreath at the grave of the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, visited a shrine to Israeli victims of terrorism and lit a flame at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

“Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing,” Francis said at the site dedicated to the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust. He also kissed the hands of six survivors as he heard their stories of family members killed by the Nazis.

The pope’s trip skated along the edges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, alternating between meetings with political leaders and visits to religious sites revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews. Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed hope that stalemated peace talks would be revived after the pope’s return to the Vatican.

“Your visit and call for peace will echo through the region and contribute to revitalizing the efforts to complete the peace process between us and the Palestinians, based on two states living side by side in peace,” Peres said during a ceremony at his residence in Jerusalem.

Pray for Peace

Francis met privately afterward with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hosting him for lunch at the Vatican’s Notre Dame headquarters in east Jerusalem. Netanyahu said he hoped the pope’s message of “tolerance, coexistence and stopping incitement, anti-Semitism and terrorism will be received by all of our neighbors” in the region.

Francis is the third pontiff to visit Israel since the Vatican established diplomatic ties with the Jewish state in 1993. Yesterday he invited Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to visit the Vatican together and pray for peace. Both accepted.

The pontiff began the day by visiting a hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s Old City that houses Islam’s third-holiest site and is revered by Jews as the site of their biblical temple.

Francis removed his shoes, in the Muslim tradition, to enter the gold-capped Dome of the Rock on the site known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount. The centrality of the site, captured by Israel in 1967, to both Judaism and Islam puts it at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Justice and Peace

“From this holy place I make a heartfelt plea to all people and to all communities who look to Abraham: May we respect and love one another as brothers and sisters!,” he said after leaving the Dome of the Rock to address Muslim clergy, according to a transcript on the Vatican website.

“May we work together for justice and peace! Salaam!” he said, using the Arabic word for peace.

At the foot of the compound, Francis placed a note in a crevice of the Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical Jewish temple, as is the Jewish custom. The note contained the text of the “Our Father” prayer, written in his native Spanish, the Vatican said.

The pontiff entered the West Bank yesterday with a short helicopter ride from the Jordanian capital of Amman to Bethlehem, where he celebrated Mass in Manger Square. In a meeting with Abbas, Francis called for “the state of Palestine” to be fully established and lamented the collapse of U.S.-mediated peace talks last month.

Surprise Stop

The pope showed further support for the Palestinian cause with an unscripted stop at the concrete wall dividing Bethlehem and Jerusalem, part of the West Bank barrier Israel says it built to keep out attackers and which Palestinians say encroach on territory they want for a future state. He leaned his head against a section of the barrier, which had “Free Palestine” and “Apartheid Wall” spray-painted on it and was located near an Israeli military watchtower.

When he visited the terrorism memorial at the Mount Herzl cemetery today at Netanyahu’s request, the prime minister told the Argentine pope that the West Bank barrier was necessary for Israel’s security and “saved thousands of lives.” He also showed Francis a section of the site dedicated to the victims of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.

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