It was the first time ever that Pope Francis held a meeting of this sort at the Vatican – a prayer for peace inviting Muslim as well as Jewish prayers. The pope’s invitation brought the Palestinian and Israeli presidents in a public meeting after more than a year.
In the first, interreligious event of its kind in the city, Muslim imams, Christian cardinals and Jewish rabbis all read prayers from their holy scriptures in the evening service that lasted two hours. Then Pope Francis urged Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas to observe peace and give way to dialogue.
"All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity," the pope said in Italian, asking for the two sides to reject acts of provocation. The children whose innocent lives have been lost as a result of this ongoing war are the ones peace is owed to, he added.
"The memory of these children instills in us the courage of peace, the strength to persevere undaunted in dialogue," Francis said.
Ninety-year-old Peres, whose mandate expires next month, held this unprecedented encounter with the hopes to renew talks of Israel-Palestine peace. The event took place more than a month after United States-led peace talks collapsed.
Ironically, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a key player in the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations did not attend the event. In remarks on Sunday at a paramilitary police base in Jerusalem, Netanyahu suggested that prayer is no substitute for security.