Pope Francis has concluded a tour of Jerusalem's Old City on the third and final day of his Middle East visit, taking in the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Pope Francis on Monday urged followers of Islam, Judaism and Christianity to cooperate for peace, during his visit to Jerusalem's Old City. He appealed for the three 'Abrahamic' religions with their common heritage to set aside their differences and "work together for justice and peace."
"Dear brothers, from this holy place I make a heartfelt plea to all people and to all communities who look to Abraham," Francis said, deviating from his prepared text stating "friends" as opposed to brothers. "May we respect and love one another as brothers and sisters. May we learn to under the suffering of others! May no one abuse the name of God through violence!"
Francis was speaking to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, and other Muslim authorities on his visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The Argentine pontiff took off his shoes to enter the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, before moving on to the smaller, silver-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque. The complex, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, is a key part of the ongoing territorial disputes between Israel and Palestinians.
The pope then proceeded to the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, the only standing remnant of the platform that once housed the Second Temple in Jerusalem's Old City. As per Jewish tradition, Francis placed his hand on the ancient stones and slid a note to God in between the cracks of the wall.
The Western Wall is currently the holiest site in Jerusalem's Old City where Jews can pray, with only women permitted to worship in the Dome of the Rock.
Yad Vashem homage
The former cardinal of Buenos Aires also visited Mount Herzl before moving on to the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem. Speaking at a solemn ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance, after meeting some survivors, Francis called "the boundless tragedy of the Holocaust" an "unfathomable abyss."
Francis called on Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau to help support interfaith understanding with the Christian population, especially among the younger generation.
Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were both present at the event. In a private audience with the two Israeli leaders later in the day, the pope urged them to avoid doing anything that would be inconsistent with their goal of negotiating a peace plan.
Before departing for Rome in the evening, the head of the Roman Catholic Church celebrated Mass in the ancient room where Christians believe the Last Supper was held.
On Sunday, the pope prayed alongside Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I. The symbolic meeting commemorated the 50th anniversary of a key step towards ending the Great Schism from the 11th century, which split Rome from Constantinople, the seat of Orthodoxy.
msh/hc (AFP, AP, dpa)