For the first time in history, Jewish, Christian and Islamic peace prayers were held at the Vatican on Sunday, June 8. During Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land last month, he invited Shimon Peres, Israeli President and Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian President to the Vatican to join together in prayer, in an effort to promote peace between Israel and Palestine.
Pope Francis welcomed the presidents with an embrace at his residence, then briefly spoke with each one separately. Peres and Abbas greeted each other with a kiss. This event was the first public meeting between the two presidents in over a year. The Archbishop of Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, along with other Jewish, Christian and Muslim representatives joined Pope Francis and the presidents in the prayer which was intermixed with music performed by a string ensemble. The gathering took place at 7 p.m. in the gardens of the Vatican near St. Peter’s Basilica. This location was chosen due to its neutrality as there was an absence of religious imagery and symbols. Each of the prayers were conducted in the chronological order of the establishment of the religions. They began with thanking God for his creation, followed by repenting for the division between the people of the two countries and ended with asking God to bestow peace upon the Holy Land. Both Peres and Abbas made statements in which they expressed their aspirations for peace among the people Israel and Palestine.
Pope Francis hosted the peace prayers at the Vatican to set aside politics and restore the desire for both parties to move forward and create progress in the currently idle peace process. He expressed his hopes of this meeting marking the beginning of a new journey where the countries could overcome their differences and carry on in unity. He further stated that the event served as a symbol of brotherhood among the children of Abraham, and the previously failed efforts in achieving peace was the work of the devil. Pope Francis said to the presidents that in order to create this positive change, the necessary tool is courage rather than warfare, and dialogue must be encouraged and conflict avoided. He advised both leaders to revisit peace talks in order to best serve the people of their countries. Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Vatican’s Custodian, who was an organizer of the meeting, stated that they are not expecting an immediate resolution as a result of the gathering, however, the intention was to restore the desire to move towards a peaceful solution.
The peace prayers at the Vatican ended with Pope Francis, Peres and Abbas planting an olive tree as a symbol of a common hope for creating peace between Israel and Palestine. The recent efforts which were led by United States Secretary of State John Kerry were not successful and left the negotiations at a standstill once again. Kerry stated that after taking a break for several months, he plans to continue peace talks with hopes of Israel and Palestine coming to a two-state solution. Peres will be stepping down next month and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, who declined to attend the peace prayers, will be leading the negotiations.
By Sarah Temori