Pope Francis is in the Holy Land on a historic two-day tour. Here’s how The Times of Israel live blogged Sunday’s first day, taking in the pontiff’s Bethlehem visit, arrival in Israel, and evening in Jerusalem.

Blog is now closed

Pope’s itinerary in Palestinian visit

Welcome to our live blog of Pope Francis’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Francis kicked off his much-anticipated Middle East visit on Saturday in Jordan, where he called on the international community to heed the plight of Syrians affected by the civil war there. Now he heads to Israel and the Palestinian territories for a series of meetings and stopovers at various sites, some of which are fraught with political significance.

Ahead of the visit, the pope has received a lot of love, and no small amount of politics, from both Israel and the Palestinians.

The pontiff is heading to Bethlehem by helicopter from Amman for a series of religious events and meetings with Palestinian leaders and children. In the afternoon, he will come to Israel, launching a day of visits to religious sites and meetings with Israeli leaders.

The pope’s schedule Sunday in the Palestinian territories, as provided to journalists by Israel’s Government Press Office, is as follows. Based on the language, it seems safe to assume the schedule was originally written by Vatican officials:

8:30 – Departure for Bethlehem by helicopter from Queen Alia International Airport in Amman.

9:30 – Arrival ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Bethlehem, Courtesy visit to the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority.

10:00 – Meeting with Palestinian Authority leaders. Discourse of the Holy Father.

11:00 – Holy Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem. Homily of the Holy Father. Regina Coeli prayer. Allocution of the Holy Father.

15:00 – Private visit to the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

15:45 – Farewell ceremony from the Palestinian Authority at the Bethlehem helipad.

16:00 – Departure by helicopter from the Bethlehem helipad for Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel.

Israeli media disbelieving at pope’s lax security

Pope Francis is famously a man of the people. In the Vatican, he has refused to live in the plush residence of the Bishop of Rome. And he has refused to ride around Rome in the iconic — and bullet-proof — Pope-mobile.

That humility has continued in Israel. Pope Francis has adamantly refused, much to the frustration of security-conscious Israeli officials, the kind of protective envelope Israel usually offers visiting officials, not to mention the spiritual leader of over a billion human beings. Francis has refused even the basic precaution of an armored vehicle, according to reports, complicating Israeli security officials’ efforts to stymie the unthinkable: an attack on the pope in the Holy Land.

Bethlehem pulls out all the stops

The city of Bethlehem isn’t holding back for Pope Francis’s visit.

CBC News Middle East correspondent Derek Stoffel, @DerekStoffelCBC, tweets a photo of preparations from Manger Square.

Journalist Dalia Hatuqa, on Twitter at @DaliaHatuqa, has posted some pictures to the social network showcasing the city’s — and the Palestinian Authority’s — efforts to send a message surrounding the visit.

Palestinian leaflet on pope visit focuses on security barrier

A leaflet produced by the Palestinian Authority (but labeled “State of Palestine” in keeping with the PA’s new claims to statehood after a November 2012 UN General Assembly recognition of “Palestine” as an observer state) shows the highlights of Pope Francis’s itinerary in Bethlehem, at least as the PA sees it.

The leaflet (PDF) is dominated by a graphic representation of the Israeli security barrier and red-roofed Jewish settlements. The barrier is labeled “Annexation Wall,” the settlements sport construction cranes.

If the pope’s delegation had any doubts about what the PA hoped to achieve from the pontiff’s visit, the leaflet should clarify the matter.

Part of a Palestinian Authority leaflet showing the itinerary for Sunday's visit by Pope Francis, dominated by graphic representations of Israel's separation barrier and Jewish settlements. (screenshot)

Part of a Palestinian Authority leaflet showing the itinerary for Sunday’s visit by Pope Francis, dominated by graphic representations of Israel’s security barrier and Jewish settlements. (screenshot)

Pope Francis lands in Bethlehem

Pope Francis landed in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Sunday at the start of a two-day tour of the Palestinian territories and Israel.

He arrived in a Jordanian military helicopter which touched down at a helipad in the town which is revered as the birthplace of Jesus, and where he was to hold a public mass later in the morning. (AFP)

10,000 expected at Pope Francis’s 11 a.m. mass

Some 10,000 are expected for Pope Francis’s mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, set to take place at 11 a.m.

Francis is slated to meet Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders at 10 a.m., after which he will drive in an open-top car through Bethlehem to Manger Square.

Pope Francis offers less-than-subtle nod to Palestinian state

In its official program for Pope Francis’s arrival in Bethlehem, the Vatican referred to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as the president of the “state of Palestine,” AP reports.

“The fact that he is coming straight from Jordan to Bethlehem, without going through Israel,” is a tacit recognition of a Palestinian state, said Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian Christian who is a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization.

These moves are significant. The Palestinian Authority was recognized as an observer state by the UN General Assembly in November 2012, part of its efforts to obtain statehood without depending on peace talks with Israel. The added recognition of the spiritual leader of over a billion Catholics is undoubtedly helpful to these efforts.

Throngs mass in Bethlehem to greet Pope

Masses gather in Bethlehem’s Manger Square to greet Pope Francis, after His Holiness arrived by helicopter from Amman.

According to the Ynet news site, the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories approved entry to Israel for 23,000 West Bank Palestinians, as well as 600 Gazan Christians.

Meanwhile, outside the presidential palace in Bethlehem, the pope’s official open-topped vehicle awaits its occupant.

Yellow-and-white Vatican flags fly over Bethlehem, Jerusalem

Vatican banners flutter over the streets of both Jerusalem and Bethlehem in honor of Pope Francis’s arrival.

The Prime Minister’s Office publishes the official logo of the pope’s visit, a combination of the Star of David and the crossed keys of the Holy See flanked with olive branches.

Pope to refer to ‘State of Palestine’ in Bethlehem speech

Pope Francis’s prepared remarks for his speech in Bethlehem includes reference to “State of Palestine,” Buzzfeed’s Sheera Frenkel and The New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren say.

The official Vatican news agency also refers to the pope’s visit to “The State of Palestine.”

Meanwhile, pictures of the pope waving to crowds in Bethlehem are making their way onto the net.

Abbas thanks pope for helping Palestinians live occupation-free

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas thanks Pope Francis for his efforts to help the Palestinian people live in an “occupation-free Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

He says the pope saw “this disgusting wall [with] your own eyes,” referring to Israel’s security barrier which runs between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Pope Francis speak in Bethlehem (screen capture: Maan News)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Pope Francis speak in Bethlehem (screen capture: Maan News)

Pope calls Israeli-Palestinian conflict ‘increasingly unacceptable’

Pope Francis has called the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict “increasingly unacceptable,” urging both sides to take courageous and creative decisions to forge peace.

Francis spoke Sunday alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after landing in the West Bank town of Bethlehem in a symbolic nod to Palestinian aspirations for their own state. Previous popes making Mideast pilgrimages always landed in Israel first and then travelled to the West Bank.

Francis said: “The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable.” He said both sides needed to make sacrifices to create two states, with internationally recognized borders, for the good of their own people. (AP)

Pope departs for Bethlehem’s Manger Square

Leaving the presidential palace in his open-topped popemobile, Francis and his official motorcade set out for Manger Square, where droves of people await his arrival for a Holy Mass outside the Church of the Nativity.

Pope Francis's official motorcade makes its way to Manger Square in Bethlehem (screen capture: Ynet)

Pope Francis’s official motorcade makes its way to Manger Square in Bethlehem (screen capture: Ynet)

En route to Manger Square, the pope stops next to a section of the security barrier, which in this section is a large concrete wall.

Pope reaches Manger Square to cheers of ‘Viva Il Papa’

To cheers and shouts of “Viva Il Papa,” Pope Francis arrives in a jam-packed Manger Square. The people crowding the square wave flags of Francis’s native Argentina, Palestine, the Vatican, Ukraine, and a dozen other countries.

Pope Francis's entourage reaches Manger Square in Bethlehem (screen capture: Ynet)

Pope Francis’s entourage reaches Manger Square in Bethlehem (screen capture: Ynet)

Pope begins Holy Mass in Bethlehem

Pope Francis walks onto a yellow-and-white festooned dais in Manger Square accompanied by a coterie of white-robed Catholic priests for mass. With a large mural of the birth of Jesus behind him, the infant draped in a checkered Palestinian scarf, Francis leads the prayers with choral accompaniment.

Francis is reportedly accompanied in Bethlehem by Maronite Cardinal Bechara Boutros al Ra’i and the heads of the Chaldean and Coptic Catholic churches.

Pope Francis enters Manger Square in Bethlehem in full papal regalia for Holy Mass (screen capture: CTV)

Pope Francis enters Manger Square in Bethlehem in full papal regalia for Holy Mass (screen capture: CTV)

In the front row, PA President Mahmoud Abbas wears a papal visit baseball cap.

Live feed of Francis’s mass in Bethlehem

Here’s a live feed of the Holy Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, courtesy of the Vatican News Agency:

Photo: Francis at the wall

Ma’an News publishes a photo of Francis standing by a walled section of the security barrier in Bethlehem, before traveling to Manger Square.

PM: Pope’s visit a chance to show ‘modern, tolerant Israel’

As Pope Francis spends the morning in Bethlehem, and Israel makes the final preparations for his arrival in Israel in the afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells the cabinet that Francis’s visit is “an opportunity to present to the world the true Israel, an advanced, modern, tolerant Israel, in practice the only state in the Middle East which ensures complete freedom of religion to members of every religion, [which] protects holy places and guarantees the rights of all — Jews, Muslims, Christians, all.”

Worshippers and dignitaries gather in Manger Square in Bethlehem for Sunday mass (screen capture: CTV)

Worshippers and dignitaries gather in Manger Square in Bethlehem for Sunday mass (screen capture: CTV)

The pope for president?

Israeli comedy show “Eretz Nehederet” conflates Pope Francis’s visit with the increasingly competitive horserace for the Israeli presidency in a picture uploaded to its Facebook page. The photo, taken during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Rome in December 2013, shows Netanyahu and his wife with Pope Francis. Sara Netanyahu prompts her husband, “Ask him.” Netanyahu then asks the pontiff, “Want to be president?”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife and Pope Francis appear in a photoshopped image by Eretz Nehederet. "Ask him," Sara Netanyahu prompts. Netanyahu asks the pontiff, "Want to be president?" (photo credit: Eretz Nehederet/Facebook)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife and Pope Francis appear in a photoshopped image by Eretz Nehederet. ‘Ask him,’ Sara Netanyahu prompts. Netanyahu asks the pontiff, ‘Want to be president?’ (photo credit: Eretz Nehederet/Facebook)

Full text of pope’s statement to Abbas

The Palestinian Ma’an news agency publishes the full text of Pope Francis’s statement at the presidential palace in Bethlehem to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Francis tells Abbas that he is “known as a man of peace and a peacemaker.” 

Pope Francis is welcomed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas upon his arrival to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Sunday, May 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope Francis is welcomed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas upon his arrival at the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Sunday, May 25, 2014. (AP/Andrew Medichini)

Pope’s mass interrupted by mosque’s call to prayer

The Muslim call to prayer from the Mosque of Omar on Manger Square in Bethlehem interrupted Pope Francis’ mass outside the Church of the Nativity.

According to Israel Radio reporter Gal Berger, the Christian crowd responded to the muezzin’s call with whistles and shouts, and the choral music was turned up in order to drown it out. Army Radio reports the calls of “God is Great” in Arabic were met with cheers of “Viva Il Papa” by the Christians.

The mosque, a symbol of religious coexistence, was built where Omar Ibn El Khattab, a successor to Mohammed, visited Bethlehem in 637 after issuing an edict pledging safety to all Christians and clergy and respect for their shrines. The mosque stands opposite the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square.

Pope Francis delivers mass at Manger Square in Bethlehem on Sunday, May 25. (screen capture: CTV)

Pope Francis delivers mass at Manger Square in Bethlehem on Sunday, May 25. (screen capture: CTV)

Lebanese cleric not flying to Ben-Gurion

The Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Ra’i, whose participation in the pope’s visit was a source of controversy in the Arab world, will not be joining Francis on his helicopter journey to Ben-Gurion Airport and during his stay in Israel, Nasser Atta of ABC News reports.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai (screen capture: Youtube)

Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai (screen capture: Youtube)

Francis invites Peres, Abbas to Vatican for prayer for peace

The peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians having collapsed last month, Pope Francis calls on President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas to join him in a prayer for peace at the Vatican.

“I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer,” Francis said after mass in Bethlehem.

The Bishop of Rome will now have lunch with five Palestinian families before visiting the Dheisheh refugee camp just outside the West Bank city.

President Shimon Peres meeting with Pope Francis I at the Vatican in Rome, Italy on April 30, 2013. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

President Shimon Peres meeting with Pope Francis I at the Vatican in Rome, Italy, on April 30, 2013. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Pope’s visit called ‘better than expected’ for PA

A Palestinian official tells the BBC that Pope Francis’s spontaneous, unscheduled prayer pit stop at the security barrier in Bethlehem on Sunday afternoon makes the papal visit to the Palestinian territories “much better than expected.”

Peres, Abbas confirm Vatican meeting in June

Israeli, Palestinian presidents confirm they will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican next month. Francis invited Abbas and Peres to join him in Rome for a prayer for peace summit after conducting a mass in Bethlehem.

(AP contributed to this report.)

Pope’s wall visit sparks spoofs

The pope’s impromptu visit to the security barrier in Bethlehem on Sunday has already generated online spoofs. The Pan Arabian Enquirer, a comedy and satire website from the Gulf, tweeted an image of Francis putting a “dope tag” on the wall.

 

Pope set to depart from Bethlehem, fly to Israel

Pope Francis is wrapping up his stay in Bethlehem with a visit to the Grotto of the Nativity, the cave atop which the eponymous church is built, and where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was born. After a final farewell with Palestinian officials at 4 p.m., Francis will fly by helicopter to Ben Gurion International Airport for his reception by Israeli officials.

From there, the pope travels to Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus for a meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, the Archbishop of Constantinople and leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians. The two are slated to sign a joint declaration, then hold a joint prayer session at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City. 

Pope meets Palestinian kids in Bethlehem

Paying a visit to the Phoenix Center in Bethlehem before departing, Pope Francis meets with a group of Palestinian children from the refugee camps of Dheisheh, Aida and Beit Jibrin.

Palestinian children held up signs in Arabic, English and Italian calling the pope’s attention to a variety of Palestinian issues, including the hardships faced by Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp outside Damascus, Syria.

“We demand the freedom to worship,” one sign read.

One of the children addressed the pope saying that despite the hardships of life under Israeli military rule, “We the children of Palestine haven’t lost hope yet.”

“Your visit gives us hope,” the boy said.

“This occupation is a sin against God and man. It deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights,” he told the pope. “Let’s all pray for a fair, all-encompassing peace.”

Speaking on behalf of the “imprisoned and hurt” children of his refugee camp, the boy called for the pope to intercede for justice’s sake.

The pope meets with Palestinian children in Bethlehem on Sunday, May 25. (screen capture: CTV)

The pope meets with Palestinian children in Bethlehem on Sunday, May 25. (screen capture: CTV)

Pope tells Palestinian children to eschew violence

Speaking to Palestinian children in Bethlehem, the pontiff urges the kids never to “abandon hope, and always look forward.”

“You don’t solve violence with violence,” he says. “Peace is achieved with hard work and dignity.” 

The pope meets with Palestinian children in Bethlehem (screen capture: CTV)

The pope meets with Palestinian children in Bethlehem (screen capture: CTV)

Pope lifts off from Bethlehem, bound for Israel

The red carpet is out in Bethlehem and Lod as Francis is set to take off from the West Bank city and arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport minutes later.

The pope speaks briefly with PA President Mahmoud Abbas outside his car, then the two walk hand-in-hand for a moment before the pope shakes hands with Palestinian officials, walks down the carpet and boards the Jordanian military helicopter.

The pope and PA President Mahmoud Abbas walk down the red carpet in Bethlehem. (screen capture: CTV)

The pope and PA President Mahmoud Abbas walk down the red carpet in Bethlehem. (screen capture: CTV)

In Ben-Gurion, Israeli dignitaries are making their final preparations before the pontiff’s arrival.

The red carpet at Ben Gurion International Airport ahead of the pope's arrival. (screen capture: CTV)

The red carpet at Ben Gurion International Airport ahead of the pope’s arrival. (screen capture: CTV)

Bethlehem wall built to stop terror, Israeli official says after papal visit

After Pope Francis’s spontaneous prayer session at a section of the security barrier in Bethlehem this morning, an Israeli official tells Channel 2 that the pope “should remember that (the Bethlehem) wall was built to stop suicide terror.”

https://twitter.com/DanWilliams/status/470553441211645952

In an unscheduled stop during his Bethlehem visit, Francis had walked to the security barrier — in an area where it is wall, rather than the fencing that characterizes most of its route — and appeared to say some words of silent prayer.

Road closures in Jerusalem

The Israel Police say the roads leading to Mount Scopus and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will be closed from 5 p.m. onward because of the papal visit. Route 1, the main artery from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, will be closed briefly some time between 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. as the pope lands and drives away from Ben-Gurion International Airport.

On Monday the road to the university will be closed once again from 7:15 a.m. until 8 a.m.

Francis lands in Israel

Flanked by an IDF color guard, Pope Francis steps off the Jordanian military helicopter which flew him from Bethlehem to Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod.

President Shimon Peres greets Pope Francis on his arrival in Israel. (screen capture: GPO)

President Shimon Peres greets Pope Francis on his arrival in Israel. (screen capture: GPO)

He is greeted by President Shimon Peres with a warm handshake, then by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

President Shimon Peres, Pope Francis and Benjamin Netanyahu stand at attention for the national anthems of the Vatican and Israel (screen capture: GPO)

President Shimon Peres, Pope Francis and Benjamin Netanyahu stand at attention for the national anthems of the Vatican and Israel (screen capture: GPO)

The three leaders stand at attention for the Vatican and Israeli national anthems, with Israeli ministers standing by at the far end of the carpet.

Jerusalem of Gold plays as ministers greet pope

The IDF brass band plays Jerusalem of Gold as Pope Francis shakes hands with Israeli ministers and dignitaries on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Leaders of the various religious communities in Israel greet the pontiff, but notably absent are the chief rabbis of Israel.

Army Radio says that the ministers of the Jewish Home party are all absent, brought down by a mystery virus, while Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has sent his deputy, citing timetable clashes.

Pope Francis is greeted by Israeli dignitaries at Ben Gurion International Airport. (screen capture: GPO)

Pope Francis is greeted by Israeli dignitaries at Ben Gurion International Airport. (screen capture: GPO)

Peres thanks pope for ‘warm and loving attitude’ to Jews

President Shimon Peres greets Pope Francis in address from the dais on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport with quote from Psalms: “Welcome in the name of the Lord.”

Speaking in Hebrew, Peres thanks the pope “for your warm and loving attitude to the Jewish people.”

Back in English, in a minor slip, Peres calls Francis “Your Highness” instead of “Your Holiness” at one point, but nobody seems to mind.

The president condemns those who “shot innocent people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels [on Saturday] only because they thought they were Jewish.”

“This is a manifestation that poisons wells and cannot be accepted,” he says.

The elder statesman takes the opportunity to promote the message of peace, saying that “Even if peace calls for sacrifices, the sacrifices of peace are preferable to the threat of war.”

Our hand is stretched out in peace and will continue to be stretched out in peace, and we shall seek the right path to achieve it,” Peres says. Earlier in the day he accepted the pontiff’s offer to meet PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Rome on June 6 for a prayer for peace.

President Shimon Peres addresses Pope Francis at Ben Gurion International Airport. (screen capture: GPO)

President Shimon Peres addresses Pope Francis at Ben Gurion International Airport. (screen capture: GPO)

Netanyahu: Our hand’s outstretched for peace to anyone

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes Pope Francis, and praises recent good relations between the Holy See and the Jewish people. He says that when Pope Francis lights the torch at Yad Vashem on Monday, it will be an additional expression that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity and the divine.

“In the heart of the Middle East, the turbulent and violent Middle East… Israel is an island of tolerance,” Netanyahu says, lauding the country’s tolerance for all faiths.

Netanyahu says he is “committed to maintaining the status quo at the holy sites of Muslims, Christians and Jews.”

“Our hand is outstretched for peace to anyone who will take it,” Netanyahu says.

‘All of us must be builders of peace,’ Pope Francis says

Pope Francis says he comes to Israel as a pilgrim, and voices his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The pope condemns Saturday’s shooting in Brussels that left three dead, including two Israelis, calling the incident a  “brutal” and “criminal attack of anti-Semitic hatred.” The Catholic leader offers his prayers for the victims and wounded.

The focus of his speech (full text here) is on reaching peace between Israel and the Palestinians, underlining the “universal value” of Jerusalem as a city of peace. He says the sides should never stop seeking solutions to complex problems between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“There is no other way” than peace, the pope says, expressing hope that it “will become reality, and will not remain a dream.” He emphasizes the right for Israelis to live in peace and security in internationally recognized borders, and for Palestinians to live in a state of their own, too.

Francis offers a “warm and fraternal greeting” to Christian faithful in Israel, and he repeats his invitation to Peres and Abbas to the Vatican “to come together for common prayer for peace.”

“All of us must become the builders and constructors of this peace,” he says. “All men and women of this land, and the world at large, are asking us to work towards peace.”

Concerning the Holocaust and his upcoming visit to Yad Vashem on Monday, Francis says that he prays to God “that a crime like this won’t happen again.”

Pope boards chopper for Jerusalem

After addressing Israeli dignitaries and speaking broadly about the need for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Pope Francis boards an Israeli helicopter to transport him from Ben-Gurion Airport to Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus.

Pope Francis boards Israeli helicopter at Ben Gurion International Airport (screen capture: GPO)

Pope Francis boards an Israeli helicopter at Ben Gurion International Airport (screen capture: GPO)

Pope Francis arrives in Jerusalem

After a brief hop by helicopter from Lod to Jerusalem, the pope arrives on Mount Scopus for a meeting with his Eastern Orthodox counterpart, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I.

The two are slated to hold a private meeting later this evening.

Pope Francis is greeted on touchdown at the Mt. Scopus helipad by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, city officials, the president of the Hebrew University, the head of Hadassah Hospital and children of Jerusalem. Some of the children are from a school for both Jewish and Arab students.

Barkat gives His Holiness a sample of earth from the Holy Land and some fresh fruit grown in Israel, and a plaque with a reproduction of the Siloam Inscription, which he describes as proof of “our mutual future of the city of Jerusalem.”

Pope Francis meets Jerusalem officials after landing on Mount Scopus. (screen capture: GPO)

Pope Francis meets Jerusalem officials after landing on Mount Scopus. (screen capture: GPO)

 

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat presents Pope Francis with a reproduction of the Siloam Inscription, a 2,700-year-old Hebrew stone-carved text, after His Holiness's arrival in the city. (screen capture: GPO)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat presents Pope Francis with a reproduction of the Siloam Inscription, a 2,700-year-old Hebrew stone-carved text, after His Holiness’s arrival in the city. (screen capture: GPO)

Pope Francis, Eastern Orthodox counterpart meet

From Mount Scopus, home of Hebrew University in the north of Jerusalem, Pope Francis makes his way to the Old City for a meeting with the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I. The two are set to appear together at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditional site of Jesus’s Crucifixion and one of the holiest sites in Christendom.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Anton Croos, Wikimedia Commons)

Church of the Holy Sepulchre (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Anton Croos, Wikimedia Commons)

Phalanxes of priests from the various sects of Christianity and Israeli security officials have gathered in and around the church awaiting Francis’s arrival. Police brass from around the country assemble in the courtyard outside the basilica, accompanied by heavily armed guards.

Before the pope arrives, the church’s bells signal his imminent arrival with a pealing salute.

Police and priests outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. (screen capture: GPO)

Police and priests outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. (screen capture: GPO)

The meeting between Francis and Bartholomew marks the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras  in Jerusalem in 1964.

Pope’s rabbi friend attends ceremony at Holy Sepulchre

Pope Francis’s Argentinian friend, Rabbi Avraham Skorka, is in attendance at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and like the rest of us is wondering what’s keeping the pope.

Rabbi Avraham Skorka at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (screen capture: GPO)

Rabbi Avraham Skorka at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (screen capture: GPO)

Eastern Orthodox leader tweets photo with pope

The Ecumenical Patriarch tweets an image of himself and Pope Francis during their first meeting in Jerusalem.

Francis, Bartholomew arrive at Holy Sepulchre

As night falls on the Old City of Jerusalem, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I step into the courtyard outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the shared site holy to all Christians.

Having waited for over an hour for the Christian leaders to make it to the basilica in the heart of the Christian Quarter, the gathered dignitaries breathe a sigh of relief as the leaders of the two largest Christian sects enter the yard.

Francis and Bartholomew, leaders of Catholic and Eastern Christianity, embrace and stand side by side before walking into the basilica accompanied by their respective subordinates.

Pope Francis and Bartholomew I embrace outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (screen capture: GPO)

Pope Francis and Bartholomew I embrace outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (screen capture: GPO)

Francis pays respects at Holy Sepulchre, Israeli TV highlights pope’s wall moment

Pope Francis and Bartholomew enter the church to the sound of chanting from priests, bow and kiss the Stone of Unction, where legend has it Jesus was laid out after his Crucifixion to be washed before burial.

Pope Francis and Bartholomew I kiss the Stone of Unction in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (screen capture: GPO)

Pope Francis and Bartholomew I kiss the Stone of Unction in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (screen capture: GPO)

Francis and Bartholomew are attending services in the Holy Sepulchre. (Must confess it’s all Greek to me.)

Israel’s Channel 2 News, meanwhile, now gets around to the papal visit 20 minutes into the evening broadcast, preoccupied as it was with covering the shooting in Brussels that killed four, including two Israelis.

The report highlights Abbas’s fairly incendiary Bethlehem speech, in which he accused Israel of seeking to force Christians out of the Holy Land, and the pope’s meeting with Palestinian children, one of whom told him that the Nakba — the catastrophe of Israel’s establishment in 1948 — was “the worst case of ethnic cleansing in human history.”

The Israeli TV report ends with a clip of Francis at the security barrier in Bethlehem and notes that since the pope said nothing as he stood at the wall, “there is no knowing what he was thinking.”

Catholic, Eastern Orthodox leaders pledge unity

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I have signed an agreement in which “they pledged to continue on the path towards unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches,” Vatican Radio reports. “Christian blood is the same,” Francis tells those gathered at the Holy Sepulchre.

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (screen capture: GPO)

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (screen capture: GPO)

Bartholomew says he and Francis “exchanged an embrace of love, even as we continue along the path toward full communion.”

According to Israel Radio, the Vatican considers the meeting between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox leaders the high point of Pope Francis’s visit to the region.

Pope ends first day of visit with call for Christian unity

Pope Francis calls for greater unity among Christian sects and refers to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as “my dear brother” in his speech at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

His Holiness is now off to dinner and we’re done here for the night. Tune in tomorrow morning for the papal visit to the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, Mt. Herzl, Yad Vashem, Mt. Zion, and meetings with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.