Vatican officials said Friday that a scheduled Sunday evening prayer with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas represented a “pause in politics” and had no political aim other than to re-ignite the desire for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
It will be the first time such a meeting has ever taken place at the Vatican and marks the first time in over a year that Peres and Abbas have met.
The latest round of US-sponsored peace talks collapsed in failure in April. Francis issued the invitation to Peres and Abbas to come to “my home” to pray for peace during his recent trip to the Middle East.
“Naturally no one has the presumption to think that after this peace will suddenly break out in the Holy Land,” the Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, custodian of the Catholic Church’s properties in the Holy Land, told reporters.
“The intent of this initiative is to reopen a path that has perhaps been closed for some time, to recreate the desire, the possibility, the dream.”
In May Peres said that in 2011 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu torpedoed a peace deal which he had reached covertly with Abbas. Speaking to Channel 2 news, Peres said that he and Abbas had essentially reached a draft agreement on “almost all issues” and that an accord was being readied, after a series of secret meetings in Jordan.
Peres said that the prime minister asked him to wait three or four days, in the hopes that Quartet Representative and former British prime minister Tony Blair could negotiate a better deal. “The days went by and there was no better deal,” said Peres. “Netanyahu stopped it [the potential agreement].”
The Prime Minister’s Office, in response, denied that a Peres-Abbas agreement had been imminent.
The Vatican on Friday released the details of how Sunday’s event will unfold, a delicate balancing act of both religious and diplomatic protocol that will see Jewish, Muslim and Christians praying for peace in the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Pope Francis is expected to greet Peres and Abbas separately at the Vatican hotel where he lives and have a brief one-on-one with each of the men. Francis will be joined by the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, demonstrating a united Christian front for the event.
The four will then travel to a field in the Vatican gardens for the prayer ceremony. It is divided into three parts, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, with each faith group reading texts from their respective holy books that concern three common themes: creation, a prayer for forgiveness, and a prayer for peace.
Francis, Peres and Abbas will then deliver their own remarks, and together with Bartholomew the men will plant an olive tree in a gesture of peace.