Pope tweets message of peace ahead of prayer summit

A day before Peres and Abbas meet Francis in Rome, pontiff calls on followers to pray for peace in Middle East

Pope Francis prays at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, in Jerusalem's Old City on May 26, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Thomas Coex)
Pope Francis prays at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, in Jerusalem's Old City on May 26, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Thomas Coex)

Ahead of President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Francis on Saturday entreated social media followers to pray for Middle East peace.

“Prayer is all-powerful,” the pope tweeted. “Let us use it to bring peace to the Middle East and peace to the world.”

Within minutes, the pope’s message was retweeted and favorited hundreds of times.

Peres and Abbas were invited by the pope to the Vatican for a prayer for peace during the Catholic leader’s visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories last month.

Vatican officials said Friday that the scheduled Sunday evening prayer with Peres and 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.”

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.

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.

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