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Pope Hosts Historic Prayer Meeting for Mideast Peace

francis mideast prayerPope Francis welcomed Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican yesterday in an historic "prayer summit" that he is hoping will mark the "beginning of a new journey" in the efforts to bring peace to the Holy Land.

Fox News is reporting that President Peres was the first to arrive at the pope's residence in Rome, with President Abbas following shortly thereafter. The pope met privately with each man before heading out to the Vatican gardens for the prayer service.

"I am profoundly grateful to you for accepting my invitation to come here and to join in imploring from God the gift of peace," the pope said at the beginning of the service. "It is my hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a new journey where we seek the things that unite, so as to overcome the things that divide."

He applauded the presidents for coming to the service, calling the gesture "a great sign of brotherhood which you offer as children of Abraham."

Even though the meeting is not expected to impact the ongoing impasse between the two countries, bringing these two particular leaders to a prayer summit is being seen as a "feat of diplomatic and religious protocol" which was organized in just two weeks, since the pope first extended the invitation during his trip to the Holy Land in May.

It was an invitation that surprised the world, but the popular papal namesake of St. Francis of Assisi told the crowds in St. Peter's Square before the meeting that "a church that doesn’t have the capacity to surprise . . . is a dying church.”

The service consisted of Jewish, Muslim and Christian prayers which were delivered in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Italian.

The focus of the prayers was on the three themes that are common to all of the religions represented at the summit: thanking God for creation, seeking forgiveness for past wrongdoing and praying to God to bring peace to the region.

According to Fox, Vatican officials described the evening of prayer as "something of a 'time-out' in political negotiations" that was meant to rekindle the desire for peace among the key players in the region.

Talks between the two countries broke down in April and Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu is urging the world not to recognize Abbas' new unity government, which took office just last week, because it is backed by the Islamic terrorist group, Hamas.

With tensions high between the two countries, the pope stressed the importance of continuing the quest for peace.

"Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare," Francis said. "It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity.  All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity."

Both leaders were openly cordial with each other on this first public meeting between them in more than a year.

The Telegraph is reporting that Mr. Peres described the Pope as a "bridge builder" who had touched the hearts of everyone, regardless of their faith, during his recent visit to the Holy Land. He also acknowledged that the Israeli and Palestinian people were "aching for peace".

"Peace does not come easy. We are yet achieve this," Peres said. "We must pursue it and bring it closer."

Abbas thanked the Pope "from the bottom of my heart" for calling them together to pray.

"O Lord, bring comprehensive and just peace to our country and region so that our people and the peoples of the Middle East and the whole world would enjoy the fruit of peace, stability and coexistence," Abbas said.

Even though no one is expecting things to change because of the summit, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Paolin said at the end of the Holy Land trip that no one should discount the power of prayer.

"Prayer has a political strength that we maybe don't even realize and should be exploited to the full," Cardinal Paolin said. "Prayer has the ability to transform hearts, and thus to transform history."

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