JERUSALEM (CBSNewYork/AP) — In the midst of a whirlwind, three-day trip to the Holy Land, Pope Francis prayed Monday at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, the wall is the holiest place where Jews can pray. The pope bowed his head as he touched the wall, and left a note inside an envelope in one of the cracks between the stones.
He then embraced his good friend, Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, and a leader of Argentina’s Muslim community, Omar Abboud, both of whom joined his official delegation for the trip in a sign of interfaith friendship.
When St. John Paul II visited the Western Wall in 2000, he left a note asking forgiveness for the suffering inflicted on Jews by Christians over history. Pope Benedict XVI’s note prayed for peace for Christians, Muslims and Jews alike.
Francis deviated from his packed schedule to visit a memorial to Israeli victims of terrorism before traveling to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. He also laid a wreath at the grave of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl.
In one of the Pope’s last events in the Holy Land, he attended a private reception with the patriarch of the Christian Orthodox Church on the Mount of Olives.
During the reception the pair greeted visitors, including many from the Tri-State area.
“It was beautiful and to be perfectly honest I’m not Catholic, I’m Jewish, and it felt amazing. He’s a very special person,” Debbie Rechler said.
Also in attendance were titans of industry including the chairman of Coca-Cola, Mutar Kent.
Getting into the reception required hours of security checks.
The Patriarch and the Pntiff wanted to have the meeting, in part, to heal a rift that has existed between the churches for a thousand years.
“What everyone is hoping for our brothers and sisters in New York is familiarity to get to know each other better,” Fr. Nathaniel Symeonides said.
On Sunday, the pope also inserted himself right into the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Church bells rang as Pope Francis arrived in Israel. There, he met with the head of the Christian Orthodox Church, on a day when the pontiff once again had crowds and excitement following wherever he went.
Some American students were delighted to be part of it.
“I think he is sending a message that the world is ready for peace,” said Jacob Green.
Perhaps the most moving part of the day was an unscripted one, where the pontiff stopped to pray at the separation wall that divides Israelis and Palestinians.
And it was just a short time later during Mass in Bethlehem that he dropped his diplomatic bombshell — offering an invitation to the Palestinian and Israeli presidents to meet at the Vatican next month.
“The solution for two states should become a reality, and not remain just a dream,” Pope Francis said.
The offices of the Israeli and Palestinian presidents quickly confirmed that they had accepted the invitation.
“We welcome Pope Francis’ invitation to the Vatican. (Israeli) President (Shimon) Peres has supported and will continue to support all avenues to bring about peace,” Peres’ office said in a statement.
Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said the summit would take place sometime in June.
Peres, a 90-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, is set to step down over the summer, and the meeting would take place shortly before he leaves office.
Peres has been a fervent support of Mideast peace efforts, and the independent-minded Israeli president, whose job is largely ceremonial, risks upsetting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the move.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Park East synagogue, 184 E. 84th St., came to Jerusalem to meet the process. He noted that peace takes time.
“It’s not an instant,” Schneier said. “We in America, we like to drink instant coffee – everything instant. That’s not history. It’s an evolving process that has to be nurtured.”
Rabbi David Rosen said the pope’s outreach for peace could make an impact.
“That kind of visible photo opportunity could send a message that could perhaps create something; some momentum,” Rosen said.
“I figured, this is Memorial Day weekend. It’s my opportunity to get them both together,” said former mayoral candidate John Catsimitidis. “That’s why I’m in Jerusalem – the patriarch and the pope.”
While flying home from the Holy Land the Pope announced a zero-tolerance policy for clergy members who abuse children. He said that he plans to meet with a group of abuse victims next month at the Vatican.
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