Pope Prays at West Bank Barrier

Israeli, Palestinian presidents accept invitation to Vatican

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted May 25, 2014 4:57 PM CDT

(Newser) – The pope's Holy Land visit has been full of surprises. In an unplanned move today, Pope Francis stopped to pray at the concrete wall dividing Bethlehem and Jerusalem—a wall which, to Palestinans, symbolizes oppression by Israel, Reuters notes. Graffiti where he prayed read, "Free Palestine." The pope's visit has been marked by support for Palestinian statehood, the AP reports; the Vatican's official program mentions "the state of Palestine," calling Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas a "man of peace."

In another surprise move, Pope Francis invited both Abbas and Israeli president Shimon Peres to pray at the Vatican, Reuters reports. Both men reportedly accepted the invitation, and the gathering is planned for June 6. Meanwhile, the pope worked to heal another rift: the divide between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the AP reports. Francis prayed with Orthodox patriarch Bartholomew I at the Jerusalem church where both groups believe Jesus was resurrected.

Pope Francis prays at Israel's separation barrier on his way to a mass in Manger Square in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Sunday, May 25, 2014.   (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Pope Francis and Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew pray during a ceremony in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.   (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, Pool)
Pope Francis and Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew kneel to kiss the stone traditionally claimed as the site where Jesus' body was prepared for burial, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.   (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, Pool)
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