Pope Prays at West Bank Barrier
Israeli, Palestinian presidents accept invitation to Vatican
By Matt Cantor, Newser User
Posted May 25, 2014 4:57 PM CDT
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)

(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.

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