Pope Francis has completed the last leg of his widely anticipated, three-day journey to the Holy Land, arriving back in Rome shortly before midnight on Monday.
His whirlwind trip to Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, filled with meetings with religious and political leaders, three Masses, and prayer meetings, the Argentine Pontiff still managed to squeeze in a third surprise on his last day: an unannounced, solemn visit to Israel’s “Memorial to the Victims of Terror”. The visit took place after his visit to the Western Wall, and follows a previous departure from his itinerary on Sunday when he prayed at the separation barrier that divides Israel and Palestine.
Esplanade of the Mosques
Saying, early Monday morning, that his trip would not have been complete without meeting with the “dear Muslim faithful,” the Pope visited the Esplanade of the Mosques. There, he told the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammed Hussein, that fraternal dialogue and exchange between Christians and Muslims “offers new strength to confront the common challenges before us.”
Also during his visit to the Temple Mount, venerated by all three monothestic religions, Francis said Muslims, Christians and Jews “see in Abraham, albeit in different ways, a father in faith and a great example to be imitated.” We should be like him, he said, “constantly prepared to go out from ourselves, docile to God’s call and open to the future that He wishes to create for us.”
He appealed that everyone work toward justice and peace and not abuse God’s name through violence.
From Temple Mount, Pope Francis went on to visit and pray in silence before the Western Wall, or “Wailing Wall,” a place of worship for the Jews, linked to many traditions, including that of leaving prayers written on small pieces of paper between blocks of the wall. Francis participated in the tradition, writing on his piece of paper the Lord’s Prayer, and adding, “I have written it in Spanish because it is the language I learned from my mother.”
Assisted by Christian children, the Pope proceeded to Mount Herzl, where he left a wreath of flowers in the Israel national cemetery at the tomb of Theodore Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement.
Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial
Pope Francis honored Jewish victims of the Holocaust during his visit to the Yad Vashem Memorial, a monument built to commemorate the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. He prayed before a crypt containing ashes of victims, and laid a wreath of flowers in the “Hall of Remembrance.”
After meeting with Holocaust survivors and hearing personal stories about loved ones killed during World War II by the Nazis, Francis wrote in Yad Vashem’s Book of Remembrance: “‘Never again, Lord, never again!'” adding, “‘We are shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing.’”
Meeting with Jewish Rabbis
The deepening of the friendship between Jews and Christians was a key outcome of Vatican II, Francis said, during his visit to the chief rabbinate of Israel at the Heichal Shlomo. There he met with two Chief Rabbis:David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, respective Ashkenazi and Sephardi rabbis.
He told them that Christians and Jews together “can make a great contribution to the cause of peace and firmly opposed every form of anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination.”
Meeting with Peres and Netanyahu
Pope Francis shared his appreciation for President of the State of Israel Shimon Peres’ peacekeeping efforts, during their meeting at the presidential palace, commenting he would like to invent a new Beatitude, “one I can apply to myself today: ‘Blessed is he who enters the house of a wise and good man.’”
As a symbol of peace, and following tradition, the Pope and the President planted an olive tree together in the palace gardens.
In the presence of around a hundred children of various religions, there was a public meeting, with smiling and song, which followed.
The Pontiff used the forum to deliver a strong message, declaring “the need for a firm rejection of all that is opposed to the cultivation of peace and respectful relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims”. He appealed to reject violence, terrorism, and all forms of discrimination and intolerance.
The Pope went on to receive in private audience the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame Centre of Jerusalem.
Meeting with Religious at Church of Gethsemane
Pope Francis met with the priests, religious, and seminarians of the Holy Land Monday afternoon, in the church of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the site believed to be where the Lord knelt and prayed in the garden before being arrested.
Here, Francis encouraged the consecrated to stay faithful to the love of Christ despite personal difficulties. “Your presence here is extremely important,” he stressed, as “the whole Church is grateful to you and she sustains you by her prayers.”
Francis continued by quoting Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”
Cenacle Mass with Ordinaries of Holy Land
The Holy Father’s stay in Jerusalem would draw to a close with a Mass with the ordinaries at the Cenacle, also known as the Upper Room.
Pope Francis’ homily focused on the Upper Room’s importance, especially as the site where the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ Apostles.
It felt like a “great gift” that the Lord gathered them to celebrate the Eucharist in the Upper Room, he said. The sacred site “was where Jesus shared the Last Supper with the apostles,” the Pope recalled, “where, after His Resurrection, he appeared in their midst; where the Holy Spirit descended with power upon Mary and the disciples. Here, the Church was born, and was born to go forth.”
At the day’s conclusion, the Pope was given a farewell by the State of Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport at Tel Aviv, before departing to Rome’s Ciampino Airport.