In May, 2014, Francis went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He prayed at the Israeli security wall at Bethlehem and invited the Presidents of Israel and Palestine to the Vatican for a prayer encounter to promote peace. DW has the story.
When Pope Francis opened the doors of the Vatican to his guests from the Middle East on the evening of June 8, 2014, it was more about the symbolism of the event than real progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
However, it was an unprecedented Papal initiative that certainly drew worldwide attention. Israel's President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came together to pray and to talk with the Pope at his home on Pentecost Sunday.
The invitation for this unusual meeting was extended by the Pope after his open-air mass in Bethlehem during his first visit as Pope to the Holy Land in May, 2014. "In this birthplace of the prince of peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in prayer to God for the gift of peace," the Pope said at the Mass. "I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer."
On his return flight to Rome, the Pope elaborated his vision for the planned meeting.
"The two presidents and I will only meet to pray, and I believe that prayer is important, and doing this helps. Then they will go home. There will be a rabbi, a Muslim and me."
The prayer meeting was originally planned to take place during the Pope's visit to the Holy Land, but afterwards it was announced that it had not taken place due to organisational reasons.
The timing of the meeting comes at a critical moment, says Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz.
"Everybody here in Israel knows it is purely symbolic," he told DW. "However, the meeting in the Vatican became important not because the Pope summoned Abu Mazen and Peres to the Vatican, but because of the very bad state of Israeli-Palestinian relations."
Pope Invites Israeli and Palestinian Leaders to Meet at Vatican (The Wall Street Journal)
IMAGE credit: Pope Francis stops in front of the Israeli security wall in Bethlehem, West Bank, 25 May, 2014. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)