On Monday, the final day of his Mideast trip, Pope Francis visited the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, among other major sites in Jerusalem.
The pope prayed at the Western Wall and left a note inside an envelope in one of the cracks between the stones. Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, characterizing the restored state of Israel as “the highest proof of the power of faith to change reality,” told the pope that “Even during the most difficult years, when anti-Semitism persecuted and beat us without mercy all over the world, we continued to believe in the ancient verses ‘You are sons to the Lord your God.’ Not out of pride, heaven forbid, but out of a deep sense of mission and out of a desire to repair the world in the kingdom of God.”
Francis also met with Jerusalem Grand Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Hussein at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, urging his “Muslim brothers” to “respect and love one another as brothers and sisters.”
“May we learn to understand the suffering of others,” the pope said. “May no one abuse the name of God through violence.”
Before visiting Yad Vashem, the pope laid a wreath at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery, where Israeli leaders and soldiers are buried. At Yad Vashem he laid a wreath in the “Hall of Remembrance” and kissed the hands of half a dozen Holocaust survivors.
“Never again, Lord, never again,” the pope implored. “Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing.”
The pope also visited the Heichal Shlomo Jewish Heritage Center in Jerusalem, together with Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau and Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef.
During a visit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the pope made a statement about good relations between the Vatican and “the state of Palestine,” a remark that disturbed many Israelis because there is no Palestinian state and Israel’s position is that there can’t be before a full peace agreement is reached between Israel and the Palestinians.
The pope also made a surprise stop at the Israeli security fence, where he prayed next to graffiti that read “Free Palestine” and “Bethlehem looks like Warsaw Ghetto.” Palestinian Arabs were initially chased away by Israeli police for spraying anti-Israel graffiti on the fence, and police then erased the graffiti with white paint. But the anti-Israel messages were re-painted on the fence in time for the pope’s stop there.
Toward the end of his visit to Israel, Francis met with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
After meeting Netanyahu, the pope visited several Christian holy sites, including Mount Zion, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Cenacle, the traditional site of Jesus’s Last Supper. Jews consider the site to be King David’s tomb, and tensions have risen over reports that Israel plans to increase Christian access to the site.
Francis arrived in the region on Saturday, which he spent in Amman. After spending the next morning in Bethlehem, he came to Israel Sunday afternoon.
(JTA, JNS, Jewish Press staff)