Pope seeks to rekindle dream of Mideast peace

Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is seeking to rekindle the dream of peace by bringing the Israeli and Palestinian presidents together this weekend for a unique common prayer for peace in the Vatican gardens.

It will be the first time such a meeting has ever taken place at the Vatican and marks the first time in over a year that Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have met.

Vatican officials insisted Friday the Sunday evening prayer represented a "pause in politics" and had no political aim other than to re-ignite the desire for Israeli-Palestinian peace that was perhaps at its high when Peres and Abbas signed the Oslo peace accords in 1993.

The latest round of U.S.-sponsored peace talks collapsed in failure in April. Francis issued the invitation to Peres and Abbas to come to "my home" to pray for peace during his recent trip to the Middle East.

"Naturally no one has the presumption to think that after this peace will suddenly break out in the Holy Land," the Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, custodian of the Catholic Church's properties in the Holy Land, told reporters.

"The intent of this initiative is to reopen a path that has perhaps been closed for some time, to recreate the desire, the possibility, the dream."

The Vatican on Friday released the details of how the event will unfold, a delicate balancing act of both religious and diplomatic protocol that will see Jewish, Muslim and Christians praying for peace in the shadow of St. Peter's Basilica.

Francis is expected to greet Peres and Abbas separately at the Vatican hotel where he lives and have a brief one-on-one with each of the men. Francis will be joined by the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, demonstrating a united Christian front for the event.

The four will then travel to a field in the Vatican gardens for the prayer ceremony. It is divided into three parts, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, with each faith group reading texts from their respective holy books that concern three common themes: creation, a prayer for forgiveness, and a prayer for peace.

Francis, Peres and Abbas will then deliver their own remarks, and together with Bartholomew the men will plant an olive tree in a gesture of peace.

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Josef Federman contributed from Jerusalem.

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