by Josephine McKenna
ROME (RNS) As Pope Francis concluded his Middle East tour, officials were hoping to finalize a date for the historic peace talks he intends to hold at the Vatican.
Francis made headlines Sunday (May 25) when he invited Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to come to “my home” to pray for peace in a bid to kickstart the now stalled process.
The surprise invitation was issued after the 77-year-old pontiff celebrated Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square. Both leaders accepted the invitation within hours.
“Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment,” Francis said. “The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace.”
While some media reports said the leaders would meet as early as June 6, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Monday (May 26) that a “precise date” had not been set as he was awaiting official confirmation from the two leaders.
“It will be in the Vatican but where exactly we do not know, nor do we know how many people will be present,” Lombardi said. “We need some patience to let this great initiative be concrete”.
Meanwhile Francis yielded to Israeli pressure by making an unscheduled visit to a memorial for terrorism victims at Mount Herzl to counter Israeli anger over his prayer a day earlier at the wall separating the West Bank from Israel.
“I pray for all these victims and all the victims of terrorism in the world,” Francis said in his native Spanish. “Please no more terrorism. It is a road with no end.”