Pope Francis prays at Israel's separation barrier on his way to a mass in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Pope Francis called for peace in the "increasingly unacceptable" Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Sunday in a speech at the palace of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
In his speech, which came hours before the Pope was due to arrive in Israel, Pope Francis spoke of good relations between the Holy See and the "State of Palestine," called for the existence of a two-state solution and addressed Mr. Abbas as "a peacemaker."
"For decades the Middle East has known the tragic consequences of a protracted conflict which has inflicted many wounds so difficult to heal," the Pope said in the Sunday morning address (see the full remarks). "Even in the absence of violence, the climate of instability and a lack of mutual understanding have produced insecurity, the violation of rights, isolation and the flight of entire communities, conflicts, shortages and sufferings of every sort."
He continued: "In expressing my closeness to those who suffer most from this conflict, I wish to state my heartfelt conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable. For the good of all, there is a need to intensify efforts and initiatives aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice, on the recognition of the rights of every individual, and on mutual security. The time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good, the courage to forge a peace which rests on the acknowledgment by all of the right of two States to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders."
Later, after holding an open-air Holy Mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square, the Pope invited the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to come to the Vatican and pray for peace. Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres accepted the invitation and will visit the Vatican together next month, the Associated Press reports.
As part of the Pope's visit, his first to the Holy Land, he made an unscheduled stop at a wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, offering prayers amidst graffiti that had been sprayed there.
This isn't the first time The Vatican has shown support for a two-state solution. In 2012, it endorsed the U.N. General Assembly’s resolution to grant the Palestinian Authority “non-member state” status.