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Pope Francis Meets with Mufti Shaikh Muhammed Hussain in Jerusalem, Texts of Pope and Abbas Speeches

May 25-26, 2014

Pope Francis holds an open mass in Bethlehem, May 25, 2014 Pope Francis meets with Palestinian children in Bethlehem, May 25, 2014  

Pope Francis visits Al-Aqsa Mosque, meets with Mufti Shaikh Muhammed Hussain, in Jerusalem, May 26, 2014 Pope Francis visits Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, May 26, 2014

Pope Francis prays for peace in front of the Israeli Land-Grab, Apartheid Wall in Bethlehem, May 25, 2014 The Israeli Land-Grab Apartheid Wall, imprisoning Palestinians and stealing their lands (see bigger photo below).

Pope Francis in Bethlehem: How the day unfolded

Maan, 26/05/2014 12:47 (Maan Images/Ramy Abu Diqqa) 16:40

Here ends our live report of the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Bethlehem. Francis travels next to occupied Jerusalem, where he will meet Israeli officials and Christian leaders.

16:39 Pope Francis has landed in Tel Aviv to begin the last leg of his visit to the Middle East, reporters observed.

16:19 His Holiness has departed Bethlehem after an intensive day in the southern West Bank city on his first official visit to the Holy Land as pope.

In the morning, Pope Francis led an open-air mass at Bethlehem's historic Manger Square after touring the city and greeting thousands of cheering onlookers.

He later met five Palestinian Christian families from across the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip, who shared their experiences and struggles facing the community including the occupation and the blockade of Gaza.

The pope continued on to Duheisha refugee camp, where he met with Palestinian children before boarding his helicopter for Tel Aviv.

This evening and tomorrow, the pope will tour occupied East Jerusalem, where Israeli forces are on high alert after earlier arresting 26 Jewish extremists who took part in violent anti-pope clashes.

Pope Francis (center) kisses President Mahmoud Abbas
during an open-air mass on May 25, 2014 at Manger Square
outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
16:07 The pope has left Duheisha and arrived at the Bethlehem helipad, where he is preparing to board the official helicopter.

15:54 The delegation of children from Duheisha refugee camp presented Pope Francis with two gifts on behalf of the refugee children of Palestine during his visit to the camp.

They gave Francis a large card made in the style of those given out by the UN's refugee agency UNRWA in the name of Jesus Christ, who the children referred to as "the first refugee."

They also presented His Holiness with a key symbolizing the desire to return of 750,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants who were expelled from what became Israel in 1948 and were never allowed to go back to their homes.

15:43 Pope Francis is now meeting with children in Duheisha refugee camp, and the children are presenting a number of their wishes and hopes for basic freedoms for Palestinians.

Pope Francis is addressing the crowd in Spanish with an Arabic translator, and the children are welcoming him and expressing their hopes for peace in the land and support in the struggle of Palestinians to achieve their "basic rights" despite living "in the shadow of occupation."

The children also express their solidarity with the more than 100 hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons protesting their detention without charge or trial, as well as solidarity with Palestinian refugees in Syria's besieged Yarmouk camp.

As the pope is speaking, children are raising posters with various statements inscribed on them including "Muslims and Christians live under occupation" and "We demand the freedom of worship."

15:30 Pope Francis has left Manger Square en route to Duheisha camp, where he will meet with children from Bethlehem's largest refugee camp before continuing on to Jerusalem.

Duheisha refugee camp is one of three camps in Bethlehem housing more than 20,000 Palestinian refugees whose families were expelled or fled from their homes in what is today Israel in 1948.

Israel has never allowed them to fulfill the right to return to their homes, similar to around 9 million Palestinians worldwide.

15:06 Palestinian officials have reportedly accepted a papal invitation to attend a Vatican meeting with an Israeli delegation, CNN reported minutes ago.

The US news agency quoted an unnamed PLO executive committee member saying that the Palestinians were willing to take up an offer by the pope earlier today during his visit to Bethlehem.

A PLO spokesman told Ma'an that he could neither confirm nor deny the report.


Pope, Orthodox patriarch in historic unity meet in Jerusalem

Maan, 26/05/2014 12:49

Pope Francis joined with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I for a historic unity service Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Christianity's holiest site.

They met at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher inside the walled Old City after signing a landmark pledge to work together to further unity between the eastern and western branches of Christianity, estranged for a millennium.

The meeting has been billed as the main reason for the pope's three-day trip to the Middle East, which ends on Monday.

It commemorates the historic rapprochement between both branches of the Christian church 50 years ago, when Pope Paul VI met and embraced Patriarch Athenagoras -- the first easing of tensions between the Churches since the Great Schism in the 11th century.

Both leaders knelt side by side in prayer on the rough Stone of the Anointing, where the body of Jesus was laid before burial, removing their headgear as they did so.

Both had to be helped to their feet by aides at the end of the prayer. The pope is 77, Bartholomew, one of the Orthodox Chuch's most revered figures, 74.

A choir sang a Greek chant as they slowly walked into a joint service in the dimly-lit church, packed with religious figures and dignitaries, and later burst into a joyous rendition of Hallelujah.

Earlier, the two men signed a joint pledge to pursue common dialogue, which reaffirmed values common to the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

"Our fraternal encounter today is a new and necessary step on the journey towards the unity... of communion in legitimate diversity," says the declaration which was signed in the presence of representatives of 13 Catholic and Orthodox churches in Jerusalem.

The logo for the pope's journey is a picture of St Peter and St Andrew -- symbolizing the churches of the east and west -- embracing in a boat with a mast in the shape of a cross.

The Great Schism in 1054 split Rome and Constantinople, seat of Orthodoxy.

According to Christian tradition, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where the joint service was held, was built on the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus.


Pope visits Jerusalem holy sites on last day in Mideast

Maan, 26/05/2014, 11:35 (AFP)


Pope Francis called for Christians, Jews and Muslims to work together for peace as he toured holy sites in Jerusalem on Monday, the final day of his Middle East pilgrimage.

On an early-morning tour of key sacred places in the walled Old City, the 77-year-old pontiff first visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, then prayed at the Western Wall which lies just beneath it.

Pope Francis was given a tour of the Asqa compound by Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, who gave Francis a letter speaking about the suffering of the Palestinians and the mistreatment of holy sites in Jerusalem.

Sheikh Hussein also talked about the destructive effects of Israel's separation wall on the Palestinians, concluding by calling for an end to the occupation and peace and security for all.

The pontiff was rounding off a whirlwind trip which saw him issue a unique invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to pray with him at the Vatican to end their "increasingly unacceptable" conflict, as well as snatching a personal prayer moment at Israel's controversial separation barrier.

Francis had promised the three-day pilgrimage, which began on Saturday in Jordan, would steer clear of political issues.

But he ad-libbed from his scripted speech to condemn antisemitism, religious intolerance and those behind conflicts in the Middle East.

"May we work together for justice and peace," Francis said after being shown around the Al-Aqsa compound, which is also considered sacred by Jews because it was the site where their two famed Jerusalem temples once stood.

Entering the exquisite blue-tiled Dome of the Rock with its landmark golden cupola, used as a place of worship for women only, the pope first removed his shoes before walking down to visit the smaller, silver-domed Al-Aqsa mosque.

For Jews, the plaza is the holiest site in Judaism but they are forbidden by law to pray there, praying instead at the adjacent Western Wall, where the pope made his next stop.

Placing his right hand on the ancient stones, he bowed his head in prayer for a few minutes before placing a note in the wall, then sharing an emotional embrace with two close Jewish and Muslim friends traveling with him.

A controversial mass

Later in the morning, he will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum where he will speak with survivors, and will become the first pope ever to lay flowers on the grave of Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism.

At the end of the day, the will also celebrate mass at the site known as the Cenacle, or Upper Room, bringing into sharp focus a decades-long debate over prayer rites at the site where Christians believe Jesus had his Last Supper.

The site on Mount Zion, is located in a two-story building also considered holy to Muslims and Jews, who regard it as the place where the biblical figure David was buried.

Thousands of cheering, flag-waving Christians welcomed the pope to Bethlehem on Sunday, where he celebrated mass in Manger Square.

He also made an unscheduled stop by the West Bank separation wall, climbing out of his open jeep to pray, his forehead and hand resting against the wall, in a powerful show of support for Palestinians.

A message scrawled on the eight-meter high concrete barrier said: "Pope we need someone to speak about justice."

At the end of the open-air mass, the pope weighed in on the Middle East conflict, inviting President Mahmoud Abbas and his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres to join him at the Vatican for a "heartfelt prayer" for peace.

Diplomatic dance

In the wake of the latest breakdown in US-led peace talks, Francis called on leaders to show "courage" to achieve peace based on a two-state solution, saying "building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment."

A senior Palestinian official confirmed Abbas had accepted and would visit the Vatican on June 6, while Peres's spokesman said only that the invitation was welcomed.

In a boost for relations between bickering Christians, Francis on Sunday also joined Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I in an historic joint prayer for unity between Rome and Constantinople.

The pair met, embraced and kissed at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher inside the Old City to mark the historic meeting 50 years ago between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras -- the first easing of tensions between the churches since the Great Schism of the 11th century.

Francis has said the main reason for his Middle East visit was the meeting with Bartholomew I, and "to pray for peace in that land, which has suffered so much".


Pope Francis holds open-air mass in Bethlehem

Over 9,000 Palestinians and foreign pilgrims gathered in Bethlehem's Manger Square on Sunday to attend an open air mass held by Pope Francis.

Thousands of people waved flags from Argentina, Colombia, Poland, Angola, and Mexico, among others, as crowds sang hymns while awaiting the Pope's arrival.

A large Palestinian and Vatican flag hung side-by-side over Bethlehem's municipality building, as Palestinians from Gaza, Nazareth, Ramla, Haifa and across the occupied West Bank traveled to Bethlehem to see the pope.

Earlier, Francis disembarked from his motorcade en-route to Manger Square and prayed by Israel's separation wall, which surrounds the city on its northern side.


Pope Meets Grand Mufti Of Jerusalem In The Al-Aqsa Mosque

Monday May 26, 2014 12:47 by IMEMC & Agencies

His holiness Pope Francis met on Monday [May 26, 2014] the Grand Mufti of Occupied Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Shaikh Mohammad Hussein, and various Jerusalemite Islamic and Christian leaders.

He arrived at the Al-Aqsa Mosque from its eastern gate, and visited the Dome of the Rock along with Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad, special adviser to King Abdullah of Jordan, and various Palestinian figures, headed by the Grand Mufti.

The Mufti said “peace in Palestine cannot be reached without a complete end of the occupation”, without the liberation of the Palestinian people, and called on his holiness to act on ending the ongoing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, their land and their holy sites.

The Mufti thanked the Pope for his stances regarding the Palestinian refugees, and their Right of Return, adding that he hopes Pope Francis would act on ensuring the release of all detainees held by Israel and facing ongoing aggression and violations.

“Achieving peace requires true regional, national and international actions on the ground, the Palestinian people are struggling for liberation and independence”, he added, “They seek their right to establish their independent State, with Jerusalem as its capital. We want peace based on justice, mutual respect and the return of all legitimate rights”.

The Mufti also said Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, the political and spiritual capital, and that Israeli soldiers and settlers are ongoing with its violations against the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy sites,

“Israel is preventing the Muslims from Gaza and the West Bank from entering the mosque to pray”, he stated, “Access to holy sites is one of the basic rights guaranteed by international laws and treaties”.

On his part, the Pope said he came to Palestine to meet Muslims, Christians and Jews, “to hold brotherly talks with all faiths”, and added that Abraham made a pilgrimage for justice and peace, “therefore, we all need to seek peace and justice through worship, for the sake of humanity in the world”.

“From this holy site I salute all faiths in the Holy Land, let us respect and love each other as brothers and sisters”, the Pope added, “Let us understand each other, and work towards peace”.

Earlier in the day, soldiers invaded the yards of the mosque, closed its gates and forced the worshipers out, except for some mosque employees and a few religious leaders, the WAFA news agency said.

Pope Meets with Abbas

Sunday May 25, 2014 19:49 by Chris Carlson - 1 of International Middle East Media Center Editorial Group

In an official reception with President Mahmoud Abbas, Pope Francis I of the Roman Catholic Church voiced hopes that peace in the Middle East could soon surface, so as to reach an end to the internationally recognized suffering of thousands of people as a direct result of over half a century of internalized conflicts within the region.

(WAFA/PNN) In a joint press conference with President Abbas, Francis expressed his desire to advance 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.'

'I can only express my profound hope that all will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement, and that peace will be pursued with tireless determination and tenacity. Peace will bring countless benefits for the peoples of this region and for the world as a whole. And so it must resolutely be pursued, even if each side has to make certain sacrifices,' said the Pope.

Hereby is the full statement by Pope Francis I:

"Mr. President, Dear Friends,

I thank President Mahmoud Abbas for his kind welcome and I offer cordial greetings to the representatives of the government and the entire Palestinian people. I thank the Lord for the opportunity to be here with you today in the birthplace of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. I thank all of you for your warm reception.

For decades the Middle East has known the tragic consequences of a protracted conflict which has inflicted many wounds so difficult to heal. 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.

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.

To this end, I can only express my profound hope that all will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement, and that peace will be pursued with tireless determination and tenacity. Peace will bring countless benefits for the peoples of this region and for the world as a whole. And so it must resolutely be pursued, even if each side has to make certain sacrifices.

I pray that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and their respective leaders will undertake this promising journey of peace with the same courage and steadfastness needed for every journey. Peace in security and mutual trust will become the stable frame of reference for confronting and resolving every other problem, and thus provide an opportunity for a balanced development, one which can serve as a model for other crisis areas.

Here I would like to say a word about the active Christian community which contributes significantly to the common good of society, sharing in the joys and sufferings of the whole people. Christians desire to continue in this role as full citizens, along with their fellow citizens, whom they regard as their brothers and sisters.

Mr President, you are known as a man of peace and a peacemaker. Our recent meeting in the Vatican and my presence today in Palestine attest to the good relations existing between the Holy See and the State of Palestine. I trust that these relations can further develop for the good of all. In this regard, I express my appreciation for the efforts being made to draft an agreement between the parties regarding various aspects of the life of the Catholic community in this country, with particular attention to religious freedom. Respect for this fundamental human right is, in fact, one of the essential conditions for peace, fraternity and harmony.

It tells the world that it is possible and necessary to build harmony and understanding between different cultures and religions. It also testifies to the fact that, since the important things we share are so many, it is possible to find a means of serene, ordered and peaceful coexistence, accepting our differences and rejoicing that, as children of the one God, we are all brothers and sisters.

Mr President, dear friends gathered here in Bethlehem: may Almighty God bless you, protect you and grant you the wisdom and strength needed to continue courageously along the path to peace, so that swords will be turned into ploughshares and this land will once more flourish in prosperity and concord. Salaam!"

Abbas calls on pope to support Palestinian struggle

Maan, 25/05/2014 20:15

The following is a translation of President Mahmoud Abbas' speech at a press conference upon Pope Francis' arrival in Bethlehem early Sunday.

It's a great honor to welcome Your Holiness to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus (peace be upon him), the holy blessed land. Welcome, Your Holiness. You are a dear guest to our people in the cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Your visit today carries all the symbolism that your name and holiness hold as a defender of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. Your visit represents a call for peace during your pilgrimage to the land of Palestine, the land of love and peace.

I am very happy to meet with His Holiness Pope Francis and to listen his wise opinions and his insightful human vision. The visit of His Holiness holds a noble significance in our souls and the souls of our people. This is a historic visit that we cherish in the framework of our friendship and our spiritual and religious bonding between the Vatican and Palestine, which we aspire to strengthen. The Holy Land is the destination of millions of believers. It represents a unique model of coexistence in the spirit of harmony, brotherhood, and equality in rights and duties.

We welcome you in the State of Palestine with all the love and hospitality. We welcome your meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the city of Jerusalem.

I briefed His Holiness on the latest developments in the peace process and negotiations towards reaching a just and lasting peace, to ensures security, safety, and stability to our region and its peoples.

We have fully updated His Holiness on the outcome of the peace process and the pitfalls and obstacles which befell it, primarily the settlement enterprise, and daily attacks on places of worship including churches and mosques, as well as the continued detention of thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails , who yearn for freedom. A number of these prisoners have been on hunger strike for more than 30 days in protest against ill-treatment and detention without trial or verdict, under the pretext of "administrative detention."

We have also shared with His Holiness the tragic situation experienced by the city of East Jerusalem, the capital of our country, which has been occupied since 1967. Israel has been systematically working to change the identity and character of the city, imposing restrictions on the people of Palestine, Christians and Muslims, in order to displace them and to prevent the faithful from praying at their holy sites.

We call upon the Israeli government to cease these practices, which violate international law. And from our side, our vision is for our capital in East Jerusalem to be open to the followers of the three monotheistic religions without discrimination.

These Israeli practices have led to the migration of Christians and Muslims, who should be able to stay on their ancestral land. We are ready to work together to strengthen the Palestinian indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land, especially in Jerusalem.

We would like to express from the bottom of our hearts that we value your efforts and support for the rights of our people. We count on Your Holiness to contribute towards enabling our people to attain their freedom and full independence, by bringing the Israeli occupation to a complete end and establishing an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Your Holiness, you saw the monstrous wall being constructed by Israel, the occupying power on our land, at a time when we desperately needed to build bridges of communication and dialogue rather than anything that would sow the seeds of hatred, malice, and hostility. We, the people, are looking to live in freedom and dignity and to have sovereignty over our national soil, away from the occupation.

We are committed to the Arab Peace Initiative. Once Israel withdraws from the territory it occupied in 1967, all the Arab and Islamic countries will recognize Israel and immediately establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Your Holiness, thank you for meeting with the children of the refugee camps who are living the tragedy and sufferings of displacement and asylum, which was imposed on them by the Nakba 66 years ago.

Your Holiness, we don't ask for the impossible, and we have made sacrifices for peace. We have accepted the establishment of the independent State of Palestine only on the land occupied in 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital, alongside the State of Israel in security, mutual respect, and good neighborliness.

We also appreciate your willingness to share a meal with the Palestinian families who are representative of our society that lives under occupation. This meeting sends a message to the whole world, and reminds the world of the tragedy of Palestine.

We in Palestine are counting on your generous efforts towards realizing the rights of our people and we welcome any initiative which you may take to make peace a reality in the Holy Land, which will enable our people to build a life and a future.

It's time to respect the principles of rights, justice, peace, freedom, and human dignity that you believe in, and which are the foundation of all religions as well as international laws and resolutions. These are all principles that must be respected and applied in the Holy Land.

We take this historic opportunity of your presence among us today to send a message of peace to our Israeli neighbors by saying: come and make peace based on truth, justice, equality, and mutual respect. Your work for the good of your people to live in prosperity, peace, and stability is the exact same thing that we strive for.

Security, peace, and stability are in our mutual interest, for our region and the whole world. Peace is made with a wise mind and heart, and a living moral and human conscience, in order to remove injustice, oppression, and abuse. Also, (peace is made) by abandoning expansion at the expense of the rights of others -- the policy of double standards. Honest and sincere intentions are needed to achieve desired peace, which shall be enjoyed by our future generations.

Your Holiness, thousands of believers have been waiting for you since the morning in Manger Square to express their love, appreciation, and respect, and to pray with you to Almighty God for brotherhood, love, and peace.

We welcome your Holiness and the Vatican delegation to Palestine, the land of peace, and we wish you all the health and happiness and every blessing to the believers.

Peace be upon you.

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