Earlier today, Pope Francis, the progressive new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, set another first: he hosted an interfaith prayer gathering for peace in the Middle East at the Vatican.
He invited both Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli president Shimon Peres, as well as religious delegations from Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
This multi-faith prayer meeting at the Vatican is the first of its kind and also marked the first time that passages from Islam were recited inside the Vatican.
Each religious congregation prayed separately in each other’s presence, going in chronological order of the founding of each faith (Judaism: ~2000 B.C.; Christianity: ~30 A.D.; Islam: ~570 A.D.).
Though it comes just a month after U.S.-led peace talks between Israel and Palestine broke down, the meeting was not be a mediation, and no politics were discussed. Here’s Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, a Church official in who played a key role in organizing the event:
“No one is presumptuous enough to think peace will break out on Monday. The intention of this initiative is to re-open a road that has been closed for some time, to re-create a desire, a possibility, to make people dream.”
The prayer meeting concluded with both presidents giving “invocations” for peace. After that, the pair joined the Pope to plant an olive tree to symbolize,
“an enduring symbol of the mutual desire for peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.”
Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s main decision-maker, declined the invitation and continues to refuse to engage in any negotiations in the new Palestinian unity government led by Abbas.
Read more from the New York Post here.
Feature image courtesy of Gregorio Borgia / AP.
BONUS: At a meeting with members of the Italian Sports Center in St. Peter’s Square yesterday, Pope Francis amused himself by balancing a basketball on a pencil.